One of New Zealand's greatest success stories overseas, Tony Garea, five times world tag team champion, spent a couple of weeks back in his homeland last month. And he still looks great – Still has that great head of hair, and obviously still looks after himself. Tony was practically unknown in his own country, because he left here in 1972, cracked it big in the U.S. and has remained there ever since, except for the odd trip back home.
If you got the American wrestling magazines like myself, you would have kept up with Tony's huge following in the U.S. He was World Tag Champion on five different occasions with four different partners. Of course it is well known that Rick Martell came here in his early career for Steve Rickard, and was such a sensation that the female fans came out in their thousands to see this great crowd idol. Tony was tag champion with Dean Ho, Haystacks Calhoun Larry Zbyszko and the ever-popular Rick Martel on two occasions. Well it was the same in the U.S. when Rick teamed up with Tony Garea. Bruno Sammartino was topping bills at Madison Square Garden in those years, but Tony and Rick outdrew everyone in sight. The Latin-American population in New York came out in droves when this handsome pair was on the bill and "The Garden" was always sold out month after month.
I was told by my friend in America that Tony was always the perfect gentleman. Today he still works for the W.W.E. as an agent and is one of its longest serving ex-wrestlers. He rates Dory Funk as the greatest ever wrestler he ever saw.
The following is an old story on Tony Garea.
Young Kiwi Makes It In New York Rings
Tony Garea, one time Auckland sprinter and footballer, has made it in a place, which has made millionaires out of some wrestlers.
By Dave Cameron
When the New Zealand wrestler Tony Garea left New Zealand at the end of 1972 fro the United States, he expected to be away about a year. Now the 1978 season is upon us, Tony is still in the U.S., after more than five years, and has his name inscribed on at least one of the world champion belts.
Tony Garea has won the world tag championships first with Dean Ho as his partner and more recently with the mammoth, 40 stone plus Haystacks Calhoun.
He has become the darling of numerous American television fans and is a regular lead performer at Madison Square Gardens, which is so often packed to its 22,000 capacity.
His dark, curly hair and unmistakable good looks, his tremendous physique and, above all, his skilful techniques have combined to establish his bona fides at the box-office.
For four years past Tony has constantly been in world ratings and right now is wrestling around New York, where "Superstar" Billy Graham is wrestling king and former champion, Bruno Sammartino, as well as Samoan Peter Maivia, Gorilla Monsoon, Mr Fuji, Toro Tanaka, George Steele, Len Hurst, Stan Stasiak, Nikolai Volkoff, Jay Strongbow and Andre the Giant are also active.
The 6ft 1in, 17 ½ stone New Zealander has done very well. After several visits to Australia, which enabled him to get in with some of the 'name' American visiting matmen, Garea headed for Florida for a promised campaign with Eddie Graham, president of the National Wrestling Alliance, with which New Zealand promoters have become affiliated.
Tony Garea started at the very bottom of the totem pole, made steady but unspectacular progress, finally cracking it in New York territory.
It is no state secret that many other lucky ones who sis the same in Gotham are now millionaires. The only other New Zealander to make it there was, of course, Pat O'Connor, the wrestling blacksmith from Raetihi, who won the world heavyweight championship from Dick Hutton some 16 or 17 years ago.
Supporters of Tony Garea around New York feel that this latest young New Zealander will follow in O'Connor's footsteps. No fewer than nine times has he topped the bill with Superstar Graham, around the state this past month or so alone!
The tag combination of Garea and Hawaiian star Dean Ho was one of the slickest in some time. It took them to a well-publicised win over Toro Tanaka and My Fuji in Pennsylvania, which brought them their claim to the world tag title.
Other successful tag partners for the New Zealand wrestler were Pat Patterson and Pedro Morales, while at present Tony wrestles with Larry Zbyszko, on whose behalf is claimed 'distant' relationship with old-time world champion Stanislaus Zbyszko.
In his first full year in the States, Tony Garea won the "Rookie of the Year" award and this of course earned him plenty of work.
A fine all-round sportsman at home in Auckland, Tony played rugby league and was also a sprinter of some accomplishment before poundage was built up for the wrestling ring.
"Wild Don" Scott coached him as a wrestler at Mt Roskill gymnasium and, like younger brother Johnny, he was known as Garcia rather than his given name of Garea when he first took the ring.
Johnny (who has compelled space in a previous issue of 'Sports Digest'), does not wish to trade on his brother's reputation and on his merits has come to be regarded as one of the brighter young men in New Zealand wrestling.
Brother Tony Garea may be seen in his homeland for a short period about September next, when he is booked to wrestle in Japan for a few weeks. He would love to break his journey, either out or in, to stop off homewards.
If the American promoters extend him some time out of contract to enable him to do so, fans here will have a first-class opportunity of gauging what five years in the home of modern wrestling can do.