Maybe it’s because tag team wrestling isn’t as popular or as important in the WWE as it once was, or maybe it’s because the person featured in this article doesn’t want it to happen. However, the WWE is performing a grave injustice by not honoring one of its most loyal workers and a man who revolutionized tag-team wrestling in its federation.
That man is Tony Garea.
To younger fans, that name may not mean anything, but to old-school wrestling fans, that name should and does mean a lot, for Tony Garea, the man who put Auckland, New Zealand on the map, was the quintessential tag team wrestler, winning the WWWF/WWF World Tag Team Title five times with four different partners, two of them would later hold the AWA World title in their single careers. Garea did not have the most exciting style in the world – one of his signature moves was the abdominal stretch. But, Garea had the ability to be the stabilizing force of all the teams he was with by using no-nonsense wrestling moves.
Garea came to the WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation) in 1972 and a year later, won his first world tag team title on May 30, 1973, with the mammoth, 601-pound native of Morgan’s Corner, AK, Haystacks Calhoun. The unique team defeated the legendary team of WWE Hall of Famer Mr. Fuji and Professor Toru Tanaka. Garea and Calhoun held the titles for three months before losing the title back to the Japanese duo in September of 1973. That same year, Garea was named the Rookie of the Year along with future WWE Hall of Famer Bob Orton, Jr.
With an exciting new partner, Hawaiian Dean Ho, Garea was able to capture his second world title, defeating Fuji and Tanaka. Garea and Ho held the title for five and a half months before dropping the title to the first tag team to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame – Handsome Jimmy and Luscious Johnny, The Valiant Brothers. Garea and Ho later disbanded their team and Garea embarked on a brief solo career that took him to the Mid-Atlantic territory.
Garea returned to the WWWF in 1977 and formed a tag team with a rising star named Larry Zbyszko. After losing in a tournament for the vacant world tag team titles, Garea and Zbyszko defeated Eric and Pierre, The Yukon Lumberjacks for the championships in November of 1978. The win was Garea’s third title. Garea and Zbyszko held the titles for four months before dropping the straps to a second pair of Valiant Brothers – Luscious Johnny and Gentleman Jerry – in March of 1979.
The Garea-Zbyszko pairing gave Zbyszko some much needed notoriety that would help him less than a year later when he turned heel and began one of the greatest feuds in wrestling history with his mentor, the legendary Bruno Sammartino. Garea and Zbyszko would also engage in some memorable singles battles during that period. Zbyszko would later win the AWA World Heavyweight title in a battle royal in 1989.
By 1980, the WWWF took out one of its “W’s” and became the World Wrestling Federation. Garea was still a major part of its tag team division and he joined forces with Rene Goulet in a championship tag team tournament and got to the finals but Garea and Goulet fell to the legendary future hall of famers – Afa and Sika, the Wild Samoans.
Undaunted, Garea found another young talent to team with – the native of Quebec, Canada, Rick Martel. This was an extraordinary tag team that combined the poise of Garea with the excitement of Martel. A highlight of their matches was when Garea would take a beating and survive to tag Martel. This phrase used incessantly by announcers Vince McMahon and Gorilla Monsoon was tailor made for Martel –“OHH, Martel’s a HOUSE AFIRE!”
Garea and Martel captured the WWF Tag Team titles by defeating the Samoans in November of 1980. The popular duo would hold the titles until March of 1981 when the Moondogs (Rex and King) would defeat Garea and Martel for the titles.
While Garea and Martel continued to feud with the Moondogs, Garea won what would be a major singles match in Madison Square Garden. On June 8, 1981, Garea defeated a large wrestler known as Man Mountain Mike. Years later, Mike would return to the WWE under the name King Kong Bundy.
The next month, Garea and Martel won their second WWF Title, defeating the Moondogs on a July 21 taping of Championship Wrestling. The win would be Garea’s fifth and final championship and Garea and Martel held the title until October of 1981, when they would fall to Mr. Fuji and Mr. Saito.
Martel would later win a WWF tag title with Tito Santana as Strike Force. In between, Martel became the second former Garea partner to win the AWA World Heavyweight championship, defeating Jumbo Tsuruta in May of 1984. Martel would end his career as a heel known as “The Model.” In 2007, 26 years after they won their second world title, Garea and Martel would do a run-in from the crowd, saving Jimmy Snuka and Sgt. Slaughter from the clutches of Deuce (Snuka’s son) and Domino at a WWE Pay-Per-View.
After Martel left the WWE, Garea was relegated to either teaming with very young talent (Eddie Gilbert, B. Brian Blair) or being a well-known jobber to help get young heels over.
Garea has been a road agent with WWE since his retirement in 1986. He has, on occasion, been involved in brief on-camera roles in this position. Again, this shows his loyalty to the company that has treated him so well. Again, maybe it’s because Garea doesn’t want the notoriety, but Garea set a tag-team standard in this company and in this business – a standard that is worthy of hall of fame status.