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When Andre and Another Future Wrestling Giant Slugged It Out in Fresno

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Two of the greatest wrestling stars of the 1980s battled in a Fresno ring at the start of the decade — one already a bona fide legend; the other a regional star on his way to becoming an icon.

Photo of GV Wire's David Taub

David Taub

Off the Bottom Rope

And, a week later, the NWA World Heavyweight champion came to town. It happened Jan. 12 and Jan. 19 in 1980 for local wrestling mogul Pat DiFuria.

Starting in 1979, the longtime boxing promoter held weekly cards at the Wilson Theater in downtown Fresno, dubbed the Wilson Arena for ring events. He imported talent from the Hollywood Wrestling Office, the NWA affiliate that promoted out the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.

DiFuria jump started wrestling in Fresno after a dark period for a few years when San Francisco-based promoter Roy Shire stopped sending wrestlers outside the Bay Area. He stopped some time around 1981.

Andre vs. Piper

Andre headlined DiFuria’s first card in 1979 and would make occasional appearances. He already had the unofficial title of wrestling’s top touring attraction.

For his bout versus Piper 41 years ago, the Fresno Bee reported an attendance of 1,250 fans, up from the normal 700 weekly enthusiasts.

Piper was a known commodity on the West Coast, main eventing cards for promotions based in Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

He didn’t achieve fame on the East Coast and around the nation until later in 1980. He left for Jim Crockett Promotions based in the Mid-Atlantic region. A year later, Piper began appearing weekly on wrestling on WTBS (as the Atlanta-based Superstation was known at the time).

A Fresno Bee picture from 1980 of Andre the Giant battling Roddy Piper (Newsbank/Fresno Bee)

Back in Fresno, the Bee described aspects of the bout — Piper played his bagpipes before the match; Andre stole the bagpipes to the relief of the crowd; Piper responded by walloping Andre with his belt.

Andre recovers and gets the best of Piper.

“Andre gets the better of Roddy, finally sitting on his back in the ring, striking a Thinker-like pose. And — humiliation of humiliation— Roddy jumps from the ring and runs down the aisle from sheer fear. He doesn’t return,” wrote Dennis Pollock.

Andre and Piper met again when both were in the WWF. A televised bout from the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1984 had a similar result, Andre winning by countout when Piper ran away.

And a Week Later, the World Champ

As if Piper vs. Andre wasn’t big enough, that evening also featured a battle royal where the winner would receive a world title shot the next week.

Surprisingly, Andre did not emerge the victor — he was also known as King of the Battle Royals and won a similar match the night before at the Olympic.

Chavo Guerrero won the 12-man match and faced Harley Race on Jan. 19, 1980 for the NWA World Heavyweight championship.

It was a rare appearance for an NWA titleholder in Fresno. Although the result of that match is currently lost in history, Race remained champion.

Guerrero was the top star in Los Angeles at the time, and part of a large wrestling family that later included brother and former WWE champion Eddie Guerrero, and son Chavo Guerrero Jr., still an active wrestler.

Because of Andre’s Los Angeles battle royal win, he received a title shot against Race the following week, battling to a draw.

Gorgeous George Winds Up 60 Years Ago

Gorgeous George is perhaps one of the most famous names in the history of wrestling, a pioneering star from the first days of television.

Known for his blonde hair and flashy robes, George brought the showmanship to wrestling.

Sixty years ago, George wrestled his penultimate match in Fresno, facing off with former pro football player Shag Thomas at the Fresno Memorial Auditorium on Jan. 14, 1961.

Thomas won the two-of-three fall affair, taking the decider after George quit following a series of headbutts.

Gorgeous George, real name George Wagner, made his final appearance in Fresno later that summer. He died in 1963 at the age of 48.

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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