Friday, August 26, 2011
R.I.P. Donna Christiantello
The greatest female professional wrestler Western Pennsylvania ever produced, and one of its most sincere souls, has died.
Donna Christiantello, who could still command respect and admiration from a room full of pro wrestling fans (and wrestlers alike) in 2011, was 69.
In the heyday of when women could brawl with the best of men--and still look fetching in a swim suit--there were few who could emote or grapple like Donna. Christiantello worked alongside the biggest names ever in women's professional wrestling--Leilani Kai, Peggy Lee, The Fabulous Moolah, Wendi Richter--and helped pave roads for today's Divas and Knockouts.
But through it all, Donna Christiantello was a woman who loved the world's greatest sport. In 2010, Donna was deservedly selected to be the first female inducted into the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance (KSWA) Hall of Fame. The designation was kept secret to her, as the legendary Dominic DeNucci was advertised and promoted as that year's inductee. During the induction ceremony, Donna's family held tight as a video featuring Christiantello started to play on a big projector screen. Christiantello, hands folded on her lap, smiled from ear-to-ear and started to talk with her family.
DeNucci came out and hugged his friend and two of Pittsburgh's classiest legends were inducted into Pittsburgh's pro wrestling Hall of Fame.
After that moment, people slowly walked over to Donna and she kept court as wrestling fans, young and old, stopped to say hello. Little girls, with show flyers in hand, walked up for an autograph. Donna smiled and had a quiet, warm word for each.
Christiantello would later attend several KSWA events as a fan, customarily in the front row. Every time she would be introduced from the ring and she'd stand and wave. Pittsburgh pro wrestling royalty. Slowly more fans would walk over to greet her and ask for autographs.
Clearly, Donna enjoyed the recognition. As well she should.
Donna Christiantello was a villain after such talent as Wendi Richter. There's a Youtube video in which Richter and Lee take on Susan Starr and Christiantello in tag team competition. Christiantello paces as the ring announcer makes his introduction. She's a caged tigress, ready to pounce. And tellingly, Christiantello is introduced last, a custom long-used to showcase the biggest name in the match. She wasn't. Richter, a former Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader, was the most popular wrestler that day, but that didn't matter. Christiantello was as good as anyone in that or any other day. She could lay a forearm smash perfectly and with vicious veracity. Later, she helped train Sensational Sherri Martel, one of the biggest personalities ever in the women's division.
In recent years Christiantello would routinely travel to pro wrestling Hall of Fame events and often be the hit of the festivities. Along with Martel, Donna even welcomed her real-life niece Marie Minor (ring name Angie Minelli) into the rough-and-tumble world of professional wrestling. They often attended wrestling shows together. They were inseparable.
Select KSWA Megastars get teary-eyed when they talk about Donna and how her spirit touched them as a friend and mentor, although they didn't know her for a long time. Some remained close friends with her to her final days. KSWA Megastar Shawn Blanchard, who would talk with Donna often, said her last words to him were, "I love you."
Donna Christiantello (Alfonsi) wrestled from 1963 to 1991. She and Toni Rose comprised the then-WWWF's first women's tag team champions. Christiantello also held a host of other titles, mostly as a tag team wrestler.
Funeral arraignments had not been completed as of this writing. Donna Christiantello, you will be missed.
Credit: KSWA Wrestling