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By Mike Johnson on 2021-04-07 02:35:00 is sad to report the passing of Jack Venano, who will be forever remembered as the most popular wrestler ever in the Dominican Republic, to the point that he ended up winning the NWA World Championship in 1982 because if he hadn’t, there may have been an insane riot.

Veneno, real name Rafael Sánchez, passed away on Tuesday 4/6 following a battle with pancreatic cancer that had spread to his lungs on 3/26, leading to his hospitalization.  His daughter Paolo first announced his passing on her Instagram account, writing, “You fought her to death, you won the girdle of eternity. Goodbye father.”

Veneno first came across wrestling via Santo movies from Mexico when his father took him to see a film and was immediately taken with professional wrestling.  He set out to become a professional wrestler.  He was a regular for Lucha Libre International, performing weekly on local TV and becoming a major babyface from the 1970s through the 1990s.

Veneno’s popularity was so ridiculously over in the 1980s that the scene reads like it was lifted out of a movie.  Ric Flair came to the Caribbean to defend the NWA World title and was relaxing in his hotel room with legendary photographer George Napolitano.  They saw someone running down the street with a mob following him as he jogged, a real-life version of Rocky Balboa running through South Philadelphia.

Flair was asked if he knew who that was.  He didn’t.  

“Your opponent, “ responded Napolitano.

That night, they stepped into the right in a stadium in Santo Domingo and Flair, realizing he was in the center of an overpacked building with fans who were getting dangerously close to losing it, called an audible.  No matter what was planned, Flair wasn’t walking out champion.    He’d rather walk out alive.

Veneno win the World title, sparking an insane celebration for a scene so popular that it was repeated regularly on television in the country for years to come annually, similar to how The Wizard of Oz would screen annually in the United States before the home video market exploded.

Now, thanks to YouTube, it’s easy to find the legendary footage:

Flair was handed the belt back when he was safely away from the scene and left the country.  The NWA never announced or acknowledged the title change, but for the fans there, it was real and it was spectacular.  Veneno’s cover story was that he wouldn’t abandon his country to travel the world, endearing him even more locally.  There was later a statue that was erected in his honor in Santo Domingo.

While Veneno would also tour for WWC in Puerto Rico (even holding the Tag Titles there), he remained a massive star in The Dominican Republic until his retirement.  After leaving pro wrestling, Veneno stepped into the political realm, running for Mayor of Santo Domingo North in 2006 and in 2007, was named Vice-Minister of Sports for Dominican Republic president Leonel Fernández.

There was at least one film, Veneno: The First Fall, that was produced in 2018, planned as the first of a trilogy.  The film is available for purchase on Amazon.

Veneno was 78 years old. sends our deepest condolences to the family, friends and fans of Jack Veneno.

Thanks to Adolfo Acosta for his assistance.


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