The Man Who Made Milwaukee Famous
If you were to pit all the icons of Milwaukee against one another in a battle royale for supremacy, there’s only one man who would come out on top: Reggie Lisowski, or as he is far better known, The Crusher.
The Crusher is technically from South Milwaukee, but that doesn’t make him any less of a Milwaukeean. Born in 1926, he grew up on the south side, and was a fullback for South Milwaukee High School’s football team. When WWII came, he was sent to Germany with the US Army. It was there that Reggie started to learn to wrestle, which he continued when he got back to the States. He paid his dues, wrestling in Chicago at night while working a variety of day jobs at places like Ladish and the Cudahy Packing House. It was this blue collar background that would form the foundation of what made The Crusher the popular, everyman hero.
His Washington Post obituary described The Crusher as a “6-foot, 260-pound specimen with a cement-mixer voice”, and it’s absolutely apt. The man was a brick house, with the legend of his training regimen being that he’d run up and down the lakefront with a keg of beer on his shoulder during the day, and dance all night with Polish barmaids. Unlike modern day pro-wrestlers (such as fellow Milwaukee-native Austin Aries) with their high-flying flashy offense, The Crusher was a roughneck of a simple, brawling style. He’d seemingly just get stronger and angrier the more punishment he took, and the crowds loved him for it.
|The Crusher & Dick the Bruiser, Partners in Mayhem|
The Crusher would find success both on his own (as a 3-time AWA Heavyweight champion) and with his equally infamous tag-team partner Dick the Bruiser (as 5-time AWA Tag Team champions), as well as numerous other championship reigns across the Midwest. He'd feud with the likes of Mad Dog Vachon, or battle Dusty Rhodes to record crowds at the Milwaukee Auditorium. Everybody loved The Crusher and his '100 Megaton Biceps'.
When Vince McMahon started to gobble up the old wrestling territories with the rise of the WWF, The Crusher stayed in the Midwest. Eventually he’d work some matches in Milwaukee and Minnesota for the WWF, but the Crusher didn’t really ever take the national stage.
That just meant he got to be ours. He was The Crusher, and he was The Man Who Made Milwaukee Famous. Reggie Lisowksi himself lived until October 22, 2005 – Ten years ago to the day this blog is posted. There were few like him, and there never will be again.
Which is why we must all take the time to go tell The Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame that it’s time that The Crusher took his spot among the state’s sports greats. His spot among Wisconsin’s other wrestling legends, Ed ‘Strangler’ Lewis and Fred Beell, has been waiting for him for far too long. With the hall finally resuming inductions in 2016, we need to make sure The Crusher gets his due. Hey, maybe we can get a Bronze Crusher too, to battle that fictional Fonzarelli for Milwaukee statue stardom…
If you're looking to learn more about The Crusher, sadly there's not been a whole lot written about him. We do have a ton of old newspaper clippings on the man and his career in the Art, Music & Recreation room in the Central Library downtown, though, so stop by and ask to see them sometime!
Special thanks to Dave of Dave’s Classic Wrestling Photos for all the great images of The Crusher we used here.