RYDER: I guess the best place to start is with your initial entry into wrestling. How and where did that happen?
AFA: This goes back to the late 60's or early 70's out in Phoenix, AZ. I was trained by a German wrestler called Kurt Von Steiger. There used to be two brothers Kurt and Karl Von Steiger, but Kurt is the one that trained me. So, that's how I got started. From there, my brother Sika came in a couple of years later and we started teaming.
RYDER: So the first time you teamed was also in Arizona?
AFA: Yes, we started there. I started first, then my brother came in and we started teaming in Arizona. From there we moved to Calgary and wrestled for Stu Hart. Stu Hart helped us out alot. We thought we knew alot about the business until we got to Calgary. He helped us alot.
RYDER: How long were in the Calgary area?
AFA: I would say about a year and a half.
RYDER: Where did you go next?
AFA: We went from there to Vancouver, BC and worked with Gene Kiniski. Then we started working our way down, and we went to Texas and worked with the Von Eric's. Then to Louisiana to work with Watts for a few months. From there we went to Atlanta and worked for Ann Gunkle.
RYDER: In those days there was alot of moving between regions.
AFA: Oh yeah. In those days you could work. You could move around between the promoters and you always had work.
RYDER: That kept you fresh all the time because you could move after a few months.
AFA: That's right. We would stay in a territory for 4 or 5 months and move somewhere else.
RYDER: I guess it was about that time that you got your big break and moved to New York. That would have been late 70's?
AFA: That's right. We did alot in one year. We moved around during the 70's and you are absolutely right, we got our big break in New York. What happened was Andre The Giant and Fabulous Moolah had seen us. In those days Andre would work all over the country working for different promoters. So, when he met us in Louisiana he went back and told Vince McMahon that he had met these two kids that would be perfect for his territory. Andre was the one and Fabulous Moolah that put in the good word.
RYDER: And that was to Vince McMahon, Sr?
AFA: That's right. That's how we came in.
RYDER: At that time it was still the WWWF?
AFA: That's right.
RYDER: That would have probably been 78 or 79?
AFA: That's right. It was the tail end of the 70's.
RYDER: When you first got into the WWWF they were big, but still just a regional promotion. What was it like watching the company grow and expand into what it became in the 80's?
AFA: Well, in those days wrestling was very popular. My brother and I come from a rough way of wrestling. We don't have much amateur experience, but people liked out style. We would go in and kick butts or get our butts kicked. The people liked that. To me, 10 or 15 years ago was better and more interesting that wrestling is today. Today is more entertainment than wrestling.
RYDER: When Vince, Jr came in and took the company national in the early 80's, you and your brother were very much involved in the promotion. What was that like?
AFA: We had come in right after Bruno left. It was us, Jimmy Snuka, Don Muraco, Rocky Johnson...
RYDER: You were their "new generation".
AFA: Yeah, I guess so. At that time, I guess we were. We stayed with it until the mid 80's.
RYDER: In those days the Garden was still selling out every show?
AFA: It sure was. My brother would wrestle Bob Backlund and sell it out upstairs in the Garden and downstairs in the TV screen area. Then the next month, I'd come back and wrestle him and sell it out again. Everytime we'd go there we would sell out. Everywhere we went we would sell out. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, everywhere. Here in Allentown every three weeks we would do TV tapings and sell out everytime.
RYDER: This was all before it really went national though, wasn't it?
AFA: Yes it was.
RYDER: When it went national and when they started with the PPV's, what changed in the promotion? The Garden stopped selling out.
AFA: The way I look at it, and this is my own personal opinion. The way I look at it is we made more money in those days. Some of us had guarantees. Some made percentage of the house. Today the promoters aren't concerned with the big crowds. They don't care if it's packed anymore. The reason is they focused so much on TV and merchandise. Most of the guys that used to rely on the house shows just can't make what they used to.
RYDER: What was it like seeing Hulk Hogan become a Superstar in the WWF?
AFA: Well, we were the ones that brought him here. Hulk Hogan is a friend of ours. When I was telling you about all that traveling we did in the south, well...we met him down there. When we came up here we brought a picture of him and showed it to Vince McMahon, Sr. He was a big blonde guy, just starting in the business and still playing in his band. He was a good friend of ours. We used to hang out on the beach. In fact, he and my brother spent alot of time living on the beach. We were all poor then, we didn't have anything. We were just trying to make it working in the small towns in the south. Finally we got out break in New York and we showed the picture of Hulk to Vince, Sr and to Captain Lou who was managing us. Vince McMahon, Sr pulled me on the side and asked how long the kid had been wrestling. I told him not long and he's kind of green, but he looks good and had long blond hair. This was right after the Graham Brothers, so I knew Vince, Sr liked that look. In those days we would just come up to do the TV taping and then go back south, and we'd come up in January to do our swing through the promotion. When we came back up, we brought Hulk Hogan with us. We all packed up and loaded our cars and the three of us came up together and that's how he got into this company.
RYDER: That was his first run when he came in as a heel managed by Blassie?
AFA: That's right. From there he ended up going over to Minneapolis and worked for them, and then ended up in that Rocky movie. Then he came back and his career took off.
RYDER: What was it like to watch Hulk Hogan, someone you knew from living on the beach together, become one of the biggest superstars in the history of the business?
AFA: I think it was it was something you just can't forget. Seeing a guy like him make it big, we were glad we could help him. We were doing ok, and were happy to see him make it. We brought others in too. Let me give you some examples. We brought Hulk Hogan in, we brought Paul Orndorff in, we brought Junkyard Dog in, we brought the Freebirds in. These were all people we had met and made friends with while we traveled in the south. In fact I helped train Junkyard Dog.
RYDER: How did the company change when Vince, Sr stepped aside and Vince, Jr took over?
AFA: Well Vince, Sr was a good man. Vince, Jr...I call him Junior, he's different from his father. This kid is very agressive, a very good businessman. His father was more like me, laid back and easy going. He looked after every wrestler there was. He loved my brother and I and respected us and we worked hard for him. In those days we would make deals with a handshake and that was the deal. He was good to us and took care of us and now his son takes care of our kids.
RYDER: Tell me about the rest of the family. Is Yokozuna Sika's son?
AFA: No, Yokozuna is my older brother's son. Samu is my son. Fatu is my sisters son. Yoko is my older brother...there is 7 brother, I have 2 older brothers.
RYDER: How many others?
AFA: Well, the Tonga Kid is my nephew too, he is Fatu's brother. Jimmy Snuka is my cousin. Peter Maivia was my uncle. His daughter married Rocky Johnson.
RYDER: The tradition continues.
AFA: Yes it does.
RYDER: You tried managing. How did you like that?
AFA: I tried it. It was a different experience. My brother retired and that kind of took my heart away from wrestling so I tried out managing with the help of Captain Lou Albano. He showed me the ropes. Vince wanted me to work like a trainer for the kids.
RYDER: Are you still involved in any way with the WWF?
AFA: I am kind of. Vince McMahon has helped me with my training center here in Allentown. He helps me promote it. I was the only one sanctioned by the WWF, but now I see they are running commercials for the Ultimate Warrior too. Vince helped plug my gym and he did a couple of commercials that ran in this area.
RYDER: Your gym is in Allentown?
RYDER: What is the name of the gym?
AFA: The Wild Samoan Pro Wrestling Training Center.
RYDER: If someone wants to get in touch with you, how would they do it?
AFA: They could call 610-435-1666.
RYDER: We get alot of questions wanting to know how to get involved in the business, and how to find a school. How much does your school cost and how does the training work?
AFA: It costs $3500 and is a 6 month to a year course, and I'm one of those guys who if you aren't ready in a year I won't let you go. I want to make sure you have enough experience to wrestle. Some guys take the money, but I want to make sure my guys are ready.
RYDER: Do you have any prospects that we should be watching for?
AFA: I have a couple of them that are starting out with WCW. One of them we called Kid Flash, and he will work in WCW as Billy Kidman. Another one is Chris Canyon. I have a big guy that the WWF is very impressed with. He's 6'6", 350 lbs, used to play with the Philadelphia Eagles and he is a great prospect for the WWF. His name is Hardrock Hamilton.
RYDER: Living in the Pennsylvania area, you are right in the middle of some hot independent and regional activity. What do you think of ECW?
AFA: I tell people look at Extreme...that's Afa and Sika. We were extreme. I have nothing against ECW. I know some of the people that work there. I helped Paul E Dangerously when he first started out. He was working with a magazine as a photographer. I helped introduce him to the business. Wrestling in the old days were extreme, but nothing like these guys. I've got my own organization now....TransWorld Wrestling Federation and we focus on the same audience as the WWF. We aim for family audiences.
RYDER: So you are running shows in that area yourself? What towns?
AFA: Mainly right around here in Pennsylvania.
RYDER: Who are you using?
AFA: There again, Vince has helped me by letting me use some of his talent. For example we had a show last week that had Yokozuna, Owen Hart, King Kong Bundy, Typhoon, Savio Vega, Luna Vachon. That was about 10 minutes outside of Allentown.
RYDER: What kind of crowd?
AFA: We had a great crowd. We always do. So far so good. We had a show a couple of months ago with BamBam, Bob Backlund, Doink the Clown. It was a great crowd.
RYDER: I guess this also gives your students a chance to get some work.
AFA: Absolutely. And that's important. Besides the actual training, you really need to be in front of a crowd. You can only train so much in the gym. You have to be in front of a live crowd. These shows give the kids a chance to meet people they have watched on TV and to get to know them and learn from them.
RYDER: What do you think about the current 'war' between WCW and the WWF?
AFA: I think it's childish. They shouldn't be worrying about each other and should focus on giving the fans the kind of wrestling they want to pay to see. The fans don't want to see promoters trying to knock each other out. I think they should spend more time focusing on trying to please the fans and less time trying to cut each others throats.
RYDER: Back to Yokozuna for a minute. How is he doing. We've heard he is trying to lose some weight. Is he doing OK?
AFA: He's in a program trying to lose some weight and to recuperate. He's been off for awhile...sometimes being on TV too much can hurt, so laying low and trying to get better physically will help. He's a young boy and just got too much weight too fast. He doesn't feel good carrying that much weight, but he's doing OK.
RYDER: Afa, thanks for being with us.
AFA: I just want to thank you very much for calling me, and for more information about the training center your readers can call me at 610-435-1666 or write to me at 719 Jordan Parkway; Whitehall PA 18052.