Otto Wanz, the most famous wrestler in Germany and Austria during the 70s and 80s, passed away Thursday morning from what was described as a short but heavy illness. He was 74.
Wanz, a powerhouse at 6-foot-2 and 380 pounds, would be best known in the United States for his run as AWA Champion in 1982. Wanz had been champion of his own Catch Wrestling Association, but was largely unknown outside of Germany and Austria. He defeated Nick Bockwinkel for the title on August 29th, 1982, in St. Paul in a match that caused lingering hard feelings between Bockwinkel and longtime manager Bobby Heenan, because Bockwinkel never told Heenan that the title was changing hands ahead of time.
Wanz had come to the AWA with a big push and basically purchased a short run with the championship as a way to promote himself in his native land that he went to the U.S. and captured the World title. Bockwinkel regained the title on October 9th, 1982, in Chicago.
Wanz did three AWA tours, one in 1982 and another in 1983 where his title win enabled him to be pushed as a big star upon returning. After the prime of the AWA, he returned for some matches in 1987.
The title win did add to his prestige where he promoted, as he promoted that he was the only Austrian to win an American World Heavyweight wrestling title at a time when titles were taken more seriously.
Wanz started as a boxer, starting in the sport as a teenager and began wrestling in 1967.
He became a promoter and was known for running tournaments around the year, and a major show in Bremen every December, where he’d bring in a major international star to challenge him for his World title.
His biggest run came after beating Don Leo Jonathan for what was billed as the World title in 1978, a championship he held until losing it in Denver to Leon White (Vader). Wanz was the first promoter to push White into main event status. He eventually retired as champion in 1990, but did come back in 1996 for a retirement match against Terry Funk.
Andre the Giant was one of his most famous opponents and he was billed as the only man ever to bodyslam both Andre and Yokozuna, who he wrestled before he became a star in WWF.
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He also did strongman stunts on television, although the stories of him being a hero to Arnold Schwarzenegger, which Schwarzenegger stated at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, don’t really add up timeline wise since Wanz didn’t become a major star in Austria until years after Schwarzenegger had left for the U.S., and Schwarzenegger’s familiarity with pro wrestling would have been with people like Bruno Sammartino and Superstar Billy Graham, who he knew well before Wanz’s heyday.