He was born in Bergamo, Italy to a family of stonemasons. In 1920 the Savoldi family immigrated to America to settle in Three Oaks, Michigan. Young "Giuseppe" anglicized his first name to "Joe" and became a star athlete in high school. After graduation from Three Oaks High, he enrolled at the University of Notre Dame, where beginning in 1928 he would play football for the legendary Fighting Irish teams coched by Knute Rockne.
The burly All-American fullback was nicknamed "Galloping Joe" or "Jumping Joe", earning the latter nickname for a play made in a 1929 game against Carnegie Tech when he scored a touchdown by jumping across the goal line, a novel move at the time. Other career highlights for Savoldi came on October 4, 1930 when he scored the first ever Notre Dame touchdown at the newly-opened Notre Dame Stadium, and one week later when he scored three touchdowns against Navy. Unfortunately, his career came to a sudden end when his divorce from a secret marriage became public knowledge, at a time when being married was against University rules. Upon Savoldi's expulsion from Notre Dame he went professional, signing with the Chicago Bears of the NFL, for which the Bears were fined $1000 for signing a player before his college class had graduated. Savoldi played in three games for the Bears at the end of the 1930 season at the right halfback position, but had no chance to take the starting fullback job from Bronko Nagurski, and was resented by his teammates for his large salary. With no further income to count on at season's close, Savoldi decided to try his hand at professional wrestling in 1931.
The sturdily-built but agile "Jumping Joe" Savoldi quickly built a name for himself on the wrestling circuit. Though not a technically gifted grappler, his dark and handsome appearance combined with a flair for performance soon propelled him to main event status. He became known for his visually exciting finishing move which he called the "flying dropkick" (the pro wrestling move known today as simply the "dropkick"). At the time Savoldi was often credited as having invented the move, but today that attribution is disputed between him and Abe Coleman.
Interpromotional wars were raging at the time, and on April 7, 1933 at Chicago Stadium, Savoldi became the conduit for a double cross on heavyweight champion Jim Londos. After a tangle by the ropes, referee Bob Managoff declared Savoldi the winner by pinfall and awarded him the title, to the shock and confusion of the audience. Vigorous arguments were waged over whether Savoldi had truly won the match, and whether Londos' title had even been on the line. As a result, Savoldi and Managoff were suspended in some territories and the title change was not universally recognized. Londos continued to bill himself as world champion, while Savoldi went to the New York area claiming the same, until he was defeated by Jim Browning on June 12 at Yankee Stadium. After peace was made between rival promotions, a Londos/Savoldi rematch was held at Chicago Stadium on January 31, 1934. Londos won the contest in front of 20,200 fans, one of the largest crowds to ever watch a wrestling match up to that time.
Savoldi continued his successful wrestling career throughout the decade, touring New Zealand in 1936, appearing in Hawaii and Australia in 1937, and spending a lengthy time in Europe shortly before World War II. He earned a good amount of money and in 1941, attempted to bring a new soft drink to market, called DROPKICK, The Drink For "All Americans". The business venture quickly fizzled, however, after the United States entered the war, and the ensuing sugar rationing was too much for production to overcome.
As the conflict continued, Savoldi was approached by the U.S. government about joining the war effort in an espionage role, owing to his fluency in multiple dialects of Italian. Thus he became an OSS secret agent operating in and around Italy, where he passed easily for a local. Among the missions in which Savoldi participated was a series of secret meetings held behind enemy lines in July 1943 between an OSS team and members of the Italian Resistance.
Savoldi resumed his wrestling career before war's end, but his ability to move around in the ring would begin to diminish due to the onset of arthritis. He tried promoting in the Chicago area for a while between 1946 and 1948, and gave Bobo Brazil his start in the wrestling business. Savoldi returned to the ring for a couple more years, wrestling his final match in 1950. He then went back to university to work towards earning his qualifications for a teacher's degree, and eventually came to teach science at Henderson County High School in Henderson, Kentucky. Joe Savoldi died in 1974 at the age of 65, and is buried in Henderson.
It is important to note that Joe Savoldi is unrelated to the New Jersey-based professional wrestling family of the same last name, which includes Angelo Savoldi and son Joseph. That family's real last name is Fornini. Joseph even used the nickname "Jumping Joe" in his career, while Angelo was occasionally nicknamed "Little Jumping Joe". Wrestling publications through to the present day have stated that this family has a blood relation to the "original" Savoldi wrestling star, but such statements are kayfabe at best.