Hansen’s journey to the ring began in an unusual place: On the gridiron at West Texas State University, a factory for future wrestlers. When his football days came to an end, Hansen stepped into the squared circle and quickly earned a reputation as one of the most vicious competitors in the sport. Hansen’s style of wrestling wasn’t technically proficient or beautiful by any stretch of the imagination. It was dirty, gritty and ferocious. And it worked.
With an ever-present scowl on his face and his bull rope in hand, The Bad Man from Borger made his way to WWE in 1976. Hansen immediately set his sights on then-WWE Champion Bruno Sammartino. The double-tough Texan stunned fans when he broke The Living Legend’s neck with a devastating clothesline that would become known as the Lariat.
After a rematch with Sammartino at Shea Stadium, Hansen traversed across the Pacific Ocean to Japan, where he became a legend. One of the most feared foreigners in Japanese wrestling history, Hansen was the first gaijin to earn victories over the country’s most revered grapplers, Giant Baba and WWE Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki. While in Japan, Hansen also formed one of the most devastating tag teams in wrestling history with an old college friend, the unhinged Bruiser Brody. The cowboy and the fur-clad wildman had Japanese fans running from them as they entered the ring, and their opponents begging for mercy.
In between trips to Japan, Hansen returned to the U.S. to unleash his brand of brutality on American soil. The Bad Man from Borger won the AWA World Championship by defeating Rick Martel in 1985. He never lost the title, choosing to vacate it by running it over with his truck. In 1990, he ended Lex Luger’s record-setting reign as United States Champion. By 1991, he exclusively competed in Japan for the next 10 years, retiring in 2001 as a decorated champion and a legend in The Land of the Rising Sun.
Now, the surly outlaw will receive sports-entertainment’s highest honor, when he takes his place in the WWE Hall of Fame.