Destroyer unmasks secrets of success

Dick "The Destroyer" Beyer is regarded as one of the greatest masked wrestlers of all time.

There was a time, long before sports entertainment and the WWE Universe, when men who wore masks spread terror and wreaked havoc throughout the professional wrestling world.

Masked wrestlers and masked tag teams dotted the landscape and were an integral part of the business.

Most hooded grapplers were villains inside the ring who went to great lengths to conceal their identity. Menacingly billed as being from "parts unknown," these men of mystery preyed on the fears of an audience that paid good money in hopes of seeing their local favorites unmask the rule-breaking scoundrels.

One of the greatest to ever wear a mask inside a wrestling ring was a character known, simply enough, as The Destroyer.

Dick Beyer, the man behind the famous red-trimmed, white hood, has a great new book out titled "Masked Decisions: The Triangular Life of Dick 'The Destroyer' 'Doctor X' Beyer: From American Athlete to International Icon."

Let's just be glad that Beyer didn't work under more masked aliases, or the title might have been even longer.

Beyer, who co-authored the book with Vince Evans, takes the reader through a remarkable journey that chronicles the wrestler's life inside and outside the squared circle.

This, however, isn't just another wrestler's story. It's an in-depth portrait of a sports hero who, almost inadvertently, achieved international success and stardom.

The upstate New York native was an incredible athlete who excelled at wrestling and football at Syracuse University. The 5-10, 230-pound right guard co-captained Syracuse's 1952 team which, at 7-2, was good enough to get to the Orange Bowl and bad enough to lose to powerhouse Alabama, 61-6, a Miami shellacking that Clemson's football team could probably relate to in the wake of last week's 70-33 blowout defeat at the hands of West Virginia.

Beyer, who earned a masters degree in education, remained at Syracuse as an assistant football coach on the staff of legendary Ben Schwartzwalder. His exploits on the mat and on the gridiron landed him honors as the 1953 Syracuse University Athlete of the Year.

He turned pro after graduating in 1954, although in the beginning, wrestling was just a sidelight. He also served as a full-time assistant to Schwartzwalder, leaving him summers to travel the wrestling circuit.

Beyer, a rather non-descript wrestler who had toiled as a mid-card act for his first eight years in the business, would see his career take off when a promoter suggested that he temporarily don a mask.

Beyer initially was aghast at such a proposition. The move, however, turned out to be a stroke of genius, transforming a fetching babyface into one of pro wrestling's most celebrated stars.

The Destroyer wasn't just another wrestler, and the hood wasn't just another mask.

The mask was fashioned, with its holes for his eyes and nose and mouth, out of a woman's girdle that fit over Beyer's head like a tube sock. The distortion and exaggeration of his features from the elasticity in the materials made him look fiercer and meaner.

The transformation would be both career- and life-changing. Although many wrestlers were put under a mask by promoters, Beyer took the process a step farther, turning up the volume on his personality and actually assuming the identity of The Destroyer.

The clean-cut, All-American good guy formerly known as Dick Beyer officially gave way to a new creation hidden under sinister cloth one night in southern California in 1962. His income doubled in the first month.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Masked Destroyer, also self-proclaimed as "The Intelligent, Sensational Destroyer," would become an international celebrity and pop culture icon.

While The Destroyer was hugely popular in the States, his character achieved near-cult status in Japan. A 1963 bout with Rikidozan, the father of Japanese pro wrestling, was responsible for one of the biggest ratings in the history of Japanese television when 70 million people tuned in to watch. A series of matches with Giant Baba turned Destroyer into a household name in the Orient.

The Destroyer was a valuable commodity who sold tickets everywhere he went. Although he was a heel, as most masked wrestlers of that era were, Beyer was a great mat technician who showcased his skills with an array of scientific holds.

He was on the winning end of a highly publicized 1962 mask vs. hair showdown with Gorgeous George in Los Angeles which saw George's famous head of hair shaved bald.

Beyer was "The Destroyer" throughout the rest of his career, with the exception of an AWA run during the late '60s when promoter Verne Gagne insisted that Beyer assume another masked identity. Like everywhere else he had wrestled, Beyer quickly became a main-event attraction in Gagne's territory, this time under the name Doctor X.

Ironically, one of his most bitter ring rivals in the AWA was a fan favorite named Billy "Red" Lyons, both masters of the figure four leglock. In real life, however, the two were actually brothers-in-law and best friends, with fans never knowing that the nefarious Beyer was married to Lyons' sister.

Beyer, who stayed under the mask as The Destroyer or Dr. X for more than 30 years, fought his last match in Tokyo on July 29, 1993, when he was 63 years old.

The book provides a candid look at the man behind the mask -- his successes and triumphs, and the price paid for living a wrestler's vagabond existence.

The 81-year-old Beyer, a three-time holder of the WWA world heavyweight title and former AWA world heavyweight champion, is a member of the pro wrestling hall of fame as well as the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

And he still wears the mask -- the one fashioned from a woman's undergarment that brought him fame, fortune and a chance to see the world -- to various wrestling-related functions.

"And to think I never even wanted to wear it.""

The paperback can be purchased on Amazon.com or at Barnes and Noble. For more information on the book, check out the website at TheDestroyer.com.

-- TNA world champ Robert Roode will defend his title against Jeff Hardy in the main event of tonight's TNA Genesis pay-per-view. Other top bouts include Kurt Angle vs. James Storm; Samoa Joe and Magnus vs. Matt Morgan and Crimson for the TNA tag-team title; and Rob Van Dam vs. Gunner.

-- The South Carolina Wrestling Federation is holding a show at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21 in Gaston.

Bouts include Jon Malus vs. Brandon Paradise in a Soda City Street Fight; The Ambassadors vs. Heavy Metal; ChrisifiX vs. Sixx; Danny Dollar and Josh Magnum vs. Team Macktion; and Vordell Walker vs. Timber.

Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at 843-937-5517 or by e-mail at mooneyham@postandcourier.com.