Chris Taylor: The giant Olympian
By GREG OLIVER -- SLAM! Wrestling
U.S. wrestler Chris Taylor of Dowagia, Michigan at the Munich Olympics after winning his third round match, August 30, 1972. -- Canada Wide
Chris Taylor was the biggest Olympian ever in 1972, competing in
freestyle wrestling in Munich, Germany at a whopping 412 pounds.
Coming out of the Olympics with a bronze medal, he seemed a natural fit
for pro wrestling and hooked up with another former Olympian, Verne
Gagne, for training. It was a remarkable contract at the time, in excess of $100,000.
But it wasn't to be for Taylor, who had numerous
health problems and died in 1979 at age 29.
"He was okay for a big guy, he weighed 450 pounds. He got to 500 after a
while," Gagne recalled to SLAM! Wrestling. "He just had too many things
wrong with him. He couldn't sustain a steady diet of travelling and
wrestling. When he finally died, there were five different things wrong
Taylor was from Dowagiac, Michigan and really first made a name for
himself as an amateur at Iowa State University, after two years at a
junior college. At ISU, he became a crowd favourite, going undefeated
and winning two national titles, and being named All American twice.
Dot Curtis did the pairing and scoring for many of Taylor's amateur matches,
and her husband Don refereed some of his
"He was a very capable athlete. Once he got you down, it was hard to
ever recover. For someone as big as he was, he made some awesome takedowns," Dot Curtis said.
One match in particular stood out in her memory. "He took an opponent down with a suplex
and the whole crowd just gasped in amazement at the throw, and then at the
thundering sound when his opponent his the mat, flat on his back. PIN!"
He seemed destined to win gold at the Olympic Games in Munich.
Two of his bouts at the Games stand out and help explain how the
behemoth ended up on with a bronze medal in freestyle.
In only the first round of freestyle, Taylor took on two-time gold
medalist Aleksandr Medved of Minsk, Ukraine. Medved had beated Taylor at
three other meets, but on this occasion, they fought to a draw. The
231-pound Medved was awarded a controversial decision by referee Umit
Demirag of Turkey, who had penalized Taylor for passivity. It was the
last time Demirag refereed an Olympic bout, as the ruling body dismissed
him from his position, yet allowed the Medved-Taylor decision to stand.
Both men won the rest of their bouts, with the Ukrainian taking gold.
In Greco-Roman, Taylor faced off against Wilfried Dietrich, a West German
wrestler whom he had beaten in freestyle. Gagne recalled that Dietrich
had a strategy where he kept trying to push Taylor out of the ring. Then
Taylor got riled up and rushed Dietrich, who grabbed him up in a bear
hug and suplexed the 412-pound monster and "turned him on his back
before he hit the mat and that was it. It was a phenomenal move."
West Germany's Wilfreid Dietrich throws American heavyweight Chris Taylor during their match at the Munich Games. Dietrich won. -- Canada Wide
Gagne explained some of the difficulties that amateur wrestlers go
through when becoming pro wrestlers. "You've got a ring for pro
wrestling and you don't have a ring when you are wrestling amateur.
You've got a mat on the floor and a point system. You don't have that
anymore [in pro], so there's a lot of stuff that you have to learn. A
lot of things that you have to learn, and some things to forget about --
don't worry about a takedown, you won't lose two points; and don't worry
about near pin because there isn't any near pins. Either you get pinned
or you don't get pinned."
Billy Robinson and Gagne taught Taylor in late 1973, after Taylor had finished at Iowa State. Gagne said that Taylor was at their training facility "for quite some time."
"He picked up on it pretty good," Gagne said. "He went up to Oregon and
he got sick up there. He got sick while he was here and had to lay off
for a while."
As a pro, he made his debut in early 1974, usually wrestling AWA prelim wrestlers like Rene Goulet
, Moose Morowski, and Bob Remus (Slaughter). He often used a bear hug to win his matches. There was an attempt in 1974 to team him with fellow Olympian Ken Patera, but the team had no chemistry and did not last.
Taylor's first pro match was against Rene Goulet. A photo from their match ended up in the March 11, 1974 issue of People Magazine.
In an interview with the DDT Digest web site
, Goulet recalled a Taylor story.
"I'll tell you a story about Chris Taylor. He'd just gotten out of the Olympics, and he was a big guy, like over 400 pounds, and, as a result, his pro wrestling matches wouldn't go very long. They would be like thirty or forty seconds...maybe two minutes.|
So, his first battle royal was part of a two-ring battle royal. Verne Gagne invented the two-ring battle royal, doing it the first time in Minneapolis. He used to hold it once a year, in Chicago.
Anyway, this battle royal with Chris Taylor was on ABC's Wide World of Sports. [starts chuckling] I remember this because I was in the battle royal, too. The last two guys in it were Mad Dog Vachon and Chris Taylor. And, Mad Dog Vachon, you know, he was tough. Not the biggest man in the world but, boy, was he a tough son of a gun. Plus, he could wrestle...he went to the Olympics, the Empire Games, He was unbelievable.
So, it's Mad Dog and Chris. And Mad Dog is all over Chris Taylor...Chris is bleeding from the nose...the poor guy's been in the ring for over twenty minutes. And [starts laughing] Mad Dog starts biting Chris Taylor's nose, and Chris is bleeding everywhere!
Chris Taylor won the battle royal, but Mad Dog won the battle. I thought that poor kid was going to die!"
SLAM! Sports covers The Games
Earl McCready, 1928|
Mad Dog Vachon, 1948
Danny Hodge, 1952, 1956
Dale Lewis, 1956, 1960
Bob Roop, 1968
Chris Taylor, 1972
Bad News Allen, 1976
Brad Rheingans, 1976
Mark Henry, 1992, 1996
Kurt Angle, 1996
The other Olympians
The giant never really made it to main event status, and had trouble getting over, in part because he would admit that the pro game was fake. He peaked in the AWA as a semi-main eventer, taking on the likes of Buddy Wolff, Larry Heiniemi, Superstar Graham, Baron von Raschke, and Horst Hoffman.
Taylor's move to pro wrestling did attract mainstream media attention, which was rare at the time. One of his bouts against Mad Dog Vachon was aired on ABC's Wide World of Sports.
Among the problems Taylor faced were hepatitis and phlebitis, which coupled
with the massive weight that he carried around on his 6-foot-5-inch
frame, made life difficult.
Mike Soma was a wrestler named Ravishing Race Bannon in the late '70s, and worked once with Taylor in a handicap match. "It was myself and a guy
named Tom DeMarco," he recalled. "Chris was about 480 or 500 pounds at the time and he was not moving well his bulk made it hard for him to move and he would
not work long matches because he did not have the stamina to go long.
But a man his size was suppose to end a match quickly."
Taylor's body gave out at his home in Iowa on June 30, 1979 and he died at age 29.
"I called his parents and said, 'I imagine that you are pretty shocked
at Chris's early demise here at 29 years old,'" remembered Gagne. "I
talked to his mother, and she said, 'Well, we're just grateful we had
Chris around that long. He had a lot of problems."