Take a Japanese legend, a Canadian Olympian, a veterinarian/wrestler, an eight-time world champ, the Tiger Man and a top-grappler-turned “Stooge,” and you have the Class of 2005 in the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.
The eclectic bunch — better known as Antonio Inoki, Earl McCready, Dr. Bill Miller, Harley Race, John Pesek and Jerry Brisco — is the biggest class yet for the Newton, Iowa-based International Wrestling Institute and Museum, thanks in no small part to expanding the number of inductees from four to six.
“This is our seventh induction, and it just continues to grow in momentum, and people get more and more excited and involved,” said Mike Chapman, the founder of the International Wrestling Institute and Museum. “Something like this has to build and it’s really, really getting some legs under it. People in the state of Iowa are pretty proud of it. The media attention this year has been the highest its ever been.”
It all takes place this coming weekend. On Friday, July 15 there is a Celebrity Golf Tournament (which includes Denny Miller, aka Tarzan, former NFLer Don Perkins, former major league pitcher Rich Folkers and numerous amateur wrestling greats like Dan Gable, Glen Brand and Barry Davis) and a wrestling show that night. On Saturday, the induction ceremony takes place at the museum in the morning, with a banquet to follow this evening.
The induction weekend has become a popular event for previous inductees to come back for, both for the fellowship but also for the golf. Returning this year are previous inductees Bob Geigel, Brad Rheingans, Danny Hodge, Baron von Raschke, Mad Dog Vachon, as well as past Frank Gotch Award winners Tom Drake and George Scott.
Class of 2005 inductee Harley Race is looking forward to returning to Newton. “I’ve wrestled there a half a jillion times, and I’ve been up there to the Hall of Fame on a couple of different occasions when different guys were going in,” he told SLAM! Wrestling, mentioning specifically Kansas City wrestlers/promoters Bob Geigel and Pat O’Connor.
Brisco, who competed in wrestling at Oklahoma State University, isn’t totally sure what to expect in Newton. His brother Jack Brisco was inducted in 2001 but was unable to attend the ceremony for health reasons. So Jerry is looking at the weekend as a chance to see some old friends. “I see Harley quite a bit and it’s always a pleasure to see Harley. I see him two or three times a year. Harley, every time you see him, there’s energy coming from him. He might have aged a little bit, but he still has that energy all the time, though he might not be moving quite as quick as he did!” Jerry joked. “I look forward to seeing Bob Geigel. I haven’t seen Bob in a long, long time. I sure Bob don’t even remember this, but when I was just breaking into the business, I went up to Kansas City to do TV and work with Pat O’Connor and Bulldog Bob Brown. Geigel took me aside and told me that he thought I’d have a great career and any time that I wanted to come up there, just to let him know.”
Chapman is looking forward to Saturday’s debate about the Class of 2006. “Our selection panel is of the existing members that want to be involved and four historians. We’ll meet Saturday morning before the induction to select next year’s class. I’ve already sent out everybody who’s been nominated to them with thumbnail sketches,” Chapman said. “They’re very interesting meetings. People would pay to sit in there. There’s no badmouthing of people — they’re respectful. We discuss who we think should be in. It’s a very lively discussion, and we do a paper ballot.”
New this year is a wrestling event on the Friday evening, promoted by Scott McLin in association with Race’s World League Wrestling company. Headlining the “Night of Legends” event at the Newton High School is “The Dog-Faced Gremlin” Rick Steiner.
McLin had been lobbying for a couple of years for a wrestling show to coincide with the induction ceremony. “It’s a natural. It’s a wrestling museum and that’s what we’re all about,” he said. With the cancellation of Friday’s Frank Gotch Run, he leapt at the opportunity.
“Some people are fine with going to a banquet, dressing up and doing the whole thing and listening to speeches. I think a lot of wrestling fans would much rather prefer to see a wrestling card,” McLin said. “By adding this card, I think it brings people in that maybe wouldn’t necessarily come to the public induction.”
Race is proud of his family-style promotion. “Our slogan in World League Wrestling is ‘Shut up and wrestle.’ All of our shows are clean shows. I don’t allow any swearing, I don’t allow any of the low blows crap, or any of the nudity-type thing that you see. Ours is what wrestling used to be. It’s wrestling, it’s not all the showboating and crap that you see now.”
Tickets for the show are $15 and can be ordered through the museum at 641-791-1517.
Here’s a look at the Class of 2005:
ANTONIO INOKI: To sum up Inoki’s career in a paragraph is impossible. The grappler began wrestling in 1960, recruited by the great Rikidozan. After his mentor’s death in 1963, Inoki and fellow trainer Shohei “Giant” Baba went on to become icons in Japan. Inoki founded New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1972 and shaped the business in Japan for the next three decades. His fame was such that he was elected to the Japanese House of Councils. Worldwide, it was Inoki’s 1976 bout against Muhammad Ali that propelled him to fame.
EARL MCCREADY: The most decorated amateur wrestler ever to turn pro in Canada. ‘The Moose’ wasn’t just a journeyman pro either, but a top-notch competitor for his 28-year career, competing on mats around the globe and fighting for the world’s title on numerous occasions. Born in Lansdowne, Ontario in 1908, but raised on a farm near Amulet, Saskatchewan, McCready went to Oklahoma A&M university where he took the heavyweight title in each of the first three NCAA wrestling tournaments from 1928-1930. Back in Canada, McCready would win two more Canadian amateur titles and represent Canada at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. In 1930, he took a gold medal in freestyle at 100 kg at the first British Empire Games in Hamilton. After his pro career ended, he settled in Edmonds, Washington, where he ran a massage parlour. He died in December 1983.
DR. BILL MILLER: At Ohio State University, Miller carved out quite a reputation for himself as a wrestler, winning two Big Ten titles and placing fourth in the NCAA championship. But he also had letters in track and football and graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine before entering the U.S. Navy. In 1951, he became a pro wrestler at the behest of Columbus, Ohio promoter Al Haft. He would hold world titles under a mask as Dr. X and Mr. M and often teamed with his fictional brother Ed Miller (Eddie Albers) and his real brother Danny Miller, who was five years his junior. Bill Miller stopped wrestling in 1974 and worked as a vet. He died in 1997.
HARLEY RACE: An eight-time NWA world champion, and the man that Ric Flair called the toughest he ever met, Race is proud to be inducted into a Hall of Fame that recognizes his contributions to amateur wrestling. On “I taught amateur wrestling. I helped form the kids’ association in the eastern part of Kansas back in the ’70s when my son started wrestling. Then up until he went to college in Blue Valley South, which was the southern part of Kansas City where we lived, I’d been involved in amateur wrestling a long, long time.”
JOHN PESEK: Known as the “Nebraska Tiger Man,” Nebraska’s John Pesek (1896-1978) faced all the big names at the beginning of the 20th century — Earl Caddock, Clarence Eklund, John Freberg, Wladek Zbyszko and Jim Londos. Not until his former training partner and fellow Nebraskan Joe Stecher beat him in a world title match in 1920 did Pesek even lose a match. According to historian J Michael Kenyon, In a career that would last some 40 years and feature a couple of world championships, Pesek — one of the greatest shooters and hookers of all time — lost less than 20 times. Pesek also had one of the best-known greyhound racing stables on his farm in Ravenna.
JERRY BRISCO: The younger brother of former NWA world champion Jack Brisco (Newton Class of 2001), Jerry Brisco had a successful career both on his own — including a run with the NWA World Junior Heavyweight title – and as a tag team with his brother. Like his 10-year older brother Jack, Jerry was an amateur standout in Blackwell, Oklahoma before turning pro. In 1984, he joined the WWF and has worked there ever since as a road agent, helping out behind the scenes. Over the past few years, he’s made appearances on WWE TV as a “stooge” to Vince McMahon and even had a short reign as WWE Hardcore champion.
Also being honored this year is “Judo” Gene LeBell, who is getting the 2005 Frank Gotch Award, which is given to a wrestler who has brought positive recognition to the sport from his work in and/or out of the ring. In the wrestling business, he is considered one of the toughest men alive and has written numerous books on wrestling and martial arts (he’s a two-time national judo champion). LeBell also worked with his brother Mike in the Los Angeles WWA promotion. He’s also one of the best-known stuntmen in Hollywood, having worked in more than a thousand films.
TRAGOS/THESZ CLASS OF 2005 STORIES
- July 16, 2005: Tragos/Thesz Hall inducts six more
- July 11, 2005: The modest career of Jerry Brisco
- July 10, 2005: Newton HOF set to grow by six