Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Lariat Hits The Hall

It's always interesting to hear a wrestler describe another wrestler as "a night off." The meaning is that the wrestler being described was so good at the art of wrestling that stepping into the ring opposite meant that it was going to be an easy match, despite it not looking so to the fans. Many times it is ironically the more rough and tumble wrestlers who are described this way. The ones who look like they massacred their opponents. One wrestler who was likely never thought of in this manner is another member of the 2016 WWE Hall of Fame class. He's the bad man from Borger, Texas. He's the man who broke Bruno Sammartino's neck. He's Stan "The Lariat" Hansen.

Stan Hansen belongs in any and all wrestling Halls of Fame. The rugged Texan put fear into the hearts of fans the world over, but it's usually pointed out that his biggest fame came outside of the United States. He is arguably the most successful gaijin (foreigner in Japan) to ever set foot in a Japanese wrestling ring. Both in singles and tag team action, Hansen fascinated the Japanese wrestling fans in a way similar to Fred Blassie several decades earlier. He was the big, bad, American villain. While he certainly built a name here in the States, it is his legendary work overseas that cemented his legacy in the squared circle.

His American career was varied to say the least. Not many stars launch their careers by breaking the neck of one of the all-time greats, but Hansen did. In 1976, Hansen broke the neck of the legendary Bruno Sammartino right in the middle of Madison Square Garden. Fortunately, Sammartino recovered and the two were able capitalize on the incident in the form of return bouts. This would ultimately be the biggest moment for Hansen in the U.S. Beyond that, he is remembered for being the AWA World Heavyweight Champion who ran the belt over with his truck, a cameo in "No Holds Barred," and the tobacco-spitting Desperado who kept having run-ins with Missy Hyatt in the dressing room. None of those truly represent the rough brawler that can be seen on tapes from Japan.

Then there are the stories of Hansen's bad sight. By his own admission, Hansen has very poor vision when not wearing his eyeglasses. This apparently lent itself to Hansen's realistic-looking style in the ring, as it is said that it wasn't unusual for punches and clotheslines from the big cowboy to make true contact. It was that style that caused the eye of Big Van Vader to pop from its socket during one particularly brutal New Japan Pro Wrestling bout.

Similar to his co-inductees in the 2016 WWE Hall of Fame The Fabulous Freebirds, it was a certain action figure that brings Stan Hansen to the minds of countless children of the 1980's. Hansen was a key part of the Remco AWA action figure line. The figure came in a "Greatest Grudge Matches" two-pack along with Jerry "Crusher" Blackwell. Thanks to Remco using their larger body style, Hansen is taller than many of the other figures. The facial likeness is spot on and, as is usual with the Remco line, the accessories are superb. Soft goods chaps and a vest were included with the figure, as was his trademark cowboy hat. I can still remember finding a second-hand Hansen figure, long before I knew who all made up the AWA line. The hair and mustache said it all--I was holding a Stan Hansen figure in my hand. I've since re-equipped it with original accessories, but the figure remains the same one in my collection.

Just like his wrestling career, memorabilia of Stan Hansen was more prevalent in Japan. Figures in all shapes and sizes have been made over the years, but it would be nice to see "The Lariat" get another shot at the American toy shelves. Perhaps this inclusion in the WWE Hall of Fame will lend itself to a Mattel Flashback figure in the future. You certainly would be hard-pressed to find a more exciting look to immortalize in plastic once more. Hansen also found himself on countless programs, posters, and even video games in the "Land of the Rising Sun."

Hansen did a great job inducting Antonio Inoki into the WWE Hall of Fame back in 2010. The next year we were treated to the story of Hansen's career in his autobiography titled "The Last Outlaw." Now it's time for one more look at Japan's favorite cowboy...and America's most under appreciated brawler.


Anonymous said...

I have that same Remco Hansen figure. I've had it since I was a kid, surprisingly still with all the accessories.

Mark said...

Loved that Hansen AWA figure, never did understand the choice of platinum blonde hair. Would have been perfect if the hair color was right.