An article by Mike Mooneyham
(Published April 30, 2000)
Tom Renesto, who with Jody Hamilton formed one of the most celebrated masked teams in the history of the business, passed away last Tuesday due to heart failure at the age of 72 in Paris, Texas.
Renesto held a variety of titles during his career, including the Texas tag-team belts with Duke Keomuka in 1956 and 1961, and the Southern tag-team title (as Great Bolo) with Larry Hamilton in 1960. But it wasn’t until he joined forces with Jody Hamilton that his career took off.
Hamilton, younger brother of the late Larry “Rocky”Hamilton (The Missouri Mauler), began teaming with Renesto as The Masked Assassins in Atlanta in 1961 before moving to the Carolinas and Virginia where they were known as The Masked Bolos – Bolo (Hamilton) and Great Bolo (Renesto). Everywhere else they were known as The Assassins, and the partnership lasted an incredible 15 years on the road, and six or seven years after that as business associates.
“We had a great run, “Hamilton said last week. “Tom was a good man, and you couldn’t ask for any more in a partner.”
Hamilton added that Renesto taught him many things about the business, not the least of which was doing interviews, which The Assassins perfected to a fine science.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]“He was my mentor in many ways. Tom taught me something I didn’t know how to do before we teamed up. He taught me to observe and learn technical things. I could pick up things about wrestling and moves very easily, but the technical things he taught me.
“He taught me how to do an interview, and the reason why we did the interviews the way we did them. That set us apart from everybody else who was yelling and screaming and shouting. He also taught me something that I’ve tried to pass on to other guys I’ve helped train, and that’s the one ingredient you have to have to make an interview seem plausible to the people -sincerity. If you don’t have that air of sincerity about you, the people will pick up that it’s nothing but hype, and once they figure out that you’re trying to hype them, they lose all interest in your interview. It becomes absolutely meaningless.”
Hamilton said he last talked to Renesto, who had attended the Gulf Coast wrestling reunion in Mobile, Ala., in March, just a couple of days before he died and that his longtime partner appeared to be in good spirits. Renesto, who suffered a stroke 12 years ago, had been in failing health ever since and nearly died two years ago. At that time he had been in the hospital for several weeks, unable to walk, and doctors told him he needed a heart transplant.
“I was resigned to just die, so I asked for the priest to give me the last rites,”Renesto said in a 1998 interview with Whatever Happened To …? newsletter. “We prayed for about 15 minutes and he told me he’d come back the next day. I asked God to help me and, that if I had to go, to come with me. The next day God helped me walk all over the hospital. Nobody can tell me that God doesn’t answer prayer.
“I used to be bad. I was as bad as anybody, but not now. God will always help you. I say the rosary every day. People laugh, but that’s all right. They can say what they want, but God will never let you down. God gave me a second chance.”
“I think everything in his body just wore down,”said Hamilton.
Renesto and Hamilton, as The Bolos, set a number of attendance records in the Carolinas-Virginia area during the early ’60s. Six-man matches with The Missouri Mauler against The Kentuckians and Haystacks Calhoun established attendance records in such venues as the Charlotte Coliseum, Dorton Arena in Raleigh and the Greenville Memorial Auditorium. Renesto and Hamilton also set attendance marks throughout the territory for tag-team matches against The Kentuckians and Johnny Weaver and Haystacks Calhoun. Those attendance records are still unbroken at the Charlotte Coliseum and Dorton Arena.
The Assassins held the world tag-team title on numerous occasions in the Georgia, Florida and California territories, as well as the Canadian tag-team belts. They held the Georgia tag-team straps a record 10 times and drew a number of sellouts in Atlanta for a series of matches with Buddy Fuller and Ray Gunkel.
“Just about everywhere we went that had a regional title, we’d end up with it,” said Hamilton, who added that the team toured the world, including Japan, Australia, England, France, Germany, Spain, South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand.
“It may sound like I’m bragging, but in all reality, we were the best all-around tag team, whether it was with a mask or without a mask,” said Hamilton. “When I was in my prime, I did the brunt of the heavy work, as far as the bumps and that sort of thing, but Tom was a psychological genius about setting the tone and setting the pace of a match. He made his contribution in that way. And when the time came to take bumps, he was always there. He never slacked off.” Hamilton, a longtime trainer at WCW’s Power Plant, said Renesto, who retired as an active wrestler in the ‘mid-’70s, was a great traveling companion.
“Back in the old days we traveled by car, and we spent hours upon hours upon hours every day traveling together. We were on the road six days a week together for 15 years and never had a cross word. It was a great tribute to his patience, because sometimes I can get a little testy.
“He was a tremendously entertaining guy to ride up and down the highways with. Nowadays guys ride up and down the highway and they sleep all day in the car, and they don’t even travel like we used to. One guy goes to sleep while the other guy drives. Tom and I used to drive every day and nobody ever slept. We’d talk about angles and ideas and gimmicks and regular BS. When Tom and I were together and we were close, I’d put my life on the line in a heartbeat for him and he would have done the same thing for me.”
Hamilton, who worked as Assassin No. 2 while Renesto was No. 1, said their working relationship was enhanced by the fact that his partner was a master storyteller.
“Tom was a joy to be around. He had to be the greatest storyteller of all time. He could tell you a story, and in a week’s time tell you the story six more times and you’d have six different versions of the story, and each version got a little bit better. You knew everything about the story, but he could tell the story so well and make it so interesting that you didn’t care that you had heard it before. He’d add a new twist to it.”
The two were major heels in every territory they worked, and one of their patented finishers was concealing a foreign object and using it in their mask to head- butt their opponents.
“We were very selective about when we used that thing,”Hamilton said. “That’s why it meant so much. Nowadays a guy’s got a gimmick and uses it 42 times in a match.”
One of the masked team’s most memorable series of matches was with the team of Weaver and the 601-pound Calhoun during the early ’60s. Hamilton recalled that he and Renesto helped save the job of Weaver, the territory’s top babyface during the ’60s, by pleading with promoter Jim Crockett Sr., who thought Weaver had become stale and had worn out his welcome with area fans.
The plea worked and proved to be financially advantageous to all involved. Hamilton cited a sold-out Fourth of July event at the Greensboro Coliseum that paired the two teams. The hooded duo had agreed to unmask if they were pinned or submitted two out of three falls in a one-hour match.
“We kept Weaver in the ring for 57 minutes,”said Hamilton. “He made the hot tag to Calhoun at the 57-minute mark and the crowd went wild.”Haystacks nailed both men with his belly bumps, slammed Renesto on the concrete floor and pinned him to win the first fall with less than three minutes remaining in the match.
“The people went insane,”said Hamilton. “We got a two-minute rest period, and I drug Tom back into the ring and raised his arm while I put my arm across the top rope. He was still prone, but he made the tag. I grabbed Tom, rolled him on to the apron and ran from Calhoun. When I kept asking the timekeeper how much time was left, the crowd was ready to jump me. We stalled until the time ran out. It took 36 cops locked arm in arm forming a V wedge to get us out of the ring and into the dressing room. We were hemmed up in the dressing room until 2 o’clock in the morning.”
Hamilton said the toughest team the duo ever worked was Lou Thesz and Danny Hodge.
“We sure earned our money going hour and 90-minute Broadways (draws) with those men. It was incredible. You better be in shape working with those two. When Thesz put that crooked head scissors on you…”
The two finally unmasked during the latter stages of their careers in an attempt to bolster the All-South promotion headed by Ann Gunkel following the death of husband Ray. Renesto was booking for the company, and it was embroiled in a fierce turf war with the NWA.
“It kept Gunkel going,”said Hamilton. “I didn’t want to do it, but it gave the company a shot in the arm. The NWA had just about choked us out as far as talent. Tom’s decision to retire was predicated on the fact that he and I had always discussed that when it was no longer fun, it was time to get out. And when you get to be a certain age, because I went through it so I knew what Tom had gone through, the stuff that used to be fun to you becomes laborious. When it becomes a labor, it’s no longer fun. It’s not because you don’t want to do it, but your body doesn’t react to it like it used to, and it becomes very hard.”