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In 1966, Tony Marino’s ‘Battman’ and Tom Foti’s ‘Robin’ were a popular tag team despite never actually becoming one

By May 12, 2020 No Comments

Tony “Battman” Marino in action. (Screencap from youtube.com)

By Thomas Leturgey
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
info@pittsburghcurrent.com

For many fans of Pittsburgh’s Studio Wrestling, Tony Marino’s “Battman” was a pretty big deal. The gimmick, which could never happen today because of the obvious copyright infringements, was popular with fans and is an iconic part of wrestling’s history.

A new TV show made the character and his sidekick, Robin extremely popular. In pro wrestling, Marino was Battman, and Robin was portrayed by Canadian wrestler Tom Foti. But when and where did the gimmick start? And when did Battman and Robin join forces? Like the original Batman, there is a complicated history. 

Origin Story: Battman

Tony Marino’s local incarnation of the then-TV character burst onto the scene, not in Pittsburgh, but according to Wrestledata.com, in Cleveland on March 31, 1966. There, Battman defeated Paul DeGalles in 5:15 at the Cleveland Arena. But there were earlier sightings.

Battman showed up earlier that March wrestling preliminary matches at the NWA in Detroit. Even earlier that year, there was a Battman listed as the tag-team partner of the legendary Gorilla Monsoon. But it isn’t likely that the caped crusader of the squared circle would make his debut for a loss in a random tag match.  

The original comic book character was becoming popular after the The Adam West-helmed Batman television show debuted on January 12, 1966.

It’s common knowledge in wrestling fan circles that Marino’s “Battman” featured the double T to differentiate, and presumably avoid lawsuits, from the TV crime fighter. However, the DC-comics spelling is frequently used in everything from Civic Arena wrestling programs to news filings, results and other promotional pieces. Like the TV show and comics, if there was a Battman, there had to be a Robin.

Origin Story: Robin

Around this time, John Foti was wrestling almost exclusively in Canada for Stu Hart’s Stampede promotion. The 38-year-old 5’9”, 215-pound Canadian, and the 35-year-old Marino, 5’9” and 235-pounds, were on cards together in 1965, months before the show debuted. Foti, was asked by the promoter to be the Boy Wonder. But despite what you might think, it wasn’t to fight along Battman’s side.

But, despite urban legend, there’s no proof whatsoever that the Dynamic Duo ever actually teamed up to fight crime or throw dropkicks. In fact, there is little proof that the two appeared together beyond a photo session with photographer Roger Baker. More on that in a minute.

In April, Battman wrestled all over the east, from Buffalo to Cincinnati, Toledo to Toronto. And like the superhero, this Caped Crusader got the win wherever he went. In singles competition, he remained undefeated in May, but lost in a tag team contest with Lou Klein against Nicoli Volkoff (not the Nikolai Volkoff of later WWF fame) and Boris Volkoff.

Foti spent the vast majority of his time north of the border for Stampede. He was never involved in a recorded tag team match with Battman during this time, and “Robin” can’t be found in singles competition.

The two reportedly debuted at the Maple Leaf Gardens, but actually didn’t compete in a match together.

On July 24, 1966, WWWF Champion Bruno Sammartino defended his title in the Maple Leaf Gardens against Dr. Bill Miller (Bruno won by count out). On the same card, Battman lost in a tag team match with partner Johnny Powers. Although they knew each other before this, Sammartino had never seen Marino as Battman before. But he liked what he saw in the character.

Exactly two months later, Battman debuted in Pittsburgh on Studio Wrestling’s September 24, 1966 broadcast in a win over Jim Grabmire. He would become a staple of weekly television broadcasts and mid-card house shows for several years. Heck, there was even a video of Marino’s Battman driving to the Civic Arena in an Adam West version of the Batmobile, all with the TV show theme.

Battman and Robin Unite, Sort Of

A short time later, the Dynamic Duo were featured in a huge photo on the cover of Wrestling Revue Magazine. In a feature remembering Foti, Greg Oliver’s Slam Canoe Sports featured a photo gallery of Battman and Robin, most likely taken by Baker on May 1, 1966 (based on match results). One photo appears to be staged as the in-ring Battman and Robin sign autographs for fans standing on the outside. Another photo shows Robin standing on the apron and chatting with Battman. Behind them is an empty arena. Plus, the article confirms that Robin is Battman’s “second and confidant.” Robin did get involved momentarily when a rival had Battman illegally on the ropes. 

The magazine had to reinforce to fans that Battman and Robin were on the scene. However, the team didn’t last long, if they really worked together at all.

When Marino returned to Toronto, he didn’t often bring the mask in late 1966. He wrestled as Tony Marino, the respected Italian. Most of the time, Foti wasn’t on those cards.

It’s interesting to note that on November 7, 1966 (after the magazine’s release and at the height of the TV show’s craze) Battman defeated John Foti in one-on-one action in Lethbridgem Alberta Canada, as well as the next day in Edmonton. Both events were for Wildcat Wrestling, the NWA and Stampede. Foti wrestled for the rest of his short life. Sadly, Foti took his own life on April 29, 1969. He was 41.

Battman spent most of his time in the Pittsburgh region, which was now owned by Sammartino. By February 1967, Battman was routinely tagging with The Living Legend. Later he would tag with “Jumpin’” Johnny DeFazio. There’s never been a suggestion that Foti was ever in Pittsburgh or Western Pennsylvania at all.

The Batman TV show went off the air in March, 1968 but continues to live on famously in syndication and cultural lore. Pittsburgh’s “Battman” wasn’t as omnipresent after the cancellation, however, Marino would continue to wrestle in the cowl for many years after. His last appearance in Pittsburgh was at a roast for Dominic DeNucci and the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) FanFest, both on December 3, 2011. Marino, who lives in Florida, recently turned 89.

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