Tag Team Appreciation Month

CRUSHER & BRUISER

 

1963 - 1985

AWA World Tag Team Champions

WWA Tag Team Champions

 

Written by Mike Rickard

The Midwest rarely saw as much mayhem in the ring as when Dick the Bruiser teamed with his kayfabe cousin, The Crusher, beating opponents into submission with unbridled violence. With a look that suggested they could beat up their opponents in the ring then relax at the local tavern for many rounds of brewskis, this colorful duo won the fans’ respect and adoration, even though they were supposed to be heels. Long before “Stone Cold” Steve Austin popularized kicking tail and pounding down beers, the Bruiser and the Crusher were as well known for their drinking as they were for their wrestling. Nonetheless, their in-ring competition yielded much success, with both men holding numerous singles championships as well as many reigns as tag team champions. Join me know as I look at the tag team career of Dick the Bruiser and the Crusher, the two men who made Milwaukee.... er, Minnesota famous.

 

Milwaukee native Reggie Lisowski entered the world on July 11, 1926 and quickly became a working-class hero, working in blue-collar jobs as a bricklayer and in the meatpacking industry, all the while moonlighting in the squared circle. After his 1949 debut, Lisowski wasted no time became a regular performer, working as a heel during TV’s Golden Age of Wrestling and then finding work in Verne Gagne’s new promotion, the American Wrestling Association.

The Crusher established himself as a main event star in the AWA, winning the promotion’s World Heavyweight Championship three times and a slew of singles belts in the AWA and elsewhere. The Crusher was a wrestler the common man could relate to as he just as much at home enjoying a drink and a cigar as he was at punishing opponents. According to The Crusher, he maintained his rugged physique in an unorthodox manner—"by running along the Lake Michigan waterfront with a keg of beer on each shoulder, building his stamina to polka all night with the local ‘Polish dollies.’” Whatever the source of his muscles (be they spinach or Stoli), Verne Gagne once remarked that the Crusher could bench press 600 pounds.

 

Equally fearsome was Crusher’s long-time tag team partner, Richard Afflis, better known by his wrestling moniker Dick the Bruiser. Afflis earned his nickname playing professional football (the same place he received the esophagus injury that left him with his trademark gravelly voice) and parlayed his gridiron greatness into the squared circle as a regular in the AWA as well as the World Wrestling Association, a promotion he purchased.

Indiana native Richard Afflis was born on June 27, 1929 and like his kayfabe cousin the Crusher, he made his mark in football—in Afflis’ case, terrorizing the defense as a lineman for the Green Bay Packers. At the time, wrestling paid much more than football so Afflis made the jump into wrestling, rapidly climbing to the top of the heel ranks. Afflis enjoyed a run as United States Champion in the National Wrestling Alliance’s  Detroit promotion, just one of many major titles he held.

Dick the Bruiser proved a bruiser in and out of the ring. On November 20, 1957, Dick the Bruiser teamed with Dr. Jerry Graham in Madison Square Garden to take on Capitol Wrestling’s top babyface team Antonino Rocca and Edouard Carpentier. The night became infamous as Bruiser and Graham’s heel tactics inflamed the crowd, leading to a riot that nearly saw professional wrestling banned from the Garden.

A few years later, Dick the Bruiser staged a fight with NFL player Alex Karras in order to set up a match between the two. Unfortunately, the brawl between Dick the Bruiser and Karras turned into a real-life barroom brawl, resulting in the bar being destroyed and the Bruiser arrested after eight police officers finally brought him under control.

 

Dick the Bruiser worked as a heel in the AWA, but like The Crusher, found himself being cheered by the fans because they enjoyed his colorful character and working-class persona. The Bruiser had a brief run with the AWA World Heavyweight Championship after defeating “Mad Dog” Vachon, but it would be in the tag team ranks alongside the Crusher that he became best known.

The Crusher and Dick the Bruiser seemed cut from the same cloth as they relied on their power and endurance to outlast opponents. Both men were built like fire hydrants and were just as tough, using brawling tactics to win matches over some of the sport’s toughest teams including the Vachon Brothers (“Mad Dog” and “Butcher” Vachon), Blackjack Lanza and Bobby Duncum, the Texas Outlaws (Dusty Rhodes and Dick Murdoch) and Larry “The Ax” Hennig and Harley Race.

Fans could count on bloody battles whenever the Bruiser and Crusher battled the AWA’s resident bullies, typically dispensing justice to teams that had brutalized the promotion’s babyfaces. While the Bruiser and Crusher relied on brawling, they could hold their own against technical teams as duos like Nick Bockwinkel and Ray Stevens found out.

 

The Bruiser and the Crusher would win the AWA World Tag Team Championship five times and were no interim champions. With a combined title reign of 1,325 days, the Bruiser and the Crusher’s shortest reign was 173 days while their longest was 342 days (coincidentally, they enjoyed two reigns of 342 days each). The duo’s tag team success was not limited to the AWA either—The Bruiser and The Crusher held the WWA World Tag Team Championship six times and found international success when they won Japan’s NWA International Tag Team Championship.

 

Anyone familiar with Dick the Bruiser and The Crusher’s larger-than-life personas weren’t surprised to see them in the 1974 film, The Wrestler. In it, the two helped a wrestling promoter battle a bunch of thugs sent by a crime boss to take over the promotion. Given both men’s charisma, it’s surprising they weren’t in more films or television programs.

Dick the Bruiser and The Crusher are two legends every wrestling fan should know about. They wrestled in the AWA when Verne Gagne’s promotion was considered one of wrestling’s most prestigious promotions, drawing in a number of top names from around the world. The Bruiser and the Crusher entertained fans for decades, keeping their act fresh despite playing the same character for most of their career. Whether it’s their off-the-wall promos or their pier-six brawls, the Bruiser and the Crusher remain one of wrestling’s most unforgettable teams.

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