The wildest Texan in Japan, Stan Hansen built a career wrestling in North America but built a legacy by becoming one of the top heels in Japan.
Stats: 6′ 4″ 320 lbs.
Real Name: John Stanley Hansen
By Steve Slagle
Over the decades, pro wrestling has been the chosen vocation of some of the toughest, meanest, nastiest Texans that the Lone Star State has ever produced. Generally speaking, Texas wrestling fans (or rasslin, as the case may be) have always liked their performers to be big, rough & tough; and if he’s got a short fuse, even better! That description certainly applies to many of Texas’ most popular wrestling stars from the past & present, but perhaps none more so than the gigantic and unpredictable tobacco-dripping Texas bulldozer, Stan “The Lariat” Hansen…
Hansen first made an impact in the ranks of pro wrestling during the early seventies, soon after his graduation from West Texas State University. A standout in football for West Texas throughout his entire collegiate career, a set of circumstances resulted in the legendary Funk brothers training the youthful powerhouse for a career in professional wrestling. After making the transition from football to wrestling, the brash young Hansen never looked back, and focused all of his considerable energies into his new career as a pro wrestling villain.
His first championship victory came less than a year after his debut we he teamed with another football star from West Texas, Frank ‘Bruiser Body’ Goodish, to win the Tri-State Tag Team title in October of 1974. Together, Hansen & Goodish created a formidable team comprised of youth, size and power. The promising young duo managed to hold the belts for an exceptionally long time (given the era) and defended their Tri-State tag title for nearly a full year. It was during this time period that Hansen also made his first trip overseas to Japan, where he made a very good first impression with both the Japanese fans and, more importantly, the promoters. Yet, despite the impressive achievements of such a new performer, no title reign could compare to the lift Hansen’s short career would receive in 1976 when he was brought to the northeast by the World Wide Wrestling Federation to serve as the latest monster heel to face the reigning champion (and resident WWWF monster heel slayer) “The Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino…
It was at New York’s Madison Square Garden on April 26, 1976 during his legendary encounter with Bruno that Hansen gained the victory of a lifetime and joined a mere handful of wrestlers who can claim a win over Sammartino. The rough Texan not only defeated The Living Legend (via countout) in his home arena, he also gained worldwide notoriety by, literally, breaking the undefeatable champion’s neck. In the storyline, the life-threatening injury was caused by Hansen’s brutally stiff clothesline, known as The Lariat. In reality, it was a misperformed bodyslam by the still relatively inexperienced Hansen that crushed the vertebrae in Sammartino’s neck.
Fully understanding that the botched move had been an accident, Bruno carried no hard feelings towards the young man who had injured him so severely…at least not away from the cameras. In front of the fans, however, Bruno slowly made his recovery and was eventually shown undergoing intense physical therapy, enduring great pain while focusing on a singular goal: to extract revenge on the man who broke his neck! Nearly six months later, The Living Legend would do just that, inside of a steel cage, before some 30,000 fans at New York’s Shea Stadium. Hansen was thoroughly manhandled during their return encounter, and after being battered & bloodied by the ‘enraged’ Sammartino, Hansen fled the ring in unquestioned defeat. However, despite having been dominated so completely by Sammartino following his return, Hansen was still one of a select few to have defeated, let alone injured, the mighty Sammartino, a fact that the big man (and various territorial-era TV announcers) never allowed the fans to forget. Furthermore, his unique (at the time) finishing maneuver, The Lariat, suddenly acquired an aura of danger and legitimacy that was virtually unparalleled in the “sport.”
While there was no doubt that Hansen was one of the best young up-and-comers in the game at the time, his ring performance was greatly enhanced by the fact that the brawler seemed intent on developing his basic wrestling skills. While he would never have been confused with a technician such as Dory Funk or Jack Brisco, it was still fairly obvious that there was more to Hansen’s offense than traditional ‘big man brawling.’ Indeed, while Hansen was highly proficient at that style of mayhem, it was also not unusual to see the 300 pounder take to the air with a hard-hitting drop kick, or to catch an unsuspecting foe in a flying armdrag. When this nod to wrestling science was combined with Hansen’s natural brawling ability and high impact style, not to mention his overwhelming size (and the ever-present aura gained from his victory over Bruno) the result was soon obvious for Hansen, who suddenly found himself in demand by promoters from all over the world.
On May 2, 1977 Hansen won his first singles championship when he defeated Dick Murdoch to win the NWA North American Heavyweight championship in Tulsa, OK. As was common among regional champions of the day, Hansen did not hold the North American belt for a considerable length of time, and was defeated by perenial N.A. champion Bill Watts less than two months after gaining the championship. Still, like the win over Bruno, Hansen’s North American title victory added to his stature in the eyes of wrestling fans.
Hansen’s next career move came later in 1977, when he left the Tri-State/Mid-South territory and entered the red-hot ring wars of the NWA’s Georgia promotion. However, this time around, the universally hated villian did so as a babyface, a ‘good guy’, for the first time in his career. And while the fan reaction and his type of opponents may have changed drastically, Hansen’s unpredictable, pulverizing ring style did not.
In August of 1977, the big man teamed up with the hottest babyface in the territory at the time, the young Tommy “Wildfire” Rich, to capture the prized Georgia Tag team title by defeating The Minnesota Wrecking Crew, Ole & Gene Anderson. The highly popular duo of Hansen & Rich gelled well as a team, and held the Georgia tag titles for four months before finally being defeated by the team of Ole Anderson & Rene Goulet. Almost immediately, however, Hansen’s stature as the biggest (and by now, the most popular) man in Georgia was confirmed when he gained the area’s top championship, the Georgia Heavyweight title by defeating Dick Slater in December of 1977. Soon after winning the title, though, Hansen returned to his villainous ways, and quickly went from being the most popular to the most hated wrestler in the territory and was eventually defeated in early 1978 by the beloved Mr. Wrestling II. Hansen and the legendary masked man engaged in a heated feud, which saw “The Bad Man from Borger, TX.” regain his Georgia Heavyweight title on February 6, 1978. Hansen certainly created his share of excitement (not to mention great matches) in Georgia, and, eventually, he regained the fans’ admiration and cheers, even going as far as mending his differences with former partner Rich, with whom he’d had many battles over the past year or so. The reunited team of Hansen & Rich even regained the Georgia Tag Team title in July of `79.
As the nineties ended, many changes swept over All Japan Pro Wrestling…not the least of which was the retirement of the legendary Stan Hansen. Years of rugged competition had finally begun to take their toll on Hansen, and, rather than diminish his accomplishments and legacy, the proud Texan — with nothing left to prove or accomplish — stepped away from active competition while he was still on top of his game, both figuratively and literally.
The Ring Chronicle is proud to induct Stan “The Lariat” Hansen, the mountain-sized technical brawler, Texas wildman and multi-time World Champion, into the T.R.C. Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame……