In the early 1990’s, Tom “Tony” Ricca was given a shot to do what his peers could only dream of: he was scheduled to wrestle “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan live on national TV. Booked by the WWF as a special Labor Day lineup, the match enabled Ricca to showcase the skills he’d worked so hard to build. He came out to a cheering crowd, wearing lime green pants with a black tank top and wrestled one of the WWF’s biggest names at the time. Ricca was able to flawlessly play the heel to a crowd favorite, taking body slam after body slam from Duggan.
In wrestling, the ability to take a hit is as important as being able to dish one. As his match with Duggan demonstrates, Ricca is skilled at taking a hit.
More importantly, however, he’s even better at getting back up.
A Tough Break
Hardcore wrestling fans will remember Ricca’s time as a pro wrestler in the WWE, NWA, WCW and WOW, among other organizations. They’ll also recognize his work as a promoter, having created and organized his own federation, Arena Kaged Wrestling. What many fans might not know, though, are the obstacles Ricca faced along the way.
After his match with Duggan, after all, things were looking up. Ricca had decided to rebrand himself, choosing to bring to life a character called “The Pharaoh”, something he’d conceptualized while watching The Ten Commandments during Easter. The character was Egyptian-themed, wearing a traditional-style headdress and cape.
Along with his shift to a Middle Eastern motif, Ricca found it appropriate to adapt the style of his wrestling to his new character. He focused more on high-flying maneuvers, training with a gymnast to learn how to do a moonsault, an acrobatic (and painful-looking) body slam. The move garnered attention for The Pharaoh.
As he developed the character, Ricca’s skills piqued the interest of former WWE referee Dick Woehrle and the Enterprise’s president, Gorilla Monsoon. Woehrle thought that Ricca was a top prospect and wanted him to travel to Europe and Asia to help build the WWE’s brand. Monsoon thought that The Pharaoh would be a fantastic addition to their company. The two scheduled meetings and planned to move forward with a contract.
Amidst all of the excitement, though, Ricca got into a car accident. It left him unable to work for a long time and Ricca had no choice but to decline the offer.
Never Tapped Out
While he had missed out on the opportunity to join the WWE, Ricca was not about to let an injury get him down. Once recovered, he took his career into his own hands. Ricca established Powerslam, a wrestling training facility, in his hometown of Hammonton, NJ. Additionally, he started to promote wrestling events on his own. Ricca worked to fill rooms with thousands of wrestling fans who were eager to watch Jimmy Snuka, King Kong Bundy and others, before unveiling his newest organization, the AKW. With the AKW, Ricca aimed to create an entirely unique experience of the sport. Whereas other organizations enclosed wrestlers within steel structures for “cage matches”, Ricca decided to put a cage around the audience. Fans went wild as they cheered for up-and-coming AKW athletes like Captain Lou Albano, Daffney, Disco Inferno and Vito LoGrasso.
Additionally, Ricca wrestled in the AKW himself. Donning a mask and going by the name “Nicky Sauce”, Ricca got right back into the ring. The fans loved his charisma, his charm and his ability to put on a great wrestling event.
A Champion Work Ethic
Ricca’s dedication and work ethic is something that people admire him for and something that he applies to every aspect of his life. Ricca approaches all of his other endeavors with the same sense of swagger that he takes into the ring. As a bodybuilder and bodybuilding advisor, for example, he aims to empower those around them with the skills and knowledge necessary to feel good about themselves. He’s currently working on an e-book about fitness.
He’s also a successful entrepreneur, having established Cannoli World, a family-owned pastry franchise operated out of his hometown. With a headquarters in Hammonton, NJ and a number of traveling food trucks, Ricca works tirelessly to run a business like the Italian bakery his family once ran. Even when he’s out shepherding cannolis, he loves signing autographs for his many fans.
Most importantly, however, Ricca has passed down his work ethic to his children. His daughter, Gabriella, was named the All-Around Champion and Bar Champion of the 12-year old girl’s division in the USAIGC/IAIGC Gymnastics International World Championships. The event was covered in USA Today along with a number of other high-profile complications, listing her as the only girl in her division to receive a minimum of nine points in every event.
Of course, that’s no surprise, considering who her dad is.
Tom “Tony” Ricca will be inducted into the DePace Sports Museum Hall of Fame next weekend. The induction ceremony will be accompanied by a Showtime Wrestling event.