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Hodge vs. Woodin: Pinning down rivalry that never was

Dan Hodge and Tim Woodin

Let's go back in time, 60 years ago ...

On one side of the mat, a two-time defending conference and national collegiate wrestling champ. This 177 pounder had a perfect unbeaten record, defeating two past NCAA champs (Oklahoma State's Ned Blass and Jim Gregson) in a total of three bouts ... and pinning approximately four out of five of his other collegiate opponents, including twice pinning a guy who would go on to win Big Ten and NCAA titles himself (Iowa's Gary Kurdelmeier).

Across the mat ... his powerfully-built opponent who would eventually score falls in seven out of ten of his bouts (one of his victims: Gary Kurdelmeier), losing only two matches. A wrestler who reportedly transferred to his school with the purpose of defeating the guy described above.

The first wrestler is none other than Dan Hodge of the Oklahoma Sooners. The other guy: Tim Woodin, who left upstate New York to wrestle at Oklahoma State, supposedly so that he could take on Hodge at least twice in one season as part of the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State Bedlam Series dual meets in 1957.

Did these two prolific pinners of the 1950s ever meet on the mat?

The idea of a college match between Hodge and Woodin is not the stuff of speculation on social media; Twitter, Facebook and Instagram didn't exist 60 years ago. Nor is it merely wishful thinking on the part of this history-obsessed writer.

Some books and articles aimed at the professional wrestling community have claimed Woodin enrolled at Oklahoma State in 1956 for the expressed purpose of defeating Dan Hodge of the Oklahoma Sooners. (A possible reason for pro wrestling interest: both Hodge and Woodin - as Tim Woods, and masked good-guy Mr. Wrestling - had long, lucrative careers in the pro ring.)

InterMat wanted to learn more about this potential rivalry between two top fall guys of the 1950s. Did Woodin go to school in Stillwater? Did he ever wrestle for the Cowboys ... and, if so, did Woodin get his wish to face off against the guy known as "Dangerous Dan" and "Homicide Hodge" whose fame remains 60 years after his last collegiate match?

In case you don't know Dan Hodge ...

Six decades after stepping off the mat for the last time, Dan Hodge remains a familiar name and figure in amateur wrestling. Even those who were not alive during his amateur wrestling days recognize his name as adorning the Hodge Trophy, presented each year to the nation's best collegiate wrestler ... and owning the distinction of being the only amateur wrestler to have appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as an amateur wrestler (April 1, 1957). In more recent years, Hodge has been shown on ESPN telecasts of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships demonstrating his incredibly powerful grip by crushing apples on TV.

Dan Hodge
Dan Allen Hodge grew up in Perry, Okla. where he won an Oklahoma high school state title in 1951. He continued his wrestling career in the U.S. Navy, earning a place on two U.S. Olympic men's freestyle teams in the 1950s, winning a silver medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. He turned down a scholarship offer to wrestle at Northwestern, instead enrolling at University of Oklahoma, where he was a three-time Big Seven (now Big 12) champ and three-time NCAA titlewinner (1955-57), all at 177 pounds. As a Sooner, Hodge compiled a perfect 46-0 record, with 36 of those wins by fall, for a 76 percent pinning percentage, one of the all-time highest in the history of NCAA collegiate wrestling.

Hodge celebrated his 85th birthday in May 2017.

Introducing Tim Woodin

Hodge's would-be college rival, Tim Woodin, was born George Burrell Woodin in upstate New York in 1934. (He took on the name Tim at age eleven.) Woodin started his mat career at Ithaca High School, then transferred to Wyoming Seminary in Pennsylvania, where he placed second in the National Prep championships in 1953. Later that year, Woodin returned to Ithaca, enrolling at Cornell University, where he wrestled for the freshman team during the 1953-54 season. He was not listed on the Big Red roster for the 1954-55 season nor featured in the Cornellian yearbooks as a wrestler beyond his freshman year. However, Woodin graduated from Cornell with a degree in Agricultural Engineering.

That said, it's not as if Tim Woodin vanished from wrestling. He won the 191.5-pound title at 1955 National AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) championships in Amityville, N.Y., listed as being from Ithaca. In 1956, Woodin wrestled at the NAAUs at Stillwater, Okla. to defend his title, but was pinned in the first round by Dan McNair, 1953 NCAA heavyweight champ for Auburn University ... then lost a decision to Jerry Strindberg. That year, Woodin was listed as being from Oklahoma A&M ... then the name of the university now known as Oklahoma State. (Woodin won a second NAAU title in 1957 at 191.5 pounds.)

Woodin the Cowboy?

As noted earlier, at the 1956 NAAU wrestling championships held at Stillwater, Tim Woodin was identified as being from Oklahoma A&M, the name for Oklahoma State until 1957.

Does that mean Woodin was actually a student at Oklahoma State? Did he wrestle for the Cowboys? Did he meet Dan Hodge on the mat? And -- knowing that he later wrestled at Michigan State -- why did he leave?

All this has been the topic of some speculation within the pro wrestling community. There are multiple versions of the story, some more detailed than others. Here are some of the basics. Woodin went to Oklahoma State in 1957 with the idea of defeating unbeaten Dan Hodge of cross-state rival Oklahoma a loss or two, much the same way Larry Owings dropped two weight classes for the 1970 NCAAs with the openly expressed purpose of handing Dan Gable his first college loss.

Why would Woodin have wanted to be a Cowboy? For starters, Oklahoma State was still considered to be THE program in college wrestling, claiming the most individual national champs and the greatest number of NCAA team titles. And, thanks to the long-running Bedlam Series -- which each year included one Cowboys vs. Sooners dual in Stillwater, and one in Norman, home to OU -- Woodin would have had at least two regular-season opportunities to wrestle Hodge.

So ... what happened? Some versions of the story in pro wrestling books and media claim that Woodin and Oklahoma State's brand-new coach Myron Roderick had issues with each other. One version states that Roderick brought in Adnan Kaisy from Iraq to take the slot at 177 -- the weight where Woodin wanted to wrestle because it was Dan Hodge's weight. Woodin reportedly left the Cowboys before wrestling a single match, transferring to Michigan State, where he completed his collegiate wrestling career with two conference titles and NCAA All-American honors.

Checking the papers, yearbooks and other resources

Sadly, Woodin and Roderick have passed away. However, there are elements of the story that can be verified -- or dismissed -- by other sources.

In an online search of the 1956 and 1957 editions of the Oklahoma State yearbook, The Redskin, there is no listing for Tim Woodin or any variation of his name. He is not mentioned in nor is he pictured in the pages covering wrestling.

Conducting a similar online search of the archives of The Daily O'Collegian -- the Oklahoma State student newspaper -- Tim Woodin's name appears just once. In the December 12, 1956 issue of the O'Colly, Woodin gets a quick mention in a season-preview article which lists returning wrestlers and the new arrivals: "Tim Woodin, Ithaca, N.Y., 191 (pounds)."

Yet another online tool for learning about Oklahoma State wrestlers is WrestlingStats.com. Established by the late Jay Hammond -- one of the go-to sources for historical information on amateur wrestling -- it provides a wealth of stats on college wrestling (including NCAA championships brackets) ... and individual and team results for a handful of top college programs, including Oklahoma State. In searching the section for Oklahoma State, Tim Woodin is not listed in the individual wrestler search function ... nor is he listed as a member of the team for the 1956-57 season.

Teammates weigh in on Woodin

InterMat interviewed two individuals who wrestled at Oklahoma State during the time Tim Woodin would have been on campus and in the wrestling room: Shelby Wilson and Fred Davis. Wilson was a sophomore during the 1956-57 season ... while Davis would have been completing his athletic and academic career at the time.

As a Cowboy, Wilson was the 137-pound starter from January 1957 through March 1959. (Back then, freshmen were not allowed to wrestle varsity.) The Ponca City, Okla. native compiled an overall record of 34-2-1, and was a two-time Big Eight (now Big 12) champ in 1958 and 1959. Wilson's only two losses as a Cowboy were in the NCAA finals those two years -- to Oklahoma's Stan Abel in '58, and Larry Hayes of Iowa State the following year. Wilson went on to win a gold medal in freestyle at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, joining fellow Oklahoma State mat alum Doug Blubaugh and University of Iowa grad Terry McCann as Olympic champs.

When asked if he had any memory of Tim Woodin being a wrestler at Oklahoma State, Shelby Wilson immediately responded, "Yeah, we lived in the same dorm."

Wilson then followed up with, "Woodin would have been only the third out-of-state wrestler at Oklahoma State."

A few minutes into the conversation, Wilson said, "I remember (Woodin) in the room. He was a stud. But I don't remember him wrestling any matches."

The Cowboy-turned-Olympic gold medalist had high praise for Woodin's would-be rival.

"(Dan) Hodge was a power wrestler. He was incredibly strong. He was physical. He would do well today."

Shelby Wilson then suggested calling fellow Oklahoma State mat alum Fred Davis, who was a two-time NCAA finalist at 167 pounds, winning the title in 1955.

"I remember Tim working out with the team," Davis told InterMat.

"He was really well-built," the three-time NCAA All-American continued. "A decent wrestler. A fine, decent man. But he had a hard time with us."

Did Woodin wrestle Hodge?

Based on match records at WrestlingStats.com -- and the personal recollections of Shelby Wilson and Fred Davis -- Tim Woodin did not wrestle Dan Hodge.

Neither of the former Oklahoma State wrestlers InterMat interviewed remember Woodin wrestling any matches as a Cowboy ... let alone stepping onto the mat vs. Oklahoma's Hodge.

According to WrestlingStats.com, at the first Oklahoma-Oklahoma State dual meet in January 1957 at Norman, Ray Strickland was sent out to battle "Dangerous Dan" ... and, in his only match as a Cowboy, Strickland was pinned at 5:05 in Hodge's home gym. (Wilson did not remember Strickland wrestling Hodge, but Davis did.)

In the second Bedlam Series dual, held six weeks later in Stillwater, Jimmy Harding got the assignment, and was pinned by Hodge at what was then called Gallagher Hall (now Gallagher-Iba Arena) in 50 seconds. (The Harding-Hodge match is described in incredible detail in the 1957 Sports Illustrated cover story about Dan Hodge.)

Shelby Wilson recalled the Harding-Hodge match.

"When Jimmy Harding went out onto the mat vs. Hodge, we had him all fired up," Wilson told InterMat. "But we knew what was going to happen to him."

At the 1957 Big Eight conference championships, Dan Hodge was crowned 177-pound champ for the third consecutive year. No Oklahoma State wrestler is listed in the 177-pound bracket. A couple weeks later, Hodge concluded his college career by winning his third national title -- and his second Outstanding Wrestler trophy -- at the 1957 NCAAs in Pittsburgh.

What about Adnan Kaisy?

As mentioned earlier, some versions of the Woodin-at-Oklahoma-State story state that Cowboy coach Myron Roderick picked Adnan Kaisy -- who had been a wrestling champ in his native Iraq -- over Woodin as the starter at 177 pounds.

Adnan Kaisy
That story has some elements of truth. Kaisy indeed wrestled at Oklahoma State. In fact, he was the first foreign-born athlete to wrestle for Roderick's Cowboys, paving the way for others, most notably, future Olympic gold medalist and three-time NCAA champ Yojiro Uetake of Japan in the mid-1960s.

While at Oklahoma State, Kaisy compiled an overall record of 13-6-0. He was two-time NCAA All-American, placing fourth at the 1958 NCAAs and again at the 1959 NCAAs.

According to WrestlingStats.com, Kaisy wrestled for the Cowboys from February 1958 through March 1959, which was after Dan Hodge had graduated from Oklahoma in spring 1957. In other words, Kaisy and Hodge could not have wrestled each other in college. There's no overlap in their collegiate wrestling careers.

Kaisy wrestled at both 191 pounds and at heavyweight. He never wrestled at 177, according to his record at WrestlingStats.com. (Hodge consistently wrestled at 177 throughout his career at University of Oklahoma.)

Now that we've eliminated any possibility that Hodge and Kaisy would have wrestled ... let's address the Woodin-Kaisy issue.

A number of factors would indicate there was no teammate rivalry between Woodin and Kaisy -- either on its own, or generated by coach Myron Roderick "picking favorites" -- which would lead to Woodin's departure.

For starters, Kaisy's collegiate career at Oklahoma State did not coincide with Woodin's.

Even if Kaisy and Woodin had been in Stillwater at the same time, it's highly unlikely that any "rivalry" for a starting position would have been settled merely by coach's choice. Throughout the early history of the Oklahoma State wrestling program going back to the early 1920s when Ed Gallagher was head coach, starting positions were determined by wrestle-offs, or what were referred to as "ranking matches" at the school. Even in the 1950s and into the 60s under Roderick, ranking matches usually occurred each week before dual meets and tournaments. These ranking matches were covered in the Daily O'Collegian student paper on a regular basis, usually in detail much like one would expect for dual meets and tournaments open to the public. Again, in searching the online version of the O'Colly, there are no articles mentioning any ranking matches/wrestle-offs involving Tim Woodin during the 1956-57 season.

The fact Kaisy never wrestled at 177 -- and that he wasn't on the active roster at Oklahoma State while Woodin was there -- seems to contradict stories that would indicate there was some sort of rivalry between Woodin and Kaisy and/or that coach Roderick was "playing favorites" which led to Woodin's departure.

Fun Fact No. 1: Adnan Kaisy and Shelby Wilson were roommates, renting a one-bedroom apartment in a garage owned by the local Dairy Queen operator.

Fun Fact No. 2: Dan Hodge, Tim Woodin, and Adnan Kaisy all went into professional wrestling. Kaisy launched his professional career immediately after completing his mat career at Oklahoma State. He wrestled and served as a manager under the names Sheik Adnan Al-Kaissey, Billy White Wolf, and General Adnan.

Cowboy Tim becomes Woodin the Spartan

Tim Woodin
At some point during the 1956-57 school year, Tim Woodin left Oklahoma State, heading north to Michigan State. NCAA rules required transferees like Woodin to sit out a season, so he did not wrestle for the Spartans until the 1957-58 season. (By then, Dan Hodge had graduated from Oklahoma, and traded in his wrestling tights for boxing gloves, first as an amateur boxer, then, briefly, as a pro boxer before launching his professional wrestling career.)

During the regular 1958 dual-meet season, Woodin won all three of his matches, scoring falls in two of those vs. Michigan and Minnesota.

At the 1958 Big Ten conference championships at the University of Illinois, Woodin pinned all of his opponents in the 177-pound bracket, including Indiana's George Ihnat at 1:55 of the semifinals. By the finals, Woodin was on a pin streak ... which, sadly for Iowa's Gary Kurdelmeier, continued into the 177-pound title match. The Spartan put the hirsute Hawkeye's shoulders to the mat at 8:21, using a half-Nelson and body scissors, according to Amateur Wrestling News, to win the conference crown.

A couple weeks later, at the 1958 NCAAs at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Tim Woodin was the No. 2 seed in the 177-pound bracket; Big Eight champ Frank Powell of Iowa State was the top seed, and Kurdelmeier was seeded fourth. After drawing a bye in the first round, Woodin pinned his next two opponents (Russ Camilleri of San Jose State at 5:04; then Kansas State's Gary Haller at 3:52) before facing Oregon State's John Dustin in the semifinals. Woodin failed to get the fall, but shut out the third-seeded Beaver, 3-0, setting the stage for a rematch with his Big Ten finals foe, Gary Kurdelmeier. This time, the outcome was different. A vengeful Kurdelmeier managed to "out-horse the Spartan with his leg ride" (to quote Amateur Wrestling News) with a 6-2 win, denying Woodin a national title.

Woodin the Spartan's senior season

During the 1958-59 season -- Woodin's last for NCAA eligibility -- the former Big Red-turned-Cowboy-turned-Spartan continued to dominate opponents in dual-meet competition and at the championships. At the 1959 Big Tens at University of Iowa, Woodin moved up to the heavyweight class, where he pinned his first two opponents -- Northwestern's Bob Deasy, and Purdue's Ron Maltony -- then got a 7-2 decision over Bob Salata of Illinois in the semifinals. In the finals, Woodin went up against Iowa's Gordon Trapp, getting a 6-4 win over the Hawkeye big guy, earning his second conference championship.

At the 1959 NCAAs -- also hosted by Iowa -- Woodin dropped down from heavyweight to the 191-pound bracket (a weight class wrestled only at the NCAAs at the time) where he was the top seed. Woodin pinned his first three opponents from Oklahoma, Pacific Oregon, and Yale before facing Oklahoma State's Adnan Kaisy -- yes, the same guy we wrote about earlier -- in the semifinals. Woodin defeated the Cowboy originally from Iraq, 8-2, to find himself in the finals for the second year in a row.

The 191-pound title bout featured a battle of the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the bracket, with top-seeded Woodin going up against Art Baker, football star at Syracuse University. Baker said in a 2013 interview that he told Woodin at the start of the match, "I hate to tell you this, young man, but I'm about to be the first brother to win this." While Baker was wrong about being the first African-American NCAA wrestling champ (Iowa's Simon Roberts earned that honor two years earlier, winning the 147-pound title at the 1957 NCAAs), the lithe, fast-on-his-feet Orangeman running back got the 9-5 win over Woodin to take the national title at 191, becoming only the second black champ in NCAA history.

Tim Woodin concluded his collegiate wrestling career with two Big Ten championships, and as a two-time NCAA All-American, all as a Michigan State Spartan. He graduated from the East Lansing school with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

Woodin goes pro

In 1962, Tim Woodin entered the pro wrestling ring at age 29, wrestling under the name Tim Woods. A few years later, he became one of the first masked good-guy pro wrestlers in the U.S., Mr. Wrestling, who wore a white mask, trunks and boots. A bit later in his career, Woodin would alternate between the masked Mr. Wrestling and unmasked Tim Woods, usually competing in the South and mid-Atlantic states.

The world of pro wrestling today is worlds different than it was when Tim Woods/Mr. Wrestling ruled the squared circle. Back in the 1960s and 70s, pro wrestling was conducted under a code called "kayfabe" which is defined as the portrayal of actual matches as "real" or "true" with the rivalries and relationships among participants presented as genuine and not of a staged or predetermined nature.

With that in mind, articles about Woods in pro wrestling publications of the 1960s and 70s were careful about not revealing too much about his amateur wrestling background. There were mentions about him using amateur wrestling moves or having been a collegiate mat star without naming his alma maters or his honors. And, in the pre-internet era, it was easy to keep that information under wraps from fans.

Woods took the kayfabe code to incredible lengths in 1975, when he was a passenger on a small plane containing pro wrestling "heels" ("bad guys") that crash-landed in the South, killing the pilot and causing serious -- in some cases, career-ending -- injuries to the wrestlers onboard. The notion that a "good guy" like Woods would be traveling with heels like Ric Flair would have been scandalous 40 years ago. Woods identified himself at the hospital as promoter George Burrell Woodin -- his birth name -- so the press did not question why he would have been on that plane. In his autobiography, Flair labeled Woods as "the man who single-handedly saved pro wrestling."

Woodin died of a heart attack in November 2002 at age 68.

Hodge and Woodin: top pinners

Both Dan Hodge and Tim Woodin were respected -- and feared -- for their pinning prowess. The statistics back that up. In fact, in a listing of NCAA college wrestlers with the highest pin percentage between 1928-2016 -- put together by the University of Michigan -- Hodge and Woodin are both listed among the top ten of all time.

Hodge was undefeated in three years wrestling varsity at University of Oklahoma. Of his 46 wins, 36 were by fall ... for a pinning percentage of 78 percent.

Woodin wrestled varsity for Michigan State for two seasons, compiling a 26-2 record. Of those 26 wins, 18 were by pin. That translates into a 69 percent pin percentage.

How do those percentages stack up against legendary wrestlers who are well-known as "fall guys"? Gene Mills scored 107 pins in his 150 wins at Syracuse, for a 71 percent pin rate ... while Clarion's Wade Schalles got 106 falls out of 159 wins, translating to a 66 percent pin percentage. Iowa State's Dan Gable got a 64 percent pin percentage, having pinned 76 opponents in his 118 wins.

Two great heavyweights who actually pinned a higher percentage of opponents than either Dan Hodge or Tim Woodin are Earl McCready, three-time NCAA champ for Oklahoma State (1928-30), who got 22 pins in his 25 wins for an 88 percent pin percentage ... and 400+ pound Chris Taylor of Iowa State, two-time NCAA champ (1972-73), who pinned 80 wrestlers on his way to 87 victories, for a mind-blowing pin percentage of 92 percent.

Now that we've provided some historical perspective ... how would Hodge's and Woodin's pinning percentages stack up against today's top NCAA Division I fall guys? For the 2016-17 season, Cornell's Gabe Dean, and Penn State's Zack Retherford and Bo Nickal each scored 17 pins. That translates into a 50 percent pin rate for Dean this past season, 61 percent pin percentage for Retherford, and 65 percent for Nickal.

Anyway, back to our two fall guys of the Fifties, Dan Hodge and Tim Woodin.

Yes, Woodin went to great lengths -- including a move of hundreds of miles from upstate New York to Oklahoma State -- all in an attempt to take on not only one the top collegiate pinners of the era, but one of the true all-time greats of college wrestling.

Both men were not just great pinners, but were also physical specimens. Hodge stood 5'10" of lean muscle ... while Woodin was 6 feet tall, with a powerful physique featuring broad shoulders and muscular chest. What's more, in 1957, both were a bit older than typical. That year, Hodge was a 24-year-old married man with an infant son ... while Woodin was coming up on his 23rd birthday (yet had two full years left in his college mat career).

No, they never wrestled each other in college ... but it's fun to imagine what a Hodge vs. Woodin match would have been like.

*Note that this list does not have any stipulations such as minimum number of matches -- or years -- wrestled. And ... realize that recordkeeping has not always been an exact science, and there has been some discussion among wrestling historians as to how many matches and/or falls some all-time great wrestlers of the past actually achieved.

Thanks to Jim Rooney for providing valuable research information, and to Oklahoma State wrestling legends Shelby Wilson and Fred Davis for sharing their memories of Tim Woodin and Dan Hodge.

Comments

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Powerws (2) about 3 years ago
Hey, Thanks for the amazing article! Tim was my dad and the most genuine man I ever met. I miss him so much! Either way, thanks again for the article and let me know if there is anything I can do in helping preserve my dad's legacy!!
IdeaMark (1) about 3 years ago
Great to hear from you! Would it be possible to talk to you about your dad? If so, please send me an email to mark@intermatwrestle.com. Thank you!
Mark Palmer, Senior Writer, InterMat