Corrigan’s Corner: The Pharaoh…WWF’s Biggest What If?

ven if you’re a diehard fan of professional wrestling, you probably don’t know the name Tom Ricca. But if the stars had aligned in the 1990s, his alter-ego, The...
Even if you’re a diehard fan of professional wrestling, you probably don’t know the name Tom Ricca.

But if the stars had aligned in the 1990s, his alter-ego, The Pharaoh, could have led the New Generation of the WWF.

The Jersey son of a Korean War veteran, Ricca grew up working in the family bakery. As the runt of the litter, Ricca quickly learned how to defend himself from brotherly roughhousing. That physical nature would serve him well as he pursued a career in professional wrestling, honing his craft along the independents scene, eventually making it to WWF Superstars of Wrestling during Labor Day weekend 1991.

Here’s his story:

Breaking into the Business

Ricca: “I saw a couple of buddies from town, The Pitbulls. They were doing jobs for WWE. I knew them very well and used to see them in school. They didn’t finish school, so I didn’t know where they went. At the time, I was about 160lbs, 5’9, 5’10. We were all about the same height. They were going to the Monster Factory. They asked if I was tough enough. I said what do you mean? I’m the youngest of my brothers so of course I was beat on. (laughs) They offered to get me a tryout.”


Ricca: “It was his first try-out, too. I didn’t wrestle in school—I was just the class clown. I just wanted to give wrestling a shot. The try-out was pretty for simple for me, and for him, too. Mentally, the hardest thing to do is to fall backwards, just to land on your back. Most people will just freeze when it comes to that. Larry Sharpe owned the Monster Factory and he offered us to come back and see if it was for us. He said we could do the moves and showed no fear. Then he guaranteed us one professional match.”

First Gimmick

Ricca: “My first match was with another local guy. It was a tag match that Larry put together with another promoter to benefit the Gulf veterans. We were called the Hammonton Hitmen, me and Leo Petetti. Then he stopped pursuing wrestling so I was known as the Hammonton Hitman. Larry booked me around the state, feeding me lots of work. At the time, you had to be licensed through the state like with boxing. Every year you had to go through all the requirements to meet the standards of the state athletic commission. I was a flyer because at the time, there weren’t too many. Just Koko B. Ware, really. Everyone else was a monster.

I came up with the name Kamikaze Kid, and was licensed through the state with the name. I told Larry, ‘listen, there’s already Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart. There’s too many hitmen out there.’ (laughs) I won’t even go on as to what he mentioned, but he wouldn’t allow me to be the Kamikaze Kid. I told him that’s great for South Jersey and maybe the Philly area, but that’s only going to get me so far.”

WWF, Part I

Ricca: “WWF called me up to do some jobbing. I accepted and worked with them for a while, then they wanted to keep me longer. I spoke with Vince, Tony Garea, and a couple other people, telling them I wanted to develop an identity. I was simply Tony Ricca. I told them I wanted to explore the independent scene and work on developing my identity. Guys like Paul Roma jobbed for so long that, yeah they got some shots, but they didn’t go too far.”

The Pharaoh

Ricca: “The Pitbulls then called me up about us three running a show. I was watching the Ten Commandments over a friend’s house and saw the Pharaoh character. That was it, I knew that was my new identity. There was a lady I found who developed the costume. She did Elizabeth Taylor’s costume and several other Hollywood costumes. I had to go all out for this. She even got a makeup person to work on me before the shows. It was totally different from anything anyone saw on the independent scene.”


Ricca: “I had to work on my flying skills so I went to gymnastics. There was a private instructor, he was a gold medalist from Bolivia, and he trained me. There’s a flying backflip moonsault, I saw the Great Muta do it before, but no one else, really. I wanted to do it a little different. I wanted it to look like a high dive more than anything. We worked and worked and worked on it.”

Dick Woehrle

Ricca: “I got a message on my answering machine saying ‘Hi, this is Dick Woehrle, call me back.’ I was like, yeah, Dick Woehrke’s calling me, yeah right. I knew him as this big name in refereeing. I didn’t call back, so he called again. He said it didn’t sound like I believed who he was, and I said, you know what, there’s crazy stuff in this business and I have some crazy friends. So it’s kind of hard to believe. He even put his wife on, saying, ‘Judy, tell him who I am!’ (laughs)

Dick heard about the show I had and wanted to see some of my stuff. He had some shows set up in the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, and England for his own outfit. I heard that his Caribbean trips were great so I was in. I showed him my moonsault, called ‘The Sphinx.’ We had the slaves, the chariot, it was really beyond anything you’d see in an independent show. Today it might have been controversial, but back then there were no problems. Of course, if I went to Egypt, there might have been. (laughs)”

WWF, Part II

Ricca: “He wanted to show my moonsault to Gorilla Monsoon because he was one of the top guys working for Vince. Dick’s daughter was getting married and he invited me to the wedding. I sit at the table with Gorilla and explain the character to him. We discussed a three-year contract. I can’t say anything bad about Larry because he was an excellent trainer and a good guy to me. It’s just that I was kept right where he wanted me to be.”

What Happened?

Ricca: “Gorilla was getting sick and the girl I was with at the time was looking to get married. I was looking at so many different avenues. I made the decision to get married and have a family. It didn’t mean I couldn’t go back, you know? So I just worked different shows wherever. Obviously, the Pharaoh could have been a very big thing for the WWF.”

Arena Kaged Wrestling

Ricca: “I noticed there were many small promotions eating up the market in a bad, tasteless way. So I created a company called Arena Kaged Wrestling. got a building, caged it inside, and had the people inside of the cage. WCW was competing against WWE at the time, so it was kind of like, let me see who can I pull from for my shows. So I brought Disco Inferno in, some old-timers like Capt. Lou in, Big Vito, just whoever was available.”

These days, there’s a new superstar in the Ricca family. His daughter, Gabriella, won the USAIG/IAIGC Gymnastics International World Championships as the 12-year-old division’s All-Around Champion and Bar Champion in June 2014.

Her proud papa cheers on his champion while running Ricca Brothers Brick Oven Bread Factory & Pizzeria on Fairview Avenue in Hammonton with his brother, Michael, in a renovated building that housed his family’s bakery for more than 50 years. editor John Corrigan can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter at .

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