My Favorite Pro Wrestling Champs in the 50s

Updated on November 25, 2017
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul spent the 1950s living in a suburb of Milwaukee and also on a small dairy farm in southeastern Wisconsin.

Watching Pro Wrestling as a Boy

As a boy, I used to regularly watch pro wrestling with mom and dad. Once a week they would tune in to wrestling from the South-Side Armory in Milwaukee. It was very exciting and entertaining, especially when a front row spectator, Bouncing Bessie, would get out of her seat and almost jump into the ring. I was introduced to many wrestlers with colorful names such as Gypsy Joe, The Sheik of Araby, and The Crusher. All of them amazed me with their tumbling, flying mares, body slams, and submission holds.

Favorite 1950s Wrestlers

Looking back all these years, the following pro wrestlers were my favorite stars.

1. Angelo Poffo

Angelo Poffo, from Downers Grove, Illinois, was both a hero and a villain to me. When he tag-teamed with The Sheik of Araby and they took on the big, bad Lisowski brothers, he was my hero. I remember Angelo having a manager called Bronco Lubich who carried a big cane. Whenever Lubich helped Poffo win a match with foul play, Angelo was a villain. His trademark hold for winning a fall was the Italian neck-breaker. Little did I know that the recently deceased Randy "Macho Man" Savage and "Leaping" Lanny Polo were both Angelo Poffo's sons.

2. Dick The Bruiser

Dick "The Bruiser" Afflis was a true villain who always had a scowl on his face. After all of these years, I still remember him wrestling one evening at the old Milwaukee Arena. He had just been disqualified while grappling with The Mighty Atlas. Now out of the ring, he was pacing like a wild, irate bull. Although I was sitting in the sixth row at the the time, I never felt more scared in my life. When not wrestling, Dick Afflis played defensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers during the mid 1950s.

3. Verne Gagne

Vern Gagne out of Minneapolis was my favorite wrestling hero. Having wrestled in college, Gagne was a scientific wrestler in the true sense of the word. One would never see a dirty hold or move when Vern was wrestling. Gagne's most exciting submission hold was the sleeper, which he would apply to the neck of an opponent, rendering him unconscious by cutting off the flow of blood to the brain.

Verne Gagne vs Hans Schmidt 1963 - Part One

Verne Gagne vs Hans Schmidt 1963 - Part Two

4. Tony Rocca

Finally, I remember "Argentina" Tony Rocca. He was so exciting to watch, because he did a lot of drop kicks to soften up his foe for a back crusher. One of the most unforgettable tag team matches I saw had "Argentina" Rocca pair with Vern Gagne against the villains Hans Schmidt and Hans Schnabel.

There were many other pro wrestling stars from the 1950s, but I will never forget these four favorites.

Questions & Answers

  • Which pro wrestler was known for the sleeper hold?

    Vern Gagne and Rowdy Roddy Piper were known for the sleeper hold.

© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn

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    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      6 weeks ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thanks for commenting, Russell. I am afraid that I cannot remember any wrestler who fits your description.

    • profile image

      Russell 

      6 weeks ago

      Looking for name of (believe from S Calif) 1950-60’s wrestler in same similar look as Gorgious George that fought all over country, but fought often down in old Gulf South days in 50-60’s. Was it something with Lash, etc in his name

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      3 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Based on watching wrestling in the 50s and 80s, I saw Vern Gagne and Rowdy Roddy Piper subdue their opponents with the "sleeper hold." I also heard that Pat O'Connor used it when he was Vern Gagne's tagteam partner.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      3 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I am sorry, but I have no first hand knowledge. I would have to google the answer.

    • profile image

      Reona Johnson 

      3 months ago

      Who was well known for his "sleeper hold"?

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      11 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Yes, Evelyn, I am still living in Thailand. I don't know of anyone who would be interested in talking about these wrestling greats. However, I would be interested in saying something about them over the Internet perhaps using SKYPE. What do you think? Could something like this be set up?

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      11 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Jim, Yes, I should have listed his name. Didn't he also go by the name of "The Mighty Atlas?"

    • profile image

      Jim 

      11 months ago

      You forgot the greatest, Lou Thesz.

    • profile image

      Evelyn Kubis 

      11 months ago

      I remember many of these wrestlers. Are you still in Thailand?

      Would you happen to know any one who would be interested in

      giving a talk about these old time greats? I'm in Tucson and researching the wrestlers who performed here. Tucson has a group of people who are interested in keeping the "old times" from

      fading. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I'm sorry, but I can't remember hearing or seeing about these two wrestlers. Thanks for your comment.

    • profile image

      Harry Blutstein 

      2 years ago

      Do you remember two wrestlers - mid 1950s - by the names of Gentleman Jack and Gorilla Bill?

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      2 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      &ron . Yes I definitely remember Gorgeous George. Didn't he also wear strong smelling perfume?

    • profile image

      ron 

      2 years ago

      Argentina Rocca, Gorgeous George, Mr. Moto, Baron Leoni, Lord Blears. Those names bring back a lot of pleasant memories of my childhood. I once had the pleasure of seeing Gorgeous George. As I recall, he had purple

      or orchid colored hair, and threw hairpins to the audience.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Billy,

      Thanks for reading and commenting on this hub. No, I have never heard or can't remember "The Bristow Ironman," but if I learn something about him, I will let you know.

    • profile image

      Billy Vaughan 

      5 years ago

      My Dad told me one time that one of his uncles was a pro wrestler back in the 50s or 60s. His name was Fred (or Freddy) Morgan. He supposedly went by "The Bristow Ironman", I have looked all over online and can not verify this. Apparently he was a boxer then wrestler, and I assume wrestled mostly in and around Oklahoma. Ever heard of him? My email is vaughanb1@yahoo.com. Any info would be appreciated.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      AWAFlashback,

      Thanks for reading my hub and your great comments. I really don't know who promoted the matches in Milwaukee. All I can remember is that they were held at the Southside Armory.

    • AWAFlashback profile image

      David Aaron 

      5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I love the vintage blog! I only remember the AWA from 1980-1991 but I do remember a lot of the wrestlers you mentioned. Amazing how athletic Verne Gagne was. His appearances on the DuMont Network in Chicago are credited for growing pro wrestling. Dick the Bruiser was so rough and tough in the 1980's, I can only imagine what he was like in his prime! I would like to see video of Hardboiled Haggerty and an early era Mad Dog Vachon sometime. The 1950's were before AWA (AWA started in 1960). Do you know who promoted these matches here in Milwaukee? http://hubpages.com/@awaflashback

    • Billrrrr profile image

      Bill Russo 

      7 years ago from Cape Cod

      Thanks Paul for reminding me how much I too used to love the game of Pro wrestling. I lived in the area of the eastern circuit so I did not get to see Dick the Bruiser or Argentine Rocca as much as I would have liked. They were my favorites from 'out of circuit'. In the Eastern loop the champ at the time was the great Bruno Sammartino, but my favorite story is about 'Killer Kowalski'.

      I met this titan in the 1970s and he greeted me with, "call me Walter". I don't know why, but I thought that was funny and I couldn't stop laughing. I was doing a radio interview with the "Killer" and he wanted to be called Walter. I got to meet and interview a few of the better wrestlers of the day including Professor Tenaka - who later went to Hollywood to be in James Bond movies. I had forgotten all about this until reading your fabulous hub. Now you have inspired me to write one about my little vignettes of the game as seen from a little arena on Route One in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. It was kind of a minor league venue for those aspiring to 'wrassle' at the Gardens - Boston & Madison Square in New York City.

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