Hall of Fame

This article was submitted to the Cauliflower Alley Club Friends Yahoo! Group and is reprinted here with the permission of author, Harry White.  Photos are courtesy of Jeff Sharkey.
Dan Gable Wrestling Museum Pro HOF 2007

“Build it and they will come” is a phrase heard numerous times which applies to a baseball field in Iowa. Build it bigger and more will come is a phrase that can now be applied to Waterloo, Iowa’s Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute & Museum which is a larger version of the museum formerly located in Newton, Iowa.

Downtown Waterloo, Iowa has multiple bridges over the Cedar River. Waterloo’s wrestling museum also has several bridges. It showcases a bridge between amateurs and pros, generations of families, other sports, mainstream media, and entertainment. When one becomes a wrestling fan, history to them often starts at that time. The museum lets visitors know that wrestling has a history from the very get go of history. There is artwork of Jacob wrestling the Angel of the Lord. Museum executive director Mike Chapman make it a point to emphasize that the Lord did not send an angel to play soccer, golf, tennis, or to play catch. He sent the angel to wrestle.

Continuing in this history vein, there are exhibits of wrestling in antiquity, the first Olympics, the civil war era, early American times, and even the history of wrestling in sports cards. Several walls highlight wrestling in the Olympics and the involvement of  American athletes. Numerous walls and display cases celebrate great amateur wrestlers and career achievements. Upon entering the museum, there is an entire wall of a painting of Abraham Lincoln (Repub.) wrestling. In the museum there are pictures also of U.S. House Representative Dennis Hassert (Repub., Ill.). Not sure in this political era if Democrat wrestlers should be mandated equal time in the museum.

If one is in Waterloo and the wrestling bug bites, then you would be in the right place because the museum has scores of instructional material on both the amateur and pro level. The amateur instruction material is in the Dean Rockwell Library & Research Center along with volumes of wrestling periodicals and books. On the pro style side, there is a poster of Verne Gagne applying holds which is sponsored by Stag Beer. There is a series of wrestling and jujitsu instruction cards that came with packages of cigarettes. What a concept, wrestling instruction sponsored by minor vice companies. If you don’t know what to wear as a wrestler there are many examples of singlets and shoes worn by amateurs. On the pro side, there are robes, jackets, boots, and hoods.

The museum is about 70%-80% devoted to amateur wrestling but on July 13 and 14 it was pro wrestlers, their families, and followers that made up 90% of the large crowd for the ninth induction ceremony to the George Tragos / Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall Of Fame. Adding a special dimension to the weekend was a Friday night card by HOF member Harley and BJ Race’s World League Wrestling. This card was a bridge from  wrestling’s past to wrestling’s future.

The past was represented by DiBiase and Hennig and the future was represented by DiBiase and Hennig. To clarify that sentence, it was Gotch Award winner Ted Dibiase and HOF member Larry Hennig being seconds for the tag team of Ted DiBiase, Jr. and Joe Hennig. This was one of several unique photo ops of the weekend. How many times will you find two young men whose grandfathers and fathers have not only been in the wrestling business but also are members of the Tragos/Thesz HOF?

Another big part of the card was a bridge between amateur and pro wrestling. Steve Williams owned many titles both on the mat and in the ring. Steve was a part of wrestling’s recent past and you could not find anymore more excited that he has any kind of a future after a battle with cancer. 

The crowd was large for an indy show and also very noisy. Decibel levels were raised even higher by the large contingent of Minnesotans who traveled to view Joe Hennig’s debut match. Joe’s entrance music and the perfect plex move were certainly familiar. Current WWE star Trevor Murdoch was also on the card. Someone taking pictures at the matches should have been a stringer for the Japanese press as the pose with Harley, HOFer The Destroyer, and Steve Williams would bring quite a few decade long  main events moments to fans in Japan. The exciting, fun, and memorable card brought an end to the day which started with a golf tournament featuring several sports stars.

The pro part of the wrestling museum is a marvel of space engineering. Most every inch of the walls are covered with items and lined with crammed-full cases of items from previous inductees. During the Saturday morning induction ceremonies every inch of floor space was covered by hundreds of people and the small replica wrestling ring in the center of the room. There are so many pro wrestling items here that neither my computer or mind has enough bytes of memory to recall all of them. I’ll mention some items of particular stand out interest. A cut out of HOFâ??er George Tragos. HOFâ??er Lou Thesz would still have been great but just maybe not as great without the mat tutoring of Tragos.  A cast of the head and facial features of the French Angel. A long wall of HOFer Frank Gotch material. Many robes and boots worn by greats including a sparkling ring jacket a fan made for HOFer Danny Hodge which contains 40,000 beads. (Nature Boy Danny Hodge???)

It is always great to have HOFer Jim â??Baron Vonâ? Raschke at an event and this event had two of them. The humorous nice guy Jim and also a cutout of a large scowling Baron threatening to claw anyone that got too close. (Ad piece for the play The Baron.) Wrestlers use various means to stay in shape with some conventional methods (HOFerJoe Stecher’s wall cable pulleys) and some not conventional. Near the top of the not  conventional would be HOFer Ed Strangler Lewis’ “headlock machine,” a round block of wood with facial features drawn on and strong springs in the middle. Not sure if most non-fans would enjoy sitting on a plane or train next to a large man with large rough ears squeezing a large wooden head for most of the trip. There is a wall of 53 picture and bio plaques of all nine classes of HOFers and Frank Gotch award winners. Paintings, papers, pictures, portraits, posters (matches and movies), press clippings, and programs adorn the pro wrestling room.

Saturday night was the induction ceremony for the 2007 Class of the George Tragos/Lou Thesz HOF. This was held in not just another banquet room in not just another convention center. Mike Chapman informed us where we ate was the former location of a theatre that held a Frank Gotch championship match a century ago. Lou Thesz’s wife, Charlie, gave the first Thesz award to Bill Murdoch of the Eblen Charities which Lou and other wrestlers have been involved with. Murdoch also wrote BRISCO.

The late Great Gama from India was the first inductee. Danny Hodge introduced the late Dale Lewis. It was Hodge who encouraged Lewis to wrestle at Oklahoma. Lewis was a two-time NCAA champ before starting his pro career. The wife of â??Mr. Perfectâ? Curt  Hennig’s, their two daughters and son, Joe, reminded everyone what a great man this honoree was. HOFer Tom Drake and wife Chris Drake on behalf of Cauliflower Alley Club presented the museum a check for $1,000. This was not the only money to come to the museum’s way that night, as Harley and BJ Race donated the proceeds from the previous night wrestling card.

If a wrestler wanted to know something about himself, probably the best person to contact would have been wrestling historian and sports fan the late HOFâ??er Jim Melby. Jim’s daughter presented the Jim Melby award to prolific wrestling writer Mike Chapman. Kyle Klingman took over the MC duties from Mike Chapman. I lose track of all the awards Red Bastien has received and on the heels of retiring as CAC president, Red is in this HOF. 

In accepting his Frank Gotch award, Ted DiBiase spent half his speech in praise of Harley Race’s influence and contributions to Ted and his family. Everyone enjoys themselves on a weekend like this. Few, though, could rival the fun that Steve Williams seemed to have. The wrestling on the card Friday, TV spot for the museum on Saturday  morning, and the award on Saturday night, Steve never seemed to stop smiling. Steve will continue to smile and be grateful for his best win ever and that one being over cancer.

Among those attending not already mentioned were HOFers, Gene Lebell,, Verne Gagne, Maurice Vachon, Brad Rheingans, Nikita Koloff, along with stars Tom Andrews, Nord (John) The Barbarian, managerial great Dr Ken Ramey, longtime photographer and CAC award winner Bob Leonard, AWA TV producer Al DeRusha, long time historian and CAC board of director George Shire, historian J Michael Kenyon, writers Greg Oliver and Steve Johnson, Ted Gordienko (nephew of the Great George Gordienko), Jason Sanderson a CAC Director, and others I apologize for not recalling.

Friday and Saturday afternoon one of the very best athletes and one of the very best coaches in any type of sport, Dan Gable was on hand. Mike Chapman wrote a book titled “Two Dans” about Hodge and Gable. Two men whose extensive accomplishments will probably never be equaled stood side by side for sports fans to take a picture of – one of the many highlights of a highlight weekend. Thanks to Mike Chapman, Bev Chapman, Kyle Klingman, Kent Sesker, and all the staff.