Greatest Wrestling Stars of the Sixties exchange info on pro wrestling of the 1960's
This section deals with the industrial 'revolution' of the Sixties and the four major alliances that ruled pro wrestling throughout the decade: the NWA, the WWF, the AWA and the WWA, along with their galaxies of stars...still under construction...
Andre the Giant
Andre Roussimoff was perhaps the most phenomenal athlete of all time. At 7'4", hailing from the French Alps, he predominated a sport of giants over four decades and left behind an incomparable legacy. His uniqueness went beyond his colossal stature: no promoter was able to satisfy his wanderlust with financial recompense for any length of time until his declining years with the WWF. He scoffed at a $100,000 offer from the Washington Redskins back in the '70's to fill a lineman position; money was never an issue for the highest-paid performer in wrestling. Yet, his constant touring was probably the reason why Andre never held a major title (other than an bogus win over Hogan in the '80's). In his heyday, Andre took on two and three men per night as a matter of course. His tendon strength was such that he never was known to supplement his itinerary with any bodybuilding regimen. The true fear in other 'giants' eyes when in the ring against Andre was, in itself, a testimony to the esteem other wrestlers had for him.
The only true injury he ever suffered in the ring was a broken ankle against the Mongol. The only loss other than by disqualification was against Hogan, when an ailing Andre willingly gave up his kingship to the 'future of wrestling'. The only time he took on a manager, or worked as a 'heel', was when he signed with Bobby Heenan for his WWF stint against Hogan. Other than these incidentals, the biggest man in the game had an unblemished record, the likes of which will probably never be seen again. His death in the early '90's ended an era which will never be forgotten.
"Big Bobo" was undoubtedly the greatest black athlete in wrestling history. Like Andre, Bobo wrote his own ticket though doing most of his work for the NWA in Michigan. At 6'4", 275 pounds, he was a renowned 'spoiler' though exchanging the coveted U.S. heavyweight title with his rival, the Sheik, on numerous occasions. Bobo's signature move, the Coco Butt, was the most feared headbutt of all time and could stagger any wrestler alive.
His war with the Sheik created both men's fame and fortune. The story line was that the Sheik, an Arab, harbored a natural hatred for the ethnic African. In ethnically-mixed Detroit, this escalated into a race war. They packed the venerated Cobo Hall for years as their rivalry went on. Bobo continued to tour, however, successfully defending his U.S. title as well working as one of Bruno Sammartino's tag partners.
In Bobo's most memorable curtain call, George "Bruiser" Steele was on the rampage in Washington D.C., having nearly blinded Arnold Skaaland during a match. Earl Maynard charged the ring but could only manage a standoff with the Bruiser. An irate Bobo raced in, dispatching Steele with a head butt, sending him into a triple somersault and back to the showers. A nationwide TV audience went wild with adulation over that one great moment in a truly stellar career.
Originally from France, Montreal's Edouard Carpentier (nee Weicz) became the greatest French wrestler (next to Andre?) in the history of the game. His remarkable gymnastic ability was highly reminiscent of Rocca and ballet artist Ricki Starr, yet his technical ability ranked second only to Thesz and Gagne in craftsmanship throughout the decade.
Carpentier realized the peak of his career in 1957, when one promotional organization decided to recognize his June 14, 1957 disputed win over NWA World Champion Lou Thesz. He lost his bragging rights to Verne Gagne, though remaining a major mat star throughout the world. His wars with Killer Kowalski are considered classics of the era as the superstars brawled across the continent in a hotly-contested rivalry.
Like so many before him, he enjoyed a later career boost in signing with the WWWF. The Big Apple took Edouard to heart, his tactics reminding them of their beloved Rocca of the previous decade. He became part of Bruno's circle of friends, and took a hand in dozens of battles between the local heroes and Red Berry's Stable of Champions headed by 400-pound Gorilla Monsoon. Carpentier's most notable win was a pinfall over European champ Hans "the Great" Mortier at Madison Square Garden towards the end of the feud.
Edouard's classic Gallic features, his rock-solid build and catlike grace made him a fan favorite wherever he went. Though both France and Quebec have produced great wrestlers throughout the 20th century, the Flying Frenchman set a standard still being measured against to this day.
He has often been compared to Bruno Sammartino and Lou Thesz in their day. Their influences on the game will never be duplicated, but the styles of the three wrestlers are just as dimensional as their effects on Sixties wrestling.
Gagne was an accomplished amateur wrestler who won numerous high school and college championships. He was also an Olympic contender before making his debut in the professional ranks. late 1940s and early 1950s.
On Sept. 3, 1953, Gagne was awarded the NWA's Midwest version of the US Title. After a year as champion, he was defeated by Wilbur Snyder, but regained it against Dick the Bruiser in Chicago on April 12, 1958. He held the US Championship until August 16, 1960. He left the title vacant after being awarded the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. Pat O'Connor was the inaugural AWA champ, but when he failed to meet Gagne within 90 days, the new organization stripped O`Conner of the title and awarded it to Gagne.
Verne Gagne was a humble gentleman, yet a complex wrestler. His affable demeanor and soft speaking voice belied an arsenal of wrestling strategy and tactics, both amateur and pro. He was a master shootist, able to take down the biggest opponent with the least effort and lethal effect. Gagne was a wrestler's wrestler, eschewing the glitz of his competitors (a laThesz and Sammartino), clad only in dark tights and boots, doing his job in the ring with the virtuosity of a master craftsman. He had become a legend in the Midwest, and had found his station among the rich and famous throughout their community. Gagne was a true wrestling superstar throughout his reign as AWA champion, having held the belt for a record seven consecutive years between 1968-1975. His ring wars with the elite of 60's wrestling reads like a Who's Who of the era: Dick The Bruiser, Mad Dog Vachon, Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson, Fritz Von Erich, The Crusher, Harley Race, "Superstar" Billy Graham, Larry "The Axe" Hennig, Stan Hansen, Ernie Ladd and Nick Bockwinkle, among many others. The Gagne sleeper, his patented finishing move, brought him victory in a number of these encounters.
Gagne won his final A.W.A. World Championship before nearly 20,000 fans at Commisky Park in Chicago, IL. on July 18, 1980 by defeating the upcoming legend Nick Bockwinkle. He held the title for nearly a year before retiring with the championship he held for over ten years. Verne Gagne was the ambassador of the American Wrestling Association during his reign, and later became an influential promoter within the AWA. Gagne trained many of the greatest technical stars in wrestling after his retirement, the immortal Billy Robinson one of his most noteworthy proteges. Alongside Lou Thesz, he stands atop the volcano as one of the greatest mat technicians in history.
This 'lucha libre' stylist had the best of both worlds, becoming one of the greatest West Coast stars of all time, eclipsing the Destroyer (another L.A. legend) as the greatest of the masked grapplers, and enjoying the adulation of his native Mexico as a real-life action film star. His charisma shone through the veneer of his thousand masks, his wrestling ability next to none, his athletic ability making him one of the greatest stars of the decade.
Mascaras' fame and fortune in Mexico enabled him to write his own ticket in the NWA, and he spent most of his career on the West Coast competing against its top stars. Ironically, his stellar movie career may have been his biggest drawback. Though surpassing fellow wrestling icons El Santo and Blue Demon as king of the Mexican action flick, he forfeited his ability to commit to a contract that could have gained him NWA championship gold.
Like so many others, California gold kept him from going on to the greater exposure of the WWWF until the autumn of his career. He became the first masked wrestler in history to compete in Madison Square Garden in his only appearance, in which the Spoiler did a tank job for him before leaving the Big Apple himself shortly afterward.
Mascaras disappeared from the ring in the late 80's, leaving behind a legacy that may well go unsurpassed.
It was Bruno before him and Andre after him that eclipsed the legend of a wrestler who could well have been considered the greatest of his era. Bob Marella, at 6'6", 410 pounds, was the Manchurian Giant who terrorized the Western Wrestling Alliance on the West Coast for years before becoming a cornerstone of the WWWF on the East Coast. He became an overnight success with both promotions, thwarted in the WWWF by new champ Sammartino before traveling on to California to take on WWA kingpin Ray Stevens. Despite being unable to topple the champs, Monsoon annihilated all others who crossed his path in a stellar list of victims. They were often laid to waste by his Manchurian Landslide, a crushing body drop across a foe devastated by his vicious karate chops and flattened after a dose of his Giant Swing.
Signed by Red Berry in his return to the WWWF, Monsoon became the standard-bearer of Berry's Stable of Champions. Along with his tag-team partner Professor Toru Tanaka and European champ Hans "the Great" Mortier, they ruled the WWWF roost in the late 60's. Only Bruno and his pals, Spiros Arion and Victor Rivera, were able to thwart Red's plans for WWWF supremacy. He was one of a handful of men who defeated Bruno at the Garden, and came within a hairbreadth of dethroning Bruno in a rivalry that raged for years.
Upon Sammartino's retirement, Monsoon turned 'babyface' and played WWWF policeman for a couple more years. He came within a second of pinning WWWF champ Superstar Billy Graham in their classic encounter, and gained the adulation of the fans which he so richly deserved.
Monsoon eventually retired and became one of the most prestigious ring announcers in the game with his unique insight and sheer knowledge of the sport. He was eventually named WWF President, a fitting tribute to a wrestler who was one of its greatest stars.
A native of Abruzzi, Italy, he immigrated to the United States at age 15. An amateur wrestler, his greatest influence was a Greco-Roman stylist named Batisti who represented Italy in the '30's Olympics. Bruno was a weightlifting enthusiast who set numerous records in the Tristate area for his bench-pressing ability. His best lift was in excess of 500 pounds, and he even outdid powerlifting legend Paul Anderson on one memorable occasion. He worked in construction while moonlighting as a wrestler before turning pro in 1959. On May 17, 1963, Bruno defeated Nature Boy Buddy Rogers to capture the WWWF Heavyweight Wrestling Championship at Madison Square Garden. He held the belt for over half a decade, stringing a phenomenal series of wins together over the biggest names in the game. He was the first pro wrestler to ever grace the covers of Sports Illustrated during that time, and was known throughout the world, a sports icon in Japan. He was finally toppled by Ivan Koloff, and was eclipsed by WWWF champ Pedro Morales for a couple of years before regaining his belt from interim champion Stan Stasiak. He began another reign of glory that lasted a couple of years until losing to Superstar Billy Graham. He managed his son David for a short time until falling into disfavor with the new WWF kingpins. Though estranged from the game, it can be argued that he was the greatest champion in history.
The greatest villain in mat history had a career unparalleled in the history of the game. He became a legend over two decades, holding the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship longer than any other competitor (Ray Stevens' belt was primarily a WWA title after its schism with the NWA) during the 60's and 70's. Detroit became his territory, and Cobo Hall his showcase as he turned back the challenges of some of the greatest wrestlers of the century.
Abdullah Farhat added a twist to his "sheik" image early in his career with his psychopathic ring persona, made infamous by using every dirty trick in the book and inventing those yet unheard of. He became synonymous with the foreign object, bringing a large variety of weapons into the ring with him to use on hapless foes. He became the most disqualified wrestler of all time, referees often stopping his bouts before the bell even rang. Bobo Brazil, his greatest nemesis, suffered a punctured windpipe from a taped pencil. The legendary Dory Funk Jr. was hit with a fireball pulled from the Sheik's trunks; Cowboy Frankie Laine caught an electric bolt in the face in one encounter. The Sheik would stop at nothing to win, and the fans would pack Cobo Hall to the rafters to see the new hero in town get his licks in against wrestling's most hated villain.
The Sheik had long gone undefeated in Madison Square Garden years before signing on with Abdullah Farouk (the Grand Wizard) to take Bruno Sammartino on for WWWF gold. The two legends fought an unforgettable three-match series at the Garden, ending in a Texas Death Match in which the Sheik submitted due to punctures of his right arm incurred from a pencil confiscated by Sammartino. He and Haystacks Calhoun fought their last match at the Garden against each other, the Sheik disqualified at 0:00 for a pre-bout ambush of his colossal opponent.
There is little that can be said for a 'heel' so foul that men such as Dick the Bruiser and George "the Animal" Steele were wildly cheered as his opposition. He captured the imagination of his audiences like no one before or since, and was voted Villain of the Year by more organizations and fanzines than anyone in grappling history. He will forever be remembered by mat historians as the greatest mat 'heel' of all time, and quite possibly one of the top ten greatest performers in wrestling history.
George "the Bruiser" Steele became the heir apparent to the Sheik as the greatest mat villain in the sport, carving his niche in Detroit's legendary Cobo Hall during the mat wars of the 60's. A former Boston Patriot, his reputation as a hellraiser resulted in a career change from the NFL to the NWA. His penchant for violence and outrageous ring antics embellished by his flair for showmanship made him one of the fastest rising stars on the horizon. His excessive brutality earned him a number of suspensions, which he worked around by donning a mask and wrestling as The Student. It was his signature hold, the Flying Hammerlock, that often provided fans with the clue to his true identity. Steele was the man fans loved to hate, and his rivalries with Detroit stars Bobo Brazil and the Sheik catapulted him into wrestling immortality.
He signed with the WWWF shortly after the Sheik left the territory, and made an enormous impact on the NYC scene in a classic two-match war with Bruno Sammartino. Even the New York Times paid tribute to Steele's prowess as a mat entertainer in a highly unusual wrestling article in their sports pages. Steele ran roughshod over everyone but Bruno, and only left the area after dropping a heated contest to Edouard Carpentier at the Garden.
Returning to the WWWF during the Morales Era, he was managed by Classy Freddie Blassie as George "the Animal" Steele. By now he had become the consummate showman, forsaking the remarkable wrestling skill he demonstrated in his WWWF invasion of the Sixties. He remained with the WWWF for years to come, succeeding Gorilla Monsoon as the Federation's 'policeman'. He turned 'babyface' before retiring, engaging in a rivalry with Randy "Macho Man" Savage over the affections of Miss Elizabeth before his curtain call. Perhaps the most significant act of his zenith came during a NFL-WWF Battle Royal at Wrestlemania, where Steele was stationed outside the ring to chase loitering participants back to the dressing room to keep the show moving along.
Steele capitalized on his notoriety in Hollywood, appearing on TV commercials and co-starring with Johnny Depp in the critically-acclaimed "Ed Wood". Like a select few before him, his skills translated to the silver screen with a flourish appropriate for one of the mat's most enduring stars.
This nine-time United States Heavyweight Champ was the great Fred Blassie's successor as the King of the West Coast, having defeated all comers throughout a ten-year reign of terror. The squat, bullnecked Blond Bomber had a deceptively pudgy look which belied an enormous capacity for punishment, an endless repertoire of dirty tricks, and tremendous ring generalship which earned him victories over some of the greatest wrestlers in history.
His first title win came in 1960 over Cowboy Bob Ellis, quite possibly the best of the "Cowboy" wrestlers of all time. Pepper Gomez, an all-time great Mexican star, came out on the short end in his campaign against Stevens. Dominic De Nucci gave Stevens fits throughout their wars but again it was the Bomber who walked off with the gold. Cowboy Bill Watts, King Curtis Iaukea and Pat Patterson were also mat legends who were eclipsed by Stevens throughout his career with the NWA and the WWA. Stevens' "Bombs Away" was a boots-first dive off the top rope onto an opponent's chest which ended both the evening, and in some cases, the career of more than one opponent.
His greatest victory came as a result of a countout win over Bruno Sammartino at San Francisco's Cow Palace, the scene of most of his biggest triumphs. It was the result of one of Bruno's goodwill tours between the rival alliances, and the rematch never took place. Years later, as "the Crippler", Stevens signed with the Grand Wizard to take on Pedro Morales, the reigning WWWF kingpin. Only it was an aging Stevens who took the fall against Pedro, who was at the peak of his own career. It is significant to note that Stevens had doled out more than his share of lumps to Morales during his halcyon years on the Coast, but time was a factor even Stevens could not overcome.
Stevens teamed with Nick Bockwinkle to form one of the greatest tag-team combos of all time during an extended stint with the AWA. They went solo to take their best shots at world champ Verne Gagne. Stevens was unsuccessful, but his and Gagne's subsequent retirements paved the way for Bockwinkle's own illustrious days in the sun as AWA kingpin.
A true gentleman outside the ring, Stevens was recognized throughout the decade as Wrestler of the Year by such fanzines as Wrestling Revue and Wrestling World, the definitive guidebooks for fans across the country. It was fitting tribute to a competitor who was not only a fierce competitor but a man of respect, a champion in every sense of the word.