Gino Hernandez: A Talented, But Troubled Star Whose Spark Burned Out Far Too Soon
I have mentioned in a few earlier articles how I grew up on World Class Championship Wrestling, the Dallas based promotion that harbored the legendary Von Erich family. Born in 1977, I came to know professional wrestling during the heyday of WCCW’s amazing run, and had the honor of witnessing the prime years of popular wrestlers like David Von Erich, The Fabulous Freebirds, “Iceman” King Parsons, and many others. One of my all-time favorite bad guys was Gino Hernandez, a wrestler that doesn’t often get much mention when people discuss the great heel of the past. Perhaps it’s due mostly to his much too short career, but Hernandez was a huge heel star in the Dallas area, won multiple regional championships, but ultimately, lived his gimmick a little too much, and it cost him his life.
I jumped feet first into pro wrestling when I was 7 years old, round about the same time Gino Hernandez was making his way back to WCCW from the Joe Blanchard-led Southwest Champion Wrestling out of San Antonio. Hernandez was brash and cocky, with great mic skills, a larger than life personality, and was coming off good runs in both San Antonio and Georgia Championship Wrestling. He had all the charisma you could ever hope for in a heel, and seemed to soak up every last drop of hatred the fans dished out. His feuds with the Von Erichs were white hot, especially once he teamed up with “Gentleman” Chris Adams, the longtime popular babyface Brit turned superkicking bad guy, forming the Dynamic Duo. For a little over a year, the tag team had a huge, moneymaking run in WCCW, winning the NWA American Tag Team Championship on two different occasions and feuding heavily with the Von Erichs. Their time together culminated in a huge blow off at the Cotton Bowl, where they lost a Hair Match against Kerry and Kevin Von Erich. I still remember belly laughing at the sight of Hernandez being carried back into the ring to get his head shaved after he’d tried to escape. Shortly thereafter, the Dynamic Duo split, with Gino turning on Adams and blinding him.
With Adams now a babyface once again and Hernandez as hot as ever as a heel, the stage was set for them to have a much needed big angle for WCCW. I was staunchly in the corner of Gino Hernandez, despite him being the heel. Sadly, the feud was not to be. After missing a couple of house shows, WCCW officials went to Gino’s apartment to check on him. After no one answered the door, and fearing the worst, they broke down the door and found Hernandez dead. Gino Hernandez, a multi-time regional Heavyweight and Tag Champion, was only 29 years of age.
Gino Hernandez’s issues with cocaine ultimately cost him his life, albeit under some very controversial circumstances. Kevin Von Erich has said Hernandez was convinced someone was trying to kill him, even going so far as to purchase a gun for protection. Rumors circulated that Gino had gotten sideways with a Houston drug dealer. Whether any of this is true or not, one thing is certain: Professional Wrestling lost one of it’s young up-and-coming stars far too early. Gary Hart once said Hernandez was, “a lost soul”, but that he was “everything you could ever want” in a pro wrestler.
I was only 9 years old when Gino passed away, so I don’t recall feeling much of anything. I mean, at 9 years old, who can fully grasp intense concepts like death and the afterlife? I just knew I was no longer going to get to see one of my favorite bad guys torment the Von Erichs, and between you and me, as much as I loved the Von Erichs, I always had a soft spot in my heart for the heels. I still do to this day, likely because they’re fallible, scarred, and relatable. I’ve always maintained that Gino would have been a great WWF Superstar had he lived long enough to realize his full potential. When I watch pro wrestling today, I still see him in plenty of performers. I see his brashness in Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes, and elements of his promo work in Damien Sandow, and it makes me feel good about where professional wrestling is headed. Gino’s life ended much too soon, but it’s nice knowing that many of the things he so excelled at continue to live on in other wrestlers to this day.