"People say I'm a shooter, a hooker and a worker!" -Danny Hodge
In tribute, to a great human being, a great hero, we dedicate this page to Danny! From amateur wrestling to the Olympics, from boxing to Pro-Wrestling, his life story is below for all to enjoy, including pictures then and now.
A wrestler of awesome strength, Danny Hodge's physical prowess was so great that often - for his fans at least - it overshadowed his tremendous skills. His grip could shatter a pair of pliers, could crush an apple into applesauce. Had he not studied and carefully utilized proper wrestling techniques, he might well have maimed his opponents instead of dominating them.
In the collegiate style of wrestling, he had no peer, indeed no challenger. He won every one of his 46 bouts for the University of Oklahoma, 36 of them by fall, an astonishing 78 percent. During his junior and senior years, he pinned 22 consecutive opponents. And no collegiate foe ever took him to the mat from standing position.
Three times a National Collegiate champion at 177 pounds, he twice was voted the outstanding wrestler of the NCAA tournament.
In one 10-day span in 1956, his junior year, Hodge won the NCAA title and National AAU championships in both Greco-Roman and freestyle, winning every bout in those tournaments by fall.
Twice he was an Olympic wrestler, placing fifth in 1952 in Helsinki before his college career started, and winning the silver medal in the 1956 Games at Melbourne. There, in the championship bout, he led his Bulgarian opponent by a wide margin when a controversial rolling fall was called against him.
Over five years starting in 1952, his only three defeats in any style of wrestling were administered by three Olympic champions, a Russian, an American, and a Bulgarian.
After his collegiate wrestling career, Dan Hodge won national Golden Gloves and National AAU championships in boxing, becoming the first athlete in more than 50 years to win national titles in both sports.
For his legendary achievements as a wrestler, Dan Allen Hodge was honoured as a Distinguished Member of the US National Wrestling Hall of Fame. (by courtesy of USA Wrestling)
In Danny's own words...."They usually exchange one glove even, but I wanted both pair
because this was to make me the first person in the history of the world to hold both the
National Wrestling and the National Boxing Championships . . . never losing an amateur
wrestling match in college or boxing match.
I had nine months of professional boxing. I won eight out of ten boxing matches and
was rated eleventh when I decided to quit boxing and return to my first love of wrestling.
I entered the professional wrestling ranks in the fall of 1959. After two months I
was hurt by Angelo Savoldi and was paralyzed about two and a half months. I started
over again in five months. I defeated Angelo in the Stockyards Coliseum in Oklahoma City,
Oklahoma, on July 22, 1960, to become the thirteenth wrestler to win the World's Junior
Heavyweight Title. This was the goal I had for myself. This title I held for fifteen years.
There was only one other wrestler to hold it for thirteen years. That was LeRoy McQuirk.
LeRoy had had leukemia when he was five years old and had his right eye remove.
Then he lost the other eye in a car wreck down by Little Rock, Arkansas, which left
him blind. This ended his wrestling career as a wrestler, but not as a promoter.
He became one of the largest wrestling promoters in the south central states.
In my professional wrestling I won all of the southern, middle, and northern state titles.
When I became the world champion I had to forget all of these. I have been hurt many,
many times . . . cut, burned, broken hands, stomped so that I couldn't hit back at
those that hit me, ribs broken, stomped in the stomach, and several car wrecks.
But I never gave up. All the fans would say, "Just wait until Danny gets back,
he will take care of you and shut your mouth and he will whip you with one hand
tied behind him." You know, it was a pleasure to be World Champion, everyone
looked up to you. It has been said by many people, "Danny, you are a wrestler's wrestler."
I lost the title five times and regained it back six."
Danny Hodge Interview about WOW Events #2
Wrestling legend, Danny Hodge, talks about the WOW events.
Dan Hodge pins his opponent
End of an olympic freestyle wrestling match
with Dan Hodge pinning his opponent.
VIOLENT FRIDAY NIGHT
(Sunday Oklahoman, April 1, 1973)
By Phil Frey
Sure, Jack, we've all heard those putdowns from the straight dudes about what a fake show pro wrestling really is -- how it's just a bunch of fat freaks with hairy backs and gross gimmicks who practice making faces in their personal pocket mirrors.
How some villain named Dr. Z, who wears a mask and spits at little children, misses a drop kick toward Mr. Clean by eight inches and the turkeys at ringside go into Instant Lap-Up. They think this carnival is for real.
Give 'em an Oscar! More catsup blood for the screaming old ladies. Circusville. Boo! Hiss! Socko numbers like that.
Sure it's fake, but so what's wrong with a little show biz? For $60,000 a year -- net income -- might as well give the suckers what they paid $1.50 apiece to see.
Without sports-page coverage and only the tiniest same-day advertisement, pro wrestling attracts from 3,000 to 4,000 fans who get their jollies regular as clockwork at State Fair Park each Friday night.
The spectacle they see fits a can't-fail theatrical formula. Characters in the script include a bad guy with illegal weapons in his stretch trunks, a dummy referee who misses all the bad stuff that goes on whenever his back is turned and an All-American good guy who resorts to revenge only at the urging of screaming fans, and who finally triumphs like justice only about every other week.
The in-between matches when Mr. Clean gets stomped to death illegally by the villain or disqualified for some minor infraction by that stupid referee merely help set the stage for next week's grudge rematcdh, to which the infuriated faithful will most assuredly return.
But for all the biting, eye-gouging and hair-pulling, there's still some honest talent to this show biz carnival.
Why not ask two-time Olympian Danny Hodge of Perry or a half-dozen other former Oklahoma NCAA wrestling champs and Sooner football alums just how much fake there is in getting your eyebrow split open on the ring post or in being thrown over the ropes 10 feet down to the concrete? That's higher than jumping off a one-story house.
Ask them about the broken bones, the real blood, the bumps and bruises; about former wrestlers who will spend the rest of their lives hobbling around or with their necks in braces from pile drivers that crushed genuine vertebrae.
Ask them how they fake body-slamming 270 pounds of sweat-slick muscle; how they flip, kick, punch and get punched all over that ring four and five nights every week.
"I know some of these guys may look fat and sloppy, but they've got to be well-conditioned athletes to live this kind of life," said Hodge.
Hodge is an Oklahoma legend who is an admitted freak on wrestling and feats of strengths.
While at OU, where he was unbeaten and a national champ in 1955-56-57, Hodge entertained classmates by crushing apples and breaking pliers with one hand. He wrestled in his first Olympics at 19, was undefeated in the Navy, and won a medal in the '56 Olympics. In 1958 he won the U.S. Heavyweight Golden Gloves title, the only man ever to hold both national boxing and wrestling amateur titles.
He is the World Junior Heavyweight (under 225 pounds) Wrestling Champion, which he's won and lost five times during 13 years as a pro.
As a top attraction, Hodge earns from 8 to 10 per cent of the gate, or about $75,000 per year. And he's not the only Oklahoman to approach that stardom bracket.
Jack Brisco from Blackwell, a former NCAA champion at OSU, is a bigtimer on the Florida circuit and wrestled several months down under in Australia. His younger brother Gerald is doing almost as well.
Former OU footballers Wahoo McDaniel and "Cowboy" Bill Watts both perform regularly in Chicago and Madison Square Garden. Dale Lewis, an OU Olympian and NCAA champion, has his picture in all the wrestling magazines.
Most of them have been bad guys or employed other promotional gimmicks. Watts, who is the North American Heavyweight Champion, wears custom cowboy boots in the ring.
But Hodge is always Every Mother's Mr. Nice Guy. He signs autographs for fawning kids and star-struck 92-year-old great-grandfathers. Old ladies with their hair in rollers and shapely teenage lovelies bring along their cameras to take snapshots of each other kissing him on the cheek.
Yet, the heor worship is not unlike college football. It's just less sophisticated and on a lower income plane.
"Bruiser" Bob Sweetan is Hodge's philosophical opposite. The National Brass Knucks Champ says he'll break a guy's arm or leg when he can.
"In my first pro match I gave a guy a pile driver into the cement floor. It gave him a concussion and finished his career."
Sweetan is a 285-pound former Canadian lumberjack who played professional football for the Toronto Argonauts.
"My philosophy is to win at all costs. It's a tough business; only the strongest survive. It's not like football where you have a week to recuperate. I wrestle about four nights a week. You've got to get the other guy before he gets you.
"The more pain I inflict, the more I hurt the other guy, the better my psychological advantage next time. Same as in football -- you nail a guy hard enough and often enough, he's gonna give just a little next time you come his way."
A black head mask is Docter X's gimmick. He's a former bad guy now beloved by the fans. He won't give out his real name or his residence, because he has a quarter horse ranch and is afraid enemies might shoot his high-priced stock.
Besides anonymity, he says the mask protects his face and prevents cauliflower ears. But it didn't help him on a recent night in Oklahoma City. Sweetan, with illegal help from Jerry Miller, stomped him real enough to split an eyebrow about an inch.
Medical insurance for pro grapplers is at a premium. Broken bones and injuries are part of the game.
"One time I was hospitalized in traction and out of action for four and a half months when a guy gave me a Boston crab and jumped on my back," Hodge said. "I should have given up, but I was young. That hurt me real, real bad."
"When I first started I was black and blue all the time. Now I've found that hot showers and Vitamin C help keep the bruises down," said 24-year-old Mike George from St. Joe, Mo., who earned $15,000 for eight months' work during his 1972 rookie year.
"You take a lot of punishment in this business. I learn something new every time I get into the ring. So far I only wrestle about three nights a week. That's all I can take right now."
Although tempers frequently follow the pros back into the dressing room, any fighting there would bring a stiff fine plus possible suspension from the ring.
"When you don't wrestle, you don't get paid," Hodge said. "If a guy hurts you enough to put you out of action, that hurts your income for your family and you're gonna get even with him somewhere down the way.
"Plus tempers seem to get shorter as guys get older. They're afraid of losing their youth, and they try to hurt you. That's when the crippling stage comes in.
"Some of them hide illegal objects in their trunks and use them on you when the ref can't see. Sometimes they only pretend they do to infuriate the fans. It's frowned upon, but it helps them win matches, and you've got to win to wrestle main events where the money is."
Sweetan earned $4,800 for one night's work at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. "I don't wrestle for less than $250 a match. The last few years I've been average around $65,000 -- that's net!"
"I know one guy in New York who made $150,000 last year," Dr. X added. "We're in it to make our money and get out as quick as we can."
The preliminary boys offer other excuses for their $50 to $80 per night.
"It's a diversion from my regular routine and helps me keep in shape," said Bill "Red" McKim of Tulsa, who supplements his jobs as Tulsa deputy fire marshal and arson investigation teacher at Tulsa Junior College.
Like any sport loaded with hero worship, there are plenty of adoring women willing to help fight the loneliness of the road.
"The available girls are really a smorgasboard, but I'm a married man. I take my family along in a trailer," Sweetan said.
Main-events fly between matches in big cities. Hodge has been around the world nine times thanks to wrestle and to Japan six times as a pro.
Although doctors and businessmen can be found among the audience, the sport seems to attract mostly the blue collar and beer-stained T-shirt classes. Some of the most interesting sights (and occasionally, fights) are in the audience, which some wrestlers have learned to fear more than their opponents across the ring.
"In Tulsa, a guy pulled a policeman's gun and pointed it at my head," Dr. X said.
Sweetan took 38 stitches in his scalp last Christmas when a fan struck him with a steel folding chair. There's a big scar on his hip from a knife.
One of the worst incidents was at Oklahoma City's old Stockyards Coliseum when a man ran up and slashed Hodge and "Dandy" Jack Donovan across the thighs with a straight razor.
"I had 140 stitches. It was so deep they had to sew me up in three layers," Hodge said.
Over the years, several wrestlers have taken hard slams and never arisen from the canvas. In Oklahoma City, over-excited fans have keeled over dead from heart attacks.
"But I discourage wrestlers throwing each other out of the ring. That stops the action, plus a fan might get hurt. We carry insurance to protect fans but that's a good way to get sued," Promoter LeRoy McGuirk of Tulsa said.
McGuirk said "Irish" Mike Clancy, a Tulsa police officer and part-time wrestler, once had genuine blood in his eyes while running a gauntlet of irate fans back to his dressing room when a woman ran up and peered into his face.
"He thought she was his opponent trying to get him so he hit her right between the eyes and blacked them both. The judge ruled that she should have been in her seat, but I sure thought we were gonna lose our shirts in that suit."
Totally blind, McGuirk has never seen any of the wrestlers who have earned him a 2,000-acre ranch near Claremore and made him a millionaire from a sport over which he once reigned as national champ.
Minus the sight of one eye since childhood, he was a state high school champ at Tulsa and NCAA titlist at OSU. McGuirk turned pro while earning $21 a week as a sports writer for a Tulsa newspaper during the Depression. He wrestled over 3,000 professional matches and reigned 10 years as Junior Heavyweight Champ.
"It was more pure wrestling in those days. Some matches went on for two hours and you might get in one hold and stay there for 30 minutes."
Modern fans want more action and color, which McGuirk has been giving them since a 1951 car wreck cost him his other eye and turned him to promoting.
"You've got to give people a run for their money. That's what they come out to see. We tell guys to give action on their feet, not go down on the mat like in college and tie themselves in a knot.
"The contest part between most of these fellows has been settled a long time ago. They've wrestled either other before. They pretty well know who's best."
It was McGuirk who first put Gorgeous George on the road to starmdom, probably the most famous pro grappler of all time.
His name was George Wagner and he wrestled right here in Oklahoma. His sequined robes and long hair were a novelty back then. He hired a valet and went out to California when TV was first getting started and probably made $150,000 a year at his peak.
McGuirk now books about 40 different wrestlers for nearly 20 towns in five states, the majority in Louisiana and Mississippi. For some he puts on the whole program; for others he only books the card. His company also videotapes a bout in a Shreveport, La., TV studio and sells it in 16 other cities, including here. WKY-TV hosted the live match for over 10 years.
Novelties always draw customers. McGuirk has booked girls, midgets, bears, alligators and boxer vs. wrestler matches.
At over 500 pounds, Haystack Calhoun is one of the biggest wrestlers. If he turns professional, 450-pound Iowa State Olympian Chris Taylor is expected to earn $100,000 a year, "but I don't know who or what I could put him in against after the first two or three times," McGuirk said.
"I've matched men against bears. Hodge is so strong he's about the only one who can put a 500-pound bear on his its back. But those things are treacherous. During winter they want to hibernate and you can't do much with them.
"We've had fellows get the tips of their fingers bitten off."
That's almost as dangerous as being a referee. He catches it from both wrestlers and fans.
"Oh, sure, they (fans) beat on you and cuss you, but you just got to duck your head and try to avoid them," Leo Voss, McGuirk's assistant, said.
Voss wrestled professionally five years, then spent 30 more refereeing four to six nights per week until a car accident ended that, too.
"Referees don't have to use any tricks. You just call 'em as you see 'em. There's always somebody who don't like what you say."
Referees have their share of war wounds, too.
"One time in San Antonio a guy threw a bottle of beer and hit me in the head. It took 14 stitches and within 30 days cataracts were forming on my eyes from the shock," Voss said. "We've had fans get to excited they jump right in the ring, even women."
"Sometimes I get up there myself," said Lee Kalivoda of Wheatland, who in 235 years has rarely missed a Friday night match. The 260-pound truckdriver, who looks like he could raise a few lumps himself, yells nasties to the villain in Czechoslavakian and always buys the same two $3 first row seats on the aisle.
"I hardly ever bring
anyone else with me. I just don't like to sit by some drunk,"
Kalivoda said. "Why do I like it? It's a good show, good entertainment.
I ain't got nowhere else to go on Friday night."
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