Monday, June 19, 2006

"Destroyer" Dick Beyer and El Santo

The world of professional wrestling has seen its share of legendary masked superstars. Today we induct two of the most prolific masked marvels into the Inside the Squared Circle Hall of Fame.

Our first inductee is the Sensational, Intelligent Destroyer, Dick Beyer. A standout amateur wrestler and football player in high school, he went on to great success at Syracuse University. There, he was the co-captain of a football team that played in the Orange Bowl, a champion collegiate wrestler, and earned his Masters degree in education. He was recruited into pro wrestling by Ed Don George, and trained by the likes of Ray Stevens and Dick Hutton, providing Beyer an excellent wrestling pedigree.

Beyer wrestled under his real name from his debut in 1954 until 1961, almost exclusively in upstate New York, due to a commitment to the U.S. Army reserve. It was during this time that he learned his trade in feuds against the likes of Freddie Blassie, Gorgeous George, Fritz Von Erich, and Billy “Red” Lyons.

Beyer’s career took off after his commitment to the military concluded. He was invited to wrestle in Los Angeles, where he would become a heel. He had another surprise in store for him. When he arrived, he discovered he was to wrestle under a mask as “The Destroyer.” He did not even possess a mask. The mask was to be a short term gimmick, but it became Beyer’s trademark. The Destroyer was an immediate financial success for the territory. In 1962, he defeated Freddie Blassie for the WWA World Title, and held it on and off during three reigns for a number of years. Over that period, he defended it against the likes of Lou Thesz, Haystacks Calhoun, Dick Hutton, Don Leo Jonathan and Mil Mascaras, including a November 7 Mask vs. Hair showdown with Gorgeous George, which saw George’s famous head of hair shaved bald.

Beyer achieved his greatest success, however, in the country of Japan. In early 1963, he wrestled three matches against Giant Baba. All three sold out, and they turned Destroyer into a big name in Japan. In May of that year, he returned as WWA World Champion, and wrestled Japanese champion Rikidozan in a legendary confrontation. Over 70 million people watched that match on TV, making it the 2nd highest rated television show of any kind in Japanese history. Beyer’s success in Japan made him a legend in Japan to this day. He is very well liked despite being a foreigner, and is frequently brought back and saluted as one of pro wrestling’s greatest stars.

After runs in Oregon, Los Angeles and Houston, he joined the AWA in 1967 as the nefarious Doctor X. He wrestled under this persona until 1970, and defeated Verne Gagne for the AWA World Title in 1968. In 1972, he signed a deal with Giant Baba to wrestle in Japan for six years. He lived there during that time and helped establish All Japan Pro Wrestling. He also was a television star, becoming a popular actor on the “Uwasa No Channel” comedy show.
Upon returning to the United States in 1979, he gradually began to faze himself out of wrestling. He feuded with the likes of Bob Backlund, the Funks and Andre the Giant prior to his semi-retirement in 1984. He would still wrestle during summers for All Japan, prior to his final retirement in 1993.

Contacted about his induction into the ITSC Hall of Fame, Dick Beyer told us he is “very happy” to be inducted and “honored to be considered.” He continues to promote amateur wrestling in the United States and overseas. He still follows today’s amateur and professional scene, and does not harbor resentment towards what the product has become. It is our pleasure to induct into the Inside the Squared Circle Hall of Fame, the Destroyer Dick Beyer.

Our second inductee today is Mexico’s most famous wrestling superstar, and quite possibly the most beloved wrestler of all time, El Santo. Born Rodolfo Guzman Huerta in 1917, he wrestled under a number of names, from Rudy Guzman and El Enmascarado to El Demonio Negro and El Hombre Rojo prior to settling on his famous ring name, El Santo, in 1942. Literally meaning “the Saint,” he went from an initial rudo, or bad guy, to becoming the prototypical tecnico, or good guy, to the Mexican wrestling fanbase. Wearing a silver mask, he came to represent purity, and defend the interests of the common man against the evils of the world. He was rarely ever seen without the mask, which created an air of mystery about the man.

One of the first masked wrestlers in Mexico, Santo was one of most important leaders in the popularizing of the mask, which is now a fixture of lucha libre. More than simply wearing a mask to represent a character, Huerta became El Santo at all times. Santo’s legend grew when in 1952, he became a featured character in a popular weekly comic book. It starred Santo as a crime fighter and monster slayer, and ran for an amazing 35 years. It turned Santo into a true legend, and a beloved figure.

The legend of El Santo grew with his move to the Mexican Cinema. His first film was 1958’s Cerebro Del Mal, or The Evil Brain. This started the trend of lucha libre movies, which became a craze in 1960s and 1970s Mexico. In 1961 he made the classic Santo Contra Los Zombies, or Santo Against the Zombies. After its tremendous financial success, he was signed by producer Enrique Vergara in 1964, who paid Santo $9,000 per film. He appeared in 54 movies through his career, representing the ultimate force of good against all the evils of a dangerous Mexican world. In doing so, he became not just a popular wrestler, but an enduring cultural icon. Always wearing his silver mask, he would protect the world against evil forces, like a masked combination of Indiana Jones and James Bond.

During this time, Santo also continued his wrestling career. He held over ten titles, including the NWA World Welterweight and Middleweight Titles, the Mexican National Middleweight Title and the Mexican World Welterweight Title. He formed a famous tag team with Gory Guerrero, the father of Eddie Guerrero, known as La Pareja Atomica, or the Atomic Pair. He appeared in movies and wrestled with and against Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras, two of Mexico’s other top lucha libre stars. He rotated his time between movies and wrestling in much the way the Rock is in the United States now, but was a bigger movie icon than Rock is at this point in time.

In the late 1970s, lucha libre films declined in popularity, and Santo stopped making his films. He also began to wrestle less, suffering the wear and tear of a 40 year career. He retired from wrestling on September 12, 1982, paving the way for his son’s debut as El Hijo del Santo. El Hijo del Santo remains one of Mexico’s top stars today.

In a stunning surprise, El Santo publicly unmasked himself on a talk show called Contrapunto on January 26, 1984, nearly 50 years after his wrestling debut. Ironic given the seeming inseparability of Santo and his mask, he died less than 2 weeks later on February 5, of a heart attack.

Reflective of his stature as a cultural icon, Santo’s funeral drew thousands of people desiring to pay tribute to their fallen, beloved hero. It took hours for his coffin to make it from the funeral parlor to the hearse, so mobbed was the event. To this day, the people of Mexico mark the anniversary of Santo’s death with national celebrations honoring his legacy. Dave Meltzer, the editor of the Wrestling Observer newsletter, says that Santo “totally transcended wrestling. He was more than just an important wrestler. Everybody in the country knew him, and he had an enduring popularity like a Babe Ruth or John Wayne.” It is our honor to induct one of wrestling’s great icons, El Santo, into the Inside the Squared Circle Hall of Fame.

3 Comments:

Anonymous THE MASTERBATER said...

Just wanted to know, I have been watching ITSC for quite a some time and I was just wondering does any special plaques or certificates are given to the wrestlers you have put in the Hall of Fame? Also, they seem to be slacking on the Jobber Hall of Fame WHATS UP WITH THAT?

10:54 AM  
Anonymous todd martin said...

No, there aren't any special plaques or certificates. They don't call it No Budget Productions for nothing. As far as the Jobber Hall of Fame goes, you'd have to ask Will. Seems jobbers in general are a dying breed.

4:19 PM  
Blogger 17Haze said...

Great stuff Todd

8:35 PM  

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