Jim Ross on Superstars with amateur backgrounds

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October 09, 2012

Jim Ross discusses Brock Lesnar and other amateur greats in his latest article for WWE Classics.

Jack Brisco, an alumnus of my Sooners’ rival, the Oklahoma State Cowboys, became the first Native American to win an NCAA wrestling title. He achieved this prestigious honor in 1965, his junior year. Brisco was never taken down a single time in that season, which was and still is unheard of. “Handsome” Jack easily made the transition to the professional ranks and became a two-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion. In 2008, Jack and his younger brother, Gerald, were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Gerald followed Jack into amateur wrestling and after winning two AAU titles, was awarded a full academic scholarship to Jack’s alma mater, OSU. Gerald went on to continue his family’s championship legacy, winning the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship. Gerald and Jack also won the NWA World Tag Team Championships three times. The WWE Hall of Famer still works for WWE, scouting college wrestling tournaments for potential WWE Superstars.

South Korea’s Riki Choshu, Canada’s Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon and Earl McCready, who many say was the Great White North’s greatest all-around athlete, and Japan’s Jumbo Tsuruta, Yoshiaki Yatsu and Masa Saito (aka Mr. Saito) were other distinguished grapplers who earned their stripes in the amateur world and then became mainstream sports stars while seamlessly moving into the world of sports-entertainment.

Dale Lewis, also out of Oklahoma University, became a respected pro wrestler as Professor Dale Lewis after being a national champion for the Sooners. Lewis’ teammate at OU was my mentor, Cowboy Bill Watts, who was unable to unseat Lewis in practice, but earned much more fame and sold more tickets in the pros than Lewis. Watts headlined Madison Square Garden in his third year in the business, which was an amazing feat.

Other notable amateurs include another Minnesota native, the accomplished Brad Rheingans, who was favored to win the 1980 Olympics until the games were boycotted by the U.S. Rheingans is also the man that first trained Brock Lesnar after Lesnar left Minnesota with a national championship to his credit.

Longtime fans will remember Allen Coage, aka Bad News Brown, medaled in the Olympics in judo before becoming a viable, main event star for Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, Alberta, and then WWE.

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