The Wrestling 101 – Match #3
Andre the Giant vs. Stan Hansen
September 23, 1981
Denen Coliseum

Watch it on New Japan World

Would you believe that this is actually the first full Andre the Giant match I’ve ever seen? I never bothered to seek him out because I’ve always been biased against big-man wrestlers. Growing up, all the big guys I was exposed to in the late-90s and early aughts WWE were slow, plodding stiffs. Then, the counter-current U.S. indie wrestling I got into as a teenager was centered around the smaller, more exciting wrestlers WWE didn’t want.

Even now, a lot of the big guys in wrestling are boring. Guys like Big Bill, Jake Hager, and even a Braun Strowman…they don’t really look like giants or freaks of nature. They’re just normal professional athletes who are big and tall, and often with less charisma than a basketball or football player of equivalent size. Even Wardlow is a little too sleek and put together, really.

But this Andre the Giant? Man, you gotta come take a look at this guy! He looks insane. He’s got a huge gut, mangy, unkempt facial hair, a giant, frizzy fro, a massively wide mouth, and this deep, guttural movie monster voice. He’s wild, untamed, and dangerous, a goddamn animal. He’s ugly as hell, but he’s radiating virility and you can’t keep your eyes off him. He absolutely fucks, voraciously. I would say more on the subject if my name were not attached to these publicly facing reviews. But it’s impossible not to think about, you know?

If you got a guy like this today, they’d give him a nice haircut, make him shave his beard into a normal pattern, and have him do backstage interviews where he gives funny little quips so you know he’s just like you doing your little tweets and group chats at home. At some point, we’d have to learn about his dogshit political opinions. Terrible!

What makes this match so compelling is that it feels like you’re watching pro wrestling in the wild—unmanicured, undomesticated, and unpredictable. When you watch Andre move in the ring, you wouldn’t quite say he’s lumbering because he’s actually moving pretty quickly for someone his size. But the movements are awkward and herky-jerky in a way that makes you feel like he’s not quite in control of where his massive frame and limbs are headed. When he accelerates to try to shoulder tackle Stan Hansen in the corner, it’s like watching a truck hurtle downhill without a driver.

Speaking of Hansen, the cowboy’s reckless abandon in giving and receiving punishment is a key ingredient in the feeling of chaos that makes this match special. These guys beat the living daylights out of each other with clubbering forearms and various other big-lad attacks, fall out of the ring, and continue beating on each other. The bell rings to signal a double disqualification, only for Andre to grab the ref by the shirt collar and intimidate him into restarting the match. They beat on each other some more, at a faster pace and to the roars of a crowd that has itself lost control. 

The scene breaks out into full-on mayhem shortly after Stan ducks an attack and hits a big, running lariat that knocks Andre out of the ring. This prompts Andre to grab an elbow pad from under the ring, roll back in, and give a massive lariat to the referee. The two psychos go right back to wailing on each other as New Japan personnel rush into the ring and attempt to break up the fight. Naturally, Stan and Andre respond by walloping these guys, too. Eventually, this volcanic eruption of a pro wrestling match comes to a cool, and the two combatants are persuaded to exit the ring and take separate paths to the back.

The pro wrestling industry has changed a lot over the past two decades, and I’d venture to guess that the rise of the internet and the fall of kayfabe have probably brought more good than bad. The internet has given birth to a beautiful, global community of wrestling enthusiasts, who can access just about any recorded match in history with just a few clicks. Meanwhile, the classification of wrestling as performance art has brought with it cultural currency and the sort of scrutiny that has likely made the industry safer for its performers and all-around less Problematic.

But man, what I wouldn’t give to be in the crowd that night in Tokyo. To lose control with Stan and Andre, with no earthly idea what these otherworldly figures would do next.