For Australian fans of a certain age (my dad’s age and older), some of their formative professional wrestling memories are of World Championship Wrestling. I’m, of course, not talking about the promotion whose shows graced Turner networks in the US, but the Australian promotion which aired on the Nine Network through the 1960s and 1970s on weekend afternoons. One of the most prominent stars in WCW was Spiros Arion, who, right from when he started in WCW, was pushed as a main-eventer. Many fans could easily tell you this, but that barely scratches the surface on his Hall of Fame case.

When it comes to The Golden Greek, there is more than meets the eye!

The Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame criterion that Arion probably most demonstratively achieves is the drawing criterion. His run in WCW was from 1964-1974. During his entire run, he was always positioned as one of WCW’s top babyfaces. He is stated to have been a key draw in the promotion during that period by multiple Australian historians, as well as Dave Meltzer, based on his discussions with Jim Barnett. Meltzer says Barnett told him that Arion was WCW’s second biggest long-term draw when he owned the company, behind fellow Hall of Fame candidate Dominic DeNucci and ahead of Mario Milano, who fell off the ballot in 2020. 

According to Libnan Ayoub’s book 100 Years of Australian Professional Wrestling, during his first few WCW stints, the average attendance for shows in arenas across the country was 9,000 fans, an increase of the already big attendances during Dominic DeNucci’s first run. Although we don’t have much concrete Australian attendance information (a flaw with any Australia-based case), Ayoub’s assertions are backed up by fellow Australian wrestling historian Ed Lock’s memory of attending shows in Sydney at the time.

There are a few good indications of Arion’s drawing power in Australia that we do have. One is from 1966, when Arion was swooped up by George Gardiner’s Big Time Wrestling. G Arion was brought into the number two promotion while still a champion in WCW, an attempt by Gardiner to make up for not being able to bring in Bruno Sammartino due to an error on the WWWF end of the deal. Although Arion only briefly wrestled for Gardiner, going back to WCW by the end of the year, he had an obvious impact on business. Unlike WCW, Big Time Wrestling did not have TV to promote shows, mostly promoting through newspapers. The shows with Arion involved drew bigger houses than any of his other shows. The biggest show during this brief run saw Arion draw 9,000 fans in Sydney, equal to the average attendance during his most recent WCW run. That would be impressive on its own, let alone without the benefit of TV.

Another important part of assessing Arion’s Australia run is his presence in WCW’s most financially successful angle (according to Jim Barnett), The War. The War saw the People’s Army take on Big Bad John’s Army, selling out arenas with bloody matches featuring all of WCW’s top stars, including Arion. While the program itself was probably always destined to draw well, Arion’s involvement was not insignificant. During the program, Arion was also being pushed as a world champion, including a major NWA World Title match against Jack Brisco which is said to have drawn well. This year of consistency on top more than righted the ship of the prior two years, where business was down overall, according to the Over The Top Rope documentary.

Outside of Australia, Arion is probably most known for his two distinct periods in the WWWF.

In the 1960s, Arion was a significant babyface in the promotion, positioned on the tier just below Bruno Sammartino. While it would be disingenuous to call him the main draw during any of that period, he was certainly an important part of the promotion’s early growth, particularly with Greek fans. Arion’s real shining moment in the WWWF, however, was his heel run starting in 1974. Arion turned heel on Chief Jay Strongbow, aligning with Freddie Blassie and later beating up Larry Zbyszko to get Bruno Sammartinon’s attention. Seeing it written out, it might come across as just the all-too-typical heel turn into Bruno program. This particular turn led to gangbusters business. Being built up as a massively credible babyface and second to Bruno made him into an even bigger heel. The Sammartino/Arion program saw them have three Madison Square Garden matches, selling out every single time. The first sellout occurred in record time. The two follow-up MSG matches sold out both the Garden itself, and the Felt Forum. The double sellout was the highest-attended wrestling event in all of 1975, and ranks reasonably high in Sammartino’s historical drawing record. Dave Meltzer has argued that the Sammartino/Arion program was, at one point, Sammartino’s biggest program in the New York part of the WWWF territory. Arion’s program with Sammartino was significant enough that Arion was chosen as one of the all-star group of former Sammartino opponents to wrestle Bob Backlund to build up his title reign.

Adding to Arion’s drawing case is his time in Greece, where he has a massive, underexplored case. On the WrestlingClassics board, Phil Lions has published extensive research into historical wrestling attendances in Greece, as well as the rest of Europe. Despite not even being the top draw in Greece, Arion’s numbers add heavily to his already strong case. According to Lions’ research, Arion was involved in drawing the highest attendances in Greece for 1966 (9,000 fans) and 1979 (10,000), as well as multiple high-ranking attendances.

The biggest Athens pro wrestling crowds of 1965-1969

RankDate & VenueMain EventAttendance
1August 11, 1968 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Theodoros Megaritis vs. Atilio20,000
2May 26, 1965 (Nea Smyrni Stadium)Andreas Lambrakis vs. Hunchback15,000
May 30, 1965 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)George Gordienko vs. Dimitris Karystinos & Stafanidis / Spiros Arion vs. Ski Hi Lee15,000
June 6, 1965 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Thanasis Kabaflis vs. Ski Hi Lee / George Gordienko vs. George Bollas15,000
August 4, 1968 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Kostas Papalazarou vs. Atilio15,000
June 1, 1969 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)George Gordienko & El Bizeni vs. Kostas Papalazarou & Stefanidis15,000
7August 3, 1969 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Spiros Arion vs. George Gordienko / Theodoros Megaritis & Stefanidis vs. Golden Falcons & Mustafa Elkous12,000
8May 16, 1965 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)George Gordienko vs. George Bollas / Spiros Arion vs. Kangaroo Kennedy10,000
August 18, 1968 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Atilio vs. Giorgos Bouranis / Kostas Papalazarou vs. Dikran Nazarian10,000
September 2, 1968 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Kostas Papalazarou vs. Atilio 10,000
July 20, 1969 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Spiros Arion vs. George Gordienko10,000
July 27, 1969 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Theodoros Megaritis vs. Golden Falcons / George Gordienko vs. Kostas Papalazarou10,000
August 10, 1969 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Cage Match: Spiros Arion vs. George Gordienko10,000
August 10, 1969 (Stavros Mavrothalassitis Stadium)Rasputin vs. Giorgos Bouranis / Atilio & Dikran Nazarian vs. Dimitris Sideris & Soulis Tsikrikas10,000
August 17, 1969 (Stavros Mavrothalassitis Stadium)Rasputin vs. Atilio10,000
August 24, 1969 (Stavros Mavrothalassitis Stadium)Rasputin vs. Atilio10,000

The biggest Athens pro wrestling crowds of 1970-1974

RankDate & VenueMain EventAttendance
1June 6, 1971 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)European Title: Theodoros Megaritis vs. Lee Sharon20,000
September 16, 1974 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Handicap Match: Theodoros Megaritis vs. Di Bestia and Yousouf Osman20,000
3September 20, 1970 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Theodoros Megaritis vs. Atilio15,000
September 10, 1973 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Kostas Papalazarou vs. Di Bestia15,000
5August 18, 1971 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Kostas Nathanail vs. Kost10,000
August 26, 1973 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Cage Match: Kostas Papalazarou vs. Di Bestia10,000
September 9, 1973 (Nikaia Municipal Stadium)Kostas Nathanail vs. Monster10,000
September 23, 1973 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Cage Match: Kostas Papalazarou vs. Di Bestia10,000
July 14, 1974 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Spiros Arion vs. Mark Lewin / King Curtis Iaukea vs. Dimitris Karystinos10,000

The biggest Athens pro wrestling crowds of 1975-1979

RankDate & VenueMain EventAttendance
1July 1, 1979 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Spiros Arion & Kostas Safakas vs. Stan Polanski & Monty Swan10,000
2June 27, 1976 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Kostas Papalazarou & Panogiotis Hristofilopoulos vs. Joe Bull & Smith Maxwell7,000
3September 27, 1976 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Cage Match: Di Bestia vs. Kostas Papalazarou6,000
4September 8, 1975 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Di Bestia vs. Kostas Papalazarou / Dimitris Karystinos vs. The Wildman of Borneo5,000
August 9, 1976 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Di Bestia vs. Panagiotis Hristofililopoulos & Giorgos Pefanis5,000
23 August 23, 1976 (Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium)Di Bestia, Joe Bull & Mustafa Elkous vs. Kostas Papalazarou, Panagiotis Hristofilipoulos & Dimitris Karystinos5,000

Arion’s attendances are clearly impressive, but they also show us that more attention needs to be directed towards Greece in Hall of Fame discussions.

Beyond his clear drawing credentials, Arion also adequately meets the criteria for historical significance and his in-ring. In terms of his significance, he was a very important figure in the growth of two promotions, which, either during or beyond his run on top, were the biggest wrestling promotion in the world (WCW and WWE). He was also a wrestler who was consistently used to build up credibility for major stars. Bob Backlund was discussed earlier, but another major example of that was his time in Joint Promotions. He had wrestled in Joint during the 1960s (sadly no footage exists) and eventually made his way back after his WWWF run wrapped up. He was billed as being the Mountevans Rules World Champion and was eventually beaten by Wayne Bridges at a sold-out Royal Albert Hall. He was originally planned to lose to Big Daddy, but rumor has it he refused to lose to Big Daddy and put over Bridges on the fly.

The criterion that Arion has the weakest case in is definitely his in-ring. He’s a more than capable wrestler who is better than a lot of the candidates in the Rest of the World region on the ballot. The problem is that we have so little footage of his prime years, outside of matches in progress. Most of the footage we have is from his WWWF heel run and beyond. Compared to the rest of the WWWF roster at the time, he is a breath of fresh air, but he is definitely not someone who could get in on in-ring alone. One thing definitely in his favour is his incredible promo skills, which stand out even among the strong stick men he’s been surrounded by throughout his career.

Spiros Arion is an interesting Hall of Fame case that even for someone like me, who considers themself somewhat knowledgeable of Australian wrestling history, cannot truly comprehend. In a less cluttered region, he might well be a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. Even where he is now though, he definitely stands out far above some of his other fellow candidates.