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Nicknamed "The Madman from the Sudan" Larry Shreve was actually from Windsor, Ontario. Despite the lack of authenticity in his geographic origins, Shreve under his ring name "Abdullah the Butcher" left a violent and bloody trail throughout the wrestling world for more than 50 years. A master sadist, what the Butcher lacked in technical wrestling ability he more than made up for in his barbaric behavior that translated to money in the bank for promoters the world over.
Shreve grew up in a poor household in Windsor and as a youth began practicing in various forms of martial arts, mostly karate and judo. Occasionally he would draw on these disciplines in the ring, surprising fans with great agility and delivering a perfect judo kick to his opponent in a move that defied his 400lb frame. At 17 he looked at professional wrestling as a potential career and his natural size got the attention of Montreal promoter Jack Britton and Shreve debuted in 1958 and began to work for various independent promotions in Canada. After toying around with various different ring names, he came up the gimmick of Abdullah the Butcher while wrestling Gino Brito in Indiana. According to legend, Abdullah broke a wooden chair over the head of Brito and then beat Brito senseless with one of the legs. From that point on, Abdullah's name became synonymous with over the top violent behavior.
Similar to Andre the Giant, throughout his career Abdullah was known more as an attraction than a staple of any one promotion. With the exception of Andre, nobody traveled the world in the 70s and 80s quite like Abdullah who appeared in arenas anywhere blood was being spilled. He is legendary for terrorizing audiences, often dragging his opponents into the crowd and forcing women and children to tears. In eastern Canada, Abdullah became so hated that reportedly fans would call his parents' house in Windsor and tell his father that they should be ashamed of themselves for raising such a monster.
Along with The Sheik, Abdullah became one of the first wrestlers to master the foreign object. Anything that could even be marginally considered a weapon, Abdullah would use to gain a leg-up on his opponent. Pencils, hammers, nails, barbed wire and of course his trademark fork. An Abdullah match simply wasn't complete unless someone was being prodded with a sharp object and both men were drenched in blood.
During the late-60s and early-70s, Abdullah became a staple in different Canadian territories. In addition to his antics in Montreal, he became the top heel in Stu Hart's Stampede territory, feuding with local heroes Leo Burke, Jerry Christy and Angelo Mosca. In Calgary Abdullah became a six time North American Heavyweight Champion and began to build his reputation on an international scale as Stampede's television broadcasts reached a global market.
It was in Japan that Abdullah would find his greatest success as a monster heel who terrorized his opponents. In 1972 Abdullah debuted for All-Japan Pro Wrestling and became the main foil for the iconic Giant Baba. For ten years, Abdullah was the top heel in the promotion, a ridiculous number when you think about it. How many other guys in wrestling can claim to be the undisputed top bad guy for a major company for an entire decade?
Abdullah took place in one of the most legendary angles in wrestling history while working for AJPW. Dick "The Destroyer" Beyer, an American wrestler who was one of the original opponents of Rikidozan, had become a big babyface in Japan and hosted his own comedy show on Japanese TV titled "Uwasa no Channel". During the show, Abdullah emerged and beat Beyer senseless, setting up a massive feud between the two that brought AJPW's the best business it had ever experienced up until that point. The incident was one of the first times a wrestler had crossed over into mainstream pop culture in Japan and Abdullah became a house-hold name in the country.
His career will always be tied to his equally-violent counterpart, The Sheik, who he battled many times in The Sheik's Detroit promotion. In 1977 Abduallah and The Sheik teamed up in the annual Real World Tag Team Tournament and set new levels of wrestling violence, particularly in a match against The Funks in match that is recognized as being the true birth of hardcore wrestling that would become popular in both Japan and the United States.
Abdullah would have his greatest singles success in AJPW, winning the famed Pacific Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Championship in 1978 when he defeated British wrestling legend Billy Robinson. In 1980 he defeated Jumbo Tsuruta for the NWA United National Championship. Both titles were eventually merged into AJPW's own world championship, the Triple Crown Championship. Abdullah also became not just the first non-Japanese wrestler, but the first wrestler other than Baba to win the Champion's Carnival, a single-elimination tournament to determine the top man in AJPW. Abdullah won it in 1976 and 1978, defeating Baba both times in the finals.
Despite valid criticisms that Abdullah was nothing more than a freak show that relied on violence and not skill to entertain audiences, there is no doubt that he was a tremendous draw for wrestling promoters. There were better wrestlers during the same time period that were more skilled in the ring, there were guys with better promo skills and more charisma, but arguably nobody drew more money than Abdullah during his peak years. That value was reflected when in 1981, Abdullah shocked the wrestling world when he jumped from AJPW to New Japan Pro Wrestling with NJPW honcho Antonio Inoki jumping doubling his weekly salary to $8,000, reportedly the richest wrestling contract in history at the time.
Abdullah jumping to NJPW was unannounced to the media and came as a surprise to everyone, including members of the NJPW locker room. Abdullah immediately began feuding with Inoki and their rivalry shifted the balance of power in Japan into NJPW's favor. It also sparked a bitter bidding war between the two promotions that saw both rosters raided as the promotions battled for supremacy.
While Abdullah never found his way to the World Wrestling Federation, he was still a big star in many territories throughout North America. In addition to working with smaller different NWA promotions, he worked a successful series of matches in World Class Wrestling Association in Dallas. In Dallas he was managed by Gary Hart and was entered the ring in black veil, hiding his face from the audience and symbolizing that he was an uncontrollable monster who threatened the safety of everyone in the arena. He worked a feud with the equally wild Bruiser Brody and the two eventually settled their score in a cage match at the Cotton Bowl, which Brody won in what would become one of the most famous cage matches in wrestling history.
Abdullah would also become a big star in Carlos Colon's World Wrestling Council promotion in Puerto Rico. Like everywhere he went, Abdullah was a tremendous draw on the island and became the top rival of Colon. Abdullah would become the first ever WWC Universal Heavyweight Champion in 1982 and help set the tone that Puerto Rico was home to the wildest and bloodiest battles.
Despite the fact that he was in his 50s, Abdullah remained an active figure in wrestling throughout the 1990s. His most notable run came as a member of World Championship Wrestling when he arrived to help Cactus Jack, one of the brawlers who was undoubtedly influenced by Abdullah, in his battle against WCW ace Sting. Unfortunately Abdullah did not achieve tremendous success in WCW and is best remembered for being "electrocuted" in the infamous Chamber of Horrors match at Halloween Havoc 1991. He also appeared in ECW and Big Japan Pro Wrestling, two blood-and-guts organizations that Abdullah's style was directly influential in their development.
Abdullah continued to wrestle for AJPW before leaving the company in 1996 and working for various independent groups. He re-emerged in AJPW in 2001 and continued to wrestle part-time for the promotion despite being in his 60s. He continued to wrestle for AJPW and independents on both sides of the Pacific before finally retiring in 2010.
Following his retirement it was revealed that Abdullah had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and had knowingly bled his own blood onto other wrestlers for years. Since almost every Abdullah the Butcher match involved blood, this put an awful lot of people at risk for Hepatitis. This revelation has soured a lot of people on Abdullah and rightfully so, but that doesn't change his ranking on this list. I am not in the position to judge Abdullah for his actions, the only ones who can are the men who worked with him. This isn't a list of the 50 Greatest People of the Last 50 Years, it is of the greatest wrestlers. Considering his ability to draw money in so many different promotions for such an extended period of time, not to mention the influence he had on future generations of hardcore wrestlers, he is undoubtedly qualified to be ranked this high on the list.
Next week number 27 will be revealed, a top star for more than two decades whose career is still not over.
The Top 50 so far:
50.Ted DiBiase (click link for description of the qualifications of the list)
49. Superstar Billy Graham
47. El hijo del Santo
45. Bruiser Brody
43. Kurt Angle
42. Hiroshi Tanahashi
41. The Sheik
39. Perro Aguayo
38. Ricky Steamboat
37. Toshiaki Kawada
36. Jushin Thunder Liger
35. El Canek
33. Jack Brisco
32. Shinya Hashimoto
31. Roddy Piper
30. Genichiro Tenryu
28. Abdullah the Butcher