By Bill Murdock
Published in 1992
It is not surprising during the weekend of the hall of fame inductions at the International Wrestling Institute to see fans standing in line to meet and shake hands with wrestling greats such as Dan Gable, Danny Hodge, Lou Thesz and Verne Gagne. What is surprising, however, is to see these wrestling greats waiting their turn to speak and reminisce with one of their own.
That is exactly what happened last year at the Hall of Fame inductions. While waiting to speak to this man, Lou Thesz overheard a fan ask a friend, “Who is that man?” Lou turned to her and said, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but to overhear your question. That man is THE man. That man is Dick Hutton.”
Like a hero out of a Louis Lamour novel, Dick Hutton rode out of Oklahoma and ruled the collegiate heavyweight division like no man before him or since. Hutton reined supreme in his division losing only one match, winning three NCAA titles and belonging to two national championship teams. Dick’s four appearances in the NCAA finals with three championships left a record that was unmatched for 28 years and was not broken until 44 years later (when another young man from Oklahoma named Pat Smith won four consecutive NCAA titles). Coupled with a fifth place finish in the 1948 Olympic Games in London and three AAU titles, has left a legacy in the annals of wrestling that is unparalleled.
Born in Amarillo, Texas, in 1923, the son of a bricklayer, Hutton began wrestling in junior high after not making the basketball team. Being cut, a dejected Dick Hutton happened to walk by wrestling coach Frank Brisco’s open office door. Coach Brisco called him in and Hutton began an undefeated career in junior high.
Dick remained undefeated at Daniel Webster High School in Red Fork, Okla. Undefeated, that is, until the finals of the state championship. Dick recalls, ” We wrestled to a draw in the finals. We had three overtime periods but they finally gave it to him. He was the defending champion and they said he pushed me off more than I pushed him so I lost on criteria. I took second twice. My senior year I lost to a wrestler named Thurman Garrett. He weighed 325 to my 185. He became an All American tackle and played pro football.”
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Dick also excelled at football at Daniel Webster, playing tackle on defense and running guard and fullback on offense. “We played 60 minutes, ironman football. We had to, we only had 14 players on the team” Hutton remembers. He also tried his hand at throwing the shot put, but wrestling and football kept his focus.
From high school, Dick received scholarship offers from the University of Oklahoma and the University of Pittsburgh. But Hutton chose a school that didn’t offer him a free ride, Oklahoma A&M (Oklahoma State). “They didn’t offer me a scholarship, but I wanted to study architecture and A&M had a great program. Besides, Coach Brisco had wrestled there and said that was the place I should be. So that’s where I went,” Hutton states. When he arrived at Oklahoma A&M there were 11 heavyweights out for the starting position. After about two months there were only three and Dick not only had his starting position but his scholarship as well.
There was another reason for Dick to attend Oklahoma A&M. The legendary coach Art Griffith. As great as he was on the mat, Hutton gives the lion’s share of the credit to Coach Griffith. “He had a tremendous amount of knowledge and developed what he called the spin system. If you learned it, you would be awfully hard to beat. Our team went more than 70 matches without being beaten” Hutton explains, “One advantage I had was I knew more wrestling than most heavyweights. Most heavyweights at the time relied on power and not a lot on technique. I tried to learn all that Coach Griffith could teach me. I had fast hands and developed a short arm drag. I could shoot it with either hand. When an opponent would come in to me, I could hit it every time. I never liked to tie up. I would tie up and back off just to set up the drag. I wasn’t much of a pinner either. I won most of my matches on points. When my opponents figured out how fast I was, they started keeping away from me and I would have to chase them around the mat.”
Through out the 1940s and 1950s Griffith’s A&M wrestlers ran over most of their opponents to the point of the team being booed when they walked on the mat. Winning all the time made them the villains. It became difficult for them to schedule other schools to wrestle against. Hutton was learning early the price a champion has to pay.
Dick only had a half-year of college before volunteered to join a different kind of battle. He joined the army and served in Italy during the last two years of World War Two. After the war he returned to Oklahoma and the mat. Even though he was away from wrestling for three years, his experience as a drill instructor instilled in him more confidence than ever before. Enough confidence to carry him to undefeated seasons and national championships in 1947 and 1948.
In addition to his collegiate championships Hutton proudly represented his country and placed fifth in the 1948 Olympics. He had won his first three matches. In his forth match Hutton was wrestling the Australian team member when trying for a hip lock his foot got caught in the mat and instead of throwing his opponent, Dick fell back on his elbow and it started to swell. He was allowed injury time and when the match continued Hutton went for the hip lock again and once again his foot caught the mat and he fell on his elbow. This time his elbow went numb and Dick was forced to withdraw. His opponent went on to the finals and Dick returned to Oklahoma.
In 1949 with the national heavyweight championship at stake once again, Hutton wrestled in one of the most famous and controversial matches in NCAA history. A match that changed the how matches would be judged from then on.
At Colorado A&M in Fort Collins Colorado two of the most renowned heavyweights in wrestling history met with the NCAA Heavyweight title in the balance. Two athletes who would go on from the collegiate national championship to the World’s Heavyweight Championship. Hutton’s opponent was the 1948, 191-pound champion from Minnesota, Verne Gagne. They had met once before. In 1947 Hutton defeated Gagne on his way to the championship at the NCAA tournament at the University of Illinois. Verne dropped the next year to 191 pounds and took the title while Dick won his second heavyweight championship. So the stage was set for one of the most anticipated rematches in college history.
Hutton recollects the match vividly. “Verne was an outstanding wrestler. Not only on the mat but how he sized up an opponent. He knew if he came into me I would beat him decisively. He also knew in matches where my opponent stayed away from me, I would win maybe three to two or two to one. And that’s just what he did. In all honesty, I truly believe I won that match. I don’t blame Verne. He came out to win and that’s just what he did. I believe they should have started him down for not being aggressive. I shot in and caught him in the last few seconds and that put me up three to two. Some kid comes out on the mat from the timekeeper’s table and tells the official that the time ran out before he gave me the two points. He took the two points away and walked over and raised Verne’s hand. The entire crowd became unglued. The coach of Nebraska was head of the tournament committee at the time. He told me that if coach Griffith would make a formal protest they would reverse the decision. I went to my coach but he wouldn’t protest. So I came in second.”
Because of the controversial ending in the Gagne match, the rules were changed for championship matches. In addition to a referee, two judges were added.
In 1950 Dick was again in the finals wrestling for the heavyweight championship. He continues his story, “Believe it or not, I ended up with the same referee that I had in the finals the year before. I was wrestling a guy named Stoeker from Iowa State Teachers College. All through the match his coaches were yelling at him to stay away from me. He kept running off the mat and the referee kept allowing it. Again he wouldn’t put him down for not being aggressive. The match ended with the score tied one to one. I knew what was going to happen. The referee voted for Stoeker but the two judges voted for me. I had my third national title. I could never figure out that referee though. There must have been something about me he just didn’t like.”[ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]
After graduating for Oklahoma A&M, Dick returned to the army with a commission and was stationed in France for two years. The army wanted Dick to once again to represent his country in the 1952 Olympics. But this time he turned them down. He was weighing about 285 pounds, 100 pounds heavier than his last Olympic appearance. Besides he would have only three weeks to get ready for the trials.
Although they never saw eye to eye on their match. Hutton and Gagne were and still are friends. They became such when they both represented the United States in London in the 1948 Olympics. In fact it was Verne who persuaded Dick into turning pro. “When I found out that Verne was making $150,000 a year in the ring, I thought I can do that, I beat him, I can do that” Hutton laughs.
Dick decided to try to turn his amateur success on the mat to fame and fortune in the ring. In 1953 he turned professional. This is not as unusual as it may seem, many of his contemporaries did the same and did it well. Verne Gagne (Minnesota), Mike DiBiase (Nebraska), Ralph Silverstein (Illinois), Bob Giegel (Iowa) and Ray Gunkel of Purdue all made the transition from the nation’s top amateur wrestlers to some of the world’s top professionals.
Although the fame and fortune did not come right away. Dick earned $7 for his first match and learned the “ropes” by taking on all comers throughout the Midwest. They got a dollar a minute and a thousand dollars if they beat him. Night after night truck drivers; marines and farmers would try their skills against the former national champion. No one won the thousand dollars in fact only a few won anything at all. The average time of Dick’s wins was 15 seconds.
Even though Dick had an inauspicious beginning it wasn’t long until Hutton caught the attention of wrestling greats Ed “Strangler” Lewis and Lou Thesz. Through their coaching and encouragement, Hutton began appearing in main events in major cities in North America and in 1957 in Toronto, Canada, Dick became the heavyweight champion of the world by upsetting the legendary Lou Thesz.
“I set a goal to win the world title in five years. I accomplished it in four. It was a great honor to hold the NWA world’s title and competing against Lou. Lou Thesz set the standard for all of us – in and out of the ring. To me he was and is the greatest champion of all time,” Hutton states.
Thesz returns the praise for his longtime friend and opponent. When recently asked who his toughest opponent was in his more than 6,000 matches, Lou replied without any hesitation, “That’s easy, it was Dick Hutton.”
Dick remained undefeated in the ring for more than two years defending his title nearly every night. In 1959 he lost the championship to Pat O’Connor and within five years left the ring for good.
Leaving the ring was far from the end of Dick’s story. He married and had three sons (two are ministers and one works for ESPN). He has spent many years raising and racing quarter horses.
He has returned to his roots and now lives on his old family homestead that belonged to his grandfather. He tends to the three oil wells and his 20 acres. He has family close, plays penny ante poker once a month with his old high school and college teammates, and takes in an occasional horse race.
He has had both knees replaced so he is getting around a little slower now, but as he states, “I think we are going to make it.”
When talking to him at the International Wrestling Institute Hall of Fame inductions, Dick said in his usual humble way, “All this fuss for me. I can’t believe this. You made me feel like I was somebody.”
Mr. Hutton, you not only are somebody, you are somebody that we all would wait in line to meet.