Since perhaps the most important figure in the United States history is missing from the real Mount Rushmore, so then will perhaps the most important figure in professional wrestling history Toots Mondt be missing from my Pro Wrestling Mount Rushmore. Mondt, with Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Billy Sandow, comprised The Gold Dust Trio, which took control and dominated professional wrestling in the 1920s and forever defined the art form by combining features of boxing, Greco-Roman, freestyle, lumber-camp fighting, and theater into what Mondt deemed “Slam Bang Western-Style Wrestling”. They perfected the art of the finish, as well as such innovations as time-limit draws and double count-outs. This would cause a shift from the legitimate style to the more entertainment style of today. The Gold Dust Trio are credited as founding the first pro wrestling promotion as they moved wrestling out of old burlesque theaters to major sports venues.
My picks are Frank Gotch, Gorgeous George, El Santo and the “Father of Puroresu” Rikidozan. By this standard I have 4 types of wrestlers. Frank Gotch representing the legitimate amateur wrestler, Gorgeous George representing the more theatrical Sports Entertainment wrestler, El Santo representing the colorful Luchadores of Mexico’s Lucha Libre, and Rikidozan representing the strong style of Puroresu. I’ll take one from Ric Flair when I say hardcore wrestling isn’t significant enough to be represented on pro wrestling’s Mount Rushmore. It’s more or less a footnote in pro wrestling history whereas the art has been crafted into its current forms all over the world, mainly because of the 4 men I have deemed worthy of being on my Pro Wrestling’s Mount Rushmore. Though it should be obvious countless faces have contributed to professional wrestling over the years, and no 4 are ever going to truly be THE 4 most important figures; however I have done my best deciding on my personal picks as I see no other options.
So here is Roger Malcolm’s Professional Wrestling’s Mount Rushmore:
Frank Gotch – 1899-1913
Frank Gotch legitimized wrestling in the 1900s – 1910s, even giving rise to many high school and college wrestling programs. Born April 27, 1878, Gotch would have his first match in 1899. Later he would wrestle undefeated Estonian George Hackenschmidt in a two-hour match winning the World Heavyweight Championship held by Hackenschmidt. He would defeat Stanislaus Zbyszko, who was believed to have won over 900 matches, securing the first fall in 6 seconds with a surprise move and quick pin and the second fall in 27 minutes. Gotch would face Hackenschmidt again September 4, 1911, where he would secure 2 straight falls in 30 minutes winning with his signature Toe Hold.
Frank Gotch reined as World Heavyweight Champion for 1,824 days – from his first victory of Hackenschmidt in 1908 until he retired April 1, 1913 after defeating Estonian Georg Lurich in Kansas City, Missouri. Gotch became a celebrity on the level of John L. Sullivan, Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. Gotch would go on to star in a play called “All About A Bout” which he would travel performing, and was once invited to the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt where he wrestled a Japanese Jiujitsu expert in the East Hall – where he made him submit. The “Kamisama” (God of Wrestling in Japan) Karl Gotch took his last name from Frank. Frank Gotch would die at the age of 39 on December 16, 1917 of uremic poisoning.
Gorgeous George -1932-1962
Born in 1915, George debuted in 1932, competing as George Wagner for over a decade. However, it wasn’t until the forties, when he donned the robes, started calling himself Gorgeous, bleached his hair and started styling it with curls, and created the personality of his infamous image full of theatrics and character performance, that he would become the biggest draw of his time. One of the first wrestlers to use entrance music, George would enter to Pomp and Circumstance, influencing the future Macho Man Randy Savage to do so as well. Savage would even name a valet after Gorgeous George. George’s entrance was a spectacle perhaps rivaled only by The Undertakers today. He would have an assistant spray the ring with a disinfectant (reportedly Chanel No. 5) which George referred to as Chanel No. 10, saying “Why be half-safe?” He was known to shout “Get your filthy hands off of me!” at officials attempting to check him for foreign objects. His self-proclaimed nicknames were “The Beautiful Bicep”, “The Sensation of the Nation”, “The Human Orchid” and the “Toast of the Coast”. A new invention catapulted George into the living rooms of America where his sports entertainment style captured the attention of the fresh minds new to the land of television. It was a symbiotic relationship as George and T.V. conquered new ground. His first televised match was November 11, 1947, when he immediately became a national celebrity, which led his star power to grow, becoming the highest paid athlete in the world during the 1950s.
Gorgeous George would appear in 1 film, “Alias the Champ” (1949). Celebrities such as Muhammad Ali, James Brown, and Bob Dylan have acknowledged George for his influence on their own personas. Wrestlers such as “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, “Superstar” Billy Graham, Goldust, Ric Flair, Adrian Adonis and just about any other talent that utilizes a nickname, an entrance theme, bleach blonde hair, capes, robes, lace, or fur owes a high debt of gratitude to the one and only Gorgeous George. In one of his final matches before retiring November 7, 1962, George would lose putting over a young Bruno Sammartino. However, perhaps his most famous match was against longtime rival Whipper Billy Watson, when on March 12, 1959 Gorgeous George would have his infamous golden locks shaved bald before 20,000 fans and potential millions more on national television. In his last match on November 7, 1962 against the Destroyer he would lose, having his hair cut once again. Gorgeous George passed away December 26, 1963.
El Santo – 1934/5-1982
Born in Mexico in 1917, El Santo would debut as a pro wrestler in April 1934. He first wrestled under many aliases such as Rudy Guzmán, El Hombre Rojo (the Red Man), El Demonio Negro (The Black Demon), and El Murcielago II (The Bat II) before settling on El Santo (The Saint) in 1942. Lucha Libre had just been taken serious as a business in 1933 when Salvador Lutteroth founded Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (EMLL). EMLL is now known as Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) and is currently the world’s oldest pro wrestling promotion still in existence after 80 years. Lutteroth utilized El Santo in popularizing lucha libre in Mexico, which would lead to the building of Arena Coliseo in 1943. As a heel he feuded with Tarzan Lopez and Murciélago Velázquez during the 1940s, establishing himself as a star. In Mexico between 1952 through the late 70s, some 150 luchador films were released blending wrestling, action, science-fiction, and horror elements. El Santo would appear in 52 of these films as an enmascarado luchador (masked wrestler) superhero fighting bad guys, monsters, any and all evil. El Santo also starred in his own comic book that ran for 35 years.
Most famously, on November 7, 1952, El Santo battled with The Black Shadow in a Luchas de Apuestas (mask vs. mask wager) match which some consider the most important match in Lucha Libre history. El Santo entered the match as a rudo (heel wrestler), wrestling for 70 minutes before unmasking The Black Shadow in front of a crowd of over 12,000. The match turned El Santo into a tecnico (babyface wrestler) and his star rose from there. El Santo also famously feuded with his arch-nemesis Blue Demon. After unmasking The Black Shadow it was said to have released Blue Demon from the spell he was under by The Black Shadow also turning Blue Demon into a tecnico as well. As the details are hard to find, I can’t be clear on the events though it does make for a great story. Blue Demon co-starred in 9 films with El Santo, and Mil Mascaras even joined them in Las Momias de Guanajuato (The Mummies of Guanajuato), which would be considered their most successful film – though perhaps not the best in quality. El Santo became Mexico’s greatest national folk hero, standing as a symbol for justice and battling evil in all its forms. El Santo retired September 12, 1982, passing away February 5, 1984, His son would carry on, debuting February 6, 1982 as El Korak and later in October of 1982 as El Hijo del Santo (Son of Santo), though he recently retired from in-ring competition on February 20, 2014. The Grandson of Santo – known as El Nieto del Santo – recently has made his debut.
Rikidozan – 1951-1963
In his signature black tights and black boots, standing 5 foot 9 inches and weighing a reported 240 pounds, Rikidozan’s signature move was an overhead karate chop. Born November 14, 1924 in South Hamgyong, Korea, the former Sumo-wrestler-turned-pro-wrestler Rikidozan traveled to the United States to train as a pro wrestler. He then returned to successfully popularize pro wrestling in Japan, where it is known by the name puroresu. As the hero, Rikidozan would battle gaijin (“foreigner” in Japanese) Americans as they portrayed heels utilizing dirty tactics. As this was during the fifties Rikidozan rose to immense popularity defending Japan against the Americans during a significant time after World War II had ended in 1945, becoming a national hero for Japan. He founded Japan’s first pro wrestling organization, Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance (JWA), in 1953 which ran for twenty years until closing in 1973, ten years after his death. Rikidozan had classic matches with The Destroyer, Freddie Blassie, and Lou Thesz. One match against Lou Thesz drew an incredible 87.0 rating in 1957. While partying in a night club Rikidozan was stabbed with a urine-soaked blade which would lead to his tragic death at the very young age of 39 on December 15, 1963.
Rikidozan is also responsible for training Antonio Inoki (New Japan Pro Wrestling) and Giant Baba (All Japan Pro Wrestling), who would both go on to form their own separate pro wrestling companies in Japan that still exist today, with New Japan as the current superior. We can’t have Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba without Rikidozan. Without the once famous tag team of Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba we can’t have Misuhara Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, or “The Great Muta” Keiji Mutô. We don’t have Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, Go Shiozaki, KENTA or, perhaps more importantly, no Jumping Bomb Angels. Hundreds of stars perhaps would never have existed from Japan if it weren’t for one Korean Sumo wrestler turned pro wrestler, the “Father of Puroresu” Rikidozan. During his career Rikidozan is said to have appeared in 29 films perhaps 1 posthumously. In 2004 Rikidozan: A Hero Extraordinary was produced by a South Korean film company and directed by Song Hae-sung. It stars Kyung-gu Sol as Rikidoazan and features pro wrestlers Keiji Mutô, Jun Akiyama, Shinya Hashimoto, Go Shiozaki, and Rick Steiner.
Indeed Vince McMahon revolutionized the business and Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin did more business than anyone in history but they weren’t the originators. Andre the Giant was one of a kind but he didn’t carve a part of the industry like the four I have listed. Disagree or agree, I feel these four men deserve all of professional wrestling’s gratitude.