Daniel Allan Hodge has passed away aged 88 years old. He was a stand out athlete in his era and incredibly influential as a pro wrestler. One of the most athletically gifted performers of his generation, he would hold amateur records that would stand for decades and find his niche as a Junior Heavyweight. He was also incredibly tough.
Born May 13th, 1932 in Perry, Oklahoma. As a High School wrestler, he took the 165lb State title in 1951 which would be the start of a remarkable run of success. He would join the Navy upon graduating High School, he was recruited to the Navy wrestling squad and went to the 1952 Olympics and finished 5th. He would qualify again in 1956 and take a silver medal in the final. Upon the end of his Navy career, he was recruited to Oklahoma State where he would be the most successful wrestler in every division. Ever. Undefeated for four years, he would leave college with a 46-0 record and reportedly, never left his feet in his entire NCAA career. Every year the NCAA gives a trophy for the best wrestler of the year in college, it’s called the Danny Hodge trophy in his honour.
Hodge turned pro in 1959 under the leadership of legendary Heavyweight Champion Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Oklahoma promoter Leroy McGuirk. Over time he would become McGuirk’s biggest draw as Junior Heavyweight Champion. He would also travel the NWA loop defending the title all over North America. He would be associated with JWA in Japan, an NWA affiliate and won the NWA International Tag Title with Wilbur Snyder. However, his home promotion was NWA Tri-State in Oklahoma where he would be a three-time NWA North American Heavyweight Champion, five NWA United States Tag Team Titles with Skandor Akbar and of course he was the defining NWA Junior Champion winning the title seven times.
He would also take up amateur boxing concurrently with his wrestling career, taking the 1958 Chicago Golden Gloves. He turned pro in 1960 rather than go to a third Olympics where he could have competed in boxing and wrestling. He would close out his career with an 8-2 record.
Style-wise, Hodges was smooth. His amateur style transferred over to his pro work seamlessly. A working heel, which allowed him flexibility towards a crowd, he was never over the top as a character, however, he didn’t want to be. His reputation preceded him. Back in the carnival barker days of promoting he would make public appearances where he would crush apples with one hand and more impressively walk into a hardware store and destroy pliers with his grip. As Jim Ross has pointed out before, he was a stunning natural athlete that if he had graduated college today would have eaten up the MMA world handily. Quietly charismatic, and a serious draw, at his peak he was earning the modern equivalent of half a million dollars a year, he will be missed by the veterans who loved him and the amateurs he was an inspiration too. Kurt Angle paid tribute to Hodge explaining how he had laid the way forward for a generation of amateurs like Angle, Charlie Haas, Shelton Benjamin, Brock Lesnar and the Steiners. His legend will live on on the mats of High Schools, Colleges and in the pro ring.
Featured Image courtesy of TheOklahoman.com
Video courtesy of Roy Lucier