The Life & Career of “The Assassin” Jody Hamilton

On Tuesday, the wrestling world learned of the passing of Jody Hamilton, who ascended the industry as part of one of the great heel combinations of all time.

Hamilton was born Joseph Nicholas Zwaduk on August 28, 1938, in St. Joseph, Missouri with a tumultuous upbringing outlined in his 2006 biography with Scott Teal, The Man Behind the Mask.

Professional wrestling was a natural avenue for Hamilton, whose brother Larry had already entered the industry and would later wrestle as “The Missouri Mauler” as well as a team with the man that his younger brother would find fame with, Tom Renesto.

It was in 1956 that Hamilton had his first match wrestling for Gust Karras Promotions at the age of 16. He was thrown into the ring with Rip Hawk after getting his feet wet through the AT (Athletic shows) circuit.

Paired with his brother, the Hamiltons ventured to New York to work for Capitol Sports. At the age of 19, Hamilton and brother Larry headlined Madison Square Garden against Antonino Rocca & Miguel Perez on May 24, 1958, with a reported crowd of 20,355.

It marked a significant achievement for Hamilton, becoming the youngest wrestler to headline The Garden at 19 years and 9 months. In November 1984, Tonga Kid (Sam Fatu) would headline the arena with Roddy Piper at 19 years and 1 month with the two remaining the two youngest to achieve the feat.

The younger Hamilton would move to a singles career away from his brother and taking his talents to Texas where booker Karl “Doc” Sarpolis would name him “Silent” Joe Hamilton as an apparent reference to his lack of promo ability. Years later, promos would become a big part of Hamilton’s presentation and shedding that label.

After stays in Oklahoma and Florida, Hamilton’s next career break occurred in October 1961 when he was recruited to Georgia Championship Wrestling.

He was set to take on a Russian character but that aspect was dropped in favor of simply being “The Assassin”, a character he would forever be identified by. The turning point was several months into his Georgia stay when he was paired with Tom Renesto (a former partner of brother Larry) and The Assassins were born in December.

If you were growing up in Georgia during the ‘60s, then The Assassins would have been a major part of your fandom. The team dominated the territory winning the NWA Georgia tag titles on twelve occasions beginning in November 1968 along with reigns as Georgia version of the NWA world tag titles, the Southern tag titles, Southeastern tag titles, and Macon tag championship.

As a tandem, the notoriety of the team grew because they traveled all over the country. In Florida, they won their version of the world tag titles in July 1962 from Don Curtis & Joe Scarpa (Chief Jay Strongbow), while also having success winning titles in Tennessee, Vancouver, Australia, and Oklahoma.

The two were caught up in the major war of 1972 after the death of promoter Ray Gunkel, who both wrestled and had a 45 percent stake in the territory.

Gunkel died in August 1972 after a heart attack following a match with Ox Baker in Savannah, Georgia. His stock went to his wife Ann, who ultimately split from the NWA and formed her own group, All-South Wrestling.

Ann was able to recruit most of the NWA roster in Georgia along with securing its booker, Tom Renesto.

It was a nasty war for two years that saw Ann get television on WTCG immediately following Georgia Championship Wrestling.

GCW would load up its cards and even provided stock to convince major names to come to the territory. All South would fold in 1974 and both Renesto and Hamilton returned to GCW.

During the war, there was a notable event where Renesto voluntarily unmasked on the rival’s television with the belief that GCW may reveal his real identity given the lengths each side would go to and decided to beat them to the punch.

After the war, The Assassins worked in WWC in Puerto Rico for a few months but that version of the team was winding down due to Renesto’s booking duties.

Hamilton would wrestle as a singles performer including a longstanding feud with Mr. Wrestling II (Johnny Walker). In 1980, he won the Central States Heavyweight title from The Avenger but dropped it less than two weeks later to “Bulldog” Bob Brown.

He tried several times to revamp The Assassins with partners including Randy Colley in Georgia and Hercules Hernandez in Mid-South.

In 1985, he rebranded himself as “The Flame” for a feud with “Bullet” Bob Armstrong and teamed with Roger Smith as “The Fire and Flame”.

Hamilton is also credited with the launch of Deep South Wrestling, the first incarnation didn’t last long after Hamilton sold it but would revive DSW in the 2000s in a major way.

His career ended in 1988 after a major back injury as the next chapter of his career focused on training talent.

While working for WCW, he pitched them on the concept of the Power Plant and ran the training school with the original trainers consisting of Buddy Lee Parker, Pez Whatley, and Mike Wenner.

Hamilton is credited with assisting in the development of Bill Goldberg, Diamond Dallas Page, and Kevin Nash among the trainees.

He also had a presence on camera serving as a manager, most notably with the “Pretty Wonderful” team of Paul Orndorff and Paul Roma. Hamilton’s last appearance as a manager occurred at Starrcade in December 1993 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was inducted to their Hall of Fame the following May.

Hamilton remained with WCW throughout the ‘90s until the company ceased its operations in 2001.

He re-launched Deep South Wrestling and joined Ohio Valley Wrestling as the WWE’s two developmental territories beginning in 2005.

Deep South aired on local television in Georgia and tapes aired on The Fight Network in Canada in the late 2000s. The relationship between Deep South and WWE fell apart suddenly in 2007 with its contracted talent moved to Florida resulting in a lawsuit filed by Hamilton, which ended with an undisclosed settlement in 2010.

Over time, The Assassins have been regarded as one of the top heel teams of all time. They were inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2013, voted into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2015 (where they ranked #1 among reporters and #3 with active wrestlers of all the candidates on the ballot).

On Tuesday, it was reported that Hamilton had entered hospice care. Later in the day, his son (former referee) Nick Patrick announced his passing:

It is with heavy heart that I make this post. At 2:16 today my father took his last breath on this earth. He passed comfortably, surrounded by the people that love him. Now our attention has to shift over to taking care of my mom. I want to thank everyone that sent out prayers and support for my family. I will put more information about pop out, but right now I’m kinda numb.

We send our condolences to the family and friends of “The Assassin” Jody Hamilton.

Notes courtesy:
The Man Behind the Mask by Jody Hamilton & Scott Teal
Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Nov. 9, 2015
Jody Hamilton – Behind the Mask of The Assassin by Javier Ojst

About John Pollock 5646 Articles
Born on a Friday, John Pollock is a reporter, editor & podcaster at POST Wrestling. He runs and owns POST Wrestling alongside Wai Ting.