Wladek Kowalski was known as “Tarzan” and
“Killer” Kowalski in different territories throughout
the world. He was originally from Hamtramck,
Michigan by way of Windsor, Ontario. Kowalski
was reportedly a teammate of Warren Spahn on
a Buffalo, New York high school baseball team.
He made his professional wrestling debut in the
fall of 1948. During his career, Kowalski won
World Heavyweight Championships in the United
States, Canada and Australia.
Kowalski beat Lou Newman in Kansas City on
June 23, 1949 with the 1st and 3rd falls. A week
later, he defeated Jim Wright after winning the 3rd
fall of an even match to continue his undefeated
local stance. Kowalski’s first visit to Kansas City
of 1951 was a good one. Tarzan made his way to
the ring of the Memorial Hall on January 25th to
face the returning Heart of America Heavyweight Champion, Bill Longson. He lost the first
but gained the second in 4:35. The final went to Tarzan after he applied a full nelson hold
at the 7:40 mark. Kowalski had captured the regional championship.
On February 1st, Kowalski beat Ronnie Etchison in two-of-three. Ray Eckert challenged
Kowalski on March 8th, but was turned away. Kowalski was dominating the region. Ernie
Dusek, who was claiming another Midwestern Championship at the time, entered Kansas
City. Promoters signed the bout. Dusek vs. Kowalski to decide who was the real
champion. On March 29, 1951, Kowalski defeated Dusek in two-of-three-falls to further
establish himself as the number one man in the territory. He was upset by a streaking
Dennis Clary on April 26th. Kowalski won the first match, but lost the second and third.
The Heart of America Title changed hands. Clary was the man. In the week directly
following the win, Dennis received a shot at the World Title. Three men had held the H of A
Title, and two of them had received a shot at Lou Thesz’s World Title the week after winning
the strap in Kansas City. The only man that hadn’t was Tarzan Kowalski.
The week following his win in January, Kowalski was facing Ron Etchison in a defense of
his crown. He was not gunning for the World Belt. After the loss, he dropped from the
region. Kowalski met Clary in Topeka on December 4, 1951 before 2,700 fans. He lost in
three-falls, the final by disqualification when he refused to break a hold. A shear intensity
was there against Clary. He wanted revenge. The referee had seen enough and called for
the bell. He drew with the Masked Monster on December 27, 1951 in Kansas City’s
Memorial Hall, tied 1-1. A one match appearance. Kowalski met Jim Henry on March 20,
1952 in Kansas City and battled him to a 1-1 draw.
Kowalski captured a claim to the World Heavyweight Title later in 1952 with a win over
Bobby Managoff. He would win that same belt more then five times. He was involved in an
incident with Yukon Eric in 1954 which has been told and retold millions of times and when
many think of the “Killer” they remember a sole incident out of the Montreal Forum in
Quebec. It was the famous kneedrop heard around the world. Kowalski leapt from the top
rope with a kneedrop onto the head of Eric, a move which tore the cauliflowered left ear
from the side of his head. Bleeding, Eric rushed back to the dressing room for immediate
assistance and the referee called for the bell. Killer Kowalski was the winner of the match.
Eric would return to wrestling full-time and Kowalski’s legacy grew.
His long-running feud with Bill Longson continued on January 20, 1955 in Kansas City.
Longson defeated Kowalski in two-of-three-falls. He wrestled Edouard Carpentier on
February 1, 1957 in St. Louis’ Kiel Auditorium. Kowalski lost by pinfall at the 25:45 mark.
He beat the Mighty Ursus in 18:22 on the 8th of that month at the same arena. A twenty-
minute draw was the result of an opening bout against Bob Ellis in the Denver Coliseum on
May 10, 1961, but Kowalski took part in the lumberjack match which was the main event.
Dick the Bruiser was defending his United States Title against Yukon Eric, and Kowalski
decided that he was going to more then what normal rules allowed under the
circumstances. He helped Bruiser beat Eric and retain his title in the third fall of an even
bout. An all-out war ensued in the ring in front of nearly 7,500 paying spectators.
He looked across the ring from a legend of the mat on June 7, 1961 in front of 5,043 fans
in Denver. The opponent was former World Champion, John Pesek. He beat Pesek in 12:
46 of their one-fall bout using an abdominal claw hold. Kowalski teamed with fellow heel
Dick the Bruiser in Denver on June 30, 1961 to beat Bobo Brazil and Haystack Calhoun in
two-of-three-falls. The final was captured by countout on Calhoun. He met Pesek in a
return Denver bout on July 19, 1961. Kowalski pinned Pesek in 22-minutes after a knee
drop to the throat. He wrestled a second match that night with Art Nielsen in a tag match
against the Bastien Brothers. Kowalski and Nielsen lost when they failed to return to the
ring after the second fall. He teamed with Bruiser against Bob Ellis and Pat O’Connor on
August 10th in Denver. The bout was a Texas Death Match. They lost seven falls and the
Kowalski met Bobo Brazil in Denver on August 31st, and the two wrestled to a stalemate in
thirty-minutes. He teamed with Bruiser against Ellis and Yukon Eric on September 15th and
won two-of-three-falls in Denver. After Eric was injured in the second fall, Kowalski and
Bruiser pummeled Ellis, two-on-one until the babyface couldn’t take it anymore. Kowalski
and Johnny Valentine wrestled to a double disqualification on October 19, 1962 in St.
Louis. In late-1972, Kowalski feuded over the Grand Prix Association Heavyweight Title with
Edouard Carpentier throughout Quebec and into the northeastern United States. A match
between the two ended in a double disqualification in Burlington, Vermont. The title was
vacant at the time.
Kowalski opened up a wrestling school in Massachusetts and began to train Big John
Studd. In the WWWF, Kowalski and Studd teamed under a mask as the Executioners with a
third member, Nikolai Volkoff and a successful manager backing them, Captain Lou Albano.
On May 11, 1976 in Philadelphia, the Executioners captured the World Tag Team Title
from Tony Parisi and Louis Cerdan at the Spectrum. After officials learned that there were
three wrestlers defending the championship belts instead of two, the Executioners were
stripped of the title. Kowalski retired in 1977, but his school flourished.
Kowalski has trained the likes of Hunter Hearst Helmsley and the “Ninth Wonder of the
-NWA Heart of America Heavyweight Title (1951) defeated Bill Longson
-NWA Omaha Heavyweight Title (1951) defeated Ernie Dusek, unification w/ H of A
-An eleven-time World Heavyweight Champion (Montreal)
-Defeated Bobby Managoff (1952)
-Defeated Verne Gagne (1953)
-Defeated Yvon Robert (1953)
-Defeated Antonino Rocca (1954)
-Defeated Pat O’Connor (1954)
-Defeated Don Leo Jonathan (1955)
-Defeated Yvon Robert (1956)
-Defeated Hard Boiled Haggerty (1956)
-Defeated Buddy Rogers (1959)
-Defeated Buddy Rogers (1960)
-Defeated Johnny Rougeau (1962)
-Co-holder of the WWWF United States Tag Team Title (1963) w/ Gorilla Monsoon
-A five-time IWA World Heavyweight Champion
-Defeated Hercules Cortez (1965)
-Defeated Spiros Arion (1965)
-Defeated Billy White Wolf (1967)
-Defeated Bearcat Wright (1967)
-A four-time co-holder of the IWA World Tag Team Title
w/ Skull Murphy (1967) defeated Red Bastien and Mario Milano
w/ Skull Murphy (1967) defeated Red Bastien and Mario Milano
w/ Bill Miller (1968) defeated Dominic DeNucci and Antonio Pugliese
w/ Mark Lewin (1971) defeated The Texas Outlaws
Research by Tim Hornbaker
Other Historical Notes:
In research, I've seen several mentions of Lou Thesz having some part in the ownership of
Killer Kowalski, but I don't know the exact details. Perhaps Thesz, for a time in the early
1950s, had a piece of his booking rights. We can only look at old correspondence and try
to figure out what exactly was happening there. On June 15, 1954, Sam Muchnick told
Thesz that he "okayed Kowalski to Al Karasick for six weeks, starting Sunday, August 8." He
added that Eddie Quinn was surprised when he heard that, and that Quinn "has Kowalski
for three weeks, starting June 28." Muchnick also wanted to give Kowalski to the "northwest
people for a week, before his departure."
|Wladek "Killer" Kowalski Wrestling History
Legends of Pro Wrestling