An offering of absurdist, science fiction where the only hope for Earth’s survival lies in the hands of a man known as the Abruzzi Strongboy…
by: Jon Krampner
The Martians were upon us so quickly. Searing blasts from their flying saucers heat rays toppled the toppled the Empire State Building and destroyed the U.S. Capitol in mere minutes. The world watched on televisions and smartphones as the Capitol burned and collapsed — it was the last thing many would see before the transmission went out — and were struck mute. The solid ground of yesterday had liquefied into a primordial ooze of terror, and nothing was certain, least of all our own prospects for survival.
It wasn’t just the Americans who suffered, although left-wingers certainly warned anyone within earshot what was about to happen around the globe. In London, the Martians obliterated the Houses of Parliament, the well-known clock face of Big Ben tumbling earthward and splashing into the rolling Thames like a poorly thrown frisbee. In Paris, what had been a simple earthworm, irradiated by Martian gamma rays, grew to several hundred feet in length, wrapping itself around the Eiffel Tower and crushing it. All over the world, there was destruction and murder on a scale undreamed of. Refugees poured out of the cities, leaving behind urban landscapes charred by the relentless Martian on slaught.
An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council was convened in Hoboken, New York, the first and perhaps the only time the city would serve as a center of global diplomacy. Delegates were at a loss for a plan to save the Earth from the invaders, seeing as the world’s great military machines had been laid to waste by the Martians’ Pearl Harbor-style attack.
“What about Bruno Sammartino?” the Italian representative asked his U.S. counterpart. “Maybe he can do something.”
Sammartino had been champion of the World-Wide Wrestling Federation from 1963 through 1971, and again from 1973 through 1977. In an era distinguished by notorious ring villains like Gorilla Monsoon, Killer Kowalski and Freddie Blassie, Bruno Sammartino was the charismatic symbol of good and the American Dream. The short, stocky frame of the Abruzzi Strongboy, as ring announcers called him, his angelic smile, and his insistence on clean and fair tactics made him a favorite with ring fans everywhere.
The American representative scoffed at the Italian representatives’ idea, pointing out that wrestling matches were fixed, with The New Yorker once having run a cartoon featuring the credits at the end of a televised wrestling match including one for choreography. But bereft of better ideas, the Security Council decided to ask Sammartino to carry humanity’s banner against the Martians. The Council dispatched a representative to Floral Park on Long Island, where Sammartino, now retired, lived in a split-level house with his wife and trophies from his glory days of wrestling. Somewhat smaller, more wizened and hairless, Sammartino now looked like the famous Yankee baseball player Yogi Berra. He still worked out regularly, though, and was in terrific shape. Ever the avatar of goodness, Sammartino and his wife had taken in several refugees who had fled New York City in the face of the Martian onslaught.
Sammartino was humanity’s last hope, the UN envoy said. His wife begged him to stay home, but the same intrinsic goodness and inner strength that had led him to turn back Russian madman Nikolai Volkoff in a steel-cage match at Madison Square Garden shone through, and he vowed to fight for humankind. He and his wife exchanged a tearful goodbye — being that it might be the last time they would see each other — and Sammartino trudged off to New York City,which has become the Martian de facto capital.
The Martian mother ship hovered above Manhattan, perched atop the forty-floor stump of the Empire State Building. Sammartino walked all the way to Astoria, Queens, with a knapsack of provisions and his wrestling regalia packed by his wife. There he found a canoe and paddled across the East River to Manhattan. The devastation reminded him of that wrought by the Nazis in his hometown of Abruzzi, in southern Italy, when he was a boy.
A cordon of Martians surrounded the Empire State Building. They were unattractive, short creatures dressed in silver-colored uniforms. They had large, glowing eyes which protruded from their visible bowling-ball-sized brains, all encased in plexiglass-like helmets that enabled them to breathe their Martian atmosphere. Instead of hands, they had what appeared to be small, metallic grappling hooks.
“Take-a me to your leader,” Sammartino said, never having completely mastered the language of his adopted homeland, which was part of his immigrant charm. The Martian sentinels seemed to understand, and one tele-transported him high above to the mothership, where the Martian ruler Zorgg the Conqueror was in residence.
Zorgg was seated at a console in the windowless space ship, his back to Sammartino. Screens on the console showed images from the worldwide network of prison camps into which the Martians had herded many of the surviving humans.
The Martian leader levitated himself and his chair, turning around so he now faced Sammartino at eye level. Zorgg was bigger and brawnier than his four-foot, six-inch minions, but had the same ghoulish smile. Unlike the others, his silver jumpsuit was trimmed with something that looked like ermine, and there was a rotating metallic tuning fork atop his helmet. Although a status marker, it reminded Sammartino of the runway radar at LaGuardia.
Sammartino locked eyes with the floating Martian despot. The battle of wills had begun and Sammartino issued his challenge: We wrestle for the fate of the earth. If I win, you and your –— he was going to say “people,” but they weren’t exactly people, were they? — you and your forces depart. If I lose, Earth is yours for the taking.
Zorgg was intrigued. Earth was in the bag anyway, and what could one lousy human do? He thought. Back in high school, Zorgg had been an All-Mars wrestling champion, and had always enjoyed a first-rate challenge, which the invasion of Earth so far had not been.
So it was decided they would wrestle for the fate of Earth in an outdoor ring the Martians had constructed in an open field in front of Fraunces Tavern in downtown Manhattan. The audience for the match would be mostly Martians, as few humans dared venture into the destroyed city.
Only two human would be in the audience. One was a wino who had been living in Grand Central Station and had missed the entire invasion because of a blackout caused by a three-day bender. “I’m rooting for you, pal,” he told Sammartino at ringside. “That other guy is just too ugly.” The other was senior counselor to the U.S. president, Kellyanne Conway. She had survived the initial Martian attack in a command bunker below the White House bunker and had somehow made it back up to New York, curious if she could salvage any items from her Trump Tower apartment.
The Earthling champion Sammartinoentered the ring in dark blue wrestling trunks and warm-up jacket to match and a pair of wrestling boots. Zorgg, on the other hand, wore an elaborate spangled and prismatic robe that made him look like a Martian Gorgeous George. Although nervous, Sammartino couldn’t help thinking What a ham!
The match began. The surprisingly quick and agile Zorgg placed Sammartino in an armlock. The Martian crowd made hissing noises, which Sammartino assumed was their version of cheers. The Martian referee began to count: one…two…three... The two humans in attendance began to worry that Zorgg would quickly score a pin on Sammartino. Thankfully, humanity’s champion flipped the Martian ruler across the ring. The two opponents prowled around each other, probing for any possible weaknesses.
Sammartino mounted the ring’s turnbuckle, leapt down at Zorgg, swung around behind, grabbed him around the midsection, and flung him to the canvas, covering him for the pin. One…two…three…the reluctant Martian referee began to count.
However, Sammartino and the now prostrate Zorgg were too close to the ring’s edge. Overcome by emotion (and yes, those Vulcan-like creatures from the Red Planet did have them), a Martian in the front row sprang to his feet, grabbed a metal chair, and slammed it over Sammartino’s head. This allowed the Martian leader to escape the pin. Sammartino was momentarily dizzy and, to make matters worse, while he was still dazed and wandering around the ring, Zorgg injected him with several volts of electricity through his pincers. Sammartino felt as he had as a young boy in Abruzzi when the oak tree he and his brother had taken refuge beneath during a spring rainstorm was struck by lightning.
Bruno, stumbling, fell flat on his back on the canvas. But Zorgg, instead of covering him for the pin, strutted and preened around the ring, playing to the crowd which hissed in approval. Just like Buddy Rogers, Sammartino woozily thought, recalling the vain, taunting wrestler he had defeated to win his first championship. But Sammartino was not just defending his homeland, he was defending his home planet. He had to wrestle the match of his life. While Zorgg was levitating above the ring, accepting the adulation of the cheering Martian crowd, Sammartino picked himself up and stalked over to the surprised Martian leader. Concentrating with every fiber of his being, Sammartino leaped in the air, wrapped his legs around Zorgg’s helmet and slammed the stunned Martian leader to the mat. By employing the flying head scissors move, the aging Sammartino had perfectly pinned the Martian leader to the floor. Zorgg was unable to rise. The Martian referee gave a slow count, but Zorgg could not make it off the canvas and the disbelieving Martian raised Sammartino’s hand in victory.
One last time, the magnificent Bruno Sammartino had won the day. His grit, stamina and courage guaranteed that the traditions of Earthly civilization that sprang up a millennia ago in Athens, China, and Babylon would not be extinguished by the extraterrestrial interlopers.
When the match was over, President Kellyanne Conway whispered in Zorgg’s ear that all he needed to do was broadcast a message on prison camp tele-screens worldwide claiming that Sammartino’s victory was just fake news and the Earth was his. Although Zorgg and his forces made good on their vow to depart the Earth, about a third of Americans voluntarily remained in the Martian prison camps. This struck Sammartino as odd, but he returned to his split-level in Floral Park, where he was tearfully greeted by his wife. They lived happily ever after, although of course, they missed some of their neighbors.
I’m only buying this if in the movie version Bruno is played by Morgan Freeman and Zorgg by Danny DeVito.
Danny DeVito would be perfect as Zorgg. Freeman is a genius, but I dunno….he doesn’t have the wrestler’s physique…or the accent thing…he’s too tall…and I hope this isn’t racist, but then there’s the African American vs. Italian thing…food for thought, though.
I could definitely see Danny DeVito as Zorgg, but not Morgan Freeman, despite his indisputable genius, as Bruno — too tall, too slender, too sophisticated and, ah, too African-American. I don’t know if he’s still around or not, but I’m thinking more along the lines of Gerard Depardieu for Bruno: stocky, short (I think), with a European accent. He’s French, of course, not Italian, but most Americans won’t care about a detail like that.
Great story. It brought me back to watching Dick Lane and wrestling on Channel 5 in LA. I laughed out loud several times.
Thank you very much, Garrett!
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