WATERLOO, Iowa – Despite some changes to the format from previous years — and to the museum itself — the 2010 George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame held its induction ceremonies this past weekend. Five new members were inducted to the Hall of Fame, and several other awards were handed out as well.
Just a few weeks before the induction weekend, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Waterloo’s Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum — home of the Tragos/Thesz Hall — announced a partnership, joining forces to preserve the rich history and proud traditions of the sport of wrestling for future generations. The Iowa facility is now the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum. Management for both museums will be combined, with joint marketing, fundraising, promotion, education and other programs executed out of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Stillwater. The joint operation will combine each museum’s resources to operate more efficiently, which will allow for greater public awareness.
The annual Tragos/Thesz event started out on Friday morning with a celebrity golf tournament. Although heavy rains earlier in the week made parts of the course off-limits, the day itself was a beautiful one for golf. Dozens of foursomes turned out to play with the many celebrities in attendance from all areas of sports. The professional wrestlers there to play included Baron Von Raschke, Rene Goulet and Danny Hodge. Legendary Iowa coach and museum namesake Dan Gable was also on hand to help with the welcome and introductions. Gable explained that the decision has been made to join forces with the Stillwater, Oklahoma National Wrestling Museum to help strengthen overall support for the sport of wrestling. After the golf tournament, participants enjoyed a steak dinner buffet and had the chance to win a number of wrestling-related raffle prizes.
Wrestling matches and a legends fan fest followed on Friday night at the Sullivan Brothers Arena. This was a change of venue from past years, and also saw a less-experienced brand of independent wrestling than in past years when Harley Race and his World League Wrestling training school provided the talent. Most fans in attendance seemed to enjoy the matches anyway, and the participants did seem to work very hard. Numerous wrestling legends were on hand to meet and greet fans, including the Vachon Brothers, Danny Hodge, Larry Hennig, Rene Goulet, Baron Von Raschke, Bob Roop, and Fritz Von Goering.
It was clear, however, that most of the fans there had come to meet two of the more recent stars, Terry Funk and Mick Foley. The lines for their tables often stretched across the arena and continued on for most of the evening. At one point Foley got in the ring and thanked the fans for coming, and paid tribute to many of the wrestling legends in attendance that had come before him. Hodge also proved that he was still just as tough as ever by crushing an apple with his bare hand while fans watched.
The 2010 awards and Hall of Fame plaques were presented on Saturday at noon. Once again the museum was filled to capacity as each of the recipients gave heartfelt emotional speeches.
First up was the writer’s award, named for the late Jim Melby. Melby’s daughter Shelley Bonin was on hand to present the award to J Michael Kenyon. Kenyon noted how he had gotten interested in researching results decades ago, and became addicted to it and had made a lifelong career out of it. After his moving speech, the legends on hand gave him a rousing round of applause.
Next Charlie Thesz and Bill Murdock presented the Lou Thesz Award to Rene Goulet. In addition to being a legendary wrestler, Goulet was recognized for his vast work with North Carolina charities.
The Frank Gotch Award was presented to Mick Foley for raising the profile of professional wrestling in society. Foley joked that when he saw that the museum had called originally, he was sure they were going to ask him to present Terry Funk’s award to him, and he was going to have to think of an excuse not to do it. But once he found out they wanted to present the Gotch Award to him, he said yes without hesitation. Foley noted what an honor it was to receive the award, and mentioned how he had enjoyed talking with the many fans in attendance.
The Hall of Fame inductions, geared towards those who had significant amateur backgrounds, were polished performers, or were tough guys in their wrestling careers, began with the posthumous awards. John Rauer accepted the plaque for Stanislaus Zbyszko, while Danny Hodge accepted for Warren Bockwinkel. Unfortunately, neither Nick Bockwinkel nor any of his family members were able to be in attendance. Ted Gordienko was very pleased to accept the plaque for his uncle George Gordienko, noting that this completed a promise he had made to his uncle and himself at the time of his death to make his uncle’s legacy known.
Paul “The Butcher” Vachon was the first of this year’s living recipients. He spoke of the honor of being in the same company as his brother Mad Dog, and the rest of the previous hall of fame members. He concluded by saying that if he was the crying type, this would be such an occasion.
Terry Funk was the other living hall of fame inductee for this year. He spoke of his strong family ties to the business, and the many friends he had made in wrestling while growing up and throughout his long career.
Following the ceremonies and the autograph lines, fans had the chance to watch and listen to a “Legends Roundtable” session, led by Brian Hoops. The wrestling legends answered questions relating to their favorite territories and how they had gotten their starts.
Although there was no formal induction banquet this year, the museum served some catered food following the roundtable, which gave fans and wrestlers in attendance a good chance to continue the laughter and story-telling that has become the trademark of these annual get-togethers.