Ilio DiPaolo

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Wrestling Great and Civic Leader

The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame has honored many individuals who forged a reputation not only as athletes but also as civic leaders and beacons of the Buffalo community. Ilio DiPaolo made his mark as a standout professional wrestler during the heyday of the sport. However, the gentle giant is noteworthy not only for that reason, but as an athlete who gave more back to his community than perhaps any other in the long history of sports in Buffalo. The 1995 accident which claimed DiPaolo’s life robbed Western New York of not only a legendary sports figure, but a familiar restaurateur whose legend later grew to mythic proportions as he willingly and actively embraced his role as a community benefactor. DiPaolo left his native Italy for South America in 1949, and arrived in the United States in the early 1950s. He overcame a childhood bout with polio, and a subsequent difficulty with an enlarged heart, to become a professional wrestler.

DiPaolo’s career blossomed in this country. He was one of the “good guys” in the high-profile world of professional wrestling in the 1950s and early ’60s, engaging in battle with such notables as Killer Kowalski, Fritz Von Eric, the Masked Marvel and Gorgeous George. However, DiPaolo’s wrestling skill produced more than entertainment, as evidenced by two Tag Team titles, an All-Asian Championship in Japan, and competition in World Championship bouts in Toronto and Winnipeg. DiPaolo’s peers acknowledged his contributions to wrestling in 1994 by inducting him into the prestigious and exclusive Cauliflower Alley Club Wrestling Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

When an ankle injury ended his wrestling career in 1965, DiPaolo the world traveler chose Buffalo as home and opened his famous Blasdell restaurant. The restaurant became a favorite with Buffalo Bills players and countless other Western New Yorkers. Many Bills and their families were welcomed to Buffalo with dinner at DiPaolo’s, where they were nourished with fine food, friendship and inspiration from the gracious owner. Although DiPaolo’s restaurant became a gathering place for Buffalo celebrities, the owner’s generosity extended equally to the less famous and less fortunate. He campaigned vigorously for a variety of causes including the Leukemia Society, Cystic Fibrosis, People Incorporated, and Camp Good Days and Special Times. DiPaolo’s community involvement was recognized by Outstanding Citizens awards from many community-minded organizations, including Hilbert College, the Rotarians, the Lions Club of Blasdell, Boys Town of Italy, St. Francis High School and the Western New York Italian-American Association.

The memory of Ilio DiPaolo lives on through his restaurant, and through his family’s continued devotion to the causes which he held dear. The memory of DiPaolo the athlete and community benefactor will continue to live on as DiPaolo assumes his rightful place in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.