This month we take a look at the Hall of Fame career of Andre The Giant. Andre had one of the most famous ring introductions we’ve ever heard. Whether it was Howard Finkel at Madison Square Garden or Bob Uecker at WrestleMania III, Andre was hailed “From Grenoble, in the French Alps….” Andre The Giant was bigger than life. He was the WWE’s first ever Hall of Famer, and his mark on the business will forever be felt.
I remember the first time I saw Andre the Giant. I was about 8 years old and I remember not being able to take my eyes off the television screen. A feeling of “who is this guy” overwhelmed me. What also made it so cool was that it was the first time I had ever seen someone actually wrestling more than one person. It was one of Andre’s famous “handicap” matches where he took on two wrestlers. Later I would see him take on as many as three fellow grapplers.
With all due respect to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Andre The Giant was the first true “people’s champ”. Andre was loved worldwide. From Osaka, Japan to Osh Kosh, Wisconsin, Andre The Giant was one of the most recognizable faces in the wrestling industry. His size, combined with that unforgettable smile, connected with fans as truly being the “8th Wonder of the World!”
What separated Andre from most wrestlers back in the day was his status as an attraction. Jim Ross has said it many times, and I wholeheartedly agree with him, Andre was more of an attraction than a wrestler. Now don’t get me wrong, Andre was excellent in the ring, but it was his ability to sell tickets and make a territory big money that greatly outweighed his abilities in the ring. In the days prior to cable TV, Andre would go across country to all of the major NWA territories, the AWA and the WWWF making appearances to sold-out crowds. Andre didn’t need a belt to make him special or over with a crowd. For instance, any time a territory needed a little boost in attendance, they would bring Andre in for a month or so and usually utilize him as a special guest referee to settle a local territorial feud or to have him be the main star in a battle royal.
But, just because Andre was viewed by many as an attraction, do not mistake that for him not being a good wrestler. Andre was very agile for a man of his size. It’s hard to imagine now, but Andre was able to do standing drop kicks back in the day. As a matter of fact, Andre was considered such a good athlete, that in 1975 the Washington Redskins offered Andre a tryout to play defensive line, an offer Andre did not take.
Many people remember Andre these days as the man who sold out the Pontiac Silverdome with Hulk Hogan as the main event of WrestleMania III. That’s nice, and it is a well-deserved highlight of Andre’s career, but that was really the beginning of the end of Andre’s great wrestling career. Case in point is that within two years of the third WrestleMania, Andre’s ability to give any kind of quality match had greatly been hampered by poor health. He was a mere shadow of himself.
Andre was such a huge star in the mid 1970’s that he was one of the main events in one of the most hyped cards in pre-WrestleMania history. The night was June 25, 1976. The venue, Shea Stadium. The bout was between Andre and professional boxer Chuck Wepner as part of the heavily promoted card that involved Muhammed Ali versus Antonio Inoki which was shown on a huge three sided screen on Shea Stadium’s infield. While the Ali match was a bit of a dud, the Andre match proved to be much more entertaining. While it’s not one of the prettiest bouts ever, it was memorable in that we saw Wepner “The Bayonne Brawler” get thrown over the ring by Andre in the third round.
Back in his prime, Andre had his best matches against the top wrestlers in the world. Andre tangled with Harley Race, Nick Bockwinkel, Killer Kahn, Gorilla Monsoon, Ken Patera, a pre ketchup and mustard wearing “heel” Hulk Hogan (which blew off in a famous match at Shea Stadium), Kamala and against maybe his most memorable rival, Big John Studd. His matches with Studd were not scientific mat classics, but they were billed as battles to determine who the real giant of professional wrestling was.
Andre also had a long standing feud with the Japanese legend Antonio Inoki. Andre was a beloved wrestler in Japan. The cool thing about these matches were it was something you rarely got to see in the United States with two top “baby faces” squaring off. Andre would also go on to have memorable matches against Stan Hansen and others in Japan, but his run with Inoki was what he is most remembered for in the land of the rising sun. Andre enjoyed similar drawing power in Canada, where his fluency in French helped him early in his wrestling career.
Andre dabbled in Hollywood as well. A man of his size, whose face was known around the world seemed to be the perfect fit for various roles on the small and big screen. Andre appeared on show’s such as the Six Million Dollar Man, The Great American Hero and The Fall Guy. Andre’s most famous non wrestling character would of course be as the character Fezzik in the 1987 film The Princess Bride. Andre was the reason I went to go see the film, and I remember leaving the theater being quite surprised how good he was.
When Andre became a full time wrestler in WWF towards the end of his career, Andre would be part of the masked trio, known as the Super Machine. Andre of course was the Giant Machine. Andre would team on and off with Hulk Hogan in tag matches, until he finally went under the guidance of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and began his quest for the world title. While Andre was a heel, he was under the influence of “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
In the end. Andre would return to his “baby face” ways and would make surprise appearances from time to time at ring side of a friend in need. Sadly, Andre succumbed to the complications from the illness he battled most of his life and passed away at the young age of 46 in 1993.
It is often argued by many as to who the greatest big man of all time is, and that if Andre wrestled today, he wouldn’t have had the impact on the business he did back when he was in the squared circle. With all due respect to people with those opinions, I wholeheartedly disagree. To me Andre’s athleticism, sheer size, lovable demeanor and drawing ability make him the single greatest big man of all time!