Legendary WWE Wrestler, The Brooklyn Brawler, Recalls Being Rock’s First Opponent and the Origin of His Gimmick

WWE The Brooklyn Brawler

Former WWE Superstar Steve Lombardi, best known to fans as The Brooklyn Brawler, recently spoke to Chris Van Vliet on being The Rock’s first opponent in WWE, his long relationship with Vince McMahon, and the WWE Hall of Famer who gave him the Brooklyn Brawler gimmick. The Brooklyn Brawler is one of those guys older WWE fans might remember, but likely can’t remember many matches he had. That is exactly how people are supposed to feel about him as an enhancement talent.

The Brooklyn Brawler aka Steve Lombardi started his wrestling career in 1983 with the WWF and wrestled under his real name. He had matches early in his career with some future Hall of Famers like Ivan Koloff, Sgt. Slaughter, Big John Studd, Paul Orndorff, David Schultz, Iron Mike Sharpe, Rocky Johnson and The Iron Sheik.

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Steve Lombardi spent these years as an enhancement talent for big names and names on the rise. This position on the card is similar to a jobber, but their job is a lot harder because they actually have more of a match most times and are not always beaten in 10 seconds. They are also not one-and-done but stay in the promotion. Their job is to hide the other guy’s weaknesses and showcase their strengths.

WWE The Brooklyn Brawler
Courtesy Of WWE

This enhancement talent position continued for Steve Lombardi until 1989 when Bobby Heenan took him under his wing and gave him the Brooklyn Brawler gimmick. Lombardi was recently a guest on INSIGHT with Chris Van Vliet and he talked about how Heenan approached him with the idea for The Brooklyn Brawler gimmick. Lombardi stated the following:

“Bobby Heenan comes up to me. He says ‘Steve, I’ve been watching you.’ He says ‘You learned how to wrestle. Now I’m gonna teach you how to make money.’ He goes, ‘I’m going to create you as the Brooklyn Brawler.’ He says ‘you’re going to wrestle with a rival of mine who’s in my family right now, Terry Taylor.’ He says ‘I’m going to take you under my wing.’ He goes ‘you are now you are in the Heenan family.'”

– H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription
WWE The Brooklyn Brawler and Hacksaw Jim Duggan
Courtesy Of WWE

The Birth of The Brooklyn Brawler

At this point in his career, Lombardi stopped being the enhancement talent and started becoming The Brooklyn Brawler. Heenan and Taylor who went by Red Rooster attempted to shake hands and make up just for Taylor to get jumped by The Brooklyn Brawler. He was thus inducted into the Heenan Family.

The Brooklyn Brawler went on to explain how his signature look for The Brooklyn Brawler gimmick came about. It was all Heenan and showed why Heenan’s nickname was “The Brain” and was one of the most creative minds in wrestling ever. Lombardi continued:

“’Wear a Yankee shirt because you are going to get a lot of heat.’ He said, ‘Wear a leather cap, put a cigar. … I want you to be a grimy, greasy, dirty, ass-kicking Brooklynite.’ I said, ‘Anything you say Bobby. I’ll do anything you want.’ And then I just started winning every single night. And people were weird. They were asking for autographs of the Brooklyn Brawler not knowing that I was Steve Lombardi, ’cause I had a leather cap on. They couldn’t put two and two together.”

– H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription

The Brooklyn Brawler feuded with Taylor and the two traded wins. However, he eventually left The Heenan Family and went back to being an enhancement guy. He wrestled in losing efforts to The Ultimate Warrior, Hillbilly Jim and Tugboat among others.

This went on for years and years. The Brooklyn Brawler would help put on good matches with younger talent. Most of the time he would lose, but would win his matches on rare occasions. Some of these wrestlers he faced fizzled out and left the business and other times they became one of the biggest wrestlers of all time. Lombardi goes on to talk about wrestling a very young Rock. His match with The Rock wasn’t just Rock’s first match on TV, but his first match ever in front of a crowd.

“I’m The Rock’s first match ever in front of 15,000 people and when I talk to Rock he says, ‘Well, you had my dad’s first match in WWF too …’ I said, ‘Rock, how many matches did you have?’ He goes, ‘Steve this is my first match.’ I said, ‘Your first match at WWF?’

“Because it was F at the time and he says. ‘No, my first match ever in my life in front of an audience…’ He goes, ‘How’s the Brooklyn Brawler going to beat me?’ and I said, I turned to him and I says, ‘Vince did not bring you all the way here to lose, you are going over.’ And then Rock says, ‘Going over? That is unheard of for a person’s first match.'”

– H/T Wrestling Inc. for the transcription
WWE The Brooklyn Brawler and Bobby The Brain Heenan
Courtesy Of WWE

Lombardi eventually went into semi-retirement and began working backstage. From 1998 to 2016 he worked as a road agent in the WWE. This position meant he was a go-between with the wrestlers and management. He was able to hold the position for so long because of the trust he had built with both wrestlers and management in WWE.

What is the moment you remember most from The Brooklyn Brawler’s career? Do you think there has ever been a better enhancement talent guy? Would you have liked to have seen him win a championship in WWE? Let us know on social media if you think he will ever make it into the WWE Hall of Fame.

SOURCE: Wrestling Inc., INSIGHT with Chris Van Vliet, Wrestling Inc.

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Robert Watson

Just a guy reading comics, watching wrestling, and wondering if aliens exist