Name: Dick the Bruiser
Year Inducted: 2011
Dick the Bruiser
Dick the Bruiser, with his barrel chest and constant scowl, not only looked like a madman who would rip your arms off just for fun, but he sounded threatening too. While playing for the Green Bay Packers on both sides of the line (1951-54), Bruiser was struck in the throat and silenced for six months, leaving him with his familiar gravelly voice. “Most guys don’t think it’s for real, but it is,” he told SPORT Magazine in 1964. “A lot of them bums, wrestlers, that is, try to copy me. They think I got a perfect voice for a wrestler.”
But it was more than the voice. “When you got in there, it was like a cage full of lions or tigers. He was ripping and snorting and everything else,” recalled Freddie Blassie in 2003. “Not much wrestling, just the superior man emerged victorious.”
William Frederick Afflis was born June 27, 1929, and raised by his widowed mother, Margaret (who later gained prominence in the Democratic Party) in Indianapolis. He chiseled his physique at Hoffmeister’s Bodybuilding Studio and although he had a rough go at high school, he made All-State as a guard but in wrestling, he dislocated a shoulder. He worked out with Purdue while still in high school, but lost his scholarship when his helmet and the line coach met. He had very short stints at Notre Dame, Alabama and Miami, before switching his first name to Dick and getting a fifth chance at the University of Nevada in Reno. In the off-season, he was a bouncer at Harold’s Club—which he later considered his real alma mater, and had stitched on his ring robe.
As a pro wrestler, he was billed as “The World’s Most Dangerous Wrestler,” and was a headliner essentially wherever he went, from St. Louis to Minneapolis, Japan to Los Angeles. His tag team with The Crusher (Reggie Lisowski) is famed for its numerous tag title runs.
In the mid-’60s, Bruiser bought into the Indianapolis promotion with Sam Menacker, Wilbur Snyder, and Bob Luce, and would promote and wrestle there until 1989. His reign atop the World Wrestling Association was the quintessential example of a hometown hero. “He was over like a million dollars. He didn’t have to do much in the ring,” said Rene Goulet. “Every match I ever worked with him, there was never a winner, it was always DQs, a count-out. Because it was a small territory, he had to do something like that every week because otherwise, you’d destroy your guys in a month.”
Afflis died at age 62 in Largo, Fla., from a ruptured blood vessel in his esophagus while weightlifting. “He was the toughest man I’d ever faced in the ring,” said Bobby Heenan, following Bruiser’s death. “He was so tough I thought he would live till he was 200 with the will he had.”
Ox Baker summed up his legacy. “The Bruiser was the best heel in the business for 20 years, but then he decided to become a babyface, and for the next 20 years, he was the best babyface.”
— Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson