An alumnus of Reno High School and Stanford University (class of 1957), Manoukian played professional football for the Salinas Packers of the Pacific Football Conference in 1958 and with the Oakland Raiders as a member of the American Football League team's inaugural 1960 season.
Determining that professional wrestling would be more lucrative (and in part because of his diminutive stature; estimates of his height ranged from between 5 feet 5 inches to 5 feet 9 inches), he switched to wrestling and spent nine years touring the United States and Japan, primarily as a heel.
Occasionally wrestling under the ring name Don the Bruiser, he won several championships as both a singles wrestler and a tag team wrestler. He won several titles in Pacific Northwest Wrestling, including the Heavyweight Championship in 1964. Previously he won the NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team Championship twice, once with Kurt von Poppenheim in 1959 and two years later with Shag Thomas. He also regularly teamed with Dick Beyer, with whom he won both the WWA International Television Tag Team Championship and the Los Angeles version of the NWA International Television Tag Team Championship.