Stan Hansen's recently released autobiography reveals plenty of little-known facts about the "Bad Man from Borger, Texas."
First, Hansen isn't from Borger. The city just sounded better than being introduced from his real birthplace of Knox City, Texas.
Here's another curious fact about the moniker that emerges from "The Last Outlaw." Although he was known as one of pro wrestling's most intimidating heels during a 27-year career, the "bad man" was doing his best to be a good father.
Hansen had numerous opportunities to become a full-time performer for the top U.S. wrestling companies in the 1980s and '90s. Hulk Hogan, who helped Hansen land a role as a screen opponent in the 1989 movie "No Holds Barred," even pitched his longtime friend on a main-event WWE feud.
But rather than tackle the rugged work and travel schedule inherent in working for WWE and then-rival Jim Crockett Promotions/World Championship Wrestling, Hansen chose to remain a full-time headliner for All Japan Pro Wrestling so he could help raise his children between overseas tours.
"When I was in Japan back then, I did look at all the great money and opportunities the guys were having in the U.S.," Hansen said Monday in a telephone interview from his Central Texas home. "But guys were working 330 days out of the year. They would just get exhausted, fall out and go off the deep end. I don't blame them.
"I decided early on that I would give up some money rather than do that. I went through a divorce and my kids would stay with me when I wasn't in Japan. I was like Mr. Mom. I wasn't a wrestler to them. That's why I had the best job in wrestling. I could live a completely different life."
Hansen's low-key personal life was far different from the professional one he led in Japan. He became an iconic figure in a country that fell in love with Hansen's rugged grappling and wild ring introduction. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Hansen would plow through the crowd chasing fans with his trademark rope like a cattleman running a herd.
"I worked a very physical and aggressive style," Hansen said. "There was no getting around it."
Hansen's hard-hitting reputation was cemented in 1976 when WWE champion Bruno Sammartino suffered a broken neck during one of their matches. In reality, Sammartino was injured when body-slammed incorrectly on the back of his head -- a mistake that Hansen apologized for repeatedly behind the scenes. For storyline purposes, the broken neck was publicly blamed on Hansen's hitting Sammartino with his patented "lariat" (i.e., clothesline).
WWE turned the incident into one of its most memorable feuds. Fans hated Hansen so much for hurting the beloved Sammartino that he received legitimate death threats. Hansen had to leave Madison Square Garden after a match against Ivan Putski lying on the floor of a taxicab so he wouldn't be spotted. Hansen was assaulted by an elderly fan on a subway ride and -- as he later learned from Sammartino -- may have faced even stronger retribution during an era when most of the public didn't know the match outcomes were predetermined.
"Bruno said some of the 'connected' people he knew told him, 'Let me know if you want me to take care of this,' " Hansen said. "Thank God Bruno said, 'No. That's all right, because I'm going to get him.' "
A Hansen-Sammartino grudge match helped draw 32,000 fans to Shea Stadium as the undercard of a ballyhooed closed-circuit boxer-vs.-wrestler match between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki. After the Sammartino feud ran its course, Hansen split his time between the U.S. and Japan for the next 15 years.
Hansen received nationwide exposure on ESPN in the mid-1980s when winning the American Wrestling Association championship from Rick Martel. But a dispute about how he would lose the belt led to Hansen's leaving and defending it in Japan until threatened with legal action. Hansen wrote that the belt may "accidentally" have gotten run over several times before being returned.
Hansen's final U.S. stint came in the early 1990s for WCW. Hansen portrayed a maniacal cowboy with a torrent of tobacco juice dripping from his mouth. But when then-WCW matchmaker Dusty Rhodes wanted to turn him into more of a comedy figure, Hansen again bailed to protect the fearsome reputation he had built in Japan.
Hansen's independent spirit during an era when promoters were known to blacklist grapplers who didn't tow the company line is one of the reasons his autobiography is titled "The Last Outlaw." Hansen also formed a legendary tag team with pro wrestling's most renowned "outlaw" -- the late Frank "Bruiser Brody" Goodish.
"We just had a physically dominating, hell-bent-to-leather style where we would never stop," said Hansen, referring to the tiptop cardiovascular condition that he and Goodish maintained despite their monstrous size. "We just basically ran roughshod over everybody. It was kind of like a dream team for us to get together in Japan. When we did, we hit the ground running.
"We knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime. And while this wasn't outright said between us, we probably were competing a little against each other to see who could be the best in the ring."
Hansen would later team with a slew of other top-flight performers like Ted DiBiase, Dan Spivey and the late Terry Gordy while also working in singles matches. But the same style that brought him unprecedented Japanese success for a U.S. performer also took a heavy physical toll. Hansen abruptly retired in 2000 after suffering head and neck injuries. He has since undergone major surgeries on his shoulders and knees. Additionally, a cyst that was pressing on his spine was removed.
The 62-year-old Hansen admits he almost didn't write "The Last Outlaw" with esteemed pro wrestling historian Scott Teal because he is a "really private person." Hansen ultimately decided that he didn't want to waste the perspective he could provide on both the Japanese wrestling scene and his time in the U.S. after being brought into the business by the Funk family in 1973.
"When I first got in, there were some great, great characters and talent. There were individuals. It wasn't a carbon copy of everything," said Hansen, who doesn't follow today's product beyond occasional appearances at wrestling conventions and autograph shows.
"Of course, this book ended up being about me, too. But I thought people may like to look back and remember some of those wrestlers that touched them over a number of years. I really enjoyed the guys I met along the way as well."
To order "The Last Outlaw" ($24.95; Crowbar Press), visit www.crowbarpress.com.