Column: A look at this year's Australian HOF candidates



Submitted by Kirk Beattie

I have asked for the opportunity to address Graeme Cameron’s recent article regarding Australia/Pacific Islands/Puerto Rico candidates for the Hall Of Fame.

 

From the outset I would like to stress that Graeme Cameron and I are friends. We have been mates for years. Of course, our friendship does not prevent us from engaging in healthy debate. As wrestling fans, we will not always agree on everything which, of course, is one of the intriguing features of this athletic art form that we both love.

 

For the purpose of this article my deliberations will be limited to my area of familiarity - the Australian candidates only. As such, I shall not examine the candidacies of the Hawaiian and Puerto Rican nominees, Johnny Barend and Carlos Colon, respectively.

 

I will follow Graeme’s format of listing the five candidates for the Australian “wing” of the HOF with the voting percentage that each achieved last year. I believe that the entire run of the World Championship Wrestling promotion from 1964 to 1978 should be analysed rather than just the Jim Barnett years of 1964 to 1973. That said, I don’t believe that the final result would differ no matter which criterion was used.

 

Dave’s stated criteria for the Hall Of Fame is actually “a combination of drawing power, being a great in-ring performer or excelling in ones field in pro wrestling, as well as having historical significance in a positive manner. A candidate should either have something to offer in all three categories, or be someone so outstanding in one or two of those categories that they deserve inclusion. Longevity should be a prime consideration rather than a hot two or three year run, unless someone is so significant as a trend-setter or a historical figure in the business, or valuable to the industry, that they need to be included. However, just longevity without being either a long-term main eventer, a top draw and/or a top caliber in-ring performer should be seen as relatively meaningless.”

 

Graeme based his assessment on the criteria of longevity, drawing power and influence on the region. In doing so unfortunately Graeme has substituted longevity as a criterion and did not directly address Dave’s vital principle of being a great in-ring performer.

 

The five candidates, in order of the percentage of votes that they received in last year’s ballot, are Mark Lewin, Domenic DeNucci, Killer Karl Kox, Mario Milano and Spiros Arion.

 

1. MARK LEWIN (received 48% of the ballots last year)

 

Graeme felt that last year’s HOF 48% vote was “far too high for the region”. I believe, however, that this figure is much too low for Lewin’s impact on wrestling in Australia. I believe that Lewin deserves inclusion in the Hall of Fame for the Australian region this year.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 1: drawing power

 

Mark Lewin made his Australian debut on 17 February 1965 when he defeated Buddy Austin in Brisbane. Austin was a main eventer at that time although the three top wrestlers Down Under were undoubtedly Killer Kowalski, Domenic DeNucci and Ray Stevens (the first three men to hold the IWA World Championship). Within weeks of his arrival Lewin was himself headlining shows throughout Australia and demonstrating his drawing power.

 

Lewin was a great drawcard in Australia in 1965 (two tours), 1966, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1973. He was also a big draw in neighbouring New Zealand, much more so than this year’s other candidates Domenic DeNucci, Killer Karl Kox, Mario Milano and Spiros Arion.

 

Lewin had somewhat of a universal appeal in Australia in that male fans appreciated his wrestling expertise and his fighting qualities, female fans admired his good looks and solid physique (billed as , while children looked up to him as a hero figure.

 

Graeme commented that “Lewin himself wasn't a huge draw in comparison to the others”. The ultimate authority, promoter Jim Barnett, told Dave that DeNucci was his biggest full-time regular babyface draw, followed by Arion at number 2 and Milano at number 3. It is my assumption that Lewin was probably the number 4 biggest full-time regular babyface draw. Why would promoter Barnett import Lewin as a headline talent for nine tours of Australia over eight years if Mark was not a great draw?

 

Graeme correctly stated that Lewin had two brief runs as (IWA World) champion in 1966 and 1967 and never held the title again”. I feel that one of Lewin’s strengths was that he didn’t need to hold the major singles title in Australia to maintain his standing with the fans. In fact, Lewin often headlined shows above the reigning champion of the day.

 

Graeme mentions that “Lewin had Barnett's ear and is considered by some as the power behind the throne. (Lewin) was a hugely unpopular figure within the industry in Australia because of the influence he had with Barnett”. Lewin’s influence with the promoter indicates to me that Mark could have had more title reigns in Australia if he wished but that he was content to play the role of lead or secondary babyface as the booker/s saw fit. Lewin himself was actually a booker of Australia during his career.

 

Lewin’s popularity within the business really has little to do with his ability to draw the ticket purchasing public to his matches. I have been told that the great Buddy Rogers was not always popular amongst his peers but no-one could ever deny the rightful place of “the Nature Boy” in the Hall of Fame.

 

I must disagree with Graeme’s statement that while Lewin “appeared in main event singles matches occasionally, he largely worked second or third from top underneath DeNucci, then Arion and/or Milano”. Lewin wrestled in many main event singles matches against high calibre opponents including Ray Stevens, Mitsu Arakawa, Spiros Arion, Skull Murphy, Professor Tanaka, Bearcat Wright, Killer Karl Kox, King Curtis Iaukea, Killer Kowalski, Bulldog Brower, Waldo Von Erich and Abdullah the Butcher.

 

I will expand upon this particular situation when assessing Arion’s case for Hall of Fame inclusion but Lewin did often main event above Spiros. Just as one example, Arion while IWA World Champion in October, November and December 1965 frequently worked underneath Lewin-Skull Murphy main events throughout Australia. Similarly, in 1970 Arion would often face Ivan Koloff underneath a Lewin and King Curtis Iaukea vs Kurt and Karl Von Steiger main event. In the same period in 1970 Arion and Jerry Brisco would meet the Von Steiger Brothers underneath a Lewin and Iaukea vs Koloff and Gary Hart main event. There are further instances for any relevant year that one wishes to research.

 

It should also be noted that it was Lewin, as the booker of “The War” angle in 1973, who was actually responsible for Arion’s long term status as Austra Asian Champion, and thus main eventer, during that year.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 2: being a great in-ring performer or excelling in one’s field in pro wrestling

 

Lewin was definitely an excellent in-ring performer in Australia. He displayed great skill, charisma, ring psychology, selling, fire, brawling ability and the best sleeper hold finisher that I have witnessed. Lewin also had a strong physical presence, billed as being 6 feet 3 inches tall and 245 pounds in weight.

 

Mark was also very effective on the microphone in the humble and sincere babyface manner of that time. He would also cut emotional revenge-based promo’s when needed against major rulebreakers.

 

Lewin was a terrific career babyface in Australia but he made fans believe that he could outfight even the toughest heels. He never resorted to his “Maniac Mark” or “Purple Haze” personas in Australia but would show glimpses of a wild side that fans felt separated him from many other babyfaces.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 3: having historical significance in a positive manner.

 

Lewin was the first real (excuse the expression) American idol for Australia’s World Championship Wrestling promotion. US babyfaces Dale Lewis, Tex McKenzie, Cowboy Bob Ellis and Al Fredericks (aka Paul Jones) all preceded Lewin’s February 1965 debut and reached different grades of popularity in Australia. Lewin’s appeal to the Aussie fans reached a whole new level and was maintained throughout his nine tours of our continent. I believe that Lewin was the most popular American wrestler in Australia throughout the World Championship Wrestling years.

 

As mentioned above, Lewin held the position of booker in Australia. He was responsible for booking the famous 1973 “War” angle featuring the “Peoples Army” of himself, King Curtis Iaukea, Spiros Arion, Wadi Ayoub, Killer Karl Kox and other babyfaces battling against “General” Big Bad John’s “Army” of John, Waldo Von Erich, the Tojo Brothers, Abdullah the Butcher, Bulldog Brower and other heels. Even today if you ask fans of the time what they consider to be the highlight of Australia’s World Championship Wrestling years most will nominate “The War” of 1973.

 

Lewin’s “War” angle is also regarded by experts as the catalyst that influenced both the New Japan Ishingun angle and the nWo angle.

 

Further evidence of Lewin’s historical significance is that promoter Barnett used Mark as a major player in the successful babyface turns of both King Curtis Iaukea and Killer Karl Kox. Iaukea and Kox were two of the all-time great heels in Australian wrestling history and both been reviled ring rivals of Lewin. Mark’s scripted begrudging trust of the King in 1970 and the Killer in 1973 helped the fans accept the former hated heels as beloved babyfaces back in the good old days of kayfabe.

 

Lewin also satisfies the prime consideration of longevity in terms of being a long-term main eventer in Australia and, as previously mentioned, also in New Zealand.

 

Lewin held the IWA World Championship on two occasions; the IWA World Tag Team Title on nine occasions (with Domenic DeNucci, with Bearcat Wright, with Antonio Pugliese, with Spiros Arion, with King Curtis Iaukea three times, with Mario Milano, and with Killer Kowalski) and the Austra Asian Tag Team Title on one occasion (with Spiros Arion).

 

Summary:

 

I strongly believe that Mark Lewin should be accepted into the Hall of Fame this year based on his Australian career. If pressed to rate the candidates I would place Lewin at number two on the list of five contenders.


4. DOMENIC DENUCCI (received 42% of the ballots last year)

 

Graeme felt that last year’s HOF 42% vote was “probably a little low for the region”. I believe, however, that this figure is much too low for DeNucci’s impact on wrestling in Australia. I believe that DeNucci deserves inclusion in the Hall of Fame for the Australian region this year.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 1: drawing power

 

DeNucci made his Australian debut in the main event of the World Championship Wrestling promotion’s very first card on 23 October 1964 in Sydney. He defeated Killer Kowalski for the IWA World Championship on 7 November 1964 in Melbourne.

 

DeNucci was a great drawcard in Australia in 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968 and 1970. As mentioned above, promoter Jim Barnett told Dave that DeNucci was the biggest babyface long-term draw in the history of the promotion. Barnett’s comment establishes that DeNucci satisfies the selection criterion of possessing drawing power.

 

Graeme commented that DeNucci was “a big draw in the first two years but arguably, any Italian might have got the same reaction.” Promoters Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle had an affiliation with then San Francisco promoter Roy Shire. In October 1964 Barnett and Doyle billed their promotional “governing body” as the International Wrestling Alliance (IWA), which was said to be “operating out of San Francisco”. The figurehead IWA president was announced to be Shire, although Roy had no real authority in Australia.

 

DeNucci had defeated Ray Stevens on 25 January 1964 in San Francisco to win Shire’s version of the US Title. Stevens regained the championship in San Francisco on 29 February 1964. I’m sure that Barnett and Doyle could have chosen “any Italian” to be their first babyface superstar but they had seen the dynamic DeNucci in action against the incomparable Stevens and Dom was their educated choice for that all-important role.

 

It also should be noted that if “any Italian” wrestler could be the top man in Australia then Antonio Pugliese (aka Tony Parisi) should have been IWA World Champion at some stage in the late 1960s to early 1970s period. Pugliese, who was given many opportunities from 1968 onwards, was a good wrestler who achieved a fair degree of popularity but promoter Barnett never mentioned his name with the reverence he reserved for DeNucci and Milano.

 

Barnett’s rating of DeNucci as his biggest full-time regular babyface draw in Australian wrestling history also specifies that Dom was not only a huge drawcard in 1964, 1965 and 1966 but that he maintained his drawing power in his subsequent tours in 1968 and 1970.

 

DeNucci’s huge following was not limited to only Australia’s large Italian population. Dom was idolised by fans of all nationalities throughout Australia.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 2: being a great in-ring performer or excelling in one’s field in pro wrestling,

 

DeNucci was a legendary in-ring performer in Australia. He was a charismatic star who possessed finely-honed wrestling skills, first class ring psychology, effective selling, strong spirit, good physical stature (billed as being 6 feet 3 inches tall and 245 pounds in weight) and a capacity to convincingly mix it with the roughest heels.

 

Dom was another babyface who exhibited humility and sincerity in his interviews, which was the expectation of babyfaces in that era. Of course, DeNucci would always deliver an additional promo in his native tongue to please his countrymen.

 

DeNucci feuded with a who’s who of heels in Australia including Killer Kowalski, Ray Stevens, Buddy Austin, Mongolian Stomper, Mitsu Arakawa, Roy Heffernan, Professor Tanaka, Skull Murphy, Big Bill Miller, Killer Karl Kox, Cyclone Negro and King Curtis Iaukea.

 

DeNucci also demonstrated in his in-ring ability in “scientific” wins over fellow babyfaces including Dory Funk Jr, Johnny Kostas, Czaya Nandor and Hercules Cortez.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 3: having historical significance in a positive manner.

 

DeNucci, as mentioned above, was featured in the main event on first card presented in Australia by the World Championship Wrestling promotion of Barnett and Doyle.

 

Also as previously mentioned, DeNucci was the very first babyface IWA World Champion. DeNucci held the IWA World Championship on five occasions between 1964 and 1970.

 

DeNucci also achieved historical significance (in partnership with Mark Lewin) as the choice of promoters Barnett and Doyle to become the first wrestlers to win the IWA World Tag Team Championship on Australian soil. The great team of “Pretty Boy” Larry Hennig and “Handsome” Harley Race (as they were then billed) were recognised as the first IWA World Tag Team Champions in 1966. DeNucci and Lewin defeated Hennig and Race in an exciting main event in Sydney to become tht titleholders.

 

DeNucci held the IWA World Tag Team Championship on another five occasions with partners Antonio Pugliese, Mario Milano (three times) and Bobo Brazil.

 

Also historically noteworthy is that promoters Barnett and Doyle brought DeNucci back in late January 1966 after Spiros Arion had walked out on Australia’s World Championship Wrestling promotion while he was still the IWA World Champion. The promotion announced that Killer Kowalski had “won” the title from Arion in Honolulu, Hawaii in December 1965. DeNucci then defeated Kowalski at the Sydney TV tapings on 12 February 1966 to become the new IWA World Champion.

 

DeNucci also satisfies the prime consideration of longevity in terms of being a long-term main eventer in Australia.

 

Summary:

 

I strongly believe that Domenic DeNucci should be accepted into the Hall of Fame this year based on his Australian career. If pressed to rate the candidates I would place DeNucci at number one on the list of five contenders.

 

3. KILLER KARL KOX (received 40% of the ballots last year)

 

Graeme felt that last year’s HOF 40% vote was “a bit on the low side for both the region and his career in general.” I agree that this figure is much too low for Kox’s impact on wrestling in Australia. I believe that Kox deserves inclusion in the Hall of Fame for the Australian region and hope that Karl is accepted this year or, at the latest, next year.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 1: drawing power

 

Kox made his Australian debut for the World Championship Wrestling promotion on 27 October 1967 when he defeated Larry O’Day in Sydney. Kox was immediately programmed in a feud with the then number one babyface Mark Lewin (who he would always list as one of his favorite opponents). After just a few weeks in Australia Kox established himself as the number one challenger to the then IWA World Champion Mario Milano in main events.

 

Australia is a very multicultural country. Traditionally Sydney had a large Italian population and Melbourne had a large Greek population. Kox capitalised on the ethnicity of Australia’s two largest cities by insulting the Italian and Greek fans at every opportunity often inciting near riots.

 

Kox is generally considered, behind only Killer Kowalski, as the top heel in the history of wrestling in Australia. In 1968, Kox surpassed Kowalski for the top heel spot and retained this position in his tours in 1969 (two trips), 1971 and 1972. Kox shocked Australian fans when he turned babyface in 1973 and he maintained this role on his last tour in 1974.

 

Kox retained (and possibly increased) his drawing power as a babyface which means that he was a great draw in Australia on eight tours over seven years.

 

Kox was a perennial headliner on each of his Australian tours and he feuded with the likes of Mark Lewin, Mario Milano, Spiros Arion, Jack Brisco, Cowboy Bob Ellis, Domenic DeNucci, Billy Robinson, Fred Blassie, Wahoo McDaniel, King Curtis Iaukea, Abdullah the Butcher and Bulldog Brower.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 2: being a great in-ring performer or excelling in one’s field in pro wrestling

 

I rate Kox as being one of the four greatest heel wrestlers in Australian history along with Ray Stevens, Killer Kowalski and Skull Murphy.

 

Throughout his wrestling career in Australia Kox proved to be a great in-ring performer. He had good wrestling skills and, in Dave’s words, was best known as a ring psychologist, knowing the right time to do things for maximum reaction. Dave has also noted that Kox had the ability to rile up the crowd “just walking and talking”, without even touching his opponent.

 

Kox was a versatile worker who transformed from being arguably the most hated heel in Australia wrestling into a super popular babyface.

 

In his obituary on Kox, Dave stated that Killer Karl played the role, whether as a babyface or a heel, of being a tough guy with a big punch, based on his legitimate reputation for having a six inch knockout punch in real life situations.

 

Kox, while not a giant, was physically imposing and billed as being 6 feet 1 inch tall and 260 pounds in weight. He was a robust individual who could genuinely take care of himself inside and outside the ring and was able to project this quality in his wrestling character. A number of fans who overstepped the boundaries in Australia discovered that Kox was not a man to mess with.

 

In addition to being a great in-ring performer Kox was also a master on the microphone.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 3: having historical significance in a positive manner

 

Kox is regarded as a true legend of professional wrestling in Australia. As already indicated, Kox was genuinely hated by many as one of the all-time great heels in his first six tours of this country. However, in his last two tours of Australia Kox established himself as a beloved babyface.

 

Kox’s knowledge of and great mind for the wrestling business saw him serve as a booker for promoter Jim Barnett.

 

Kox introduced the Brain Buster (vertical suplex variety) to Australian wrestling. The Brain Buster was put over as a lethal manoeuvre with many recipients selling the hold by being stretchered from the ring. At times an angle would be run where the Brain Buster was banned in Australia. Fans were frustrated on such occasions as Kox would rely on whipping an opponent into the ropes and catching them on the rebound with an elbow to the throat. Killer Karl would often follow up by hitting his downed foe with an elbow drop also to the throat to seal his victories.

 

A claim to fame for Kox was his series with Cowboy Bob Ellis which was highlighted by the number of matches in which Karl and Ellis brawled to bloody double disqualifications. The Killer and the Cowboy even became the first wrestlers in Australia to engage in two out of three fall matches where a wrestler was disqualified in each of the first two falls and then both men were disqualified in the third fall.

 

Another significant event was Kox’s involvement in the heel turn of one of his main rivals, Mario Milano. The fans blamed manager Playboy Gary Hart for manipulating Milano’s change of attitude but the match featuring the turn involved Kox and The Spoiler (Don Jardine) [managed by Hart] defeating Milano and Antonio Pugliese. The Milano heel turn totally shocked the Australian fans.

 

Further evidence of Kox’s historical significance is that promoter Barnett used Karl to establish Billy Robinson as a superstar in Australia. In 1969 Kox, then the IWA World Champion, faced Robinson in a non-title match on TV. This was Robinson’s Australian debut. Robinson was not given any buildup prior to the match and fans assumed that he was an unheralded preliminary wrestler. As soon as Robinson began to wrestle, the audience realised that they were witnessing a master matman. The clean pinfall victory over Kox established Robinson as star of the highest order.

 

To emphasise Robinson’s status Kox later lost the IWA World Title to Billy by two straight falls. This marked the first time that the IWA World Championship had changed hands by two falls to nil.

 

Promoter Barnett had joined the NWA in 1969 but continued to recognise his own IWA World Titles until 1971. In 1972 Barnett created the NWA sanctioned Austra Asian Title to represent his territories of Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia (specifically Hong Kong and Singapore). The top two wrestlers chosen to contest the bout for the inaugural Austra Asian Title were fierce foes Kox and Spiros Arion.

 

Also in 1972 Kox gained infamy for attacking the then 63 year old commentator Jack Little with the Brain Buster thus, in storyline, hospitalizing the announcer. Little then commentated for a number of weeks in a neck brace to sell the “injury”. This may not seem like an example of historical significance in a positive manner but the angle was actually reported in newspapers as a legitimate incident which produced publicity for the World Championship Wrestling promotion.

 

Kox’s aforesaid babyface turn was also a significant event in Australian wrestling history. In 1973 the war between Big Bad John’s heel “army of mercenary soldiers” and Mark Lewin’s babyface “People’s Army” was raging. Lewin and Arion fought Abdullah & Waldo Von Erich with General John handcuffed to Iaukea at ringside to prevent any interference. The match resulted in a melee with between those six wrestlers with Tiger Jeet Singh attacking Lewin. Kox, making his first appearance for the year, then entered the ring. The fans expected Kox to join the heels but instead the Killer dropped Singh with the Brain Buster and chased out the rulebreakers.

 

On TV the next day Kox announced that his mother on her death bed asked Karl to stop his villainous behaviour and that he solemnly promised his dying mother that he would do so.

 

Kox held the IWA World Championship on four occasions and the IWA World Tag Team Title on one occasion (with Skull Murphy).

 

Kox also satisfies the prime consideration of longevity in terms of being a long-term main eventer in Australia.

 

Summary:

 

I strongly believe that Killer Karl Kox is a future Hall of Famer based on his Australian career. I hope that Kox is accepted this year. If not, I trust that Kox will receive mention on 10% to 59.9% of the ballots from the Australian geographical region and thus will remain on the ballot for consideration next year. In rating the candidates I would place Kox at number four on the list of five contenders.

 

4. MARIO MILANO (received 24% of the ballots last year)

 

Graeme felt that last year’s HOF 24% vote was “a low figure for someone who is an icon of Australian wrestling … he's a true Hall of Fame candidate.” I agree that this figure is much too low for Milano’s impact on wrestling in Australia. I believe that Milano deserves inclusion in the Hall of Fame for the Australian region this year. If pressed to rate the candidates I would place Milano at number three on the list of five contenders.

 

As an aside, I feel that it is interesting to note that it has always been reported that Milano made his wrestling debut in Venezuela in 1953 as a teenager and first came to prominence in the USA when he worked in Tennessee in 1963. I have recently discovered that Milano actually wrestled in Los Angeles in 1962 as Mario La Pantera and held the WWA International Television Tag Team Title with Count Billy Varga.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 1: drawing power

 

Milano made his Australian debut for the World Championship Wrestling promotion on 21 April 1967 in Sydney when he defeated Frank Shields (aka Bull Bullinski) and then won a 12 man battle royal in the main event. Following this immediate push, Milano was soon headlining shows in his own right.

 

Milano won his first IWA World Title by defeating the legendary Killer Kowalski on 8 September 1967 in Sydney.

 

As already detailed, promoter Jim Barnett, told Dave that Milano was his third biggest full-time regular babyface draw, behind Domenic DeNucci at number one and Spiros Arion at number two. Milano was a great drawcard in Australia in 1967, 1968, 1969 (two tours), 1970, 1971 (two tours) and 1972 and remained a consistent crowd-puller in 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1978.

 

Much like his countryman DeNucci, Milano’s great following was not limited to only Australia’s large Italian population. Mario, too, was adored by fans of all nationalities throughout Australia.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 2: being a great in-ring performer or excelling in one’s field in pro wrestling

 

Milano had the advantage of being a young veteran by the time he debuted in Australia and he established himself as being a great in-ring performer in this country.

 

Milano was a very skilful wrestler who exhibited charisma and psychology in his matches. He was a well built, physically imposing specimen who was billed as being 6 feet 5 inches tall and 265 pounds in weight. Milano’s large size allowed him to believably brawl with even the biggest heels yet his selling was also first rate.

 

English was Milano’s third language after Italian and Spanish and his interviews were delivered in an unassuming and earnest manner. As was common practice with all ethnic babyfaces in Australian wrestling, Milano would follow his English interviews with a spirited performance of his own cultural communication (in this case, Italian).

 

Milano wrestled against many of the biggest names in Australian history including Killer Kowalski, Pat Patterson, Skull Murphy, Killer Karl Kox, King Curtis Iaukea, Gorilla Monsoon, Cyclone Negro, Professor Tanaka, Don Leo Jonathan, The Spoiler (Don Jardine), Bobby Shane and Ernie Ladd.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 3: having historical significance in a positive manner

 

Milano was originally signed by promoters Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle to wrestle in Australia’s World Championship Wrestling promotion for three months in 1967. Obviously Barnett and Doyle took a risk on Mario’s aptitude because, as I mentioned, Milano was booked to debut with a victory over the well regarded Frank Shields and then win a 12 man battle royal in the main event.

 

When one considers that the established talent in that battle royal included Pat Patterson, Roy Heffernan, Hercules Cortez, Billy White Wolf, Pierre “the Beast” LaBelle, Don Jardine, Con Papalazarou, Professor Rudy LaBelle and Shields it really was a gamble by the promoters to put Milano over the established stars on his first night for the promotion. Barnett and Doyle, however, correctly gauged Milano’s unlimited potential as Mario delivered in the ring and was embraced by the fans to become a virtual star overnight.

 

Consequently, Milano’s three month tenure was extended by the promoters to the close of the 1967 season. By the end of that year Milano had held the IWA World Championship twice and the IWA World Tag Team Title (in partnership with Red Bastien) three times. In fact, at the conclusion of 1967 Milano was in possession of both the IWA World Championship and the IWA World Tag Team Title (with Bastien).

 

Milano was re-signed by Barnett and Doyle for the 1968 Australian wrestling season. Milano won the IWA World Championship again that year and also captured the IWA World Tag Team Title on six occasions (once with Billy White Wolf, twice with Antonio Pugliese and three times with Domenic DeNucci).

 

1968 also marked the year that Gorilla Monsoon made his only tour for the World Championship Wrestling promotion in Australia. Monsoon was billed as being 6 feet 5 inches tall and 425 pounds in weight so it was only natural that the promoters would introduce a “$2,000” body slam challenge. Many wrestlers failed to body slam Monsoon and fans expected that the wrestlers who stood the best chance to do so were fellow giant Tex McKenzie (billed at 6 feet 10 inches tall and 280 pounds in weight) or a powerhouse like Spiros Arion or Art Nelson. It was a testament to Milano’s popularity and his apparent physical prowess that the promoters booked Mario to be the man who slammed Monsoon.

 

Milano’s ability and popularity saw him re-signed for 1969 which was curiously split into two seasons with a June/July/August off-season. In the first half of 1969 Milano won the IWA World Championship and secured the IWA World Tag Team Title on another two occasions (with The Spoiler and also with Waldo Von Erich). In the second half of 1969 Milano won the IWA World Tag Team Title (with Spiros Arion).

 

1969 was also the year of Milano’s heel turn. After Milano and Antonio Pugliese had lost a challenge to then IWA World Tag Team Champions Skull Murphy and Brute Bernard in Sydney, Mario lost his temper and threw Pugliese into the turnbuckles. The next day Milano defeated his former partner Red Bastien on Sydney TV by unexpectedly punching Bastien on a rope break. Manager Playboy Gary Hart told commentator Sam Menacker that he had been giving Mario some advice.

 

Milano then beat Bastien in a return match in Sydney when he suckered Red with a kick and then clamped on an Abdominal Stretch. Next up on Brisbane TV Milano turned on partner Pugliese in a tag team match against The Spoiler and Killer Karl Kox. When Antonio was in trouble Milano refused to tag his partner out under Hart’s instructions. When Pugliese attempted a shoulder tackle off the ropes against The Spoiler, Mario pulled down the top rope, Tony took a bump to the floor and was counted out. Milano announced that he was forfeiting the match and shook hands with Hart.

 

Milano was a great heel but his popularity was so strong that the majority of fans would just not accept him as a rulebreaker. Finally, Hart slapped Mario after a loss to Billy White Wolf on Brisbane TV and Milano “came to his senses”. Milano completed his face turn by saving Puglise from a bloody beating by Spoiler and Hart in the very next TV match.

 

Barnett booked Milano for the 1970 season and Mario added two more IWA World Tag Team Title reigns (with Spiros Arion, and with Mark Lewin) to his championship tally. Milano returned for promoter Barnett in the 1971, 1972 and 1973 seasons. He headlined shows in 1971, 1972 and the first quarter of 1973. Milano dropped from the main event status for the balance of 1973 but maintained his fan following.

 

New promoters Ron Miller and Larry O’Day booked Milano for the 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1978 seasons. In 1974 Milano held the Austra Asian Championship and also the World Brass Knuckles Title on three occasions. In 1977 Milano won the Austra Asian Tag Team Title (with Bugsy McGraw) and the World Brass Knuckles Title. In 1978 Milano attained the Austra Asian Tag Team Title on two occasions (with Johnny Gray, and with Larry O’Day) and the World Brass Knuckles Title.

 

Milano had more overall title reigns in Australia’s World Championship Wrestling promotion than any other wrestler in the organisation’s 1964 to 1978 history.

 

A historically significant note is that in January 1974 promoters Miller and O’Day chose Milano to headline shows after Spiros Arion had walked out on Australia’s World Championship Wrestling promotion while he was still the Austra Asian Champion. The promotion announced that Waldo Von Erich had “won” the title from Arion in Fiji. Milano then defeated Von Erich to become the new Austra Asian Champion.

 

In 1969, I believe, Milano married an Australian woman and settled in Melbourne. This obviously made it more practical for the promoters Barnett, (and from 1974) Miller and O’Day to book Milano. However, this also emphasises the reality that Mario had to work hard to maintain his ability, his popularity and his relevance to be able to main event shows throughout Australia for the best part of twelve consecutive years.

 

In mentioning the fact that Milano wrestled in Australia for a period of twelve consecutive years one must comment that Mario also satisfies the prime consideration of longevity in terms of being a long-term main eventer in this region.

 

As Graeme mentioned, Milano to this day has name recognition in Australia even with people who are not wrestling fans.

 

 

Summary:

 

I strongly believe that Mario Milano should be accepted into the Hall of Fame this year based on his Australian career.

 

5. SPIROS ARION (received 19% of the ballots last year)

 

Graeme felt that last year’s HOF 19% vote was “just ridiculous ... this result just doesn't make sense to anyone who knows the history of the promotion”. I agree that this figure is much too low for Arion’s impact on wrestling in Australia. Graeme felt that Arion had the strongest claim of the five candidates for the Hall of Fame. I believe that Arion is Hall of Fame material but would place Spiros at number five of the list of candidates.

 

Arion debuted on 2 July 1965 in Sydney beating Alan Pinfold in a preliminary match. Spiros was soon headlining shows and on 6 August 1965 he defeated Killer Kowalski for the IWA World Title.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 1: drawing power

 

As you have read, promoter Jim Barnett ranked Arion as the number two biggest full-time regular babyface draw for Australia’s World Championship Wrestling organisation.

 

Arion was a great drawcard in Australia in 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969 (two tours), 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1973 and continued to be a good crowd-puller in 1976.

 

Arion is remembered as a perennial main event star but, the fact is, he did not always headline shows on which he worked. My research shows that while Spiros was a huge draw in Sydney and, in particular, Melbourne (which had the biggest Greek population of any Australian city) he did not always top the bill on cards in Brisbane (the promotion’s number three city), nor Adelaide and Perth. There are many examples of this occurring but, rather than list same under Arion’s qualifications, I will include the data at the end of this article.

 

However, I will repeat the example of Arion as IWA World Champion working underneath the main event of Mark Lewin vs Skull Murphy in late 1965. Also when Arion and DeNucci were both wrestling in Australia in early 1970 it was DeNucci, not Arion, who was booked to win the IWA World Championship from King Curtis Iaukea. DeNucci then worked main events with Arion on the undercard.

 

Nevertheless, I would like to emphasise that Arion was a great drawcard in Australia.

 

Arion faced a great variety of opponents in Australia including Killer Kowalski, Roy Heffernan, Karl Gotch, Bulldog Brower, Skull Murphy, King Curtis, Ray Stevens, Gorilla Monsoon, Killer Karl Kox, The Spoiler, Fred Blassie and Jack Brisco.

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 2: being a great in-ring performer or excelling in one’s field in pro wrestling

 

In my opinion, Arion was not a great in-ring performer. Spiros was a very good performer who displayed character, strength, durability and a capacity to out-brawl the heels but was somewhat limited in the actual skills of wrestling.

 

Arion’s popularity actually overshadowed his in-ring ability, I believe. I rate DeNucci, Lewin, Kox and Milano all as superior in-ring performers to Arion.

 

Arion was a well proportioned combatant billed as being 6 feet 4 inches tall and 280 pounds in weight

 

Hall of Fame criterion number 3: having historical significance in a positive manner.

 

Arion was the first and biggest Greek superstar for Australia’s World Championship Wrestling promotion. Original promoters Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle trialled George Manousis and Johnny Kostas (and very briefly experimented with Mike Paidousis) in the role of the role of the Greek babyface before Spiros debuted. Subsequent promoters Ron Miller and Larry O’Day attempted to create their own “Golden Greek” in George Gouliovas in 1974. No wrestler connected with Australia’s large Greek fan base in the manner in which Arion succeeded.

 

As previously noted, promoter Barnett had joined the NWA in 1969 but continued to recognise his own IWA World Titles until 1971. In 1972 when Barnett created the NWA sanctioned Austra Asian Title his choice to become the first Austra Asian Champion was Arion.

 

Arion held the IWA World Championship five times, the IWA World Tag Team Title three times (with Mario Milano twice, and with Mark Lewin) the Austra Asian Championship three times and the Austra Asian Tag Team Title on once (with Mark Lewin).

 

Graeme commented that Arion “held the belt more times than any other wrestler and held it for the longest period of time”. When considering the IWA World Championship both Arion and King Curtis Iaukea held that title a record five times each. Iaukea, however, actually held the IWA World Championship for the longest period of time. Arion held the title from 6 August 1965 to 14 January 1966. Iaukea held the title from 25 March 1970 to 18 October1970.

 

When considering the Austra Asian Championship Ron Miller has a claim to have held that title as many times as Arion. Miller actually held that title for the longest period of time.

 

For all Arion’s accolades there are two negative incidents on his record in Australia.

 

Arion, while still the IWA World Champion, walked out on Australia’s World Championship Wrestling promotion before the 1966 season commenced. Arion had been advertised to defend the IWA World Title against Killer Kowalski on the first card of 1966. The day before the show it was announced that Spiros was “not available to meet Kowalski”. The story was soon floated that the Killer had indeed defeated Arion for the title in Honolulu, Hawaii in December 1965. My research shows that Arion had not wrestled in Hawaii at any time during December 1965. This was, therefore, a phantom title change to cover for Arion leaving the Barnett-Doyle promotion without losing the championship.

 

Arion, while still the Austra Asian Champion, walked out on Australia’s World Championship Wrestling promotion at the start of the 1974 season. Arion had several matches against Bobby Shane in January 1974 before leaving the promotion. The story was then circulated that Waldo Von Erich had defeated Arion for the title in Fiji. This was a phantom title change to cover for Arion leaving the Miller-O’Day promotion without losing the championship.

 

Arion, of course, satisfies the prime consideration of longevity in terms of being a long-term main eventer in Australia.

 

Summary:

 

I strongly believe that Spiros Arion is a future Hall of Famer based on his Australian career. I hope that Arion receives mention on 10% to 59.9% of the ballots from the Australian geographical region this year and thus will remain on the ballot for consideration next year. In rating the candidates I would place Arion at number five on the list of five contenders.

I look forward to the results of this year’s Hall of Fame voting with great interest.

 

Cheers!

 

Kirk

 


Attachment

 

Examples of Spiros Arion working on the undercard.

 

Brisbane examples during the period that Arion was IWA World Champion include working underneath Red Bastien vs Killer Kowalski on 11 August 1965; working underneath Domenic DeNucci vs Bulldog Brower on 25 August 1965; was not booked to wrestle on 1 September 1965; was not booked to wrestle on 8 September 1965; losing a non-title match to Skull Murphy, who then lost the main event to Mark Lewin in a consecutive matches handicap scenario on 3 November 1965; was not booked to wrestle on 1 December 1965; losing a tournament match (non-title) to Karl Gotch under a main event of Roy Heffernan vs Skull Murphy on 8 December 1965.

 

Similarly, in Sydney while holding the IWA World Championship Arion worked underneath Domenic DeNucci vs Roy Heffernan on 13 August 1965; worked underneath Domenic DeNucci & Red Bastien vs Roy Heffernan & Bob “the Bruiser” Baker (aka Bobby Gaham) on 27 August 1965; was not booked to wrestle on 3 September 1965; worked underneath Red Bastien vs Bulldog Brower on 10 September 1965; again worked underneath Red Bastien vs Bulldog Brower on 17 September 1965; was not booked to wrestle on 22 October 1965; worked underneath Mark Lewin vs Skull Murphy on 29 October 1965; was not booked to wrestle on 12 November 1965; worked underneath Mark Lewin vs Skull Murphy on 26 November 1965; worked underneath Mark Lewin vs Skull Murphy on 3 December 1965; worked underneath Mark Lewin vs Skull Murphy on 10 December 1965.

 

Also while IWA World Champion, Arion on Newcastle cards worked underneath Red Bastien vs Killer Kowalski (main event), Roy Heffernan vs Dick Steinborn and Domenic DeNucci vs Bob “the Bruiser” Baker on 9 August 1965; was not booked to wrestle on 6 September 1965; was not booked to wrestle on 20 September 1965; was not booked to wrestle on 4 October 1965; was not booked to wrestle on 18 October 1965; worked underneath Red Bastien vs Skull Murphy on 1 November 1965, worked underneath Skull Murphy vs Red Bastien and Mark Lewin in consecutive matches on 11 November 1965; was not booked to wrestle on 25 November 1965; and was not booked to wrestle on 9 December 1965.

 

9 November 1965 Geelong worked underneath Mark Lewin defeated Skull Murphy on disqualification

 

In Perth Arion, while holding the IWA World Title, was not booked to wrestle on 15 November 1965; worked underneath Red Bastien vs Skull Murphy on 29 November 1965; and also worked underneath Mark Lewin vs Skull Murphy on 6 December 1965.

 

Even in Arion’s main city of Melbourne when Spiros was IWA World Champion he was not booked on 7 August 1965; worked underneath Bulldog Brower vs Killer Kowalski and Domenic DeNucci vs Roy Heffernan (main event) on 21 August 1965; was not booked on 28 August 1965; and worked underneath Mark Lewin vs Skull Murphy on 23 October 1965.

 

In 1968 the following instances occurred:

7 June 1968 in Sydney Arion beat Bill Miller; Domenic DeNucci & Antonio Pugliese defeated Killer Kowalski & Skull Murphy in the main event

28 June 1968 in Sydney Arion beat Baron Scicluna; Killer Kowalski defeated Domenic DeNucci in the main event

5 July 1968 in Sydney Arion & Mario Milano lost to Baron Scicluna & Cyclone Negro; Domenic DeNucci defeated Killer Kowalski in the main event

12 July 1968 in Sydney Arion drew with Killer Kowalski; Domenic DeNucci & Mario Milano defeated Baron Scicluna & Cyclone Negro in the main event

19 July 1968 in Sydney Arion lost to Killer Kowalski; Baron Scicluna & Cyclone Negro defeated Domenic DeNucci & Mario Milano in the main event

26 July 1968 in Sydney Arion beat prelim wrestler Kangaroo Kennedy; Baron Scicluna & Cyclone Negro defeated Domenic DeNucci & Mario Milano in the main event

2 August 1968 in Sydney Arion & Mario Milano defeated Baron Scicluna & Cyclone Negro; Killer Kowalski defeated Bill Miller in the main event

9 August 1968 Arion drew Scicluna; Milano d Kowalski; Roulette winner: KOWALSKI.

16 August 1968 in Sydney Arion & Domenic DeNucci lost to the Assassins; Mario Milano defeated Baron Scicluna in the main event

23 August 1968 in Sydney Arion & Domenic DeNucci lost to the Assassins; Mario Milano defeated Baron Scicluna in the main event

30 August 1968 in Sydney Arion lost to Professor Tanaka; Assassins defeated Baron Scicluna & Cyclone Negro in the main event

 

I apologise for the format but I don’t have time to expand these results. “d” stands for “defeated”

1970 results

Sydney 9/1/1970 Austin d Arion; Shibuya/Arakawa d McKenzie/Goulet; c/s:DENUCCI d CURTIS

10 January 1970 Melbourne Austin d Arion; c/s:DENUCCI d CURTIS

12 January 1970 Perth Arion & Rene Goulet lost to Kenji Shibuya & Mitsu Arakawa; DeNucci defeated IWA World Champion Iaukea on a reversed decision in the main event

Sydney 16/1. Austin d Arion COR; Shibuya/Arakawa d Goulet/O'Dea; c/s:DENUCCI d CURTIS 2-1.

17 January 1970 Melbourne DeNucci & Arion lost to IWA World Tag Team Champions Iaukea and Austin in the main event

23 January 1970 Sydney Arion not booked; DeNucci defeated Tarzan Tyler

24 January 1970 Melbourne Arion, Tex McKenzie and Paul Jones lost to Kenji Shibuya, Mitsu Arakawa and Tarzan Tyler;

IWA World Champion DeNucci defeated Iaukea in the main event

26 January 1970 Perth Arion & Paul Jones lost to Kenji Shibuya & Mitsu Arakawa; IWA World Champion DeNucci defeated Iaukea in the main event

30 January 1970 Sydney Arion beat preliminary wrestler Hans Schroeder; DeNucci was the special referee in the main event match when Iaukea and Austin challenged IWA World Tag Team Champions Kenji Shibuya and Mitsu Arakawa

31 January 1970 Melbourne Arion not booked; DeNucci defeated Tarzan Tyler

6/2 Sydney Arion beat preliminary wrestler Steve Dalton; roulette:winner: Paul Jones; SHIBUYA/ARAKAWA/TYLER d AUSTIN/CURTIS/DENUCCI 2-1.

7 February 1970 Melbourne Arion lost to Tyler; DeNucci was the special referee in the main event match when Iaukea and Austin challenged IWA World Tag Team Champions Kenji Shibuya and Mitsu Arakawa in main event

24 June 1970 Brisbane Arion, Jerry Brisco & Antonio Pugliese lost to Ivan Koloff, Kurt & Karl Von Steiger; Mark Lewin defeated King Curtis Iaukea in the main event

30 June 1970 Newcastle Arion beat Ivan Koloff; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

3 July Sydney Arion beat Ivan Koloff; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

4 July 1970 Melbourne Arion beat Ivan Koloff; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

8 July 1970 Brisbane Arion & Jerry Brisco lost to Kurt & Karl Von Steiger; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Ivan Koloff & Gary Hart in the main event

10 July Sydney Arion beat Ivan Koloff & Gary Hart in a handicap match; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

11 July 1970 Melbourne Arion beat Ivan Koloff & Gary Hart in a handicap match; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

18 July 1970 Melbourne Arion beat Red Devil; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

22 July 1970 Brisbane Arion beat Red Devil; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

27 July 1970 Newcastle Arion beat Gary Hart; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea drew with Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

5 August 1970 Brisbane Arion beat preliminary wrestler Hans Schroeder; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

19 August 1970 Brisbane Arion beat Gary Hart; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

22 August 1970 Melbourne Arion & Tony Rocco beat Kurt & Karl Von Steiger; Mark Lewin defeated Brute Bernard in the main event

28/8 Curtis/Lewin/Arion d Von Steigers/Bernard.

5 September 1970 Melbourne Arion & Tony Rocco lost to & Karl Von Steiger; Brute Bernard & Gary Hart defeated Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea in the main event

16 September 1970 Brisbane Arion & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger; Mark Lewin defeated Brute Bernard in the main event

30 September 1970 Brisbane Arion & King Curtis Iaukea lost to Kurt & Karl Von Steiger; Mark Lewin defeated Brute Bernard in the main event

6 October 1970 Newcastle Arion & King Curtis Iaukea beat Kurt & Karl Von Steiger; Mark Lewin defeated Brute Bernard in the main event

7 October 1970 Brisbane Arion & King Curtis Iaukea lost to Kurt & Karl Von Steiger; Mark Lewin defeated Brute Bernard in the main event

10 October 1970 Melbourne Arion beat Karl Von Steiger; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Brute Bernard & Gary Hart in the main event

14 October 1970 Brisbane Arion & Mario Milano defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Brute Bernard & Gary Hart in the main event

21 October 1970 Newcastle Arion & Mario Milano defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Brute Bernard & Gary Hart in the main event

23 October 1970 Arion d Bernard; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

28 October 1970 Brisbane Arion & Mario Milano lost to Kurt & Karl Von Steiger; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Brute Bernard & Gary Hart in the main event

4 November 1970 Brisbane Arion wrestled Stan Stasiak; Mark Lewin & King Curtis Iaukea defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

18 November 1970 Brisbane Arion beat then prelim wrestler Ron Miller; Mark Lewin, King Curtis Iaukea & Mario Milano defeated Brute Bernard, Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

20/11 Sydney Arion d Schroeder; Bernard d Gladiator; caged: Curtis/Lewin/Milano d Von Steigers/Hart; caged:BERNARD d HART.

21 November 1970 Arion beat Gary Hart; Mario Milano & Brute Bernard defeated Kurt & Karl Von Steiger in the main event

 

I have not examined other years.

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