Long Live Da Crusher

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The Milwaukee Admirals are celebrating perhaps South Milwaukee’s most famous son: Reginald Lisowski, better known as The Crusher.

The first 5,000 fans at next Sunday’s (Feb. 21) game against the Iowa Wild will receive a Crusher bobblehead. Buy tickets here.

Don’t know The Crusher’s story? “The Wrestler Who Made Milwaukee Famous” is one of the pioneers of professional wrestling.

From a 2009 OnMilwaukee.com article

In the early years, The Crusher wrestled several times a week around Chicago while working as a bricklayer during the day to make ends meet. He joined Vern Gagne’s AWA circuit in 1963 and went on to win three World Championships during his career and five Tag Team Championships, several of those with longtime partner Dick the Bruiser.

When the AWA started to wane in popularity, thanks to the rise of Hogan and McMahon’s WWF, the Crusher joined the circuit on a part-time basis, working a number of smaller shows throughout the Midwest. He continued wrestling until retiring in 1988.

A natural in front of the camera, he recorded hundreds of interviews. His raspy, tough-man voice intimidating his opponents as he wielded a cigar was a perfect fit for his in-the-ring personality. In addition to warning his foes of impending doom, he always managed to work in a reference to Milwaukee as well as all the “dolls” that loved him.

Crusher was inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame in 1994 and occasionally worked on WWF pay-per-view shows, including a well-known 1998 event in Milwaukee, where he got into a ringside scuffle with Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon and Jerry “The King Lawler.” … 

The Crusher gained fame and won crowds over with his beer-drinking, strong man demeanor that played into blue-collar, tough-guy image that came to define postwar Milwaukee.

And that image helped make him a hero to the factory workers, machinists and other industrial, middle-class people that made up the majority of the city’s population — and his fan base.

He was a huge celebrity in his hometown, often taking part in various telethons and other charity events. In 1985, he even served as a guest conductor with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra at a fundraising event. While many celebrities — then and now — made appearances for a fee, The Crusher always showed up with a check in hand.

“He really believed that it was the fans – the Milwaukee fans – that made all this happen,” says his daughter, Sherri Brozoski. “He was a bricklayer. He was proud of that background and he helped create that image of beer, brats and bars.

“And there’s nothing wrong with that image.”

It all began in South Milwaukee.

According to a Washington Post story following his death in 2005 …

“I think working people identify with me because years ago I worked when I wrestled, too,” Mr. Lisowski told the Milwaukee papers in 1985. “I worked at Ladish, Drop Forge, Cudahy Packing House. I was a bricklayer. But finally, I got away from punching the clock.”

He punched plenty of other things with his signature finishing move, the bolo, which had a windup like a fast pitch softball pitch but ended with a whomp! to a competitor’s bone and muscle. His own body was not spared the violence of the ring. Mr. Lisowski broke his right elbow seven or eight times, his son David Lisowski said, and was unable to fully straighten it. He had “thousands” of stitches in his head, countless concussions and a damaged eardrum. When he broke his right shoulder, he came home from a match, went to a pillar in the basement and yanked it back into place. He also had two hip replacements, a knee replacement and multiple heart bypass surgeries.

Yet he was so strong that he could bend a tire in half, which is harder than it sounds.

“These turkey neck bums they got wrestling, some of them couldn’t shine Crusher or Bruiser’s shoes,” he said in 1999 at a dog track appearance in Kenosha, Wis., according to amateur wrestling historian George Lentz, who tape-recorded the talk. “I come up the hard way. I had all these cage matches. I wrestled in the cage more than any other rassler in the history of rasslin’. I got all the scars to prove it. The time I wrestled Mad Dog [Vachon] in the cage, I had to go to the hospital, and he had to go to the veterinarian to get sewn up.”

His greatest legacy? His family. From the OnMilwaukee story …

Lisowski’s sons, Larry and David, wrestled at South Milwaukee High School. His opponents always wanted to beat “the Crusher’s son,” and he was a fixture at those matches, cheering his sons on from the stands. His status as one of wrestling’s all-time greats remains unchallenged, but it’s his devotion to his family, his daughters say, is the Crusher’s true legacy. Both daughters credit their mother, Faye, for keeping the family strong during their father’s many long work trips.

“He loved his family. Family was everything. He never missed a football game or a wrestling meet. He loved his grandkids. They were his world.”

There is more background here and here.

There is also some great YouTube video of Lisowski. Check out some early footage here and here, and here is a great compilation of footage later in his career.

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