According to his Social Security Application, filled out on August 7, 1953, Antonino Rocca was
born, "Antonino Biasetton" on April 13, 1921 in Treviso, Italy. Some other reports have claimed
that he was born in 1923 or as late as 1927, but Rocca filled this application out and signed it,
listing his birth year as 1921, and saying that he was 32 in 1953. This seems to be the most
accurate. His parents were Antonino and Angela Basso Biasetton. His 1953 address was 140
West 69th Street in New York City and he was self-employed.
Born: April 13, 1921 Italy
Real Name: Antonino Biasetton (Legally changed to Antonino Rocca)
Wife: Nellie (native of Buenos Aires)
Hometown: Treviso, Italy/ New York City, New York
College: University of Buenos Aires
Trained by: The Zbyszko Brothers, Kola Kwariani, Paul Boesch
Pro Debut: 1940s, South America
Identities: Tony Rocca, Antonio Rocca
Nicknames: Argentina, Argentine, The Television Kid
Finisher: Argentine Backbreaker
Managed by: Joe “Toots” Mondt (1940s-’50s), Vince McMahon (1950s), Fred Kohler (1950s),
Kola Kwariani (1960s)
Rocca, nicknamed “Argentina” was born Antonino Biasetton with a twin sister, fifteen miles west
of Venice in Treviso, Italy. The story of his immigration from Italy to Argentina differs from report
to report. One version has Rocca joining his two civil engineer brothers in Rosario, Argentina
when he was 16, leaving his homeland prior to the outbreak of World War II. If he was born in
1923, he would have arrived in South America in 1939, but if he was born in 1927, he would
have left a war torn Italy in 1943. The other story has Rocca traveling with his elder brothers to
Rosario for contracting work.
Already an excellent swimmer, Rocca furthered his athletic skills in Argentina while playing
soccer and rugby. He weighed more than 200 pounds by 16 years of age, and when he
stopped growing, he stood six foot, with a size 13 shoe. Antonino studied electrical engineering
at the University of Rosario in Santa Fe, Argentina. Legend has it that he turned professional in
1940, and won a tournament at Luna Park in Buenos Aires in May 1941, but another report
stated that he didn’t see his first match until 1941. Rocca was quoted, in broken English, as
saying the following in an article written by Meg Miller in the July 27, 1950, edition of the
Mansfield, Ohio, News-Journal: “Everybody think like joke I want to wrestle. The best wrestlers
all over the world go to the tournament. But I take chance to compete with them. My first
opponent was Kwariani. After eight minutes he gave up and I win my first match. After that
Kwariani and I become friends and he help me make contacts.”
The promoter in Buenos Aires was Karl Nowina, who worked as “Karl or Karol Zbyszko” during
tours of the United States, and was billed as the nephew of Stanislaus and Wladek. Both
Zbyszko Brothers had also spent time in South America, both promoting and wrestling. Rocca
was reportedly trained, in part, by the Zbyszkos, but it is more likely he was tutored only by
Nowina. Stanislaus was quoted by Harry Grayson for an article printed in the October 24, 1953
edition of the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin as saying: “A man
hurling himself through the air is off balance. His opponent merely has to give him a shove to
topple him to the mat. His opponent simply can sidestep and fall on the other man when he
lands on the mat. That’s why Antonino Rocca’s dropkick, which seems to impress the crowd, is
so laughable. An honest wrestler could pin Rocca in five seconds by grabbing a foot and
pouncing on him when he landed with his body out of control.”
Zbyszko blasted Rocca, something that was improbable if he was the man’s trainer and friend.
Rocca was also a noted “worker,” and Stanislaus was a man who held the wrestling sport to a
high standard, unimpressed with the dramatics of grappling in the 1950s. If Zbyszko was the
trainer of Rocca, he would have instilled a high level of skill in his protégé. Rocca was known
strictly for the performance aspect of wrestling. Rocca was trained while in Buenos Aires, and
traveled to Texas with Nick Elitch, making his American debut on July 29, 1948 in Galveston.
Jumping on a circuit made up of such cities as Houston and Dallas, Rocca performed before
large audiences, and quickly gained a following. As he was transitioning into the biggest
sensation in wrestling, combining acrobatics with high-flying skills, a war between promoters for
his contract began.
With Rocca headlining, the Garden boomed starting in February 1957, and topped $60,000
gates. On November 19, 1957, he was apart of the famous tag team match at the arena that
started a riot. Rocca’s partnership with Miguel Perez drew heavily in the New York City area and
“Argentina” remained the northeast’s most popular wrestler until 1962.
“Argentina” Rocca was the most spectacular and high-flying athletes of his time. Where other
grapplers had revolutionized the sport in their own ways, either through football tactics or sharp
forks, Rocca had a way of using everything to his advantage. He used the dropkick masterfully
as well as a ton of other acrobatics. Antonino was always barefoot in the ring, which also
seperated him from the rest. Originally from Treviso, Italy, Rocca moved to Argentina while a
teenager. It was there that he was courted for wrestling in the United States by Kola Kwariani
and promoter Joe Mondt. Rocca appeared in Houston and parts of Texas before venturing to
the northeast and settling into the New York City area.
Rocca made an appearance for Fred Kohler in Chicago on Friday, April 29, 1949 at the
International Amphitheatre. Kohler “introduced” Rocca to America, as stated in a program. He
faced Fred Von Schacht. By the end of his first year in the United States, Rocca would be one
of the top draws in the sport. 17,854, a twenty-year United States record was broken when
Rocca and Gene Stanlee matched up at Madison Square Garden on December 12, 1949.
Rocca pinned Stanlee. $50,639 was the live gate and the crowd was the largest wrestling
attendance in twenty years. A few nights earlier, Robert Villemain boxed Jake LaMotta in a
match that was not for the latter’s Middleweight Championship at the Garden, drawing 9,599
and paying $33,476. Many compared the two events, since they were so close, and speculated
about the popularity of the two sports. One thing had to be taken into the comparison: The
boxing show was televised where the wrestling wasn’t. Television was making a huge impact on
sports and when wrestling made the airwaves, Rocca was an immediate star. In the northeast,
he was already a legend.
Rocca defeated Leslie Carlton on May 15, 1950 at Madison Square Garden in New York in front
of 14,246 fans. He headlined the last card promoted by William F. Johnston, who died the night
earlier. Antonino was scheduled to appear in Tampa on February 19, 1951 for Cowboy Luttrall,
but failed to show after immigration authorities in Havana, Cuba held him until he was able to
clear up his documentary visa. On September 24, 1952, Rocca wrestled Lou Thesz in
Washington D.C. in a World Heavyweight Title Match. Gabe Menendez promoted the match at
Griffith Stadium and nearly 10,000 fans witnessed the two battle to a time-limit draw. He
rebounded to defeat Tony Galento at Turner’s Arena on October 1st in Washington.
At Griffith Stadium on September 2, 1954, Rocca faced Verne Gagne in Washington. Prior to
the Vince McMahon Sr., Promoted Match, Rocca was billed as the underdog in a regional
newspaper. Also, he was stated to be making $100,000 a year. He debuted in Denver on
January 18, 1955 at the Auditorium Arena for Promoter, Mike London. Rocca beat Eddie Lewis
in two-straight falls. He won the third fall of an even match against Hans Schmidt in Denver on
March 8, 1955 by disqualification. The Rocca-Schmidt feud would continue. Rocca defeated
Bronko Lubich in two-straight falls on January 21, 1957 in Omaha.
On October 15, 1957, Rocca and Miguel Perez Sr. defeated Killer Kowalski and Dick the Bruiser
in New York’s Madison Square Garden. 18,335 witnessed the event live with a gate of
$51,335.98. On November 19th, a situation occurred at Madison Square Garden that was
heard around the world. Rocca teamed with Eduardo Carpentier, claimant to the World
Heavyweight Title, against Dr. Jerry Graham and Dick the Bruiser in a two-of-three-fall match.
12,987 fans watched referee Danny Bartfield award the final fall to Carpentier and Rocca by
disqualification after their opponents used illegal tactics. After the bell, the four continued to
fight and 500 fans incensed by the action, decided to brawl themselves. Two police officers
were injured in the ruckus, one hit in the head by a bottle. After the match, New York
Commissioners swiftly discussed the event and what repercussions would arise from it
attempted to prevent a second riot.
Rocca teamed with Yukon Eric in Omaha on May 2, 1958 against Dick the Bruiser and Ivan the
Terrible. The favorites won two-of-three-falls. Antonino pinned Ivan in the final fall with a
backbreaker. On May 10, 1958, Rocca defeated Dick the Bruiser in a singles match by
disqualification in the third fall of a three-fall match. Hans Schmidt had interfered on Bruiser’s
behalf and the two teamed against Rocca. In March 1960, Rocca and Perez were the number-
one tag team in the world, and Rocca was still lighting up the singles scene, rated third after the
NWA World Champion, Pat O’Connor and Killer Kowalski.
He returned to the northeast in 1963 to combat the promoters he once worked for. Rocca and
Manny Heicklen began a new promotion and a television product out of Sunnyside Garden on
Long Island. The two imported talent from Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic and produced a weekly
Monday television show with wrestlers not many had heard of or seen before. A new
organization was challenging the newly formed World Wide Wrestling Federation. The show
was titled “All-Star Wrestling with Antonino Rocca” and was aired on channel 9, WOR, in New
Rocca died on March 15, 1977 of a urinary infection in New York City. He was 53.
Copyright 2010 by Tim Hornbaker
Other Notes & Infomation:
Rocca reportedly received 15 per cent of the gate for each show he appeared around 1952-'53,
and then his cut was split by managers/bookers "Toots" Mondt and Fred Kohler, with another
percent going to his road agent, whoever it was at the time. According to one source, Rocca
had to post $10,000 (with who?) as a guarantee that he'd lose when told.
|Antonino Rocca Wrestling History
Legends of Pro Wrestling