Tales from the Mid-Card is a weekly article that ventures through some of the forgotten names of Wrestling’s past, written by Zac Hobbs.
On February 10th, 1990 at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan, Big Van Vader was forced to pop his eyeball back into its socket during the middle of a match, while simultaneously fending off stiff punches and blows from Stan “The Lariat” Hansen. This was not a gimmick or anything that was staged for the sake of the match, and as iconic pictures of the event demonstrate, Vader’s eye was legitimately pulled from its socket after a stiff blow from the wild man billed from Borger, TX. That is just how insane of a performer Stan Hansen was; if there was ever a “Mount Rushmore of Loose Cannons,” Stan Hansen would be the first head etched into that mountain.
Hansen almost bends the rules of this “Tales from the Midcard” premise, because during his run in the AWA in the early 1980’s, Hansen actually held the company’s most valuable title, the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. However, while Hansen’s resume certainly paints him as one of the “greats” of the wrestling business–he is still the only wrestler to hold championship pinfall victories over Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba–one could argue that his utterly insane actions both inside and outside of the ring are what have pushed his name lower and lower down the totem pole of wrestling’s past legends.
For example, in the late 1970’s, Hansen was responsible for breaking the legendary Bruno Samartino’s neck during a match in the WWWF1, and although it was a botched powerslam that did the damage to Sammartino, this incident was the catalyst for promoters to claim the horrendous power of Hansen’s lariat clothesline. During his time in the AWA, Hansen once hog-tied Greg Gange, the son of AWA’s owner Verne Gange, and on an episode of All-Star wrestling made him squeal like a pig in front of all of Gange’s family, friends and fans. Then, in June of 1986, Hansen was stripped of his AWA World Heavyweight Championship for (allegedly) refusing to drop the championship to Nick Bockwinkle. Hansen had many lucrative AWA title defenses planned overseas in All Japan Pro Wrestling, so as the story goes, he decided to take the belt to Japan and defend it as the AWA champion, mostly due to the fact that no one was brave enough to try and stop him. When the AWA threatened legal action if Hansen continued to defend the belt and promote himself as the AWA champion, Hansen ran over the belt with his pickup truck and mailed it back to the organization, complete with mud-tracks.
Hansen briefly voyaged back to America in 1990 to compete in WCW, while it was still under the National Wrestling Alliance umbrella, and essentially made a name for himself by brutally attacking Lex Luger pretty much whenever he could. Hansen would end Luger’s 523 day reign as the United States Champion at Halloween Havoc 1990, and would hold the title until Starrcade of that same year, before losing the title back to Luger in a Texas Bullrope match. Hansen then left WCW over disputes of the direction of his character, eventually returning to Japan.
While Hansen never really made much of a dent in the American wrestling world, he was one of the first of the “Big American’s” to make a name for himself in Japan, carving the path for the likes of Big Van Vader, Steve Williams, Bam Bam Bigelow and many others to follow. But, Hansen’s unspoken legacy is that he was one of the first true “loose cannons” in pro wrestling. The argument could be made that without Hansen running around Japan and WCW like a goddamn madman, spouting nonsensical promos with chewing tobacco hanging from his mouth and attacking literally anyone that came near him, the Brian Pillman’s and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s and CM Punk’s of the world would have no legs to stand on. The truly great gimmicks in professional wrestling are the ones that are, in some shape or form, rooted in the performer’s real-life persona. CM Punk, for example, rose to the top of the WWE in 2011 by simply being himself and speaking his mind, and blurring the line between CM Punk and Phillip Brooks. That’s why Punk’s “Pipebomb” gimmick worked: that is who Punk really is.
And that is why Stan Hansen is the godfather of Loose Cannons…because he probably really was that fucking insane.
Zac Hobbs is a lifelong wrestling fan who planned a day of his honeymoon around being able to watch Monday Night Raw. You can e-mail him at [email protected] and follow him on twitter at @zac_hobbs