Before business boomed with the era of Hulkamania running wild, the wrestling world consisted of various territories that shared talent on a rotating basis as large crowds descended upon their respective wrestling meccas to catch their favorite stars in action. While bonafide superstars like Bruno Sammartino and Buddy Rogers are fondly remembered, their contemporaries have somewhat fallen to the wayside in the history books. Without these hidden heroes of wrestling, this sport would be vastly different today.
“The Golden Greek” Spiros Arion, born in September 1940 in Cairo, Egypt, started his career after moving to Athens, Greece in his teenage years. Starting off as an accomplished Greco-Roman wrestler, he would quickly turn pro under the tutelage of Greek Heavyweight Champion Andreas Lambrakis and set off to Paris, France for further training under Andre Bollet, officially making his debut in 1961.
Arion wreaked havoc in the European scene for four years before finding his calling in Australia in 1964. A fan favorite for the Greek population, Arion quickly rose to prominence and won both the IWA World Heavyweight and IWA World Tag Team championships in his first year. Spiros’ run on top of Austrian wrestling continued throughout his entire career and became a top face for World Championship Wrestling (the Australian company, not Jim Crockett Promotions/the future World Championship Wrestling) through blood feuds with Killer Kowalski, King Kong Czaja, and Karl Gotch.
Arion remained on top of the Australian territory for fourteen years. During his time as the leading babyface for the Greek population, Arion won the World Heavyweight Championship ten times and had two runs as World Tag Team Champion, once alongside Mario Milano and the other with Mark Lewin. Later in his career, Spiros became the inaugural NWA Austra-Asian Heavyweight champion, defeating Killer Karl Kox, and would go on to win the title two more times.
Spiros Arion’s claim to fame started in 1966 when he traveled to America and made his debut for the World Wide Wrestling Federation. His reputation carried over from Australia, and he quickly found success. In his second match on US soil, Arion won the WWWF United States Tag Team Championship with Tony Parisi. Their reign would come to an official end seven months later when Parisi left the company, Spiros forwarded on as champion, however, now with living legend Arnold Skaaland by his side. While they were fighting champions, Spiros and Skaaland lost the title to The Sicilians (Lou Albano and Tony Altimore), but the loss led to the planting of the seeds that would see “The Golden Greek’s” WWWF career grow.
Looking to regain the WWWF United States Tag Team Championship, Spiros Arion found himself a partner familiar to New York fans: Bruno Sammartino. Sammartino, the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion, found a new protege in the youngster from Greece and the two dominated the tag team ranks. When it came time for the eventual duel with The Sicilians, Spiros and Bruno beat them decisively in two straight falls to win the titles. The reign was cut short due to WWWF’s sanctioning rules, where Bruno could not hold both the World and Tag titles.
The reign ended as quickly as it began. The titles were deactivated and never seen again.
The dream team fought on titleless for a few more months against the dastardly duo of Gorilla Monsoon and Professor Toru Tanaka. The two brawls had the Madison Square Garden fans in a frenzy, the babyfaces losing the first via disqualification but winning the return, a bloody Texas Deathmatch.
As his star continued to grow and without even hitting his prime yet, Spiros left America to return to Australia, leaving the WWWF as Bruno’s number two.
After six years on top of the Australian scene, Spiros returned to New York as a conquering hero and perennial fan favorite, doubly so as he formed a tag team with Chief Jay Strongbow. With the fans firmly behind them, Spiros and Strongbow were poised to be the ones to put an end to the Valiant Brothers’ run on top of the tag division. They were the chosen ones.
When the tag team clash finally got underway, Spiros Arion turned his back on the World Wide Wrestling Federation fans and double-crossed the beloved Strongbow. With “Classy” Freddie Blassie now at his side, Arion became one of the most hated men in New York and, for now, a target was placed firmly on Strongbow’s back. The two exchanged their respective wins, morally and physically, as Arion ripped The Chief’s headdress to pieces. To make matters worse for the fan favorite, Arion won the feud and set his sights on his former friend Bruno.
To get to Bruno, Spiros knew he had to get into the big Italian’s head. While he was at one point in time Bruno’s protege, Spiros targeted the World Heavyweight Champion’s newest protege Larry Zbysko. Spiros trumped Larry in every way but “The Golden Greek” was adamant on the match happening anyway. Zbysko was living in Arion’s world now and was utterly destroyed within minutes in the middle of Madison Square Garden.
Bruno had enough of the bullying and made the save after the match and Spiros finally got what he wanted: a shot at revenge after Bruno chose the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship over their run as United States Tag Team champions back nearly ten years ago.
Madison Square Garden sold out as the New Yorkers paid to see Spiros get his butt handed to him by their hero. The first match of the trilogy in MSG took place February 17, 1975. Both men traded the offense as the rapid New York crowd bit on every nearfall in the match. While it looked like Bruno had the match won, the champion was disqualified. Spiros Arion won the match, a moral victory, but walked out of the arena empty-handed.
As tensions rose between the former friends, Spiros Arion knew that Bruno could be defeated and he wanted to be the one to dethrone “The Living Legend”. Much like he had in Australia, “The Golden Greek” wanted World Heavyweight Championship gold around his waist. The return match was set for March 17th, 1975, and the two locked horns once again.
The rabid WWWF fans were in for a treat for the Texas Deathmatch. Spiros and Bruno brought their all while the crowd reaction was deafening. They brawled around the ring, trading the offense once again as they looked like equals. Every nearfall got a loud reaction, with a riot ready to start if Spiros won, but Bruno got the upperhand on this night – Spiros once again failed to become WWWF World Heavyweight Champion in what was deemed the 1975 Match of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
With the series tied at 1-1, New York was ready for the rubber match and sold out The World’s Most Famous Arena once again for the Greek Death Match. While it seemed like Spiros was destined for greatness in the match named after his home country, Bruno was not ready to lose his title as the champion of the people. More of a brawl than a match, Bruno hulked up from a beatdown and gave Spiros the beating he deserved. Backed into the corner, “The Golden Greek” had no choice but to give up to stop Bruno’s punches. Bruno had won the war.
Having failed at becoming the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion, Spiros rekindled his feud with Chief Jay Strongbow and lost yet again. His appearances on United States soil became more sporadic, as he continued to reign supreme in Australia. In 1978, Spiros stopped wrestling in McMahon’s territory, but not before infuriating the fans so much that he was stabbed on his way back from the ring at a television taping.
Winding down his career, Spiros returned to Europe and quickly made it to the top of the British wrestling scene where he captured Joint Promotions’ Mountevans Rules World Heavyweight Championship. Soon after losing the title, Spiros retired and went off the grid completely.
While it is believed that Spiros passed away in 1997 at 57 years old, some claim that “The Golden Greek” remains in isolation somewhere in the world. While he captured Heavyweight championships around the world, Spiros never managed to win the big one in New York despite being the most hated villain at one point and time.
It is a shame that Spiros’ legacy is virtually forgotten.
As a trailblazer and leading face of the Australian territory, Arion is comparable as the Bruno Sammartino of WCW. His run in the WWWF helped build the lasting legacies of both Sammartino and Chief Jay Strongbow. You either loved him or hated him, but no matter what, Spiros Arion was always on top of his game when it came to having a crowd in any arena in the world fully invested in his stories.