The Life & Career of Blackjack Lanza

Originally published at https://www.postwrestling.com/2021/12/09/the-life-career-of-blackjack-lanza/

Jack Lanza, who performed for years as a member of The Blackjacks, and later behind-the-scenes with the WWE, passed away on Wednesday.

Lanza was a product of Verne Gagne and a graduate from the University of Minnesota that was recruited while teaching.

He began his career in 1961 and while synonymous as a tag wrestler, had a lengthy singles career before linking up with Bob Windham.

As ‘Cowboy’ Jack Lanza, he was a territorial babyface that found success in the Indianapolis territory, run by Wilbur Snyder and Dick the Bruiser. In December 1967, he became the territory’s champion defeating Snyder, and held it until August 1969 losing to Dick the Bruiser.

During his time in Indianapolis, he would travel including many matches in St. Louis for Sam Muchnick. In the prestigious city, he wrestled then-NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion Gene Kiniski on several occasions including a January 10, 1969 date where Kiniski retained and they came back to have a 60-minute draw on February 7th. The February date was an interesting note because days later, Kiniski dropped the title to Dory Funk Jr. in Tampa ending his three-plus-year title reign.

In 1972, the Blackjacks were paired together, although Lanza had been using the name prior to the formation of the team with Windham. They were joined by mouthpiece Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, who became vital to the act.

As Blackjack Lanza and Blackjack Mulligan, they first teamed in 1972 and would work several territories throughout their allegiance.

In Indianapolis, they won the area’s tag titles in November 1971 from Wilbur Snyder and Paul Christy for a one-year reign that expired in December 1972 when beaten by Dick the Bruiser and The Crusher.

In 1974, they won the tag titles in Texas from Ken Patera & Tex McKenzie and won them a second time from the same pair before losing the belts one final time to McKenzie and Johnny Valentine.

The duo traveled to places including Dallas, Chicago, Montreal, but their biggest spotlight was in the WWWF.

In New York, Heenan did not follow the group and instead, The Blackjacks were managed by “Captain” Lou Albano and led the team to the WWWF tag team titles in August 1975 defeating “Irish” Pat Barrett & Dominic DeNucci. It’s a sad coincidence that Barrett just died last week, and all four members of those teams have passed away over the last several years.

The Blackjacks only held the belts for several months, dropping the gold to Louis Cerdan (Gino Brito) and Tony Parisi in November.

The team dissolved in late 1975 when Mulligan received an offer to jump to Mid-Atlantic for a top position after a tragedy in the territory.

On October 4, 1975, a Cessna 310 private plane carrying Johnny Valentine, Ric Flair, Tim “Mr. Wrestling” Woods, David Crockett, Bob Bruggers, and pilot Michael Farkus crashed in North Carolina and had severe consequences. Farkus eventually succumbed to the injuries sustained and died while Valentine’s career ended due to the injuries sustained in the crash.

The territory needed a top heel and booker George Scott enlisted Mulligan, who made the move and ended his pairing with Lanza.

Lanza continued his career and would team with Bobby Duncum in the AWA where he was reunited with Heenan, who was the top manager in the promotion and the country.

Lanza & Duncum became AWA tag champions in July 1976 defeating Dick the Bruiser and The Crusher, who were 47 and 50 years old respectively by this point in their lives.

The duo dropped the titles to Jim Brunzell and Greg Gagne one year later.

Lanza would have a run in Georgia Championship Wrestling and won the territory’s television championship in May 1979 defeating Bob Armstrong and losing the title to Ray Candy in August that year.

After the Georgia run, he left the industry for several years and resurfaced in the AWA in 1983. This run included briefly teaming with Nick Bockwinkel and Bill White along with a run of matches with Heenan in the second half of the year that escalated to Bunkhouse matches in all the key cities.

In this final run, he reunited with Mulligan in the AWA and challenged for the tag titles in February 1984, defeating Jerry Blackwell and Ken Patera by disqualification with the same finish a month later at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.

Lanza wrestled for the AWA heavyweight title against both Bockwinkel and Jumbo Tsuruta in 1984.

According to Cagematch, his final match teaming with Mulligan was on June 10, 1984, where they beat The Black Panther and Tom Lintz in Minneapolis.

Lanza’s last recorded match is listed as August 2, 1985, teaming with Dick the Bruiser and The Crusher and losing to Ray Stevens, Terry Gordy & Michael Hayes in Denver, Colorado for the AWA.

After retiring from in-ring competition, Lanza took a role as an agent with the WWF and would become a staple behind-the-scenes as one of the key agents during that era that continued through the Attitude Era and into the 2000s before retiring altogether. Jim Ross noted he was the lead agent during the Attitude Era with Steve Austin referring to him as his “go-to agent”.

In 2004, Lanza & Mulligan inducted Bobby Heenan into the WWE Hall of Fame in New York City. This was before the Hall of Fame was broadcast on television, but it was filmed for a DVD release.

It was an odd induction speech where Lanza ripped on Heenan with the Wrestling Observer Newsletter providing the following report from those live in attendance:

The one negative was also involving Heenan, and that was the speech Jack Lanza gave to introduce Heenan. Apparently Jessica Heenan, Bobby’s daughter, was in tears as Lanza went on-and-on about Heenan’s heavy drinking and insinuated he was lazy, and that’s why Heenan was a manager and not a main event wrestler. If you are realistic, Heenan could have been one of the best working prelim or mid-card guys in the business during the 70s, or he could have been probably the best wrestling manager of all-time for a lot longer period of time. Many were upset that Lanza never once credited or thanked Heenan for help in his career, as the feeling was Lanza was a main eventer everywhere more because he had the best manager more than he himself was the best worker.

Lanza was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame alongside Mulligan in April 2006 and the team was inducted by Heenan.

WWE issued its condolences on Wednesday regarding the passing of Lanza with many past colleagues sharing their remembrances:

Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Jack Lanza. He was a man’s man, respected and beloved by all. He worked for and loved WWE for many years. His loyalty and dedication will never be forgotten.

— Vince McMahon (@VinceMcMahon) December 8, 2021

(1/2) Before being in a @WWE ring for the first time on TV Jack Lanza asked if I was nervous. “I’m so nervous. All I have to do is stand there & I can hear my heartbeat in my ear.”

— Stephanie McMahon (@StephMcMahon) December 8, 2021

We lost a great one today. Jack Lanza was great friend and a father figure to me-he helped me from day one. I was once a “Blackjack”, and he gave me his blessing-said he was honored-meant the world to me. RIP legend. Love you. Thanks for everything. pic.twitter.com/aTjaOnwH4c

— John Layfield (@JCLayfield) December 9, 2021

Jack Lanza was the lead road agent when my brother & I first started full time with @WWE. Jack treated us great & taught us so much about working & surviving on the road. Saddened to hear about Jack’s passing. My thoughts go out to his family & loved ones.

— MATT HARDY (@MATTHARDYBRAND) December 8, 2021

Wow, just heard of the passing of Jack Lanza.
Total man through and through!!
Worked with Jack a lot in WWE, but, 1st worked with Jack in the brief time the Birds were in the AWA.
Enjoyed working with Jack in both places.
He was one of the few that understood the Birds!!!
RIP!!

— Michael PS Hayes (@MichaelPSHayes1) December 8, 2021

Very saddened to hear of the passing of a true legend, teacher and friend, "Blackjack' Jack Lanza. Spent many years under his learning tree while developing a great relationship. Thank you Jack and rest in power Good sir! Folded handsClinking beer mugs

— Jimmy Korderas (@jimmykorderas) December 8, 2021

Certain talent will seek certain agents for advice, but EVERYONE sought out Lanza’s. The sweetest man but incredibly tough & 100% dedicated to making us better. Jack often didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear, but ALWAYS told you what you needed. I’ll miss you dearly my friend https://t.co/rSZwcvXCOa

— Triple H (@TripleH) December 8, 2021

 

 

 

Additional notes:
The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams by Greg Oliver & Steven Johnson
Wrestling Observer Newsletter, March 29, 2004