Who was Gina “Bronco” Bouza and was she killed by a toothless baboon from the San Diego Zoo? Addressing the second part of the question first, the answer is no. In regards to who Gina Bouza was, she never existed. Despite not being real, her story is told throughout the country, immortalized on the walls of Buca di Beppo.
The story starts with Billy Wolfe, who was a very real promoter of women’s wrestling, discovering the 19 year old Gina Bouza thanks to a newspaper article about her working in the stockyards. The paper claimed she could slaughter a cow by straddling a cow and clinching her thighs.
While it was claimed she was only 5’5″ and a hefty 205 pounds, she was said to defend her title up to 3 times a week. It is said she would face Mildred Burke, Susan Themelis, and Lemon Grove’s Betty “The Yeti” Zoska.
Among claims throughout the story of her cage matches, mud bouts, and battles with midgets, is the claim that really takes the story to another level, the day she decided to wrestle a baboon for charity. A story so odd and crazy, the comedian Bill Burr once devoted a portion of his radio show to discussing it.
The story goes that Buca di Beppo and the Knights of Columbus co-hosted a fundraiser on August 17, 1957. At the same time the San Diego Zoo was planning to remove Bungles, the toothless baboon, from public view. The promoter, Joey DelCampo, got the idea that there needed to be a match.
Before the match Gina was said to have posed for photographs and roped a midget. Then the baboon rode his red tricycle to the ring and sat in his corner, where a banana had been left for him.
Gina then entered the ring, and as the Hoover High School marching band played the national anthem, Bungles attacked. Gina cried “foul!” but it was too late, the baboon snapped her neck. He then picked her up and threw her corpse from the ring. The promoter could only repeat “Who knew?” as the police gunned down the baboon as he gummed the ropes.
The story ends talking about Gina Bouza’s “dedication to the sport of ladies professional wrestling” and “monkeys’ inherent advantages over people in speed, agility, reflexes, hammer locks, and airplane spins.”
One look at the story and it is pretty questionable, but taking place in a time when there were shows where people would wrestle animals such as bears, it has an air of believability. The story is sprinkled with names of real people in the wrestling industry at the time, and real places.
The first red flag (aside from the claims of killing a cow with her thighs) is the claim of her defending her title up to 3 times a week. The story claims she was outdrawing men and a hero to girls everywhere, but during the time she would have been active there were only three women to hold any version of the world title, Mildred Burke, June Byers, and The Fabulous Moolah. Of the three names the story lists as her regular opponents Betty Zoska is not a real person, and Susan Themelis might not be either. Mildred Burke wasn’t taking losses from anyone.
The story’s claim about a charity event being promoted by Buca di Beppo and the Knights of Columbus in 1957 the lead to the unfortunate death at the hands of a primate simply can’t be true as well. Buca di Beppo wasn’t founded until 1993. No location was opened in San Diego till at least 1999. Women’s wrestling was completely banned in California at the time as well, though I guess a match with a monkey might fall outside the jurisdiction of the state athletic commission.
A baboon killing a famous wrestler would have been a big story. However there is no mention of it in the Los Angeles Times the next day as well. It simply never happened. In fact, depending on where the Buca di Beppo you are eating at is, the locations listed in the story change to fit the location of the restaurant.
The obvious ridiculousness of the story hasn’t stopped people from being fooled by it however. Aside from the previously mentioned Bill Burr radio show a quick Google search sees it being brought up in various places as a real event. There is even a site with a list of wrestlers deaths with her picture (taken straight from the restaurant) and her date of death listed.
In closing, as amazing a story as it would have been if the greatest women’s wrestler of her time met her demise at the hands of a toothless baboon her in Southern California, you just can’t believe everything you read on the wall of a Buca di Beppo.