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HODGE, DAN ALLEN (1932- )

Amateur and professional wrestling star Dan Allan Hodge was born in Perry, Oklahoma, May 13, 1932, and continued to reside there in 2002. In the 1950s Danny Hodge was a household name, as he easily won all of his forty-six matches and remained undefeated for four years at the University of Oklahoma (OU). The 1950s was a golden era for state sports fans, who basked in home runs from Mickey Mantle's bat and a forty-game-winning gridiron streak under esteemed OU Coach Bud Wilkinson. The strength and skill of shy, two-time Olympian Hodge fit in. He was deemed undisputed king of American "catch-as-catch-can" style of wrestling.

Legendary coach John Divine helped shape Hodge at Perry High School, where the wrestler produced a record of fifty wins and four losses. In 1950 and 1951 he won the Geary Tournament and was National Amateur Athletic Union (NAAU) champ in 1952. Hodge also lettered two years as a high school football tackle. Each summer he followed his father, William E. Hodge, into the oil field. The older Hodge, a casing rigger, worked atop a 140-foot derrick. Undaunted, Dan also went to work aloft, strengthening his muscles before competing in the 1952 Olympics at Helsinki, Finland. There, among the world's finest, twenty-year-old Hodge placed fifth.

Early in his career Hodge set a goal to win every match by a fall. He never toyed with his opponent; he always focused on a quick pin. At OU, Port Robertson coached him from 1955 to 1957. Of Hodge's forty-six OU victories, thirty-six were by falls. None of his college bouts were even close, nor did a single collegiate opponent manage to take him to the mat from a standing position. He handily picked up three National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships, a second NAAU, and a national Greco-Roman championship, winning every bout by a pin.

His second experience as an Olympian came at Melbourne, Australia, in 1956. As America's 174-pound competitor, he was the surest hope for a gold medal. He gained a comfortable lead until a sudden and controversial fall at the mat's edge gave the title to a Bulgarian in the last two seconds. The silver medal went to Hodge. He later praised the Olympic experience but shook his head at Olympic politics.

From 1952 to 1957 Hodge's only three defeats in any style of wrestling came at the hands of three Olympic champions, an American, a Russian, and the Bulgarian. He made the cover of the April 1, 1957, issue of Sports Illustrated, with a telling caption: "Oklahoma's Dan Hodge, Best U.S. Wrestler." When his collegiate wrestling career came to a close, he turned to amateur boxing. He won the national Golden Gloves and NAAU championships, the first athlete in more than a half-century to win national titles in both sports.

A ferocious but disciplined wrestler, Hodge was nicknamed "Homicide Hodge" and "Deadpan Danny." Beginning in 1960 he awed professional wrestling fans by ripping telephone directories and decks of cards in two, crushing apples into pulp, and mashing pliers into scrap metal. He held the Junior Heavyweight Championship belt for fifteen years, defending this professional title all over the world. A 1976 car accident broke his neck and suspended his career; in 1983 he wrestled briefly at the age of fifty until another oil-field accident permanently ended his comeback. He and his wife, Delores, had three children. In 1976 he was among the first to be inducted as a distinguished member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. In 2000 Gov. Frank Keating named Hodge head of the Oklahoma Professional Boxing Commission.

SEE ALSO: BOXING, KENDALL CROSS, EDWARD GALLAGHER, KENNY MONDAY, SEAN O'GRADY, JOHN SMITH, SPORTS, JESS WILLARD, WRESTLING.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: "Danny Hodge," Vertical File, National Wrestling Hall of Fame, Stillwater, Oklahoma. J. O. Dunaway, "Bulgarian Wins Questionable Bout, Hodge Misses Olympic title by 2 Seconds, Doubtful Fall," Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 8 December 1956. John Klein, "Hodge Admires Olympic Spirit, But Not Politics," Tulsa (Oklahoma) World, 22 July 1984.

Doris Dellinger.

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