Dinner With The Destroyer

(By Steve Yohe, posted to tOA message board)

Cauliflower Alley Club
Feb. 8, 2002
Riviera Hotel
Las Vegas, Nevada

Ever since I started watching wrestling in 1962, The Destroyer (right) has been my idol. Over the years, I’ve been called the World’s Greatest Destroyer Fan… mainly by myself, but lately I’ve had people actually say it to me. It’s a rumor I’d like to see perpetuated. I wouldn’t bore you any further, but I needed an opening and a way to set the foundation for this article, so that was it.

Every year, I go to the CAC dinners for a lot of reasons: show respect, meet friends, see famous wrestlers, etc., but my main motivation is to spend what ever time I can get with Dick Beyer. Up until the last few years it was a hard thing to do, but with the CAC now stretching the event out to three days, it’s become easier. 2001 was really great and my hopes were up for this year.

I arrived in Las Vegas around noon on Friday and spent a few hours with my wife and kid before heading for the Riviera Hotel banquet hall around 5:00. I entered and didn’t see Dick, so I worked the room talking to old friends and checking out the books people like Killer Kowalski and Fritz Von Goering were selling. I even spent 5 minutes with the Killer trying to convince him that the WWWF should have used his Nov. 11, 1962 title win over Buddy Rogers to set up Bruno Sammartino’s World Title claim, instead of saying Rogers defeated Antonino Rocca in Rio de Janeiro, but Killer wasn’t following my screwy idea, so I moved on. I talked with Harry White and the gang for a while and then helped solve the old mystery about whether Buddy Austin and Fritz Von Goering were brothers. (No, they weren’t.) Then he entered the room.

Standing near the door, Dick looked great. I had seen him only a few months earlier at the King of the Ring tournament in San Francisco and he had seemed worn out after hurting his shoulder. On this night he looked in top shape. Shaking his hand he told me he had lost over 20 lbs and weighed about 210 lbs., which is lighter than his wrestling weight. With his mask on, he looked like a kid. He said he always tells the athletes he coaches to lose weight when injured and he took some of his own advice.

Over the years we have talked and I’ve sensed that he hadn’t completely given up the kayfabe ways. I kind of felt there still existed in him the code that kept him from revealing everything. I understood this and never pushed my questions past asking. I was happy with anything he would give me. This night seemed different. A few months before I had gotten a lot of new info from historian Libnan Ayoub on Dick’s stay in New Zealand during 1971. Among the results, I had found out that The Destroyer had teamed up with the AWA’s Dr. X in tag matches. Everyone knows Dick was Dr. X, so I figured Dick or someone was having fun playing with fans minds on the other side of the world. He also wrestled in New Zealand as Dick Beyer once. I e-mailed Dick and asked him who was playing Dr. X. His return e-mail said that he would go over the whole 1971World Tour at some later date, when he had more time. I felt there was a good chance he would forget about it. But on this night he brought it back up and wanted to talk.

As the end of 1970 approached, Dick set up tours of Hawaii (Sept. 30 to Dec. 16) and Japan (April & May 1971). Beyer came up with an idea where he would take his family and wrestle his way around the world. At this time he was wrestling as Dr. X in the AWA, so he went to his boss Verne Gagne and told him of his plans. Verne said great, “that’s something I always wanted to do.” They talked and Dick revealed to Gagne that he had a hole in his schedule in January through March. Verne said that Jim Barnett, the promoter in Australia, had been bugging him for years to send him some top talent, so he picked up the phone in front of Beyer and called Barnett. Gagne offered either Dr. X, The Destroyer or Dick Beyer to Barnett and Barnett said great: “I’ll take The Destroyer”. Beyer said he’d work for $650 a week, and the deal was made.

I asked Dick if Gagne was upset about him leaving the AWA for a year. He said “no.” I got him to admit that the world tour was the reason for Dr. X losing his mask to Blackjack Lanza. I asked “why Lanza” and the answer was that Lanza was just lucky to be in the area at the time. I asked if Gagne and he had agreed to a unmasking before he signed with the AWA, and Dick said no. I said, “I thought that was the reason for you switching to Dr. X.” He said no. Gagne said he didn’t want The Destroyer because “everyone knew The Destroyer was Dick Beyer.” In 1967 this was true, but no one seemed to care. Gagne wanted a masked man who wasn’t known, so Dick got a standard mask, wore a shirt, dressed in black, wore different shoes and even covered his nose. Everything was done so people wouldn’t connect Dr. X with The Destroyer. Gagne had Dr. X sit ringside for three weeks with the mask on, then had X jump into the ring and “kick his ass” (Verne’s). I asked how Verne was to work with and Dick said fine, that he was very good. There also seemed to be no plan to turn Dr. X babyface when Dick returned from the World tour. I asked him whose idea was it to have him wear a white mask after the turn and Dick said it was his. I commented that he always liked being The Destroyer better than Dr. X. He said, “Hell, I’ve got nothing against Dr. X. I made more money being the Doctor than I ever did being The Destroyer.” Seems he liked Verne’s payoffs. I always felt there may have been a element of shoot to the angle of Ray Stevens injuring his knee (6-3-72) because Dick pulled his mask up to breath during it, but he claimed the whole thing was a work because he was to take time off for knee surgery. He didn’t seem to remember taking his mask off.

This conversation was interrupted by visits from Ox Baker and Larry “The Axe” Hennig. He and Baker reminisced about a match in Texas, while Dick and Henning talked about Curt’s new WWF contract, and what good shape the kid had gotten himself into. A meal had been set up in the other room and we moved across the hall with Dick’s wife Wilma. I kind of felt I had lost him to the masses. In the other room I started a conversation with Johnny Legend and some other people who wanted copies of the Blassie and Destroyer record books. Then to my surprise, Beyer called me over and invited me to his table. I didn’t really want to eat but he said, “Come on, let’s talk.” As we sat we were joined by Mike and Karen Tenay (Mike doesn’t miss WCW. He’s writing for the L.A. Kings hockey team and building a new house in Utah.)

Before Dick went to Hawaii in Sept. 1970, he booked himself for a card in Mexico City. He was supposed to pick up visa papers at the Mexican embassy in Chicago but when he arrived there were no papers. The next day was the same. So he canceled Mexico City and flew to Las Vegas for a week’s vacation. He then traveled to Honolulu and won the North American Title from Pedro Morales on Sept. 31, 1970. The belt they gave him was old and beat up, so he called beltmaker Reg Parks and had a nice new one made up. While in Hawaii or maybe even earlier, he had a conversation with Peter Maivia in which Dick mentioned the Australian tour. Maivia told him he was going back to his native home Samoa for the first time in 15 years and he planed to book The Destroyer to come to Samoa for a huge international match-up. Dick agreed. In Honolulu, Dick became friends with Billy Robinson. Robinson had never wrestled in America, so Dick called Verne and got Billy booked in the AWA. Billy in turn helped Beyer get European dates starting in June. On Dec. 16, 1970, after matches with The Sheik and Johnny Barend, The Destroyer dropped the North America Title to Robinson and headed for Samoa. Before leaving, Hawaii promoter Ed Francis wanted him to leave behind the new belt but Dick refused. He changed the name to the U.S. Title.

In Samoa he had his big match with Chief Peter Maivia. In The Destroyer Record Book, there is no result. So I asked him who won. He said: “Damn straight I lost. Dropped the U.S. Title.” Seems the ring was surrounded by Samoans, who probably had never seen a pro wrestling match (so close their arms were sticking into the ring), and every time The Destroyer put a armbar on Maivia, Dick thought he was going to get killed. Dick said it would take two hours to tell me everything about the match. Anyway, Dick did the job and lived.

Still in Samoa, Dick called Australia and the office told him that he’d been canceled. In Australia, Mark Lewin was a big star and he got Jim Barnett to cancel Beyer. Lewin’s dislike for Beyer goes back to March 24, 1967. Lewin was being pushed as the WWA World Champion in Los Angles and Jules Strongbow asked Beyer if he wanted to stay a couple of weeks in town on his way to a Japanese tour and work a big Olympic card versus Mark Lewin. Dick agreed, but told Strongbow that he was doing the Japanese tour, and wasn’t in a position to put over Lewin. So the night of the match Strongbow left his booker, Lewin, and Beyer in the locker room and told the two to “work out the finish.” It was then that Lewin was told about Dick not jobbing and they argued. The match ended up being a 60-minute draw. It seems Lewin never forgot and screwed Beyer out of the Australia bookings. This may be the only person Beyer didn’t get along with in his career, at least that I know of. When Beyer started living in Japan, working full time with All-Japan Pro Wrestling, one of his few losses was an April 14, 1973 job to Mark Lewin in the Carnival Tournament. I asked if this was a make up for the match in Los Angeles, and Dick said no. I asked if it was clean. He said: “Yes,” and that it was done because Baba wanted it. Dick liked Lewin’s brothers a lot but said it wasn’t a good idea to turn your back on Mark. I said I liked Lewin’s work in Los Angeles before he started doing all his goofy stuff and Dick just said: “Drugs.”

Beyer, still stuck in Samoa, talked with someone (I forget) who got him a few dates in New Zealand and contacted promoter Steve Rickard. Dick flew over and rented a house by the beach for his wife and kids. Soon after he went into a newspaper office in Auckland and gave an interview as Dick Beyer. He wrestled soon after as Dick Beyer and sold out the arena. Then he got a phone call from the promoter Steve Rickard who was wrestling in Japan under a mask as The Devil Butcher. Rickard sets Dick up for a series of main events in which he is to remain unbeaten until February, when Rickard would returned. Rickard also told him he wanted him to wrestle as The Destroyer. All this worked out fine, with The Destroyer defending his U.S. Title vs. Rickard and Mario Milano. The next week he went into the same newspaper office with his mask on and none of them realized it was Dick Beyer. I asked Beyer about The Destroyer teaming up with Dr. X in Auckland and he didn’t remember anything about it. I told him my sources (Libnan Ayoub) told me it was Bruno Bekker, and he said “could be.” He ended up making $800 to $900 a week in New Zealand because of a deal with Rickard for 25% of the gates. Soon after, Jim Barnett heard about all the sold out cards and asked Beyer to come over to Australia. Beyer told him “no.”

Beyer then traveled to Japan (April through May), India, Rome, Switzerland, and Germany (June through August), before returning to the AWA in late Oct. 71. We never talked about any of this because he got pulled over to take photos with Harley Race and Larry Hennig. Race looked very fit, not all banged up like I expected. When Beyer and I sat down again, I asked him what it was like to work with Race. He said Race was great, very solid and everything he did in the ring was for a purpose. He slowed down and talked with respect. He then told me the same story about Race he told everyone the next night at the banquet about a car ride in which Race drove so fast that Beyer had to get out and hitched a ride from a truck driver. I made some comment about Harley’s history with speed and boats.

I then realized I was on a roll and could ask him anything, so I brought up his matches with Mil Mascaras. He said “Mil wouldn’t give you anything … if you wanted a hold from him, you had to take it.” It wasn’t like working with Red Bastien (right), where you could flow from one hold to another, it was like a battle within a work. He said it was hard planning the matches because of the language problem. I brought up how everyone loves those matches and asked about the Bombs Away move he did versus Mil to win the 2nd fall in the match everyone talks about on the internet. I commented that he usually came off the 2nd rope instead of the top. He said I was right and part of his answer was that ropes in those days were very hard to balance on and he preferred the 2nd rope. There was also something technical about dragging his back leg that I didn’t completely get.

We talked about his handstand knee drop and he admitted that he had some gymnastic training. I commented that no one had ever been able to duplicate the move, with the same body control and speed. “Yeah, but his knee was paying for it now,” he said, adding that kneepads late in his career helped, but his knee hurt from landing on it.

I asked him about Buddy Rogers and the figure four and he came back with the story about how he learned it from Lord Blears in Hawaii. He likes to make people think Rogers had retired by the time he started using it, but he learned it in the first part of 1962 and Buddy lasted through 1963. I didn’t say anything. I made the point that Buddy just crossed the legs and laid back into the hold, while The Destroyer did that spinning grapevine on the leg to set it. He agreed that he was the first to do that and had in fact invented the move.

I wondered if Ray “Thunder” Stern was similar to working with Bastien. Dick said he didn’t wrestle that much with Stern, just the one big match at the Olympic, but watched him a lot when he was first starting. He respected Stern a great deal and thought he was the best pure babyface he had ever seen.

He told me his famous lost tooth wasn’t knocked out by Rikidozan or Baba, but happened in another sport. It went by me fast, so I’m not sure, but he may have said soccer. He didn’t lose it during a wrestling match.

About this time Penny Banner jumped on his lap and started playing around with him in front of Mrs. Beyer. Beyer told the story about how Penny Banner started with him at the age of 18 in the same Al Haft gym in Columbus, Ohio, in 1952. He said she “almost made me forget about pro wrestling!” Some of his trainers were Ray Stevens and Bill Miller, so I asked him about Stevens. He said Ray was great from day one, that he was a main eventer from the beginning to the end.

He told me a story about how he got his first main event in Buffalo (from his ring record, I believe it may have really been Syracuse). He had main-evented in many places but promoter Pedro Martinez didn’t have faith enough in him to base his card around him in Beyer’s hometown. Beyer complained, so Martinez told him he’d sell him the main event. Beyer said: “What do you mean?” Martinez explained that his average card in Buffalo did $6,000. He could draw $3,000, no matter what he did, so he made a deal with Beyer that for $3,000 he would give Beyer his #1 heel, Fritz Von Erich, one TV show and a main event on one of his Buffalo shows. Dick had faith in himself and agreed. After mortgaging his house, he gave Martinez a check for $3,000. The night of the card, right before Dick was going to go on with Fritz, Martinez came into the locker room with the check and tore it up. Martinez said the house was $13,000, that Beyer was going over Von Erich and that a rematch was made for the next week. The rematch the next week did $17,000 and Beyer was set as a main eventer. I couldn’t get Dick to say anything bad about Fritz and he said he was great to work with.

A fan stopped me long enough to ask Dick if he ever wrestled Terry Funk (right). Beyer looked over to me and I said: “Yeah … August 1, 1969 in Los Angeles. The Destroyer beat him with the figure four and then called out for Dory, Jr. to come ringside so he could beat him, too.” On Terry, Beyer said he was great but wondered if he got caught up too much in the matches some time. He said he was wrestling him one night and Terry started going nuts on him. Beyer said he whispered to him “What did I do?” As Funk beat the stuffing out of The Destroyer in the corner he yelled: “You did nothing! … You did nothing!”

I felt I needed to get Rikidozan name into the conversation so I asked if he knew what was going to be the plan in their feud if Riki hadn’t died. I always wondered if Dozan wanted to unmask The Destroyer. He said he didn’t know about any plan, “maybe Riki had one.”

In late 1964 The Destroyer lost the WWA World Title to Toyonobori in Japan, but continued to claim the title in California until losing it to Pedro Morales. This would later set off a series of title unification matches between the Japanese title and the Los Angeles version. I asked him if he had lost the title in Japan without the consent of promoter Strongbow. He said the whole story line was booked by the Los Angeles office.

This brought up the name of Jumbo Tsuruta. Dick helped train him in Japan. I said, “Jumbo was the best of the Japanese?” He said: “Yeah, he was.”

Some of the above is out of order and there were many other things talked about: snow in Buffalo, his swim team, etc. It was a great honor to get to sit at his table and watch him eat. He was interrupted many times by fans and they all had their own stories of The Destroyer to tell. He’ll listen like he had never heard them before. After signing their photos and books, he’d thank them. He seemed to enjoy every contact he made. He was the same great guy I saw surrounded by kids in the balcony of the Olympic Auditorium in 1962.

I can’t remember how it ended. I think he was pulled away by Tenay to go show photos to Sir Oliver Humperdink, who had played Santa Claus to Dick’s kids one Xmas. That night I couldn’t sleep, thinking about the great time I’d had. The next night I warned The Destroyer that I might put it to paper. He said: “Go ahead. It’s all true.”

So, I did.

-Steve Yohe