Professional wrestling is not real, but on July 16, 1988 an altercation that started years before, in the ring, turned into a real-life killing in the backrooms of a Puerto Rico arena.

The man who lost his life, stabbed to death in a shower, was one of the biggest stars in that era, one of the biggest stars of all-time in Japan and the man who WWE icon Mick Foley modelled his own style on.

That man was born Frank Goodish but went by the ring name Bruiser Brody, a larger than life wildman who swung a chain and was notoriously stiff with opponents in the ring.

He was killed by Puerto Rican star Jose Huertas Gonzalez, who wrestled as 'Invader I', Gonzalez was later acquitted of the murder by reason of self defence in a trial that was botched on account of a lack of key witnesses not being subpoenaed.

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Two of those witnesses are WWE Hall of Famers Dutch Mantel and Tony Atlas and in the Viceland documentary series The Dark Side of the Ring they recap that day and the role another WWE Hall of Famer and father of WWE talents Primo and Epico Colon also played.

"The fans in Puerto Rico believed wrestling was real," declared former wrestler and commentator Mantel, who revealed his subpoena, arrived 10 days after the trial was held.

"It was the major reason José was acquitted — because they believed Brody was this character, this wild-looking psychopath hulking figure.

"I knew the verdict already, it was 10 days late, and that's why the verdict came back not innocent but not guilty (of murder).

"Jose never testified but they believed what his defence put out, that he was acting self defence."

To set the scene for that apparent act of self defence Atlas, Mantel, Abdullah the Butcher (who would have been Brody's opponent on the night) set the scene and recount different tales of the evening.

"I WILL KILL THAT MAN"

But what started the bad blood came years before, as Brody, who worked stiff to make audiences believe his character was every bit as hard as possible allegedly delivered a beating on a younger Gonzalez.

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Mantel admits he never once wrestled Brody in a long career and in fact shied away from doing so.

"He was, at the time, one of the biggest stars in the world," Mantel said.

"I never had a match with Brody (because) he'd beat the s**t out of you."

That was a claim Atlas more than backed up.

"He was a pretty decent guy, if he liked you," Atlas said of Brody.

"If he didn't like you he would beat the living crap out of you.

"I had seen Brody many a time take people in the ring and beat them unmercifully, he would just beat em to death."

One of those victims, in the 70s, years before this happened was Gonzalez and arguably he might have never let it go.

"Brody and 'Invader' did not really care for each other, their personalities, did not mesh, they're matches even there was something not right," Mantel said.

"In the mid 70s, they were grooming Jose Gonzalez to be the next Puerto Rican star, Bruiser Brody came in and had a match with him and beat the s**t out of him."

Again Atlas verified that story in graphic detail before repeating what in hindsight would be a bone-chilling threat was allegedly made.

"He was angry, his head looked like a pumpkin," Atlas said.

"Brody beat him so bad that SD (Jones — another wrestler) had to take him (Gonzalez) to the hospital and he turned to SD Jones and said 'one day I am gonna kill that man'."

WERE MONEY AND POWER FACTORS?

By the time 1988 rolled around Bruiser Brody was 42 years of age and an established worldwide star but his two worlds — the wrestling world, and his personal world were separate.

He had married a New Zealand-born woman named Barbara, who he had met while she was working in a hotel in Australia and the pair had a son — Geoff, born in 1980.

She said that her husband had been a caring man and not even close in personality to the wildman fans around the world adored watching dole out beatings in the ring.

"Frank was very quiet, very intelligent, he never lost sight of who he was. He never became the character he created, "Goodish said.

"When Geoff was born he changed so much because he wanted to provide for his son."

That desire to provide for his son and his own natural talent for the business led to main event bookings but also a desire for money and ownership.

Both came into play in Puerto Rico.

Hulk Hogan Holding Tony Atlas in a Headlock. Photo / Getty
Hulk Hogan Holding Tony Atlas in a Headlock. Photo / Getty

Before flying to the territory run by Carlos Colon and booked (the booker in wrestling decides who wins and loses) by Gonzalez, Brody made a revelation to World Class Championship Wrestling referee David Manning — the Puerto Rican company owed him a decent sum of money, and he was getting what he was overdue.

"I was a little worried because Frank was going to Puerto Rico to wrestle and he said they owed him about US$25,000, Manning said.

"Frank said he had asked him for the money politely — before he left he said 'I am coming back with my money, if I have to beat up everyone of them, I am getting my money'."

Brody was not only after money owed but he was making a lot as one of the top stars in Japanese wrestling and wanted to actually buy in to an ownership stake of the Puerto Rican organisation — and the suggestion was if he did get ownership he might look to remove long-time enemy Gonzalez, who was at the time grieving over the death of his three-year-old daughter, who had drowned in an accident.

"He was making huge money in Japan and he wanted to invest in a promotion," Mantel said.

"There was a part owner Victor Quinones, who had 10 per cent but a lot was owned by Gorilla Monsoon and Quinones was brokering a deal between Monsoon and Brody, that would have made Brody a minority owner.

"He mentioned if he took over he would fire Invader, who had just lost his three-year-old daughter in a swimming pool accident.

Add all those ingredients up, it is like fire and gasoline, an explosion is going to happen and it did.

On the morning of the show and stabbing Brody intimated to Atlas over breakfast that it was a done deal.

"I went to breakfast with him and he said to me 'I waited a long time to get in down here, you are going to see a lot of changes'," Atlas said.

STABBED IN THE SHOWER

The news of that it would seem had filtered through because by the afternoon, Atlas and Mantel next saw Brody waiting out the front of the hotel for his ride to the arena.

The man who was supposed to pick him up was none other than the booker, Gonzalez.

He no showed, so Brody took a ride with Mantel and Atlas.

WWE Hall of Famer Tony Atlas was with Brody at the hospital and should have been a key witness. Photo / Getty
WWE Hall of Famer Tony Atlas was with Brody at the hospital and should have been a key witness. Photo / Getty

When they got to the arena, both Mantel and Atlas reported that Gonzalez, Colon and Quinones were sitting in a huddle, not talking — before Gonzalez got up stared at Atlas and walked out.

For his part Mantel said it was "strange".

Then Gonzalez returned from the shower and a decade of bad blood began to spill over.

"When Jose came back he had a towel over his head and said 'Brody can I talk to you for a minute please', Atlas said.

"Brody said 'yeah' walked in there (the shower) and that's when it happened.

"Carlos was staring at me and I hear a sound, Brody is halfway hunched over, I thought Jose hit Brody.

"Then he hollers again.

"I looked at Jose's face and they were bloodshot red.

"Then I saw the knife in the air with blood dripping off it, I sprung up out of my chair, wrapped my arm around Brody's waist to keep him from his throat getting cut and as I did it the knife came down and cut his ponytail off.

"Colon held Jose up against the wall and yelled 'no Jose, no Jose."

Brody then said something Atlas recounted as strange.

"He said 'don't let them hurt me no more' them, not him — Carlos tried to approach Brody after I laid him down, I said f*** calming down, I'll knock you out."

Brody then told Atlas to let Colon over to him before he said to Colon 'tell my wife I love her.'

Mantel said all he could do was watch as Gonzalez eventually left.

"He walked around Brody's feet, got his keys and he left, and his shirt was torn which tells me whatever happened was a physical confrontation with Brody.

FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE

It took paramedics 45 minutes to get to the packed arena and take Brody to the hospital where Atlas went with him and while doctors treated a stabbing as routine, Brody's wounds were large.

Back at the arena other wresters got their story straight for the police, who felt it might have been a scripted angle — Mantel wanted none of it.

"I wanted to be as far away from that dressing room as I could f***ing be.

"Then I saw Invader come back, new shirt on, and I thought what f***ing balls this guy has got."

Atlas though was trying to save his friends life, pleading with doctors.

"The doctor came out and he said 'Tony he has two eight-inch cuts, we got his intestine back in, the only thing we have to worry about now is his liver was sliced'.

"He said 'he is stable but you need to go home because everybody in here is more afraid of you.'"

Back at the arena the police asked a returning Atlas if he saw the fan who did it, before Atlas got angry.

Atlas then pointed out Gonzalez as the culprit.

"He was telling the cops 'that's the guy you need to arrest' and pointed to Jose Gonzalez," Mantel said.

Atlas wrestled one or two minutes of a match with the legendary Iron Sheik and when Sheik found out the truth about the incident he left the match.

Atlas spent the night on the beach, fearing for his own life.

THE AFTERMATH

In the wake of it all Barbara Goodish was woken late at night by her home phone as the wife of Colon, Nancy, told her she needed to come to Puerto Rico.

It was news Mantel would confirm as an accident.

That night Brody died in his hospital bed due to the wounds inflicted. Leaving behind a widow and a son.

They tragically found out the news at the airport — when Barbara Goodish ran into Abdullah the Butcher and asked where her husband was.

"He's gone" was the answer.

From there a wife and son had to cremate Brody in Puerto Rico, he was in a blue casket picked out by his son at the funeral.

"I know the attacker did it, from what I hear about it the whole court case was a sham," Barbara Goodish said.

As for Gonzalez he made bail immediately and went on to be acquitted.

It still makes Atlas mad that the trial was a farce and he was not allowed to give his account.

Some 30 years later Geoff Goodish gave the epitaph of a son who lost his father.

"Justice would be great," Goodish said.

"Personal justice would be better than legal justice honestly."

*Carlos Colon and Jose Gonzalez were approached by producers but reportedly declined to be interviewed.