Danny Hodge

A great amateur wrestling champion, he brought his mat tactics to the professional stage and became an undisputed World Junior Heavyweight Champion.

Danny Hodge
Real Name: Danny Hodge
Stats: 5′ 10″ 220 lbs.
By Steve Slagle

When fans think of the world of Light Heavyweights, what usually comes to mind are high-flying moves galore, non-stop action and a feverish pace. However, Danny Hodge, truly one of the greatest Junior Heavyweights in the history of pro and amateur wrestling was no daredevil or aerialist. Hodge was a wrestler…plain and simple. His grappling skill and fighting technique — not an endless array of “high spots” — was what made Hodge so dangerous, almost as though he was a throwback to the days of the “hooker” in wrestling. Simply put, Hodge needed no flashy gimmick to “get over” with fans of his day, just his incredible wrestling skill and hardworking attitude. That skill and work ethic paid off for the wrestling purist, both as a multi-time NCAA national amateur champion, and later, the undisputed NWA World Junior Heavyweight champion. At the same time, the universally respected Hodge lent an air of credibility to the Junior Heavyweights. Furthermore, as the World champion and main attraction for the better part of 15 years, Hodge carried the fledgling Junior Heavyweight division in the U.S., making it possible for modern Cruiserweights to have a (well-paying) place in the sport. Truly, pro wrestling is far better off for having such a great champion like Oklahoma’s legendary Danny Hodge…

Hodge began his wrestling career as a young teen, excelling at the sport while in high school. When the Oklahoma native graduated, he had a spot on the State University wrestling squad waiting for him, and continued his winning ways. As an amateur, Hodge was a multi-time NCAA champion in several weight classes, and acquired a national reputation for being a truly talented (and feared) grappler during his collegiate career. That reputation as a dangerous and highly capable “shooter” followed him into the pro wrestling ranks, as did his success…

Hodge believed, much like the NWA promotion he worked for, in the fundamentals of wrestling, whether it was as an amateur or when he turned pro in the late 1950’s. For instance, one of his main weapons was a simple, yet excruciatingly painful, cauliflower ear producing Headlock. That’s it, just a basic, standing side-headlock. However, when applied by Hodge (who also fully understood the “psychology” of American pro wrestling) this simplistic maneuver took on newfound intensity. Hodge was a mat wrestler, albeit a lightning-quick one. His 220-lb. frame was muscular and powerful, honed to top condition after years of training as a wrestler. A master of tying up his opponent, Hodge would then either slap on one of his numerous submission holds, or pin them after methodically wearing his challenger down.

He won his first (of 7) NWA World Junior Heavyweight championships on July 22, 1960 by defeating 3-time NWA Jr. Heavyweight champion Angelo Salovdi. Hodge then went on to hold the World title for nearly 4 1/2 years. During this time, the fighting champion took on all comers, defending his World championship up to 5 nights a week and serving as a Junior Heavyweight ambassador to the fans wherever he fought. Even more so than today, Junior Heavyweights in the 1960’s and 1970’s were put on the backburner in favor of their gigantic counterparts. As the NWA World Jr. Heavyweight champion, Hodge carried the success (and failure) of the division on his back each time he wrestled.

After holding the title for over 4 years, Hodge finally dropped the belt to longtime rival, and technical wrestling wizard, the “evil” Hiro Matsuda in Tampa, FL. However, 6 months later, Hodge regained his title from his talented Japanese foe in Tulsa OK. He held the belt for several more months before losing to perennial challenger Lorenzo Parente. The evenly matched Hodge and Parente both lost and regained the NWA Jr. Heavyweight twice (each) in the span of a year during their highly competitive feud. Parente eventually lost the title to Joe McCarthy, who only managed to hold the belt for 3 months before Hodge defeated him in May of 1966 in Little Rock, AR. Hodge wore his NWA gold for another 4 years before finally being taken down by Sputnick Monroe on July 13, 1970 in Shreveport, LA. But, much like his heavier counterpart Lou Thesz, Hodge was just too good to not be champion, and he quickly regained the title a few months later. Hodge once again took on all challengers for his title during this, his fifth NWA World Jr. title reign. But when he met up his the blond, muscular and arrogant Roger Kirby, Hodge found himself an ex-champion once again. This time, it lasted for awhile…

He was separated from his NWA title for an entire year before wrestling the masked NWA Junior Heavyweight champion Dr. X on March 20, 1972. Hodge defeated the hated masked man, and went to wear the title belt for nearly two more years before being upset by Ken Mantell on December 19, 1973 in Jackson, MS. Mantell then held the championship for a year and a half before losing the NWA World Junior Heavyweight title to former champion (and Hodge’s archenemy) Hiro Matsuda. Mantell tried for months, but could not seem to gain a clear victory over Matsuda. Enter Danny Hodge…

Nine months into his second title reign, Matsuda was once again faced with the challenge of Danny Hodge. And once again, Hodge got the best of Matsuda, defeating him for the championship on March 2, 1976. But then, just two weeks later, tragedy struck Hodge, and by association, the entire world of pro wrestling. On March 15, 1976, Danny Hodge relinquished his claim to the NWA World Junior Heavyweight title, and retired after breaking his neck in a severe auto accident. It was a tough way to leave the sport, but fittingly, Hodge went out on top as the World champion. He has remained very active in the worlds of both pro and amateur wrestling since his retirement, and is a true icon of the mat sport — in either of its forms. We at the Ring Chronicle proudly induct this great technician and trailblazing Junior Heavyweight, the great Danny Hodge, into the TRC Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame…

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