While beginning the renovation of the new MEARS headquarters, I had the privilege of meeting some the neighbors. With a 30 yard dumpster partially blocking the shared alley, I wanted to introduce myself to my new neighbors and make sure the noise and dust wasn’t too much of a nuisance.
While speaking with the neighbors that lived immediately to our north, I found out that they now lived in the house where Reginald Lisowski was born and raised. Around the neighborhood he was known simply as Reggie, but to wrastling fans, he was celebrated as “the Crusher”.
Lisowski was born and raised in the Milwaukee suburb of South Milwaukee. Early on he was more interested in football, playing fullback for the South Milwaukee High School football team, but took up wrestling while stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army. Having developed a liking for the sport, he continued training with Ivan Racy and Buck Tassie at Milwaukee’s Eagle’s Club when he returned, eventually wrestling Marcel Buchet in his first recorded match late in 1949.
His early career included wrestling 3 to 4 nights per week at a Chicago armory, typically earning $5 a night. To support himself and to stay in shape Lisowski worked various blue-collar jobs by day, from meat packing to being a bricklayer. Fred Kohler was the first promoter to put him on TV, and by 1954 he had developed a barrel-chested physique which would stick with him for most of his career. Decades before Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Sandman , Lisowski perfected the gimmick of the beer drinking tough guy. To further his career he bleached his dark hair blonde and started to get over as a strongman heel, famous for his bolo punch as well as a devastating full nelson. This eventually led to him winning the Chicago-area NWA World Tag Team Championship with partner Art Neilson.
Crusher was successful as a solo wrestler, winning the AWA World Heavyweight Championship three times, the first time unifying it with the Omaha version of the World Heavyweight Championship on July 9, 1963 in a match where he defeated Verne Gagne. He was skillful at cutting promos, as he would brag about his “100 megaton biceps” and offer to pummel “da bum” he was facing in the ring with ease, and he often delighted in calling opponent’s “turkeynecks.” His most quotable and famous phrase though was: “How ’bout ‘dat?” When asked how he trained for a match, he’d claim he ran along the waterfront in Milwaukee carrying a large beer barrel over either shoulder for strength, and that he’d dance all night with Polish barmaids to increase his stamina.
Officially Crusher’s last match was for the WWF in 1988, but Crusher still found himself involved in wrestling throughout the 1990s. World Championship Wrestling (WCW) elected him to their Hall of Fame in 1994, and in 1998 he made an appearance alongside Maurice Vachon at WWF’s Over the Edge PPV held in Milwaukee. The enmity between Lisowski and Vachon was no kayfabe, as Lisowski had beat Vachon’s head on the ring bell years before, opening a cut that had taken 35 stitches to close. Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler attempted to run down the two as past their prime, and even tried to steal Vachon’s artificial leg, but instead got whacked over the head and took a punch from Crusher, to the crowd’s delight. As Lawler bailed, the two men who had once regarded each other as enemies shook hands. Lawler tried a second time to get the best of Crusher, but with a trademark cigar in his mouth, he still got the best of The King and sent him packing.
In his later years, multiple surgeries on his hips and knee crippled him, as well as a non-cancerous tumor removed from his brain stem, leaving Crusher partially paralyzed. He died on October 22, 2005.
Across the street is St. Mary’s church. It was reported that at the time of the Crusher’s death, over 5,000 people attended the funeral. True to his polish heritage, a polka band played in the parking lot to celebrate the life of this South Milwaukee legend. With characters and history like this, I like the neighborhood already.
Troy R. Kinunen