“I was leaping off the rope, and Yukon Eric, who had a cauliflower ear, moved at the last second,” Kowalski told The Chicago Tribune in 1989. “I thought I missed, but all of a sudden, something went rolling across the ring. It was his ear.”
Yukon Eric was taken to a hospital, and the promoter asked Kowalski to visit him and apologize for severing his ear. Reporters were listening to their chat from a corridor.
“There was this 6-foot-5, 280-pound guy, his head wrapped like a mummy, dwarfing his bed,” Kowalski said. “I looked at him and grinned. He grinned back. I laughed, and he laughed back. Then I laughed harder and left.
“The next day the headlines read, ‘Kowalski Visits Yukon in the Hospital and Laughs.’ And when I climbed into the ring that night, the crowd called out, ‘You animal, you killer.’ And the name stuck.”
Kowalski came to incur the wrath of the fans. As he told Esquire magazine in 2007: “Someone once threw a pig’s ear at me. A woman once came up to me after a match and said, ‘I’m glad you didn’t get hurt.’ Then she stabbed me in the back with a knife.