Tag Archives: wrestlers

Friday Night Fights XI: Tarzan White vs. Chest Bernard, 1952

Arthur “Tarzan” White was semi-famous even before he made his NFL debut with Giants in 1937. After all, not many players are nicknamed Tarzan — or have the personality White possessed. When his Alabama team went west to play in the Rose Bowl after the 1934 season, the Los Angeles Times couldn’t help writing about him, despite the fact he was just a “sub” on a line that had Don Hutson at one end and Bear Bryant at the other.

“Although only a sophomore of 19 years,” Braven Dyer’s story went,

”Tarzan” weighs 200 pounds despite his abbreviated stature of 5 feet, 7 inches. His real name is Arthur, which sounds harmless and in direct contrast to the “Tarzan” nickname. As a youngster White became tremendously interested in the so-called comic strip, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, featuring the exploits of the famous man of the jungle. So impressed was the Alabama youth by these pictures and yarns that he built himself a house in the trees. He actually practiced swinging through the trees . . . and is said to have been very proficient. White also practiced with the bow and arrow and achieved such perfection that he could go out and bring down wild game with these primitive weapons. Whether he ever wrestled with a lion or tried to ride an alligator bareback is something they neglected to tell me.

Speaking of Burroughs, he once tried to stop White and other wrestlers from appropriating Tarzan’s name, believing they lacked the virtue, athleticism and unspoiled innocence normally Tarzan White photoassociated with his character. (What do you suppose gave him that idea?)

“The other self-christened Tarzans are apes, all right,” he told the United Press, “only they’re muscle-bound and have broken noses. Tarzan is a copyrighted trademark, and if these plug uglies insist on using it, I’m going to insist on the right to license them and stencil the copyright number on their chests.”

Naturally, the “self-christened Tarzans” ignored him.

Tonight’s bout, from the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, pits Tarzan against the aptly named Chest Bernard. (As broadcaster Russ Davis says, “This guy is called The Chest, and with justifiable reason. Hel-looooo!”) If Bernard was The Chest, then White could just as easily have been The Back. The fur on it was so thick it could have been mistaken for the the Real Tarzan’s native habitat.

“Tarzan White sits around the dressing room and plays solitaire by the hour,” Davis says. “[I] walked in tonight to see him before the bout. There he was, playing solitaire and whistling a tune. . . . And he never cheats with himself.”

No, Tarzan always played the good guy in the ring. Bernard was the villain, refusing to shake his hand at the outset and constantly pulling his hair and grabbing hold of his trunks. (Davis: “Mr. Bernard, sir, you are a stinker, sir.”)

Tarzan gave away 37 pounds in the match, weighing 225 to The Chest’s 262, which wasn’t unusual, apparently. According to Davis, he was “one of the smallest of the heavyweights.” He was naturally strong, though, and dead-lifted Bernard — in the days, mind you, before iron-pumping was in vogue — several times.

Wrestlingdata.com says Tarzan’s career spanned from 1939 to ’64. The following bout took place Jan. 25, 1952, when he was 36 and had been out of pro football for six years. He spent his first three seasons with the Giants, the next two with the Chicago Cardinals, then returned to the Giants in 1945 after a serving in the Air Force during World War II.

Tarzan was never busier in the ring, in fact, than in ’52, wrestling (at least) 75 times. His bout with The Chest was one fall with a 30-minute time limit. All set? Here we go . . .

Broadcaster Davis was right. “He’s a mean one, this Bernard.”

Sources: pro-football-reference.com, wrestlingdata.com.

Oct. 27, 1945 New York Times

Oct. 27, 1945 New York Times

Friday Night Fights X: Joe Savoldi vs. Man Mountain Dean, 1934

The Bears’ signing of “Jumping Joe” Savoldi, the star fullback from Notre Dame, late in the 1930 season was a national story. Savoldi had been booted out of school in mid-November when it was discovered he was married — a no-no for college athletes back then — and George Halas was quick to get him in a Chicago uniform, even if he had to pay a $1,000 fine because Savoldi’s class had yet to graduate. (This, remember, was several years before the NFL had a draft. Teams were free to sign any player they wanted.)

Despite making great money with the Bears, Savoldi played just three games for them — the only games of his pro football career. He then turned to wrestling and, according to

Savoldi practices the Flying Dropkick.

Savoldi practices the Flying Dropkick.

wrestlingdata.com, had over 600 matches in the next 23 years (and briefly held one of the dime-a-dozen heavyweight “titles”). Years later, he explained the sudden switch to Frank Blair of the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

His Bears teammates, he said, weren’t too thrilled when they found out what Halas was paying him, and

they quit blocking for me. . . . Here I was getting some $4,000 a game with my cut of the gate, and my teammates in the line and backfield were being paid $50 to $125 per man. . . . If I was worth 20 times as much as they were, I could make my own touchdowns without any help. After I had been riddled a dozen times trying to hit the line or sweep off tackle, I just fell down and stayed there. I didn’t have a chance.

So they took me out and kept me on the bench after the second game — not because I couldn’t play football, but [because] the other guys wouldn’t play and block for me. I had a contract for 18 games after that first season, with a guarantee of $500 a game, but I didn’t want any part of that pro football. I went into wrestling. In that business you don’t need blockers.

As you might expect of a wrestler with 600 bouts, Savoldi took on anybody and everybody, from legends like Strangler Lewis and Jim Londos to ex-football players like Bronko Nagurski (his former Bears teammate), Gus Sonnenberg, Jim McMillen, Sammy SteinMayes McClain and Roy “Father” Lumpkin.

Nagurski was the champion himself for a while. Wrestlingdata.com has him beating Savoldi three out of three, but it seems to have missed this match in 1938:

Savoldi loses to Broniko 9-27-38

During World War II, Savoldi performed some kind of “secret mission” for the U.S. government. Jack Cuddy of The Associated Press wrote about it in 1945. Savoldi wasn’t able to provide him with much detail — it was all very hush-hush — but Cuddy had his suspicions. Joe, he noted, had been born in Italy, and not only was fluent in Italian but knew a fair amount of French.

All Savoldi told him was that he was “on special assignment. Yes, I am permitted to tell you what areas I visited. They were North Africa, Sicily, Italy — including Salerno — and France — including Normandy. Yes, I was under fire — plenty of times. No, I wasn’t wounded. This scar on my cheek and these cauliflower ears came before the war.”

After he retired from the ring, Savoldi trained the famed Bobo Brazil, whose signature move was the concussion-causing Cocoa Butt. Jumping Joe’s specialty, naturally, was the Flying Dropkick, which he demonstrates — to great effect — in the following clip. His opponent is Man Mountain Dean. They crossed paths several times, but I’m pretty sure this bout was in 1934.

Sources: pro-football-reference.com, wrestlingdata.com

Friday Night Fights VII: Dick the Bruiser vs. Ivan Rasputin, 1955

Dick Afflis isn’t much remembered as a football player. A muscular 6-foot, 251-pound lineman, he spent four seasons with the Packers in the early ’50s, but the franchise was nigh invisible in those days. It wasn’t until Vince Lombardi arrived in 1959 that Green Bay got back on the radar screen.

After leaving the NFL, though, Afflis became famed in the Midwest as a wrestler — Dick the Bruiser. In fact, David Letterman, who grew up in Indianapolis, named his television show’s Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 3.16.48 PMband “The World’s Most Dangerous Band” in homage to The Bruiser, who billed himself as “The World’s Most Dangerous Wrestler.” Afflis even won the heavyweight title — or one of them, anyway. (Of course, who didn’t?)

Jim Murray, the Los Angeles Times columnist, probably had the best description of him. “Combine the worst aspects of the Japanese fruit fly, the rose aphid, rabies or the giant spider, together with the best of Benito Mussolini, and you get an idea what kind of man Dick Afflis is,” he wrote. “. . . He wrestles for a living and hates for fun. He looks as if he eats people. He’s the kind of guy who would put Albert Schweitzer adrift in a lifeboat, then poke a hole in his canteen.”

One of Afflis’ more memorable episodes came in 1963, when he started a brawl in a Detroit bar owned by Alex Karras, the Lions’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle. Karras, who had just been suspended for betting on NFL games, was slated to wrestle Dick the Bruiser five days later. (Alex, it seems, had antagonized him by referring to him in a newspaper story as a journeyman football player. Then again, maybe they were just trying to build up the gate.)

This is from a book Bob O’Donnell and I wrote, The Pro Football Chronicle:

[Afflis] no sooner walked in the door than the punches started flying. The first two policemen arrived in no time, but they weren’t a match for the 6-foot, 250-pounder. One suffered a broken wrist, the other a torn elbow ligament. (Neither knew how to counter a body slam.)

Six more cops arrived, and only then was The Bruiser subdued. Nearby, a television set and vending machine lay in ruins. . . . They had to cuff his hands and feet.

Afflis also sustained a five-stitch cut under his left eye, which he attributed to a pool cue. He was fined $400 for his misbehavior, but the money wound up being refunded. Read the crazy explanation here.

When Afflis and Karras met in the ring, the wrestling pro — to no one’s surprise — pinned the amateur in 11 minutes, 21 seconds. Alex left the arena with teeth marks in his bicep. Said The Bruiser: “Football players should leave wrestling to wrestlers and go back to their betting.”

In tonight’s bout, Afflis takes on Ivan Rasputin, a.k.a. “The Mad Russian.” The date is June 10, 1955. The place is the International Amphitheatre in Chicago. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Afflis died in 1991 at 62. According to the obituary that ran in the Chicago Tribune, he “had been weightlifting at home [in Largo, Fla.] and ruptured a blood vessel in his esophagus.” His gravel voice, the Tribune said, was “the result of a football injury to the larynx,” but his wrestling career also took its toll.

“He broke both ankles, his nose and other bones,” the Tribune reported. “‘I’ve got so many stitches on my head that it looks like a baseball,’ he once bragged.”