Thursday, October 23, 2014

Remembering The Ox...

 If you ever wanted to find the perfect blend of professional wrestler and sports entertainer, you had to look no further than Ox Baker.  The master of the heart punch, or "hurt" punch as he sometimes called it, passed away on October 20th at the age of 80. Many ailments had piled up on The Ox from his years in the grapple game.  At his appearance this past summer in Charlotte at the Mid-Atlantic Fanfest, Baker appeared weak and frail, but his legendary spirit remained as he signed autographs and posed for photos.

Although Ox may not have been Harley Race or Jack Brisco in technique, he made up for it in his look, persona, and marketability.  Early photos from Baker's career depict a large, yet rather unassuming, athlete. Once the head was shaved and the facial hair was grown to frightening proportions, the true Ox Baker was born.  He became an image that would almost become the stereotype of a professional wrestler: big, mean, unkempt, hairy, and growling!

Despite never being a household name, even news outlets such as TMZ covered his passing.  He was a star of 70s wrestling magazine covers and even caused an honest-to-goodness riot on a 1974 winter night in Cleveland.  Thanks to two wrestlers dying shortly after wrestling him, his heart punch was touted as a killing machine.  Still, some of his out of the ring escapades are best remembered.

The year 1981 saw two of Baker's biggest moments occur, neither of which took place in the squared circle. When the late, legendary announcer Johnny Olson yelled for Douglas Baker to "Come On Down!," The Price Is Rights Contestant's Row would never be the same. Clad in his "Big, Mean, & Ugly" t-shirt, Ox not only won all of his pricing games, but displayed his charisma to the world with a hilarious showing next to Bob Barker.  Later that year, Ox battled Kurt Russell as the villainous Slag in "Escape From New York."

Later in the '80s, Ox gradually left in-ring action.  More fans would probably know of the great Ox had he become involved in some capacity during one of wrestling's "boom" periods.  Aside from a blink-and-you'll-miss-it stint managing The Nightstalker (Bryan Clark/Adam Bomb) in WCW, it simply didn't happen. Instead, the Ox made his name and image known once again in his 60s and 70s as a regular on the indy and convention circuit.

Even if you did not attend the events, you would notice the name Ox Baker showing up around the country, but especially on the east coast.  When Ox wasn't managing an up-and-comer while carrying his bullwhip, he was serenading fans at his gimmick table with ditties ranging from cute to patriotic to bawdy. Based upon his look, most fans probably wouldn't have guessed that Ox was approaching 80, and his youthful antics gave no clues.

Ox always seemed proud of his action figure that was part of the Figures Inc. Legends of Professional Wrestling line.  When I think of him, I often picture that figure since it was such a perfect likeness.  I would imagine that it served as a validation of his success.  Ox didn't always get the recognition that he deserved, especially for how well he represented the business outside of the ring, but being immortalized in plastic right next to peers such as Bruno Sammartino, Wahoo McDaniel, and Ivan Koloff is quite the honor. If he can see the outpouring of love and respect since his passing, no more validation is necessary.

Although I'm sure you've already sung your way past St. Peter, Rest In Peace, Ox.

No comments: