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Profiles In Badassery: William Afflis

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During my time at Purdue I went through a brief phase where I watched a lot of WWF wrestling. This was around the height of D-Generation X. I was a big fan of their ring intros, specifically the Road Dogg Jesse James and the Badass Billy Gunn. I only followed it for about a year and a half. By the time they officially merged with WCW I had moved beyond wrestling because I was tired of nothing important happening except on Pay-Per-Views.

Whatever you may feel about professional wrestling, it has emerged as a multi-billion dollar industry that entertains millions. It is essentially a male soap opera, and can even be confused for real opera if you watch South Park.

One of the first pioneers of professional wrestling was William Fritz Afflis, a.k.a. Dick The Bruiser.

Afflis' Background:

Born in nearby Delphi, Indiana in 1929, Dick The Bruiser grew up in Lafayette and attended Lafayette Jefferson High School. He graduated from Lafayette Jeff and played Football at Purdue before eventually making it to the NFL. He played as a lineman in the early 1950's before he branched off into professional wrestling. He played for the Packers from 1951-54, which was unfortantely what long-time Packer fans call "The Wilderness". His final season at Purdue was a disappointing 2-7 campaign, but the Boilermakers did have one highlight. On October 7, 1950 Purdue stunned No. 1 Notre Dame 28-14 in South Bend. The only other win that season came over Indiana, which was the third of 10 straight P's on the Bucket.

Wrestling Career:

His wrestling career can be best described by his Wikipedia entry, as he eventually became one of the most popular early pro wrestlers:

In the late '50s, Dick the Bruiser wrestled live every Thursday on TV in the Detroit area. His typical opponent was "an up and coming young (unknown) wrestler" who would be pulverized by the Bruiser. His matches and interviews were so effective he became a household name in the Detroit area. His only defeat on live TV was at the hands of Cowboy Bob Ellis. However, in two rematches with Ellis at the Olympia in Detroit, the Bruiser was victorious.

Afflis, along with fellow wrestler and business partner Wilbur Snyder, purchased the Indianapolis NWA promotion in 1964 from its longtime owner Jim Barnett. Afflis renamed the territory the World Wrestling Association (WWA) and promoted himself as its champion. While he ran it as an independent promotion with its own titles and champion, the WWA had a working agreement with the larger AWA (owned by wrestler Verne Gagne), sharing talent and recognizing their championships. This agreement benefited both promotions and led to the Bruiser having multiple AWA Tag-Team Title reigns, primarily with tag team partner, The Crusher, who was billed as his "cousin". The Bruiser was the first to christen Manager Bobby Heenan with the nickname of "The Weasel" during his run in the territory. Afflis' WWA ran from 1964 until 1989, when Afflis finally tired of losing talent, TV, and fan attendance to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).

Afflis, with his charisma, NFL notoriety, and gravelly-voiced, tough-guy persona was a legitimate cross-media star, becoming something of a hero in the Indianapolis area. Indianapolis native David Letterman would later name his television show's band The World's Most Dangerous Band as a derivation of Dick the Bruiser's nickname, "The World's Most Dangerous Wrestler." The moniker "Dick the Bruiser" was even used in the 1980s by George Baier, a co-host of the morning drive show on Detroit rock radio station WRIF. Baier's "Richard T. Bruiser" was an effective, entertaining impersonation of Afflis, who actually played himself in a number of popular TV ads for WRIF.

After retiring, Afflis worked as a talent agent for World Championship Wrestling (WCW). He was the special guest referee at Starrcade 1990 main event between Sting and the Black Scorpion.

Sadly, Afflis' life ended early. In 1991 he was weightlifting in his Florida home and ruptured a blood vessel in his esophagus. He died on November 10, 1991 of internal bleeding at the age of 62. Much of what you see in professional wrestling today is a result of his work. He was Hulk Hogan before there was Hulk Hogan. More importantly, he was a Boilermaker badass that gives us yet another area where Purdue was a Maker, All.