Jimmy Snuka's Steel Cage Dive and the Top Moments from WWE Star's Career

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterJanuary 16, 2017

Jimmy Snuka's Steel Cage Dive and the Top Moments from WWE Star's Career

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka's magnum opus saw him jump barefoot from the top of a steel cage, arms outstretched like wings.

    Flash bulbs popped as Snuka leaped at Don Muraco. Light glittered along the WWE Hall of Famer's sweaty, sculpted body. A flight that inspired many after it rocked the Madison Square Garden crowd.

    Of all the images Snuka left us with, that is the most powerful, the most talked about.

    The Fijian wrestler died over the weekend. Family friend The Rock announced his passing on Twitter, relaying word from Snuka's daughter Tamina. WWE.com later confirmed the news. 

    There is plenty to celebrate about Snuka's career.

    Superfly was a pioneer, an enthralling high-flyer and popular babyface. He helped WWE grow into a national power, aided Undertaker's rise and took part in ECW's early history. He had tremendous rivalries complete with many memorable moments.

    But that won't be what everyone is talking about in the wake of Snuka's death. Controversy marred his last years.

    As Greg Oliver of Slam! Sports detailed, Superfly dealt with a number of run-ins with the law. And in 2015, as CNN's Kevin Conlon noted, Snuka was charged with "third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the 1983 slaying of Nancy Argentino, his then-girlfriend."

    His declining health and incoherent mental state made headlines too.

    As a result, remembering Snuka is a recipe for mixed emotions. His story is a long and complex one.

    The following is a chronological look at the highlights from his wrestling career, not a full retrospective of his life in total. It is focused on what he accomplished in the ring, the stories he told between the ropes and the images he left fans with.

The Challenge Inside the Cage (1982)

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    Snuka shot to the top of the card shortly after his arrival to the World Wrestling Federation in early 1982.

    By the summer, he pushed world champ Bob Backlund to his limits in a series of marquee bouts. In June, the two titans met at Madison Square Garden inside a steel cage.

    This was not Backlund's comfort zone. The titleholder was a technical wizard and a classic wrestler. 

    Snuka, however, used the surroundings to his advantage, nearly crushing Backlund on the canvas with a dive from the top of the cage. The champion rolled out of the way to evade the attack, surviving against Snuka to keep the gold in his possession.

    Recalling that match, Snuka told Josh Modaberi from Cult of Whatever, "Jumping off the cage at the Garden you couldn't even hear yourself, I loved it so much, things like that just stick in your heart."

    The match thrilled en route to earning the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year award.  

    While not as famous a leap as his one onto Muraco, this one announced Snuka's arrival. The electricity in the air spoke to Snuka's star power. And it was clear from his surging popularity that the company couldn't keep him as a heel.

Revenge on Ray Stevens (1982)

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    After debuting as a villain, Snuka's high-flying arsenal forced a change. The audience took to Superfly, wanting to root for him.

    WWE facilitated that via a tried-and-true revenge story.

    Snuka wanted out of his deal with manager Capt. Lou Albano after Buddy Rogers informed him Albano was stealing from him. But firing a scoundrel like Albano came with consequences. Ray Stevens, one of Albano's clients, throttled Snuka on live TV.

    A piledriver to the concrete floor left Superfly convulsing atop a smear of blood.

    The moment created massive pathos for Snuka and set up a red-hot angle. When the Fijian returned, he pounced on Stevens and the rest of Albano's crew for weeks.

    The rivalry helped Snuka skyrocket to top-tier babyface status. He was in position to be one of WWE's key fan favorites as the company ballooned into a national powerhouse.

The Steel Cage Dive at Madison Square Garden (1983)

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    Blood stuck to Snuka's brow as he stood atop the corner of the steel cage like a bird preparing for flight.

    He looked around at the thundering Madison Square Garden crowd as if seeking approval. With his arms outstretched and his hands forming his trademark "I love you" sign, he soared onto Muraco's body.

    Few remember that Muraco actually won the match and retained the Intercontinental Championship in the process.

    The result didn't matter. It was the image of Snuka flying high above the ring that has become part of WWE lore. Superfly had leaped from the steel beforehand, but this became the most famous instance—the most cited and most replayed flight.

    Roddy Piper wrote in his autobiography In the Pit with Piper: "People still talk about that Snuka and his cage dive to this day. It was one of the biggest moments in WWF history."

    It became not only Snuka's signature moment but one that helped shape the industry. The dive inspired a generation of future daredevils.

    Other wrestlers have since further pushed against the force of gravity, finding new ways to wow the crowd with high-risk acts.

Coconut to the Head (1984)

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    Snuka's most engrossing WWE feud began emphatically with a coconut cracking against his skull.

    Superfly sat in as Piper's guest for a Piper's Pit segment. Tension soon filled the set as Piper jabbed Snuka with thinly veiled insults and racist remarks.

    Hot Rod would not rest at being verbal, though. He attacked Snuka, breaking a coconut over his head and slamming him through the set.

    Snuka's popularity and Piper's dastardly act combined to make one of WWE's most lasting images.

    A fiery rivalry followed. The assault created an overflowing amount of pathos. Snuka's chase of the merciless Piper was a compelling story on WWE programming.

The Streak Begins (1991)

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    Later in his WWE career, Snuka became a steppingstone for rising stars. One in particular stomped on him on The Grandest Stage of Them All to begin a historic run.

    Undertaker's 21-match undefeated streak at WrestleMania started with a showdown with Superfly in 1991.

    Snuka's head-butts had little effect on the big man. And the high-flyer found himself overwhelmed by his foe's power.

    It was not a great match. Many of Undertaker's early bouts weren't. But the result was a passing-of-the-torch moment, a shift from one era to the next.

    Snuka's name helped launch Undertaker's rise, offering The Deadman a notable first WrestleMania opponent.

1st ECW Championship

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    What would become a cult-classic promotion first crowned Snuka as its inaugural world champion. 

    When Extreme Championship Wrestling was still Eastern Championship Wrestling and yet to be run by Paul Heyman, it was a fledgling company in need of an identity. It would eventually grow into a gritty WWE alternative with a rabid fanbase.

    Before that, Snuka took down Salvatore Bellomo in Mount Tabor, Pennsylvania, to become the first ECW champion.

    As its top star, Superfly helped lay the foundation for the new company. His name power helped get ECW noticed. The established veteran gave the promotion added credibility.

    ECW evolved from that point, moving from depending on veterans like Snuka and Terry Funk to establishing its own stars. And so, while people think of The Sandman, Raven and Tommy Dreamer more often as ECW guys, one can't forget Snuka's contributions. 

Return at WrestleMania XXV (2009)

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    Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat head to the ring for their WrestleMania XXV match.
    Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat head to the ring for their WrestleMania XXV match.Credit: WWE.com

    To celebrate the 25th edition of WrestleMania, WWE infused plenty of nostalgia into the event.

    Chris Jericho took on past stars Ricky Steamboat, Piper and Snuka in a handicap match. The bout was a callback to WrestleMania's early days. 

    Snuka had been there during the pay-per-view's infancy. He accompanied Hulk Hogan during the WrestleMania I main event. 

    Snuka wrote in his autobiography Superfly: The Jimmy Snuka Story, "It was so great to be on the biggest stage in the world. It was also sweet because it was the 25th anniversary of WrestleMania."

    "That match was great because we had old school and new school," he added.

    During his retirement, Snuka appeared a few other times on WWE TV, but this was his last big moment. It was the closing act on a storied career.

    If Superfly's life were a movie, this is where the film would climax, circling back to the site of his greatest success to create a happy ending. But real life is far messier than that.

    Snuka's story ended gloomily with his health deteriorating and the skeletons in his closet being exposed to the world. Like with any wrestler, fans can choose what to focus on. And Snuka created numerous high points in the ring for audiences to hold dear.