March 2001

Dick Beyer

 

by Vince EVANS

 beyer.jpg (19930 bytes)

 

“And in this corner, a leg-end.” If he were wrestling today, perhaps that’s how he’d be introduced in the ring. But Dick (The Destroyer) Beyer hasn’t had his wrestling trunks on since he retired from the sport in 1993 – at 63 years of age. Yet this Buffalo-born champion has remained as vibrant, active and enthusiastic as he was when he entered the world of professional wrestling, quite by accident.

 

The son of a minor league baseball pitcher, Dick Beyer was an Eagle Scout and attended Seneca High School. He earned a football scholarship to Syracuse University, where he co-captained the Eastern Championship team that played in the 1953 Orange Bowl game. His linemate on that squad, Jim Ringo, became legendary as a member of the Lombardi-led Green Bay Packers of the 1960’s. But Dick wasn’t thinking of making sports his career, he wanted to teach. He returned to Syracuse University to study for his master’s degree in 1954. While in graduate school and for several years following graduation, he was a member of the football coaching staff, and had an opportunity to work with a raw but promising young player; the fact that Jim Brown became one of the greatest players of all time may be due in part to what Dick Beyer did for him at Syracuse. Dick was also on staff as an assistant coach when the Syracuse Orangemen won the National Championship in 1959.

 

As a graduate student, Dick made the finals in the AAU Amateur Wrestling Tournament in 1954, and his feat did not go unnoticed. After earning a Master’s Degree in Education from Syracuse University, he was recruited into professional wrestling Buffalo promoter, Ed Don George. Dick was sent to Ohio, where he trained and studied under some of the great wrestlers of that era. Within a year of his first professional match, Dick Beyer was named “Rookie of the Year” by Wrestling Life Magazine of Chicago. With his teaching career temporarily on hold, Dick continued to learn.

 

His early days in the ‘Buffalo territory’ were successful, going up against the likes of Fritz Von Erich, Billy “Red” Lyons, and one Ilio DiPaolo. This early success took him to Hawaii. There, with wrestling scheduled only for Wednesday nights, he studied judo and earned a Black Belt. He also began to use his teaching skills, registering as a substitute teacher and working with the youth of the area. It was in Hawaii that he gained the attention of promoters on the West Coast and in Japan with his WWA title match against champion “Classie” Freddie Blassie. His wrestling “persona” was also about to change and alter the course of his life.

 

While applying for his wrestling license in Los Angeles, he discovered that he would not be wrestling under his real name; instead, he would wear a mask and be known as The Destroyer. The original mask was made out of wool and very uncomfortable to wear.

 

In search of a lighter material, Dick went to a local Woolworth’s and began trying on women’s girdles over his head. After a few holes were added around the eyes and mouth and with some stitching, The Destroyer was created and he became an immediate professional wrestling box office hit. He won the WWA World Heavyweight Title in 1962 and remained champion for three years.

 

In 1963, The Destroyer made his first trip to Japan as World Champion to wrestle the national sumo wrestling champion, Rikidozan. A nationally televised event, it remains the second highest rated commercial television show in Japanese history; over seventy million people watched the one hour and seven minute match end in a draw. Japan became very important in the life of The Destroyer and Dick Beyer. Over the years, he would visit the country hundreds of times and, in fact, lived there with his family for six years. He says he speaks enough Japanese “to get into trouble” but the Japanese people have revered him since his first matches. He even appeared as a regular on Japan’s number one musical/comedy television series and won the Japanese equivalent of the Emmy.

 

To those who recall the golden days of professional wrestling, The Destroyer took on all challengers. He offered any wrestler $1,000 if they could break his famous “figure-4” leg lock—he still has the money. From Gorgeous George, Haystacks Calhoun, Primo Carnera, and Mr. Moto to Tony Paresi, Pedro Morales, Andre the Giant, and his friend, Ilio DiPaolo, Dick Beyer remembers them all. But perhaps his fondest memory is his farewell match in 1993 when, after 8500 matches over a 39-year career, he wrestled his final match as a tag team with his son, Kurt, wrestling by his side in the Budokan in Tokyo.

 

He’s proud of his accomplishments and very proud of his three children, all of whom are fluent in Japanese. His daughter owns a physical fitness center in Detroit; his younger son, Commander of the U.S. Army drill team at Fort Meyer, conducted military ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, and his eldest son worked for a Japanese/English newspaper and now works with wrestling on the Internet in Washington D.C.

 

Dick Beyer finally managed to put his desire to teach back into gear after retiring from professional wrestling; he became an elementary physical education teacher at Akron Central School in Akron, New York in the mid 1980’s. He coached high school football, wrestling, and had enormous success in coaching high school swimming. While he retired from teaching in 1995, he still coaches high school swimming. He says he stays fit by working out several times a week with his wife at the Village Glen. He returns to Japan several times each year to appear on television and wrestling shows and usually takes amateur wrestlers or swimmers (six to eleven years of age) to Japan with him—quite a field trip for the kids and quite a gesture by The Destroyer. He even has his own website: www.thedestroyer.com.

 

Dick Beyer keeps busy in other ways: he’s active in the Masonic Lodge and Rotary Club in Akron, the Downtown Toastmasters’ Club, and the Buffalo News Kids’ Day. He says of his career, “I was at the right place at the right time.” Perhaps that’s the same sentiment expressed by those who have come to know the legend. Given the many lives he has touched around the world, there will always be someone for him to corner.

 

                                                                Vince Evans is a freelance writer.

 

 

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