Acrylic and spray paint on 24″ x 24″ wood
Wrestlers like Steve “Crusher” Casey are the reason I’m doing the Champions Collection, to make sure that their contributions are not lost to the sands of time. Steve Casey was born 1908 in Sneem, Ireland, the eldest of seven sons to bare-knuckle boxer Mike Casey. He was a champion rower with his family in Sneem, even being qualified for the Olympic team before the committee discovered he was a professional wrestler, disqualifying him. Steve debuted as a pro wrestler in 1936 by beating Canadian Heavyweight Champion Paul Duveen in a non-title match. This caught the attention of Boston, MA promoter Paul Bowser, who brought Casey to the US. On February 11, 1938 Casey achieved the greatest achievement of his career when he defeated Lou Thesz for the National Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship, making him the second-ever Irish-born world champion, after Danno O’Mahoney. He was stripped of the title in September of that year for being “out of country” (a WORLD championship, mind you), but he continued to be recognized as world champion by Boston’s American Wrestling Association. This was where the Boston version of the AWA split from the National Wrestling Association, with Casey as their champion. Steve went on to have notable rivalries against Danno O’Mahoney, Gun Sonnenberg, “The French Angel” Maurice Tillet and US Boxing Champion Tiger Warrenton.
While still AWA champion, he joined the United States Army during World War II, serving from 1942 to 1944. He returned to competition in 1945, and retired in 1947. In 1982 Steve was awarded a place in the Irish Hall of Fame. In 1983, the Casey family organized a reunion in Sneem, Ireland, and Steve died four years later at the age of 78. A bronze statue of him stands in Sneem in recognition of his career in the squared circle.
Here’s a man who made a name for himself in his native Ireland in one sport, then came to America becoming even more famous in another. So famous that an entire wrestling organization based their events around him. He went to fight for his adopted country in WWII when he was not compelled to do so. After lacing up his boots for the last time, he became an entrepreneur and business owner, fully living the American dream. His accomplishments around the world made him so famous that his home town has a statue standing in his honor. And to be honest? I’d never heard of the guy before starting this project. He passed away while I was still in grade school, and most people don’t even know about the Boston version of the AWA. Heck, less and less people even know about the more-famous Minnesota AWA, both of which are long-defunct. This man mattered to the world, and has earned the spot to still matter. That’s what I’m doing with the Champions Collection, and that’s why I’m so pleased that Steve Casey is a part of it.
About the piece: There weren’t too many photographs online of Casey in his prime, and the one I ended up choosing to base this portrait on was of poor quality. Instead of using a bunch of fancy art tricks to cover it up, I opted to go very simplistic and raw with the piece to embrace the subject. I lightly laid down some spray paint, then brought in the blacks with a sponge brush. Once that dried, I again lightly sprayed some paint, letting it cling to the black paint. I finished with the whites, still using a sponge brush to lay it on. Shadows, mid-tones and highlights. Sometimes that’s all you need.