The Sicilian Colossus
by Ryan Dilbert
They called my grandfather The Italian Terror, The Sicilian Colossus, Devourer of the Weak. His mother just called him Bobby.
I never met him. A heart attack woke him in a hotel in Tampa. It took eight guys to lift him up onto the stretcher.
The Sicilian Colossus was an ornery drunk or a gentle giant or a consummate professional or an asshole who liked to take liberties with his opponents or a pensive loner or a man who couldn't be satisfied with less than three buxom women at a time. They tell me that he dislocated his knee in a match in Japan and shoved it back in himself between falls. They tell me that he was essentially nocturnal, that he was actually a foot shorter during the day but transformed under the light of the moon. They tell me that he ate live birds plucked from his hotel window.
One man swore to me that my grandfather lifted a bus out of the Hudson River.
Some folks described him as an amazing athlete, that he was a panther in the ring, with deft footwork that belied his size. Some told me that he was barely more mobile than a statue, so hard to work with that promoters had to pay his foes extra.
I can't even get a handle on his real height. Some accounts have him listed at 6'11". One handbill claimed he was eight feet tall. Jason Levitt, a marginally successful wrestler who later started reffing, said that my grandfather was tall enough to peek into a second-story window.
“He broke about six or seven rings that I saw. Just an immense man,” Levitt told me.
Finding out who he was has been like trying to track an animal who leaves a different set of footprints each night. I have taken a wrestler-like voyage, crisscrossing the nation, interviewing the men whom The Sicilian Colossus once flung around the ring, those who paid to put his name on the marquee, and those who saw him in person, watching him through a cloud of cigarette smoke. I haven't filled in the missing pieces to the puzzle this way; I've only become less sure of what the picture I'm supposed to be forming looks like.
My father is no help. He barely knew the man. The Italian Terror was on the road for 300 days a year. Grandfather did little more than name my dad. My father was stuck trying to get know the big brute through pictures in magazines and videotapes of his matches.
I've visited the famous arenas that my grandfather wrestled in. I've walked across the vacant lot that was once the Dallas Sportatorium, the tin barn-cum-wrestling temple where he won a total of six battle royals. I bought a ticket to a concert at Madison Square Garden, hoping to feel some hint of him in the air.
When I visited his grave, a part of me wanted to exhume his body and force his story from him. But mostly I just admired the hill of flowers stacked at his headstone, the hushed congregation of strangers formed around it.
A bearded man near the grave ended his silent prayer and met my eyes.
I heard he's not even buried here. There's a rumor that they sent him back to Italy and he's floating at the bottom of the Tyrrenian Sea, and sharks swim through his bones like a shipwreck.
As a fiction writer who covers pro wrestling for a living, I guess it was inevitable that those worlds would merge. I wrote one story about the squared circle, and then another. Soon I found I had begun a series of short stories showcasing pro wrestling from a variety of angles.
This was one of the first pieces from the project.
Inspired by the anecdotes about Andre the Giant that read like tall tales, I wanted to explore the idea of struggling to distinguish reality from fiction, of not being sure where the larger-than-life character ended and the mortal wrestler began. And so I crafted my own Andre-esque big man and set to work.
Ryan Dilbert is the author of Time Crumbling like a Wet Cracker (No Record Press). His short fiction can be read in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Word Riot, and Cease, Cows. He is Bleacher Report's WWE Lead Writer. You can find links to much of his work at ryandilbert.com.