Name: Pedro Morales
Year Inducted: 2015
Parade, a national newspaper insert, described Pedro Morales—then WWWF World champion—in April 1972: “Morales, whose soft-spoken, courteous manner contrasts with his bulging chest and shoulder muscles, is reflective of the growing interest in wrestling in cities with big Puerto Rican populations. Portraits and posters of Morales are sold in Madison Square Garden almost like saintly relics, and his fans come armed with Puerto Rican flags which they wave furiously when he pins an opponent.”
Not a big man, and surrounded by giants, the left-handed Morales relied on his fire and intensity to sell his skills to the masses. Slapping his chest to get himself motivated and rev up the crowd, his emotive face could convey emotion to the back rows.
Morales is technically a native of Culebra, a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, where he lived until heading to New York City as a teen. He’d seen TV wrestling while in Culebra, and as of 1958, the 5-foot-11, 240-pound Morales found himself in the ring with his old heroes.
Though he was in some solid mid-card programs, often teaming with Miguel Perez or Argentina Apollo, it became apparent that he wasn’t going to go very far in the northeast, and he headed out to get seasoning. In Amarillo and the Pacific Northwest, he was Johnny Como for a decent stretch, but in Hawaii, he worked under his real name.
In California, though, he became a star. The WWA World title found its way to his waist in March 1965. The Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram talked to him just before he knocked off The Destroyer for the belt. “Outside Morales’ dressing room at the Long Beach Auditorium, the cheers still resounded. For Pedro is the people’s choice. Little tykes beg for his autograph and little old ladies jab pins into his opponents. And even his most dastardly opponents have learned to respect the 22-year-old Latin hero,” reads the story.
Promoter Vincent J. McMahon knew his fan base was heavily ethnic, and had had his eye on Morales for years. With his World champion, Bruno Sammartino, demanding time off, McMahon needed a new draw. Morales returned to Madison Square Garden on January 18, 1971, the night Sammartino was dethroned by Ivan Koloff. Three weeks later, Morales knocked off Koloff for a title run that went until December 3, 1973, when Stan Stasiak surprised Morales, and subsequently lost the title back to Sammartino.
“Like Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales was an ethnic hero. When he wrestled in Madison Square Garden, the Bronx emptied out, and every Puerto Rican in the borough filled the arena,” wrote Freddie Blassie in his autobiography. “If you were roughing him up, all he had to do was give the high sign, and he’d have twenty-thousand tag team partners charging the ring.”
Morales continued in the ring into the mid-’80s and the national expansion of the WWF; to this day, Morales has held the Intercontinental championship longer than anyone else, taking into account his two title runs. He settled into life in Woodbridge, New Jersey, where his wife, Karen, taught elementary school, and where their son, Pedro Jr., grew to 6-foot-10 and landed a basketball scholarship at University of North Carolina-Charlotte. For a time, Morales was a Spanish commentator for the WWF and then WCW.