In Memoriam: Mark Rocco (1951-2020)

New Japan Pro-Wrestling is deeply saddened by the news of Mark ‘ Rollerball’ Rocco’s passing on July 30 2020. He was 69. 

An extremely promising amateur wrestler as a teen, Manchester’s Rocco ascended to the professional ranks in the 1970s, where he was part of a revolution in the British wrestling scene. Rollerball epitomized the innovative, high paced and highly technical style that quickly garnered international demand. Rocco would compete extensively in America and mainland Europe, but Japanese fans know him for his hugely successful time in New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and his influential role as the black hearted, black masked, Black Tiger. 

While Rocco’s first excursion to Japan came in 1979 for the now defunct International Wrestling Enterprise, it was in 1982 that he would arrive in NJPW, under the Black Tiger hood. Black Tiger was the illustrated nemesis of Tiger Mask in the manga and anime series that became a cultural touchstone in the 1960s and 70s, and when the real life Tiger Mask first stepped in the cerulean blue, it was only a matter of time before he would be joined by his dark counterpart. 

The two engaged in a wild rivalry that was, in truth a continuation of a feud that started in Rocco’s homeland; before becoming the first Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama had undergone an excursion to the UK where he and Rocco shared a ring many a time. When Sayama became Tiger Mask, Rocco would become Black Tiger to make sure all scores were settled. 

Japanese fans saw every bit of the intense and innovative style that Rocco brought as the two men continued their rivalry, often over the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship, a title Black Tiger was able to hold once in May of 1982 by defeating Gran Hamada to capture the vacant belt. 

After Tiger Mask left NJPW rings, Black Tiger would move on to battle the likes of The Cobra, Jyushin Thunder Liger and Owen Hart, and Rocco would also wrestle under his real name in NJPW for several matches in 1987. The last of over 300 matches in NJPW rings for Rocco came in January 1990 as Black Tiger, but the legacy he created would be continued by greats like Eddy Guerrero, Silver King and Rocky Romero in years to come. 

Rocco can unarguably be given a credit for the development of the modern junior heavyweight wrestling style, and his influence on the world of professional wrestling is not to be ignored. New Japan Pro-Wrestling offers its deepest sympathies to Rocco’s family, friends and fans. 


Images courtesy of Weekly Pro-Wrestling magazine