Amateur and professional wrestling legend Danny Hodge has passed away at the age of 88.
The native of Perry, Oklahoma died earlier this week, although no cause of death has been revealed. It was public knowledge that Hodge had been battling dementia.
He will be remembered as a pillar of amateur wrestling in the United States, twice representing the country at the Olympics and claiming the silver medal in 1956.
The legend of Hodge grew out of his home state where he attended the University of Oklahoma winning three NCAA championships while going 46-0 during his collegiate career, never to be taken off his feet. Today, the NCAA awards the prestigious Dan Hodge Trophy to the top college wrestler in the country as a tribute.
Hodge joined the U.S. Navy in 1951, one year before he made the U.S. Olympic team and competed at 174 pounds. The 20-year old finished fifth in the freestyle wrestling tournament.
Four years later, Hodge secured a silver medal at the ’56 games that ended in controversy. Hodge competed against Bulgarian Nikola Stanchev and was winning the contest 8-1 when Hodge rolled and saw his shoulder graze the mat. It was ruled a pin and therefore, Hodge lost in a call that regarded as an egregious one while costing Hodge the gold medal.
In April 1957, Hodge appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Through the financial backing of oilman Art Freeman, Hodge shifted his focus to boxing in 1957. He won the National Golden Gloves tournament to launch his professional campaign where it is believed he went 8-2, although BoxRec only lists him at 7-2.
This was where the bridge to professional wrestling began through the tutelage of Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Leroy McGuirk. Hodge became the junior heavyweight successor to McGuirk, a division Hodge would dominate for the next fifteen years.
In total, Hodge was a seven-time NWA junior heavyweight champion, defeating Angelo Savoldi for his first championship on July 22, 1960. Hodge’s first title reign lasted four years, ending when he was defeated by Hiro Matsuda in July 1964.
The championship revolved around Hodge, who would win and lose the title through 1976. His final reign was short-lived, beating Matsuda on March 2, 1976. Thirteen days later, Hodge was involved in a near-fatal car wreck that left the star’s neck broken as he carried his head in place to safety, avoiding death but ending his career.
The stories of Hodge’s toughness are legendary from the numerous examples of his non-human grip strength being showcased in the forms of apples and pliers being crushed.
In later years, he served as the Chairman of the Oklahoma Professional Boxing Commission that oversaw combat sports including MMA in the state.
While it’s been debated how certain legendary tough men would have fared if MMA existed, it’s almost a guarantee that Hodge would have tried it, if the sport was around in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s. While wrestling at 177 pounds for the Olympics, he would have fought at welterweight, and given how quickly he picked up boxing to add to his world-class wrestling foundation, he would have been well served for success several decades later.
Hodge married his wife Dolores in 1951 and the couple had three children.
There was a scary situation in July 2018 when Hodge, suffering from dementia, went missing from his hometown of Perry, Oklahoma. He was found the following day approximately 90 miles away in Tulsa.
Among the Hall of Fames that have inducted Hodge include the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Hall of Fame, Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, the inaugural class of the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, and honored by the Cauliflower Alley Club with multiple awards.
We send our condolences and well wishes to the family and friends of Danny Hodge.