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Solie's Classics Reprint

TO THE GIANT AMONG US

by Terry Todd from Sports Illustrated, December 21, 1981


Volume 4, Issue 452 - April 16, 1999
Editor's Note: To celebrate my millionth visitor this week, here is another in my series of Solie's Classic Reprints, featuring wrestling articles from the past. This one is quite lengthy so I have decided to reproduce it in four parts.

TO THE GIANT AMONG US

from Sports Illustrated, December 21, 1981

By Terry Todd

Part 1

Once upon a time, in a farmhouse in France, a baby boy was born. "Such hands," his father said. "Perhaps he will be a man to match my father." "But you have told me that your father was a giant," said his wife with a smile. "Was he truly as large as you say? A head about two meters and 250 kilos?" "All that and more," the father replied sternly. "I am the son of a giant. Why not the father of one as well?"

And so it came to pass that as the boy did the work, ate the food and breathed the air of rural France, he grew. And grew. And grew again, reaching a height of 6' 3" and a weight of more than 200 pounds as he entered his 12th year. Even then he could do the work of a man. One day as he was raking hay beside his father, a friend of the farm's owner drove slowly past the field in a Rolls-Royce.

"I will own such a car as that someday," the tall boy said quietly as he paused to watch the elegant machine glide by. "Stop dreaming and start raking," his father replied. "You are a big boy, but that dream is too big even for you."

Two more summers passed and the boy's body as well as his dreams continued to wax. Neither his clothes nor his circumstances seemed ever to fit. Finally, when he was 14, the farm and the village could contain him no longer, and he left his home and family to seek his fortune.

Five more years went by. Then, one afternoon, while his mother was in the kitchen preparing a quiche, she heard a knock. "Ce grand, who could it be?" she said to herself as she saw a large car out the window on her way to the door. "And me all covered with flour!" As she opened the door she beheld an enormous man, all hands and feet, smiling enormously. She stood there dumb struck.

"Is the man of the house at home?" the huge strange inquired, at which point she rushed from the room, calling to her husband. Together they approached the doorway and the man who filled it. "Yes, can I help you?" said the husband cautiously, looking up. "May I ask how you like the car?" replied the giant. He stepped aside and with a slow sweep of his massive hand indicated a long, shining limousine. A Rolls-Royce. "It is beautiful, but what has that to do with us?" the husband asked suspiciously as the wife drew closer to him. "Do you know who I am?" the stranger asked, still smiling down at them. The wife hesitated, then said, "Have I not seen you on television? Are you not the famous wrestler, Jean Ferr?" "Yes, I have wrestled often on television," said the colossal stranger, continuing to smile.

Finally, the husband looked out again at the Rolls, peered up again into the stranger's deep-set, twinkling eyes, turned to his wife and exclaimed, "Do you not recognize your own son come home to you at last? Jean Ferr is only a "nom de guerre". This man is our son, Andre, grandson of my father."

Indeed, during the five years young Andre had been estranged from his parents, he had grown so large that even his mother and father failed at first, and even second, glance to recognize him, or to connect the giant they had seen on television with the gangly dreamer who had hied himself to Paris so long before.

What had happened after Andre left fo rthe city was that because of his size and strength he had been hired by a furniture-moving firm. Impressed, the firm encouraged him to develop his already considerable skills as a rugby player. he recalls those days in Paris as his "rite de passage", a time in which he not only passed into manhood by passed as a man. He laughs as he recalls buying drinks for a member of the "gendarmerie" when he was only 14 years old.

When he turned 17, he was seen training at a gym by several professional wrestlers. They were so taken by his size that they showed him some of their moves, and regaled him with tales of their travel and adventures. When one of them was injured soon after and a replacement was needed for a match, Andre was asked to perform. As might be expected, he was, shall we say, a huge success, and he realized he had found his calling. The Brazilian philosopher, Paulo Freire, has observed that the education of much value is learning to understand one's true position in the world in such a way as to act on that understanding and improve the position. If Freire is correct, Andre graduated with highest honors that night in his short, preliminary bout.

In his first two years as a professional wrestler, Andre Roussimoff, a/k/a Jean Ferr, did indeed grow - not only in stature but in wealth and worldliness. By his early 20s he had wrestled in Algeria, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, England, Scotland, and most of non-Communist Europe. Today, at the age of 35, he looms four inches beyond seven feet, weighs approximately 500 pounds and stands astride professional wrestling both literally and figuratively - the largest, highest-paid and best-known performer in the game.

Frank Valois is a "Quebecois" just turned 60, and though he goes a bit slowly now, he has a width and heaviness of bone that give evidence of the power he had in his prime. He was with Andre the night of that first match, and for most of those barnstorming early years. Back home now in Montreal and retired after four decades in the ring, Valois promotes wrestling over much of Quebec. He remembers the boy-man Andre.

"What a thing to see he was! Like a young mastiff. He loved to frisk, to joke. And to drink, and feel the drink. He was so happy in the game. For him the hard travel was a joy. Eating all he wanted and drinking with us in bars and restaurants and seeing new people and places, it was a dream for a poor boy from the country."

So imparadised was Andre by his circumstances that he threw himself into the finer points of his new craft, anxious not to jeopardize his life-style. "He was trying so hard always," Valois recalls, "and anything the other guys could do Andre thought he should do also. In that first year or so he was around seven feet tall and he weighed 325 to 350 pounds, but he looked skinny because of his frame. I'm telling you, he broke up some rings and ring ropes learning to do the dropkicks and use the ropes right."

Asked about Andre's physical abilities, Valois hesitates for a second, then says, "Listen, I tell you this not because Andre is almost a son to me, but because it is true. Many men were afraid to go in the ring with him, especially after he reached his twenties, because he was so large and strong. For all his height and weight, he could run and jump and do moves that made seasoned wrestlers fearful. Not so much fearful that he would hurt them with malice but that he might hurt them with exuberance. He was "incroyable". Even when playing he was like that. He discovered one day in Paris that he could move a small car by himself, and for quite a while after that he amused himself by moving his friends' cars while they were having a meal or a drink, placing them in a small space between a lamp post and a building, or turning them around to face the other way. His strength was so natural to him that he had no interest in lifting weights. He was interested in having a joke on his friends, not in showing how strong he was. I have lived among strong men all my life. I come from Quebec, the cradle of strongmen, home of Louis Cyr and the six Ballargeon brothers, but I have never seen a man with the raw strength of Andre."

Perhaps all of this could be dismissed in light of the often hyperbolic nature of one friend's memory of another, except for the validation of people like Ken Patera, four-time U.S. national weightlifting champion and still the U.S. record holder in the superheavyweight clean and jerk total. Patera was the first American to clean and jerk 500 pounds, and many knowledgable observers consider him to have been stronger than the Soviet Union's legendary Vasily Alexeyev during the early 1970s, when they vied for the world and Olympic championships. Standing 6'1" and often weighing well over 300 pounds, Patera entered professional wrestling following the Munich Olympics. He has wrestled Andre often and has seen him work on many cards. Patera is a rugged man from a rugged family, and he understands strength as few men do.

"Let's put it this way," he responded recently to a question about the Brobdingnagian Frenchman. "I honestly believe that if Andre took a couple of years away from the game to train like the top lifters do, and if he developed a close personal relationship with his friendly neighborhood pharmacist, the world powerlifting records in both the squat and the deadlift would fall. No question. Think about it. He already weighs almost 500 pounds, with no lifting and no help from steroids. Hell, he'd weigh 600 or 700 pounds and not be any fatter than he is now, and let me tell you, that's not very damn fat. He's a wonder of nature. I've seen him pick up a 250-pound guy like you'd pick up your overcoat. I guess you know what he did to Wepner."

Wepner. Ah, yes. That would be Charles (Chuck) Wepner, cardmate of Muhammad Ali in that ill-advised boxers vs. wrestlers promotion back in 1976: Wepner had the dubious distinction of facing Andre in Shea Stadium in the bout preceding the much ballyhooed, ultimately farcical, Ali vs. Antonio Inoki match broadcast via satellite from Tokyo. Although the clash between Ali and Inoki turned out to be more ludicrous than enlightening, the Andre-Wepner prelim had at least one genuinely exciting moment. Wepner had circled Andre during the first two rounds, tapping him experimentally, as a mountaineer might assay the peak he or she had chosen to climb. Andre had permitted himself to be circled, no doubt postponing for the sake of the crowd the inevitable outcome. (The word inevitable is used advisedly, because over the years boexers have fared poorly whenever they have disregarded the obvious technical advantages of wrestling and engaged in a mixed bout. Most of the boxer-wrestler matchups, in fact, have ended by a pin within a minute, according to ring historians.)

At any rate, in the third round, perhaps emboldened by the lack of response to his tapping, to his tapping, to his gloves so gently rapping, Wepner really clocked the Giant as they broke from the ropes. Whereupon Andre, in a more than usually fell swoop, angrily snatched his smaller opponent into the air and pitched him forthwith over the topmost rope, endning the bout. Quoth the Giant, "Nevermore."

Asked recently about this mismatch, Andre smiled and replied, using the work "boss" as so many men in the game do, "Look, boss, the boxer- wrestler business is almost a joke. After all, a man may hit me a couple of times, but if I cut the ring off and close in, what can he do after I put my hands on him? The boxer has no chance, since he can't even wrestle in a clinch because of his gloves." However, lest Andre's words or his haughty dispatch of Wepner imply a disdain for the sweet science, it should be noted that the sports figure to whom Andre gives pride of place is Ali, a man who, with the Giant, hungers a bit after the glittery things in life. How odd it is, then, that of these two eminently successful men, both of whom have made more money in the last 15 years than most people could earn in many lifetimes, the one who by all rights should be richer than a thousand kings has less to show for his athletic and dramatic endeavours. It has been estimated that Andre earns about $500,000 a year while Ali has made as much as $6 million for a single fight. (to be continued...)

Copyright 1981 - Sports Illustrated


Thunder Report

Thunder is live from Orlando, Florida and starts without any preamble for a change.

El Vampiro vs. Buff Bagwell - this should be interesting. Bagwell is pursuing face heat these days but it really hasn't changed his style any at all. Vampiro throws a warning karate kick to put Bagwell on his toes at the beginning of the match. Buff's response is to pose and do his strut. He mocks Vampiro's "crane" stance. Bagwell is way too cocky for his own good throughout the match - it proves to be a foolish attitude as Vampiro back-kicks him out of his boots. Vampiro is clearly a judo expert and that seems to be the majority of his offense. Bagwell comes back with a powerbomb to retake the advantage. Vampiro again takes advantage of Bagwell's arrogance to turn the tables. He uses a judo takedown to put Bagwell on the mat then tries to apply an armbar but Bagwell wiggles away from it. Vampiro rakes the eyes to reassert his control. Vampiro's movement are remeniscent of the Calgary style of Bret Hart and Chris Benoit. He slaps on a reverse chinlock. Bagwell fights to his fet and escapes but Vampiro boots him in the gut then gets a sidewalk slam. He slaps on an ankle lock submission hold but can't get it on securely. Bagwell is limping when he regains his feet. A couple of kicks puts Bagwell back on the mat but he rises and gets a slingshot suplex followed up wuith a big powerslam and then a running clothesline. Vampiro comes back quickly with a suplex and gets a two-count. He sits Bagwell on the corner and goes for a Frankensteiner - but Bagwell blocks it and gets his Blockbuster for the win. Cut to commercial.

Jerry Flynn vs. Wrath - if I remember correctly, Flynn started his push with a win over this behemoth so this is a rematch for bragging rights. Both of these guys are huge, but Wrath has a clear power edge. Flynn has to outwrestle this guy to keep up with him but he is capable of it. Wrath throws him to the floor where he firmly asserts his control then rolls in and back out to stop the count. He blunders into a side kick that puts him down but he roars right back and then rolls Flynn back into the ring. Wrath throws a clothesline off the top then chokes his opponent as he struggles on the mat. Flynn is tossed out again and followed out by Wrath who fingers Flynn's eye. They brawl on for a while and the referee counts them both out. They care not and continue to brawl as we cut to commercial.

Horace vs. Meng - certain to be a one-sided battle. Meng bulls his opponent into the corner and beats on him to start - Horace spins him around then slams his head into the corner pad - like that will do anything. Meng comes back and knocks Horace to the floor. Horace gets some breathing room but then runs his ribs into the railing when Meng steps aside. Back in the ring, Horace fares a little better...but not much. Meng is just all over him, surprising us with a credible drop-kick (standing, no less!) Horace cmes back strong and finally takes Meng off his feet with a clothesline. A second one sends the monster over the top to the floor. Back in the ring, Horace is in control for the only time in this match. He actually gets a two-count on his opponent. He gets another big clothesline and a Hoganesque leg drop, then another two-count. Moments later he goes for a sunset flip but Meng keeps his balance, drops on his chest and grabs the Tongan Deathgrip. 'Nuff said...

President Flair and Arn Anderson are backstage with Charles Robinson who is acting like a butler, pouring drinks and making phone calls for the President. Arn tries to get a gander at some of the papers Flair has to sign but Flair isn't even looking at them. He says, "I'm the presdident, I don't have to look at them..." Arn is worried that Ric isn't paying attention to what's going on around him. He wants to get those papers back so they can look at them. Cut to commercial.

Mikey Whipwreak vs. Disco Inferno - Disco has the size...and the push advantage here. Whipwreak is certainly the better wrestler as he demonstrates early on. Disco is all business as he tries to regain the upper hand. He is in control and throws his opponent throught the ropes to the floor as we cut to commercial.

Disco is following his opponent out to the floor as we return. He is caught and rammed into the railing. Back in the ring, Mikey is in control. He gets a series of two-counts then goes for the top corner and throws a splash...and tastes canvass. Disco comes back with a piledriver but takes too long going for the pin. He tries again but still no cigar. He chokes the youngster until the referee breaks it up. Disco gets a running, spinning neckbreaker but his cover is cavelier and fails. A snap mare and then a reverse chinlock are next. He goes for another cover but Mikey kicks out. Back to the choke and a warning from the referee. He goes for an elbow off the second rope and misses. Mikey gets two drop-kicks then pounds his opponent in the corner. Disco comes right back and now the match is in see-saw mode. Finally Disco comes through with his renamed Last Dance (used to be the Chartbuster) and gets the pin. Cut to commercial.

Mean Gene calls the nWo B-Team out for an interview that nobody cares about. Stevie Ray is the new spokesman for the group. He outlines his agenda. He declares that Hollywood Hogan is on the mend so he hasn't got it. Horace looks a little put out at the dissing of his uncle. He also isn't too impressed with Kevin Nash. He wants to challenge Diamond Dallas Page for the World Title tonight. Cut to commercial.

Disorderly Conduct vs. Raven/Saturn - Raven makes short work of Mean Mike to start the match then tags in Saturn who continues the assault. Tough Tom can only watch helplessly as the opposition wipes the mat with his partner. A double team on Saturn finally allows DC to exchange. Tom maintains the advantage then tags his partner back in, probably too soon. But no, they are still controlling the action for a while yet although pinning their man is another story. Eventually Mike manages to clothesline his own partner and hands off the advantage. Raven comes in and cleans house then goes out for a chai. He drops Tom onto it but Mike breaks up the pin attempt. All four are in and in a flash Raven gets a DDT while Saturn hits a T-Bone suplex at the same moment. Raven takes the pin. Cut to commercial.

Juventud Guerrera vs. Konnan, Jr. - Cruiserweight Title match - until this guy gets his own music and finds another gimmick... Juvey comes off as arrogant in this one, pausing to wipe his opponent's face at the outset of the match. He outweighs the Champ and uses the size advantage well but keeps stopping to showboat between throws. A headscissors takedown wakes him up and he rolls to the floor to regroup. Back in the ring he gets a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker but is too out of it to follow up. The two of them tumble to the floor and Rey is getting ready to dive off the apron as we cut to commercial.

Misterio is slumped in the corner and Juvey is showboating again as we return. He rushes Rey in the corner and misses but roars right back. But now Rey is back in the game and quickly turns the tables - the match goes into see-saw mode and now both guys are wasting time playing to the crowd. Rey seems to be gaining ground but it's hard to tell because both of them are so resilliant. Juvey appears to be getting more serious now and gets a flurry of offensive moves. He gets a two count and stops to get into the referee's face. They are back at it and each is thwarting the other's moves until Juvey hits a Juvey driver. He goes up for his 450 Splash but Rey cuts him off at the last moment. They struggle for position at the top and Rey is shoved off - but leaps right back up and gets his top-rope Frankensteiner and the pin. Cut to commercial.

In the back, Robinson is kissing Flair's butt big time. Arn bursts back in and he's real upset. He couldn't find the secretary with the papers. Flair keeps telling him, "...we're on top of the world man, relax..." They send Robinson out to find the secretary. Cut to commercial.

Diamond Dallas Page (w/Kimberly) vs. Stevie Ray (w/Vincent) - World Title match - yeah, right...like we really believe that a dork like Stevie Ray has a chance in hell to win the World strap... Stevie and Vincent seem to have patched up their differences. Vince is there to keep an eye on Kimberly (not a bad job, if you can get it...) The match starts with a fist fight in the center of the ring which Page wins with a rebounding forearm. Stevie falls out of the ring then Page suicide dives on both nWo members! The fight turns int a brawl in the aisle where Page takes on both guys simultaneously. Back in the ring, Stevie has a slight edge and capitalizes on it. He is in control of the action by dint of his overwhelming power advantage. He grabs a bearhug which Page escapes with a series of bellringers - but Stevie comes back with a sidewalk slam. Page comes back with a DDT then follows with a lariat. Vince distracts the Champ and hands the advantage back to Stevie for a moment - but then Page comes back with a Diamond Cutter and wins it. The B-Team swarms the ring but Page fights them all off so that his lady can join him in the ring as we fade to black.

I'll be back on Monday night. Until then...

At least that's the way I see it...

Earl Oliver
Editor, Solie's Wrestling Newsletter



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