Recently, I read a series of posts on Facebook addressing the question of who was America’s greatest pinner?
Given that I have some background on the subject, I decided to weigh-in.
My first thought is, there’s never a clear cut answer to any question in wrestling. Our sport never seems to be able to get past the first point of contention; what criteria is being used?
If we’re discussing who’s the greatest wrestler of all time, are we talking about someone who has the most victories, the most titles, or the most marquee wins? Should we include international competitions, or just analyze domestic events? Should there be a larger emphasis on the middle weights, given that’s the apex of the bell curve relative to numbers of athletes competing? How about using the highest percentage of wins to matches wrestled as the defining criteria?
The same dilemma occurs when we’re trying to discuss pinning. Are we talking about who has the most pins, the highest ratio of pins to wins, the most physical pinner, the most dangerous, the most exciting, or someone who has the most marquee falls?
As I typed each of these criteria, a dozen names came to mind. In alphabetical order they were: Ben Askren, Larry Bielenberg, Mark Churella, Dan Gable, Danny Hodge, Bill Koll, Randy Lewis, Gene Mills, Bo Nickal, that Clarion guy, Al Sears, and Chris Taylor.
If we’re talking about sheer numbers, Al Sears, from SIU-Edwardsville is the current NCAA title holder with 110 pins over a collegiate career? He was very good at pinning, but if I have to walk the plank here and rank each individual, I don’t have him in my Top 5 for two reasons. The first one is his school’s strength of schedule, and second, a shortage of marquee wins by fall.
Chris Taylor, God rest his soul, pinned a lot, but I wouldn’t classify him as a pinner when he weighed well over 400 pounds. He just pinned a lot. So, if we’re trying to decide who the greatest pinner of all time was, I think we have to base our decisions on subtle differences. Two of them might be; did the individual use various techniques to secure falls, or did he or she with the inclusion of women in the sport only have one go to method, or in Chris’s situation, a distinct advantage.
Amazingly, both Hodge and Gable hold the national record for percentage of pins to wins with 73% of their matches ending by fall. Now I have to admit, I never had the pleasure of watching Danny wrestle so I can’t possible classify him as a pinner or someone who pinned a lot! But I would imagine every one of the poor souls who ended up underneath him would agree; he was not only a pinner, but someone blessed with beastly power.
Dan on the other hand, I worked out with, a lot, and don’t have a problem classifying his skills. Simply, he was a pinner with exceptional intensity. His greatness, as well as Hodge’s, can never be questioned and why I have the two Dan’s tied at number 2 in my Top 5 list of greatest pinners of all time. And, along with Bill Koll, they own the category of the most physical pinners of all time.
Gene Mills was a pinner extraordinaire, with 101 different ways of putting a half nelson on, and almost as many collegiate falls. He was amazingly talented, and combined with a level of tenaciousness I’ve never seen before or since, puts him at number 4 in my Top 5 list of greatest pinners of all time.
Regarding the third and fourth categories, most dangerous, and most exciting, I’ve been told I fall into those categories along with Gene, Randy Lewis, and Bo Nickal.
Then there’s Ben Askren, he’s always in the conversation when we’re talking about great pinners. Ben was both funky, and fun to watch. His opponents were always apprehensive when they faced him because any mistake they made, typically ended the match. He’s my number 5 in the Top 5 greatest of all time with 91 collegiate falls.
Athletes who fell outside the Top 5, and into an Honorable Mention category, which somehow seems wrong when we’re talking about how great these athletes are, were; Larry Bielenberg, Mark Churella, Randy Lewis, and Bo Nickal.
Although not on my original list, a name that kept popping up in my head was Lou Banach. He was an incredible heavyweight, pinning future NCAA champions Bruce Baumgartner and Tab Thacker, and 4-time All-American Steve “Dr. Death” Williams when he was outweighed by huge amounts.
Every one of these individuals are clearly the best pinners the country has ever produced. Tenacious, fun to watch; each are a legend’s legend, and the type of champions that so many of our current wrestlers try to emulate.
As to number 1, I’ll defer to Mike Chapman here. He’s been to 47 NCAA tournaments, written 17 books, created WIN Magazine, the Dan Hodge Award and founded the Dan Gable Museum. He’s often said, privately and publicly, “that he considers a guy named Wade Schalles to be the most dangerous and exciting pinner he ever saw.” What separates Wade from the rest, besides his inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records for pinning, is the quality of those he pinned; 7 NCAA Division I Champions in five different weight classes, 32 NCAA All-Americans and although not collegiate competition, 4 World Champions.