Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, one of the earliest superstars of professional wrestling, died Sunday. For fans of the sport in the 1980s, Snuka’s signature move, the “Superfly Splash” — a jump from the top rope of the ring onto a prone opponent — electrified audiences.
Snuka’s death was announced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on Sunday, which might have given some people pause, if only because the true extent of connections among professional wrestling’s clan of Polynesian and Samoan wrestlers is relatively unknown to the general public at large.
Snuka was technically related to Johnson by marriage — making him the movie star’s uncle — and Johnson wrote “Alofa atu i le aiga atoa” along with the announcement, which means “love the whole family” in Samoan.
On Monday, Johnson shared a recent image of Snuka watching vintage footage of himself from his wrestling days.
“To the world, he was known as the iconic Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka but to me he was and will always be, simply.. uncle,” he wrote in an extended message praising his uncle’s legacy.
“Before there was WrestleManias, PPV’s, big money guaranteed contracts, the internet or pro wrestling being coined ‘sports entertainment,’ it’s hard to articulate how ‘on fire’ this man was in the early ’80’s and how much he impacted and electrified the wrestling business’ bottom line … I grew up with this man as our families lived together in Hawaii and North Carolina. His children Jimmy Jr., Liana, Sarona and Ata all idolized him, as did I,” he also said.
Johnson is part of the Anoaʻi family, a group of professional wrestlers originally from American and Independent Samoa. The family’s extended arms and history make them one of — if not the — most influential families in the history of professional wrestling. Johnson’s grandfather was Peter Maiva, a “blood brother” of the Reverend Amituana’i Anoa’i, and through that extended connection he’s technically related to other famous professional wrestlers like Rikishi, Yokozuna, Roman Reigns and the Usos. (Character designs for Maui, Johnson’s character in 2016’s Moana, were partially based on Maiva — particularly his traditional Samoan tattoos.)
Snuka, meanwhile, was born in Fiji and spent some time as a bodybuilder in Hawaii in the 1960s before moving into professional wrestling after meeting other South Pacific wrestlers in Hawaii. He married into the Anoa’i family through his second wife, Sharon. (Writing in his autobiography, Snuka states that “Sharon’s dad was some kind of chief in Western Samoa.”)
One of Snuka’s children with Sharon, daughter Sarona, received the first Lin Maiva Scholarship to train at the Wild Samoan Training center in Minneoloa Florida in 2009. (Lin Maiva was Peter Maiva’s wife and a promoter in the Polynesian wrestling community — she is, obviously, Dwayne Johnson’s grandmother.) The Wild Samoan Training Center, meanwhile, was established in the late 1970s by Afa and Sika Anoa’i, who are the sons of Reverend Amituana’i Anoa’i, who is Peter Maiva’s blood brother.
Johnson’s explained Sarona’s journey in an Instagram post almost four years ago: “10 years ago my cousin, Sarona Snuka, divorced, decided to go back to college to complete her education and be a great example for her two beautiful little girls she was raising – all while working as a janitor.”
Sarona made her World Wrestling Entertainment debut in 2010 under the name Tamina, adopting her dad’s famous “Superfly splash” as one of her special moves. She also had a cameo role in her cousin’s film Hercules.
So with all this in mind, when The Rock tweets that “love the whole family,” now you have some idea of exactly how extended that family really is.