I found that prior to calling Stan Hansen I was a little nervous. Initially, I could not figure out why as I had done many interviews with a lot of people before, so I tried to figure out what was different about this one. I had the opportunity to interview my childhood hero in Baseball (Pete Rose) and a man’s whose poster I had pinned up on my wall in University (Mick Foley), both of which took some time ago and I thought I had long overcome any jitters that came with it.
Then it came to me. This is a man whose matches I used to watch on VHS where he would barrel towards the ring, tobacco spilling out of mouth while swinging his bull rope occasionally hitting the fans. Time after time, that was how he would enter the ring and every time he talked the decibel level was at eleven. Unlike other wrestlers who would go through varying personas, this was the only Stan Hansen I remember seeing; one that I thought might be able to reach through the phone with his rope and hogtie me with it if I asked the wrong question.
As I do with all of my interview subjects I researched other interviews that they had done, though with Stan there were not that many. As Chavo Guerrero Sr. had told me[i] Stan was a private person and not one to open up easy, and the fact that there were not that many interviews around corroborated that.
Once I called Stan Hansen, I realized quickly that I was speaking with not only one of the nicest[ii] men I ever had the privilege of conversing with, and one of the most humble. Considering the vast accomplishments of Stan “The Lariat” Hansen, I was a little surprised by how much he downplayed the impact he had on the business.
Stan Hansen spent most of his career performing in front of a Japanese audience, accomplishing a bible’s worth of accomplishments, most notably winning the All-Japan Triple Crown Title Heavyweight Title four times, the All-Japan Unified Tag Team Championship eight times and won every major tournament that the promotion had to offer. Along with fellow American, Bruiser Brody, Hansen helped to usher in a more physical style that was not just based on strength and power moves, but where no lulls in action took place, and twenty minute matches would not feature rest holds put would be perpetual motion and power.
It was not that Hansen did not have major achievements in the United States. In 1977, he was in a main event program with Bruno Sammartino in the then named World Wide Wrestling Federation, and when the industry enjoyed its boom period in the mid 80’s, Hansen was the World Heavyweight Champion of the still relevant American Wrestling Association. Five years later, he had a six-month program in the NWA[iii] where he won the prestigious United States Championship from “The Total Package” Lex Luger.
The brain trust at both the WWF and WCW coveted Hansen and could have easily slotted Hansen into a main event program with whoever was their champion at the time and drew money. A Hansen VS Hulk Hogan series would have been entertaining[iv] as world the Texan against any of the other top draws the WWF or WCW had during that time period, and it is not that they neither top American promotion wouldn’t have grabbed him if he made himself available[v].
North American fans may have salivated over those possibilities, but could it have been as good as the matches we saw Hansen in against Mitsuharu Misawa, Jumbo Tsuruta or Kenta Kobashi? With wrestling fans engaging in tape trading in the 1990’s, Hansen’s Japanese legacy of elite matches was seen my hardcore fans, and with the creation of YouTube in 2006, Stan Hansen’s matches in Japan have found a whole new audience, and reminded older fans why the “Lariat” was one worth watching.
For about thirty minutes, I had the privilege of speaking with Stan Hansen about his autobiography, wrestling in Japan and his role in Hulk Hogan’s first starring role, No Holds Barred and his appearance in 2010, inducting Antonio Inoki to the WWE Hall of Fame.
I really enjoyed my conversation with Stan Hansen that I am able to share with all of you and I will treasure the time after the interview where Stan and I spoke about our mutual friend (Chavo Guerrero Sr.), life in the Rockies[vi] and life in general.
I want to first congratulate you on your autobiography (The Last Outlaw) that has recently come out. It has been getting some good reviews online, and has received an overall positive response.
“Through my publisher and through the people that I have actually talked to have read it; that being some of the old time wrestlers, they seemed very positive. That means a lot to me, and that’s the most important thing. I am glad that people have said some good things out there. I don’t know a lot of what they said, but I’m glad to hear it.”
A lot of the positive comments stemmed from your attention to detail and insight into the Japanese wrestling culture, which a lot of North American wrestling fans don’t know much about. It was nice to get a deeper insight into that world, beyond just the matches.
“Right. When I set out to write the book, I wanted to talk about the business there and the great characters. It’s not about the inner workings of the business, but about the great people that I met. That was the reason for the original book.”
As I understand, this wasn’t your first book, as you have an autobiography in Japan, right?
“That’s right. I expanded on this more, as the (English) language allows me to do much more.”
What has always fascinated me about your career is that as much as you wrestled most of your career in Japan, you still gained a sizable following in North America and so much of what you did here had an impact.
“You know, I don’t know if that’s because of word of mouth, or people just started seeing the tapes from Japan. I’m going to tell you why I did more in Japan. I just had some great opponents that people were interested in seeing me wrestle. You’re only as good as the person you’re in there with. I say that in the book, but it really is true. I had some awesome guys over two generations that were really great wrestlers. If people hold me to a high regard, a lot of is because of the guys I worked with to be honest.”
You have gone against anyone that ever mattered in Japan. I believe you are the only American to hold victories over Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba?[vii]
“I think I read that somewhere. I don’t know if someone else has or hasn’t.”
What has always also fascinated me about many of the wrestling stars from the 70’s and 80’s, more opposed to now, is just the incredible cardiovascular ability that you and many of your peers had. Many of the chiselled bodybuilder types couldn’t go in the ring as long as you could. What type of training regimen did you do to have that type of stamina?
“You know I’ve been called a lot of things and most of them are pretty bad but muscled isn’t one of them! (laughs) I come from a different age before it turned into more of a bodybuilding type physique. I come from the old football type mold where you fought in the trenches.[viii] In football, you run, you get pounded you pound other people, you get up and you do it again. For me it all started with Football, and I played Basketball and Baseball too. You had to go in the ring in Japan.
The specimens today, they put a lot of hard work, and it’s not all steroids, these guys are really dedicated. Why it changed, I don’t know, but I’m glad I’m from the old school.”
Would you say that you were not just built to be a wrestler, but a wrestler in Japan, as that style suited you more than anything else that was going on in the United States?
“I think I was one of the guys that helped change the styles in Japan. In the late 70’s it really started to change. There a lot of guys that I respect in Japan. It changed from ‘one tackle, drop down and do it again’ to something more aggressive. I would witness other people do that for short bursts, but I wanted to take that up a notch and keep going through the whole match. There were a lot of people who would end up doing that style or try to do that style, but it was hard. Physically, it’s hard to do day in and day out.”
Would it be safe to say that because that style was not really implored in the United States that you did not wrestle more here?
“Well, another reason I gravitated to Japan is that I got tired of fighting all the American promoters about money. In Japan, I knew what I was going to make, and I liked that. This was also before they (the WWE) handed out guaranteed contracts. In Japan I could budget myself because I knew I would make X amount of dollars. I could spend this much, and the rest of it I was going to save. I was in it to try to get ahead because I knew I couldn’t do it forever.”
I have always heard great things about Giant Baba[ix], and Chavo (Guerrero Sr.) has told me that he was a man of his word. I can imagine that when this is the type of man you are working for that you would not really want to work for anyone else.
“That’s a big part of it, but I have to say that (Antonio Inoki)[x] gave me the opportunity. He gave me that opportunity to get established in Japan. I went to Baba and wound up working for him for twenty five years. He (Baba) allowed me to continue the style (I was developing) and he wanted my style and wanted to promote that style. It ended up changing their business. It was great working for him and I really enjoyed it.”
I am sure you are asked about the WWE all the time and why you did not go there during the Hulk Hogan period, but I do want to compliment you on a small role you did with the company, when you were in the (WWF Produced) film, “No Holds Barred”. I am not trying to denigrate Hulk Hogan,[xi] but the film wasn’t that good, but you were great in it.
“Well, I didn’t have a big part. It’s funny, have you just seen it?”
Not recently, but when I was doing additional research before calling you, I was reminded of it, and searched out your clip before I called you. What I found interesting though, is that you were in the film which was produced by the WWE, but you were not contracted with them. How did that come about?
“Vince Jr. told me that when he and Hogan were talking about it, and Hulk said ‘you know who could do this part? Stan Hansen’. That’s the reason I got it and I appreciate them thinking of me for it. I had never done a movie before and I had never done one since. It’s funny that you bring the movie up. When that movie came out I took my kids and their friends to see it in on a matinee in a theatre in Mississippi. There were about fifteen people there and we were ten of them and that was the only time I ever saw the movie, until recently when my wife found it online and ordered a tape of it. I forgot all about it; it was out of sight, out of mind.”
I remember a review from one of the wrestling magazines, and I can’t believe I remember this; but it spoke about the movie and praised you for being one of the only characters in the movie that didn’t stink.
“(Laughs) You mean physically stink?”
(Laughs) I believe it said you were a “natural and funny character”.
“All these years later I wonder what would have happened if I pursued being a character actor.”
“Yeah. There are so many things I couldn’t play, but if they wanted a goofy type of character I believe I could have done that, but those days are passed.”
Now that you bring it up, I think of every role that Terry Funk had in acting, you could have played. You would have made a great bouncer in Road House.[xii]
“Terry ended up doing a lot of movies. He ran with that a little bit. I think that’s good.”
I think that another thing you should be praised on is that when you walked away from in ring wrestling, you walked away for good. So many other wrestlers came back after they retired or just so many athletes in general. You strike me as someone who once you ended your career decided that you were done, and moved on with your life and never looked back. Was retiring from the ring hard for you, or were you ready to move on?
“It really wasn’t hard. It has been hard to convince people that I am finished though. I thought long and hard and I had a standard that I wanted to try and maintain. I had seen so many guys retire and come back, and retire and come back. I told myself that when the time is right I would retire and not do that.
When I felt the physical limitations of my body, I decided that was it. I had a match in Japan and felt that like I couldn’t do what I used to. I had a couple of more matches after to finish the tour out, but I knew that was it”
Also it appears that you do not define yourself as a former wrestler, and so many of your peers haven’t been able to do that.
“Another thing is that they had a retirement ceremony for me in Tokyo during a wrestling show. They made a huge deal out of it. Mrs. Baba[xiii] promoted my retirement and gave me a great retirement program, not just for the wrestling card but there was a week of events. I had my whole family there and she treated me with great respect and all the Japanese people poured out to show their respect.
I never took myself super serious, but they made me realize that they did see something in me, and it was really humbling for me. I could never ever insult those people by coming back and wrestling. I was physically ready anyway and I had done all I could do.”
It is safe to say that you are Stan Hansen; “Husband and Father” now?
“(Laughs) I appreciate all the fans, I do, I still go to Japan from time to time and they (New Japan) still bring me for special events and I like that. I don’t miss the wrestling, or the limelight. But now that I’m sixty-four years old, and time is clicking. It’s time to go back and reconnect with the fans in some way, because when I was wrestling I was not one to be connected to the fans. It was a business. When I got through wrestling I went back to Colorado or Texas and spent time with my family. Nobody knew me as anything else but someone’s dad, and I liked that.
As I’ve grown older and I am reconnecting with the fans and it feels good to hear that people have good thoughts about me, but to be honest, I don’t miss the wrestling at all.”
I imagine your body doesn’t miss it either!
“(Laughs) That’s true. I got four artificial joints and probably need a couple more. Anyway, I feel OK though.”
In 2010, you inducted Antonio Inoki to the WWE Hall of Fame.
How did that process come about? Did Antonio contact you, or were you contacted by the WWE?
“I can’t remember exactly who contacted me, but I believe that Inoki asked for me. Maybe they gave him a couple of choices; I don’t know, but I am sure he had something to do with it.”
With your Japanese legacy, you were a great choice to induct him.
“I was really happy to do that. That was the first time that I had ever been around the WWE since Vince Jr. took over. I must say that I was unbelievably impressed with the organization; it blew me away. They run a great organization whether you like their style or not.
I worked for Vince Sr.[xiv] and Vince Jr. was there. Business wise, you never get along one hundred percent with people, but I have nothing negative to say about Vince Jr. They have taken wrestling and evolved it. Everything changes. I’m old school and I’m proud of that but that doesn’t mean that I have anything negative this new type of wrestling. They are great athletes. I don’t watch it, but you can’t help but see that these guys are in great shape.”
You yourself are a member of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.[xv] How did you feel being selected for that?
“I felt really good about that. It is done by your peers. Your peers have to nominate you and they have to vote on it. I was honoured to be chosen. The WWE has their Hall of Fame, and their other Halls of Fame[xvi] out there, but this one is done by my peers and it means a lot to me.”
[i] Chavo, who has become not only a great friend to the website but also a personal one, facilitated this interview.
[ii] Stan spoke to me about he never wanted to bury anyone in an interview. He also spoke about he lives up to the expression, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything philosophy. Conversely, finding anyone who says anything bad about Stan Hansen is next to impossible also.
[iii] This was in the year before the NWA become WCW (World Championship Wrestling)
[iv] That match did happen in Japan. It should also be noted that Hulk Hogan and Stan Hansen are friends.
[v] Or How about Stan Hansen VS Sting in WCW or the Undertaker in the WWF. Both would have been huge money and unique programs.
[vi] I live in the Canadian Rockies, and Stan has a home in by the Colorado Rockies. We both have a lot of experience with wild elk crossing our homes!
[vii] Putting that in an American context, it is like holding a victory against Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant
[viii] Hansen played Collegiate Football at West Texas State.
[ix] Baba owned All-Japan Professional Wrestling, which is where Stan wrestled the majority of his matches in Japan for.
[x] Inoki ran the All-Japan rival, New Japan Pro Wrestling. Both All-Japan and New Japan remain the top two wrestling organizations in Japan today.
[xi] Personally, it is one of those guilty pleasure films. The last time I stumbled across it on cable, (which was years ago) I dropped what I was doing to watch it. When the WWE rereleased it on DVD a few years ago, they acknowledged the cheese factor that the film has.
[xii] Talk about the ultimate guilty pleasure movie! Picturing Stan Hansen telling Patrick Swayze “If you don’t start drinking you’re out of here!” is not hard to imagine. Funk was also in Sylvester Stallone’s arm wrestling film, “Over the Top”.
[xiii] Stan retired in 2000. Giant Baba passed away the year before, and All –Japan was owned by his widow, Motoko Baba.
[xiv] Stan had a high level program against Bruno Sammartino against the then named WWWF culminating in a match at Shea Stadium which had an attendance of 32,000.
[xv] He was inducted in 2010 in the Modern Era category.
[xvi] In 1996, Stan was also selected to the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.