After making his debut against Maxwell "Bunny" Butler in
Hawaii in 1969, Snuka moved to Portland soon afterwards. There, he won the Pacific Northwest Wrestling
(PNW) Heavyweight title six times between 1971 and 1976 and the PNW Tag Team Championship six times along with partner Dutch Savage. Snuka also wrestled in several other National
Wrestling Alliance (NWA) regions, including Texas,
the Mid-Atlantic (where he formed a tag team with Paul Orndorff and
later with Ray Stevens) and Georgia. He became identified with the "I Love You" sign language gesture, which he displayed as he jumped from the
ropes in his signature move, which became so popular among fans that
promoters began relaxing their ban of top-rope maneuvers so as to accommodate Snuka's exciting aerial style.
World Wrestling Federation
In January 1982 Snuka entered the then-named World Wrestling Federation (WWF) as a heel under the guidance of Captain Lou Albano. Snuka received
several title shots at WWF Heavyweight Champion Bob
Backlund; their most famous match together was a Steel cage match at Madison Square Garden on June
28, 1982 in which Snuka leapt from the top of the cage, barely missing
Backlund who managed to escape the cage for the win. The contest would be declared Match of the
Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Even though Snuka was a heel, the Northeast fans started to cheer on Snuka and his athletic style. An angle
was created late in the year which revealed- on an episode of Buddy Rogers'
Victory Corner- that Snuka was being financially ripped off by Lou Albano,
thus releasing Snuka from Albano's managerial services.
Albano then attacked Snuka and with the help of "Classy" Freddie Blassie's newest arrival, Snuka's former tag team partner Ray Stevens, beat Snuka bloody in front of a TV audience. The vicious attack, concluding
with two piledrivers by Stevens on the concrete floor, solidified Snuka's new role as a face seeking to settle the score. Upon becoming a babyface Snuka brought his former manager from the Mid-Atlantic
territory, "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, back on as his new manager and
embarked on a mixture of tag and singles matches against Stevens and Albano across the region. Snuka was now a star at the
beginning of Vince McMahon's expansion and a candidate for what would
become Hulk Hogan's role in the company, but outside-the-ring issues
and lack of mic skills were factors that would hold him back from ever
capturing a WWF title belt.
Snuka would also have a famous feud with Don "The Rock" Muraco
in 1983, which began after Snuka entered the ring for a preliminary match while Muraco, the Intercontinental
Heavyweight Champion, was being interviewed. Muraco, enraged at the perceived lack of respect,
confronted Snuka at ringside, triggering a wild brawl in which Muraco's street clothes were torn off and Muraco bloodied Snuka
with a microphone. In 1983, Snuka encountered a personal crisis that would haunt him for many years
to come. On May 10, 1983,
after finishing his last match at the WWF TV taping at the Lehigh County Agricultural Hall in Allentown,
Pennsylvania, Snuka became the focal point of an investigation regarding the suspicious death of
his girlfriend Nancy Argentino. In the early hours the morning after the Allentown event, Argentino was discovered semi-conscious
in a hotel room next to a sleeping Snuka.
Various accounts of the cause came to light from alleged
abuse to a slip and fall caused by intoxication. Argentino was taken
to a nearby hospital and later died of a skull fracture. The death was ruled accidental. After
a few months of recovery from the loss of his girlfriend, another defining moment of Snuka's career occurred on October 17, 1983 in another steel cage match at Madison Square Garden, this time
against Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion "Magnificent" Don Muraco. The match ended in a loss for the Superfly, but he managed to drag Muraco
back into the ring and this time connect with the most famous Superfly Splash of his career, off the top of the 15-foot high
Future wrestling stars Mick Foley, Tommy Dreamer and Bubba Ray
Dudley were all in attendance at the event, and attribute this match as the reason they decided
to aggressively pursue professional wrestling.
In June 1984, Snuka became embroiled in an intense feud with
one of the WWF's top heels, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, through a notorious
incident that would be perhaps the most infamous of either wrestler's career. In a segment of Piper's Pit, Piper brought bananas
and coconuts to the interview to make Snuka "feel more at home" but said he didn't get a tree for Snuka to "climb up and down
like a monkey." Piper then proceeded to smash a real coconut on Jimmy's head when he turned his back momentarily. This was
followed by a beating with a belt before the WWF cut to a commercial. The attack led to a series of bitter grudge matches
between the two that were played out over venues across the US throughout the summer of 1984.
The remainder of Snuka's initial WWF stint would see him
frequently tangling with Piper one way or another, often via tag matches or wrestling Piper's closest ally, Bob
Orton, Jr.. Snuka also famously defeated Orton Jr. at The War to Settle the Score, and put Orton's
left arm in a cast for over a year. The feud played a small part in the first ever WrestleMania in March 1985, when Snuka acted as a cornerman for Hulk Hogan
and Mr. T when they faced Piper and Paul
Orndorff (with Orton in their corner). The Superfly vanished from the WWF in August 1985, though
he still appeared in cartoon form when Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling premiered the following month.
American Wrestling Association (1986-1989)
After a stint in alcohol/drug rehab, Snuka resurfaced in
the American Wrestling Association (AWA) replacing the injured Jerry Blackwell as Greg Gagne's
partner in a tag team match against Bruiser Brody and Nord
the Barbarian at WrestleRock 86. Snuka would split his time between the AWA and Japan throughout
1986 and 1987. His most notable feud in the AWA during that time was with Col. DeBeers, who refused to fight Snuka because of his race. However, he was able to sneak-attack Snuka by pushing him
off the top rope onto the floor and administering several face-first piledrivers. This led the way for a series of grudge
matches in 1987.
World Wrestling Federation (1989-1992)
Like many aging veterans before him, Snuka re-emerged in
the WWF in March 1989 to help put over younger stars, like Curt Hennig
and Rick Rude. In 1991, he was the also first PPV singles opponent for
The Undertaker. The Undertaker would be a top contender in the company
for many years to come, in part from Snuka letting him win in a squash
at WrestleMania VII; this began his Wrestlemania
Eastern Championship Wrestling (1992-1993)
After leaving the WWF in February 1992, Jimmy toured with
various smaller organizations in the early 1990s and played a role in the formation of Tod Gordon's Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW) organization along
with Don Muraco and Terry Funk. Snuka was ECW's first ECW Heavyweight Champion and toured
with the company in arguably the best shape of his life. ECW would later be taken over by Paul
Heyman, who would rename it Extreme Championship Wrestling.
He was inducted into the WWF Hall
of Fame in 1996. He also continued to spend much of his time with East Coast Wrestling organizations
through the late 1990s and into the 2000s, including periodic appearances for the WWF. Snuka received a lifetime achievement
award from WWE in 2002 at Madison Square Garden and began to be thrust
into skits by WWE in 2004/2005. In 2005, he appeared at the WWE Homecoming, where he delivered
a Superfly Splash to Rob Conway with a ring full of legends at his side
like Dusty Rhodes and Billy
Graham. He also took part in a backstage skit, chasing after a partially disrobed Mae
Young with a wad of Ted DiBiase's money.
He was a part of the Taboo Tuesday pay-per-view, where fans voted for him (ahead of Kamala
and Jim Duggan) to team with Eugene against Rob Conway and Tyson Tomko. Snuka won the match,
pinning Conway after a superfly splash. He also appeared at the 2007 WWE draft edition of Monday Night Raw in a vignette for
Mr. McMahon appreciation night. On June 24,
2007, Jimmy Snuka was introduced as Sgt.
Slaughter's tag team partner in the open invitational match for the WWE
Tag Team Championship at Vengeance. Snuka
was ultimately pinned by his son, Deuce (Jimmy Snuka Jr.) of Deuce 'N Domino.
Snuka continues to work in nostalgia bits for WWE as well
as work for U.S. independent shows and conventions.