As to the most egregious oversite of Flo’s Top 100 Greatest Wrestlers of all time was the absence of Gray Simons on the list. I would have put him somewhere in the Top 20, and he certainly belongs, without an argument in the Top 30.
While Gray was at Lock Haven, he won 4 NAIA National Championships which were the 1960’s equivalent of winning four D-II tournaments. In all four championships, he was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler. At the D-I’s, he won 3 titles and named the Outstanding Wrestler in the last two. The only reason he didn’t win a 4th D-I title was prior to 1970, freshmen weren’t eligible to compete.
Interrupting the flow of this article, I have to add this to the conversation. When we speak of who might qualify as being the greatest of all time, if it doesn’t involve winning at least two NCAA titles, it’s like trying to make bread without using flour. And twenty-five (25) of those currently in Flo’s Top 100 didn’t even win one.
Regarding the rule about freshmen not being eligible kept at least five, if not eight individuals from winning four Division I titles. Names like Lange, McCready, Arndt, Van Bebber, Henson, Koll, and Hodge; along with Simons come to mind. Most historians I have spoken with, many of which are no longer with us, shared the following stories regarding how these men dominated wrestling’s landscape.
Let’s talk about Lowell Lange for a minute. Besides winning three NCAA titles, he also won the AAU freestyle national championships as a senior in high school. That might be an indication of how great Lowell was, and support the belief that he would have won 4 titles had the rules allowed it. Lowell was probably the most overlooked wrestler on Flo’s list, and in U.S. history.
The next probable 4-timer was Earl “the Moose” McCready. He never had a close match in his 3 seasons of collegiate competition, and pinned all but 3 of his opponents during that time. He was America’s first 3-time NCAA Champion. And he achieved all that while standing only 5’11” as a heavyweight.
Then there’s David “Buddy” Arndt, who according to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, never lost a match in high school; or college. What I found terribly interesting about Mr. Arndt’s career was, his first two NCAA titles occurred in the early 1940’s. His last championship came after he returned home from WWII where he was a P-38 pilot, flying more than 100 combat missions. For his service in the war, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with four clusters and six Bronze Battle Stars. Gotta love those wrestlers.
The last four on my list of probable 4-time NCAA champions are Jack Van Bebber, Stanley Henson, Bill Koll, and Danny Hodge.
What I found interesting about Van Bebber was . . . a year after graduating from college he won the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles by hitch-hiking. You’ll like this story. As it’s told, while Jack was in his hotel room resting before the finals, he found out that the schedule had changed. And he was due on the mat in less than an hour. Being six miles away, and without any available transportation, he was forced to run. Fortunately, after two miles, a passing motorist gave him a ride to the arena. That’s one way of warming up!
Stanley Henson; many old-timers said he was the best of the best; a man without peers. The National Wrestling Hall of Fame put it this way. “In the never-ending debate over who has been America’s greatest wrestler, the name of Stanley Henson always receives plenty of support.” So why didn’t he make the Top 100 if he’s always in the discussion about being the best of the best?
From there I’ll move to Bill Koll, the person who’s responsible for the slam rule being in amateur wrestling. He wasn’t the kindest individual who ever walked on a mat, but he was definitely the most dominant, and America’s first two-time NCAA Outstanding Wrestler award winner. The National Wrestling Hall of Fame had this to say about Bill? “He won every match in devastating style, winning three consecutive NCAA titles, and three National AAU championships.”
Then there’s Danny Hodge, and don’t think for a moment that I’m writing about him last because he’s somehow inferior to the other seven. There’s a very valid reason why the Heisman Award for wrestling is called The Hodge. Adding to his status of greatness, Danny was never taken down in college, and he pinned 78% of his opponents. Gary Kurdelmeier, NCAA Champion, and the coach at Iowa who mentored Gable, had this to say about having to wrestle Danny. “In the first period when we wrestled, I thought I was going to die. In the second period, I was afraid that I wasn’t.”
Let’s go back to Gray Simons. To summarize his collegiate career, he won every college event he was allowed to enter and in the 1964 Olympics, he never lost a match, nor was he even scored on, and placed 7th. What? Wait a minute. He never lost a match? How’d that happen?
Well, for those who remember, during those years, and the point I’m trying to make by writing these articles is; there have been many different sets of rules, challenges, and opportunities that differentiate one decade of athletes from another. And we must, if we’re to be fair, wade through differences.
As to Gray’s performance in Tokyo, international competition at the time was based on a black mark system. If you won by a decision, you’d receive 1 black mark. If you tied your opponent, that gave you 2 black marks. A loss by decision, oops, you were given 3 black marks, and losing by fall would cost you 4 black marks.
Once an athlete received 6 black marks, regardless of how he accumulated them, he was out of the tournament. Unfortunately, Gray wasn’t a pinner. Neither are most of the athletes who are part of Flo’s Top 100 so you shouldn’t hold this Olympic performance against him. So, without losing a match, Gray was in the bleachers watching the finals instead of, as it is today, wrestling for Gold.
In summary, Gray was as slick as they come on his feet, but the emphasis of the day in America wasn’t on down wrestling, just as the new 3-point takedown rule, a HUGE mistake by the way, will severely discourage all forms of down wrestling.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Gray Simons was one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
The third installment of this three-part series will be posted in a week or so.