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Dick Beyer, Syracuse wrestler who became 'The Destroyer,' passes

Dick Beyer (Photo/Syracuse University)

Dick Beyer, an accomplished wrestler at Syracuse University who went on to become legendary masked professional wrestler "The Destroyer" and "Doctor X", died in his home just outside Buffalo, N.Y. Thursday. He was 88.

Born July 11, 1930 in Buffalo, Dick Beyer was a four-sport athlete at Seneca Vocational High School who earned a football scholarship to Syracuse University playing right tackle and defensive guard. It was at Syracuse that the 5'10", 230-pound Beyer also made a name for himself on the wrestling team as heavyweight in the early 1950s. He competed at three EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) championships. At the 1951 EIWAs, Beyer was pinned in the first round by Richard Clark of Cornell University. The next two conference championships, Beyer made it to the heavyweight finals. At the 1952 EIWAs, the unseeded Beyer lost to Princeton's Brad Glass -- 1951 NCAA heavyweight champ -- in the finals, 4-3. The following year, Beyer -- the No. 3 seed in the unlimited weight class -- fell to Werner Seel of Lehigh, 2-1, in the finals.

Dick Beyer (Photo/Onandogan yearbook)
Beyer did not wrestle at the NCAA championships while at Syracuse. However, he competed at AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) wrestling events in freestyle competition. He was a 1952 AAU Niagara District champion after placing second in the finals the year before. At the 1952 National AAU championships, Beyer placed third at heavyweight (Bill Kerslake was crowned champ) ... while at the 1954 NAAUs, Beyer was runner-up to future Oregon State head coach Dale Thomas in the 191-pound bracket.

Beyer was a three-time letterwinner for Syracuse (1951-1953) and was named Syracuse Athlete of the Year in 1953 for his performance on the wrestling mat and football field. (The school, located in upstate New York, eliminated its wrestling program two decades ago.)

After graduating from Syracuse, Beyer served as an assistant football coach throughout the 1950s to head coach Ben Schwartzwalder. In 1954, Beyer launched a professional wrestling career that spanned four decades and 8,000 matches. After finding middling success in his early years in the pro ring, a promoter put him in a mask made from a woman's girdle and made him a "heel" (bad guy), first as "The Destroyer" then as "Doctor X" in the Minneapolis-based AWA (American Wrestling Association) headed up by former collegiate mat champ Verne Gagne. Beyer also was the first American to compete in All Japan pro wrestling.

From 1984-95, Beyer taught physical education in the Akron, New York Central School District, where he also coached football, wrestling and swimming. He hung up his pro wrestling mask in 1993.

Beyer was welcomed into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum's George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2014, Beyer received the Zunic Award from his college alma mater. This annual award is presented to a noteworthy former Syracuse University athlete.

Dick Beyer is one of a number of amateur wrestlers who parlayed that on-the-mat experience into fame in professional wrestling in the 1950s and 60s, including Dan Hodge, Dick Hutton, and Verne Gagne ... a career path started in the 1920s with amateur greats such as Earl McCready and Ed Don George ... and, in more recent times, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar and Jake Hager (who just left WWE as Jack Swagger for his first pro MMA event in late January.)

Dick Beyer -- aka The Destroyer and Doctor X -- is the second former professional wrestler whose passing was announced this past week. King Kong Bundy, a major WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) star in the 1980s and 1990s, passed away Monday, March 4 at age 61. Prior to entering the squared circle, Bundy was a two-time New Jersey regional wrestling champ for Washington Township High School in Gloucester County (1973, 1974) under his birth name Chris Pallies.

Thanks to James Rooney and Stephen Stonebraker for their assistance.

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Sheerstress (1) about 3 months ago
For a brief time in the 1980s he was the coach at my alma mater, Amherst Central High in Buffalo. A great coach and a great guy. RIP.
clarkk (2) about 3 months ago
FWIW Kerslake did not start his string of national championships until 1953. In 1952 he finished 2nd.