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Never meant to be considered merely a brute who terrorized fans and opponents around the world, Dick Beyer was always billed not as just "The Destroyer" but as "The Intelligent, Sensational Destroyer" a name that reflected the complexities behind a character that would become iconic in wrestling.
Under the mask as The Destroyer, Beyer would become the greatest masked wrestler in wrestling history outside of Mexico, paving the way for future masked stars such as The Spoiler Don Jardine, Kane, Mick Foley, and many more. While his basic white mask may look outdated and cheap by the standards of today, outside of lucha libre, a mask has never done more for one man's career.
Beyer was a native of Western New York and remained a household name in the Buffalo area long after his days in the ring came to an end. An exceptional high school wrestler, a teenage Beyer attracted the attention of Ed Don George, the local promoter who himself as an accomplished amateur wrestler, finishing fourth at the 1928 Olympic games in Amsterdam in freestyle wrestling. George saw the potential and probably a little bit of himself in Beyer and told the teen to keep his options open after college.
Beyer continued his athletic success at Syracuse University, where he lettered in both wrestling and football. While "intelligent" was later used as a moniker for his Destroyer character, in the classroom Beyer proved that he was the real deal, eventually graduating from Syracuse with a masters degree in education. After graduating Beyer began his career working in Buffalo and the Ohio territory in 1955 and his skill in the ring was immediately evident, winning the 1955 Rookie of the Year award from Wrestling Life magazine.
Beyer spent the first several years of his career in the Buffalo area and working several NWA territories, including Mid-Pacific Promotions, better known as 50th State Big Time Wrestling, in Hawaii. Since he was a standout amateur wrestler with a clean, youthful look, Beyer was pegged as a babyface and while he was popular, his limited size (originally billed at 5'10" and 210 lbs) prevented him from cracking the upper echelon of top babyfaces.
When Beyer began working for promoter Jules Strongbow in Los Angeles in 1962, he was given a new opportunity. Strongbow was interested in introducing a masked wrestler and making him a main event star, and Beyer was recommended to Strongbow by Freddie Blassie, who had worked with Beyer in Hawaii.
Beyer was promoted as "The Destroyer" but his first night went poorly. The original incarnation of the character included not just a mask, but an entire wool costume that wrapped around Beyer's entire body and buttoned at the crotch. The miserable ensemble was suffocating and Beyer reflected on his first night as The Destoyer in an interview with The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame.
"I tore the mask off and I threw it at Hardy Kruskamp, who was the promoter in San Diego, and I said 'Hardy, tell Jules Strongbow up in L.A. that he's seen the last of The Destroyer," Beyer said.
Fortunately, Beyer later was given a mask that had been stitched out of a women's girdle. The mask allowed Beyer to breathe and talk, and he was no longer forced to wear a full wool suit while wrestling. For the next 57 years, Beyer would wear the mask nearly everywhere when he was making public appearances, learning to live under the mask.
In addition the mask, Beyer developed a heel persona, and began billing himself as the "Intelligent, Sensational Destroyer". While future masked man would often be promoted as violent brawlers, capable of only crazed ramblings or not speaking at all, Beyer remained a scientific, amateuer-based wrestler, who was intelligent and reminded fans that he was superior to them in every way. That persona trickled over to his work in other territories, including Hawaii.
"I was trying to get the heat by telling the Hawaiian people how intelligent I was," Beyer said. "That I was a Syracuse University graduate, and I wasn't a graduate from one of these Hawaiian schools, I wasn't a graduate from one of these West Coast schools, I was from the East Coast, where the intelligent people are."
The Destroyer was an immediate success, and Beyer would become one of the biggest heels in the country and a top star in the booming Los Angeles territory, winning its version of the world championship in the early 1960s. Later in the decade he would find similar success in the AWA as the masked Dr. X, capturing the AWA World Heavyweight Championship from Verne Gagne in 1968.
While Beyer was a top star in territories in the United States, it would be in Japan were he would transform from wrestling star to cultural icon. To the Japanese, Beyer was a bigger star really than any other wrestler has been in the United States; Beyer's celebrity status in Japan is without an accurate comparison in America.
Beyer first began working in Japan in 1963, when he wrestled Japanese legend Rikidozan, who he had been acquainted with previously when Rikidozan worked in the Los Angeles territory. Rikidozan matches in Japan were the biggest cultural events in the country during that time period, and Beyer would prove to be one of his most popular opponents. A live, 61-minute match between The Destroyer and Rikidozan that aired on December 2, 1963, would end up drawing an insane 64.0 rating, which at the time was defined as 64 percent of the people in Japan were estimated to have been watching the match; nearly 70 million people in total.
Although Rikidozan would be killed only a few days later, Beyer would remain a fixture in Japan, working with Giant Baba, who he had also met when Baba was on excursion in Los Angeles. He would also work with Antonio Inoki, and eventually would have the distinction of being he only man to have beaten the three biggest stars in Japanese wrestling history, in Rikidozan, Baba and Inoki.
Beyer would eventually work with Baba's All-Japan Pro Wrestling in the 1970s and although he was originally referred to as a "white masked devil" in Japan, his cultural standing would become so enormous that he had no other choice but to become a babyface, often teaming with Baba and Jumbo Tsuruta in tag matches.
Beyer's popularity in Japan crossed over to realms outside of wrestling, as he adorned the cover of entertainment magazines and newspapers around the country. He would become regular fixture in the 1970s on the Japanese comedy show "Uwasa No Channel" which was akin to a Japanese version of Saturday Night Live and for a time was the most popular show in the country. A memorable angle took place on the show when Abdullah the Butcher debuted and attacked Beyer, a sign that a new top heel in Japan had emerged and taken out the previous one.
Beyer's career would wind down in the 1980s, and he would make a couple of appearances for the WWF, on house shows in Western New York as a way to bump up attendance through the use of a local legend. He would become a well known football, wrestling and swimming coach at Akron Central School in Akron, NY, and would also take students to Japan each year to compete in a amateur wrestling tournament. He would continue to wrestle for AJPW until 1993, when he would team with his son, Kurt, for a few retirement matches.
In his later years he managed a golf course in Akron and was a staple at the Cauliflower Alley Club, even in his 80s still adorning his trademark white mask. Although his days in the ring were over, Beyer was still willing to teach and educate the young wrestlers of today, passing on the brilliance of one of the all-time greats to a younger generation.
Beyer passed away on March 7 at age 88, and unfortunately because he did not really wrestle for the WWF and his greatest success came in Japan and in the 1960s; he is not very well known today. However, make no mistake that The Destroyer is one of the greatest wrestlers in history that accomplished more in his career than almost anyone else in the industry. In 2017 he achieved his greatest honor, being awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, an award handed out by the Japanese government to outstanding individuals who contributed to Japanese life, similar to the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the United States. As Angelo Mosca once said "Walking with (Beyer) in Japan was like walking with god."
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