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Photo by Jim Dolan
Photo by Jim Dolan
Former Texas wrestler and current President of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, Johnny Mantell presented inductee George Napolitano with the “Wrestling Colleague Award” as a wrestling photographer-writer as represented on the 2017 PWHF Commemorative Induction Wrestling Belt which depicts Napolitano along with 12 other inductees over the weekend of May 18-20 in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Looking back over five decades (1970-2017) of photographing wrestlers and writing about their exploits, Dyker Heights resident George Napolitano recalled the busiest time of his second career during the 1990s.

“It felt like being shot out of a cannon traveling by plane to cover major wrestling shows in a different city every three weeks,” said the now retired schoolteacher.

While maintaining a full time teaching job as a New York City math teacher at Sunset Park’s J.H.S. 136, Napolitano managed a hectic schedule of covering local wrestling shows in New York City, Philadelphia and Hartford during weekdays as well as traveling on weekends across the country to such cities as Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco for additional ringside coverage.

Like many things in life, Napolitano started his coverage of wrestling by chance in June of 1970. After he attended just his second wrestling show with his then fiancée Jackie at the Sunnyside Gardens Arena in Queens, he met J.F. Sanchez Acosta, a representative for Ring Wrestling Magazine,

Napolitano was asked back to share his photos of that night’s card. Upon his return to Sunnyside Gardens and inspection of his photos, Napolitano was signed up to do wrestling coverage for that major wrestling magazine of that time.

As a photographer and writer for Ring, Napolitano was given full access by the WWF to shoot ringside as well as access to the dressing room along with one stipulation – “Just stay out of the way of the wrestlers.”

Pretty soon, Napolitano became a fixture on the apron at all the metropolitan area wrestling arenas while successfully “staying out of the way” to capture ringside action.

Eventually Napolitano branched out across the United States to bring the stars of the day, as well as formerly unheard wrestlers, to the pages of other monthly wrestling magazines that he started.

“Even the wrestlers themselves depended on George’s magazines to know what was going on in the other territories,” recalled former wrestler Lucifer Cane at Napolitano’s May 20 induction.

“I made unheard wrestlers into stars; and established stars even bigger,” stated Napolitano on his coverage of the early WWF and WCW that were basically East Coast-based.

But, in addition to the East Coast, Napolitano also covered the other major wrestling territories of the West Coast, Midwest, Minnesota and Texas. Besides his national coverage, Napolitano even made six different trips to Japan. His most famous trip in 1982 documented the battles of Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant against Japanese champions in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Napolitano’s monthly magazines contained his own and other colleagues’ photos and match narratives that were sold across the United States as well as in Europe, Australia and Japan.

Even Vince McMahon Sr. employed Napolitano to put together his wrestling programs when the WWF came to Madison Square Garden in a program entitled W.W.F. Championship Wrestling.  In fact, the June 20, 1981 program coincidentally featured the image of fellow a 2017 PWHF inductee on the cover, Japanese champion Tatsumi Fujinami.

As far as the initial admonishment “to stay out of the way of the wrestlers,” that early directive quickly fell by the wayside. Over the course of time, wrestlers would often look for Napolitano at ringside, when they were ready to go into the wrap-up portion of their match, for a photo opportunity.

Some wrestlers even held a lock on their opponent for a few seconds longer before the final three-count, often turning their opponent towards Napolitano so he could get in position for a good photo angle of the takedown.

During the height of America’s “Wrestling Craze” in the early 1990s, Napolitano wrote for and edited the top selling Wrestling’s Main Event along with nine other monthly wrestling magazines though he now admits, “I just don’t know how I did it back then.”

Since 2001, Napolitano has cut down on his wrestling coverage and now submits his photos to major wrestling outlets. While still covering major annual wrestling events like “Summer Slam” and “Wrestlemania,” Napolitano now covers the less hectic world of “Red Carpet” events for fashion, TV and movie premieres.

Joining the ranks of recent and familiar wrestling stars like Mick Foley and Shawn Michaels, Napolitano humbly thanked the Hall of Fame and especially his family for his induction. In particular, he cited the constant support of his wife Jackie who has helped him complete his “wrestling journey” over the past 48 years.

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