(Note: Originally written in November 2012 but bumped back to the front page as part of our 4th of July weekend scheduling)
Born on May 13, 1932 in Perry, Oklahoma, a small town in northern part of the state, Dan Hodge grew up in a working family. A farming community, there was always physical labor to be done and Hodge worked hard. Even at a young age he began to exhibit amazing strength, while a teenager he would break pairs of pliers simply with his grip strength to show off. While in high school, Hodge would work on oil rigs with his father and that hard physical labor continued to build his strength.
That strength would become a calling card of Hodge’s wrestling career, as would the relentless pace he set in matches. One of Hodge’s personal tenets for success in wrestling is conditioning and he strove to be the best conditioned athlete on the mats. In high school Hodge would go 50-4, win a state championship and NAAU National Championship. This was no small feat as Oklahoma was the hotbed of wrestling talent in the U.S. at this time. Of the first 33 NCAA team wrestling championships, Oklahoma schools won 30 titles showing the strength of the state in terms of producing national level talent.
Hodge graduated high school in 1951 and qualified for the 1952 U.S. Olympic team. Hodge traveled to Finland at just twenty years old and won his first match with a pin, but failed to advance any further.
Hodge then attended Oklahoma University and went on to have the single most dominant collegiate wrestling career in the history of the sport. In his time at OSU, Hodge went 46-0 in his four NCAA seasons, with 36 of those wins by pin. He won three NCAA championships and a second NAAU championship, and a national championship in Greco-Roman wrestling.
Hodge was an exceptionally aggressive wrestler and always wanted to be the first one to shoot for a takedown, and partly due to this aggressive style Hodge was not taken down a single time in his NCAA career. When Hodge speaks of his career the one thing he brings up over and over again was his conditioning. It was that conditioning that allowed him to keep up this attacking style. In honor of his remarkable NCAA career, the trophy to the best wrestler at the end of a given season is named the Dan Hodge Trophy.
In 1956, Hodge returned the Olympic games in Melbourne, Australia. Hodge won his first four matches, three by pins. He then faced a Bulgarian, and while Hodge was rolling through a technique his shoulders touched the mat and it was ruled a pinfall. It resulted in Hodge taking silver and is still considered one of the worst refereeing decisions in Olympic wrestling history.
After graduating from college, Hodge decided to take up boxing. According to Hodge, he began boxing to prove that wrestlers were in fact fighters. He took the same hard working attitude to boxing that had given him so much success in wrestling. To train himself to keep his hands up Hodge held bricks up by his chin during his daily run.
In 1958, just two years after representing the United States in the Olympics, Hodge entered in the Golden Gloves Tournament in Chicago. While still very raw as a boxer Hodge showed off a great deal of potential and nasty body attack that won him the tournament. Hodge would go on to win a NAAU amateur national championship. He remains the only athlete to win an amateur national championship in both boxing and wrestling. He traveled around and trained with high profile boxers, including the great “Sugar” Ray Robinson.
Hodge went 17-0 with 12 KOs as an amateur and decided to turn pro instead of try to compete in the 1960 Olympics as both a wrestler and a boxer. His pro boxing career was only two years long, in which Hodge went 7-2 with five KO wins. Hodge lost once via TKO and his final fight was against former champion Nino Valdes, who caused a cut that stopped the fight. Hodge had several incidents of promoters not paying him for fights or not paying the promised purse while in boxing and, frustrated, retired after the Nino loss. Hodge has even gone so far as to say that his corner learned that he was not to be paid and caused the cut that stopped the fight.
Looking for a venue to earn a living, Hodge turned to professional wrestling. In the 1960s it was the only viable way for successful wrestlers to cash in on their talents. While the matches were predetermined there were plenty of instances of wrestlers attempting to flip the script and beat the man they were supposed to lose to. So the star pro wrestlers of the day had to be ready and able to defend themselves if a work suddenly became a live fight, also known as a shoot.
Hodge became a huge star and perennial headliner. He traveled all over the world both for pro wrestling matches and for demonstrations of his amazing strength. He learned the art of catch wrestling from some of North America’s foremost masters of the art, including Ed “The Strangler” Lewis. Hodge was involved in more than a few shoots in his time, but his most desperate fight was still to come.
In 1976 Hodge’s mother passed away and he spent several days driving cross-country to attend ceremonies and several other family gatherings. On March 15th a fatigued Hodge got in the car and fell asleep at the wheel. His car drove off a bridge into a river. Hodge’s mouth was a bloody mess, his jaw had snapped shut breaking several teeth, and he had a searing pain in his neck. His car was sinking into the river and Hodge was moments away from drowning. To this day Hodge states that he heard a voice told him to hold his neck. He did so with one hand and with the other he pulled himself out the driver’s side window and swam to shore. A truck that had seen his car go over the bridge radioed for help and Hodge was rushed to the hospital. There it was discovered his neck was broken and doctors declared he would be lucky to survive, much less walk again.
Hodge didn’t just survive and walk again, he wrestled again in 1983 at the age of 50, but another accident he suffered while working on an oil field ended his comeback. Far from being a quiet retiree, Hodge has spent the last 12 years as the head of the Oklahoma State Athletic Commission, regulating both professional boxing and mixed martial arts matches for the state.
Dan Hodge is one of the most incredible athletes to ever live and even in his old age he still has his amazing grip strength. One of his favorite tricks is to smash an apple with just one hand. Due to his diverse skill set and involvement in administration the MMA media has always had an interest in Hodge and Dave Meltzer wrote an excellent article about him back in 2010 and more recently Jack Encarnacao of Sherdog interviewed him on the Sherdog Rewind podcast.
To close, I’ll include the only piece of video of Hodge wrestling I could find, a short bit of him pinning Ron Flemming at the 1957 Championships.
Dan Hodge pins his opponent (via lutteur)
Thanks to Coach Riordan and John S. Nash for help finding videos and resources
About the author