When Jimmy Snuka joined the WWE in late January 1982, the extraordinarily-skilled “Superfly” began as a heel challenging for Bob Backlund’s championship. However, given his daring and captivating in-ring style, fans found themselves rooting for the high-flying star. By October, he became a “good guy,” feuding with former manager Lou Albano and also Ray “The Crippler” Stevens. In 1983, his war with Don “Magnificent” Muraco, including his famous leap from the top of a cage in Madison Square Garden, captured the imagination of many in the Northeast.
A similarly memorable series of confrontations took place in 1984 against the controversial Rowdy Roddy Piper, carrying over to 1985 and raising Piper’s stock prior to the first Wrestlemania. During it all, the popular Snuka mounted a dazzling won/loss record during his initial three-year run, winning a nearly unheard-of 95 percent of his matches that didn’t end in disqualification or count-out. After Hulk Hogan, Snuka was arguably the promotion’s most popular performer. However, a variety of issues compelled his departure. He went on to wrestle in both the AWA and for New Japan. In his absence, WWE attempted to bill versatile Sivi Afi in the Superfly role, but the plan didn’t pan out.
When Snuka returned in March 1989, his role was different. Though still a familiar attraction, he was then in his late-40s and soon playing second-fiddle to younger, talented foes. He was instrumental in elevating Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig to the status of major challenger to the world title by late '89. During much of 1990, Snuka swapped singles’ wins with The Barbarian and The Warlord. And, in 1991, he often did the honors on the mid-card to Mike Rotunda’s “Irwin R. Schyster” character. Snuka only worked a few dates in 1992 and 1993 before moving on. Though he didn't enjoy the same success he experienced in his first WWE run, his reputation as an exciting and charismatic attraction helped the company in several respects, including the box office.
Snuka was an inductee in WWE’s 1996 Hall of Fame class. He passed away in Florida on Jan. 15, 2017, at the age of 73.
- Kenneth Mihalik