Dan Hodge, a Distinguished Member inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in the Charter Class of 1976, passed away on Thursday, at the age of 88.
“It is with deep sadness that we learned of the passing of Distinguished Member Danny Hodge,” said Lee Roy Smith, National Wrestling Hall of Fame Executive Director. “On behalf of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Board of Governors and staff, we extend our most sincere sympathies to Delores, his wife of 69 years, and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
“To those familiar with Danny, he was a superhero on the mat and in the ring, demonstrating extraordinary feats of strength and skill. Yet, his alter ego outside of competition was a kind, gentle and encouraging mentor to others,” he added. “With his success, he could have lived anywhere in the world, but chose to return to his beloved hometown of Perry, Oklahoma. He lived his life as a simple and humble man who would help anyone in need. A selfless ambassador, he always went out of his way to help promote the sport while crushing apples and signing autographs. He will be deeply missed, but his legend will live on.”
Hodge was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum’s George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2000 and is considered by many to be the greatest junior heavyweight professional wrestling champion ever. Trained by Leroy McGuirk and Ed “Strangler” Lewis, he won the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship seven times and the Tri-State NWA North American Heavyweight Championship three times. He wrestled professionally for over 20 years and was one of the top attractions in the United States and in Japan.
Hodge and fellow Perry native Jack VanBebber, who won Oklahoma’s first gold medal in wrestling in 1932 and was also inducted as a Distinguished Member in 1976, are honored with statues in the Perry Wrestling Monument Park.
Hodge appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated on April 1, 1957 and remains the only amateur wrestler to appear on the cover of the iconic sports magazine in its nearly 66-year history.
The Hodge Trophy, college wrestling’s Heisman Trophy presented annually by WIN Magazine, is named in his honor.
He was one of only three wrestlers who competed prior to 1970 to be named to the NCAA’s 75th Anniversary Team in 2005.
A wrestler of awesome strength, Hodge’s physical prowess was so great that often – for his fans at least – it overshadowed his tremendous skills. His grip could shatter a pair of pliers, could crush an apple into applesauce. Had he not studied and carefully utilized proper wrestling techniques, he might well have maimed his opponents instead of dominating them.
In the collegiate style of wrestling, he had no peer, indeed no challenger. He won every one of his 46 bouts for the University of Oklahoma, 36 of them by fall, an astonishing 78 percent. During his junior and senior years, he pinned 22 consecutive opponents. And no collegiate foe ever took him to the mat from the standing position.
Three times an NCAA champion at 177 pounds, he twice was voted the Outstanding Wrestler of the NCAA tournament.
In one 10-day span in 1956, his junior year, Hodge won the NCAA title and National AAU championships in both Greco-Roman and freestyle, winning every bout in those three tournaments by fall.
Twice he was an Olympic wrestler, placing fifth in 1952 at Helsinki before his college career started, and winning the silver medal in the 1956 Games at Melbourne. There, in the championship bout, he led his Bulgarian opponent by a wide margin when a controversial rolling fall was called against him.
Over five years starting in 1952, his only three defeats in any style of wrestling were administered by three Olympic champions, a Russian, an American and a Bulgarian.
After his collegiate wrestling career, Hodge won national Golden Gloves and National AAU championships in boxing, becoming the first athlete in more than 50 years to win national titles in both sports.