Standing in the Light of a Legend: The Intelligent, Sensational Destroyer

The story of my connection to “The Destroyer” Dick Beyer is just a token of the impact Beyer had on popular culture, professional wrestling and his community in Western New York. See a terrific bio by Mike Mooneyham here. Also, I recommend purchasing the Destroyer’s biography, Masked Decisions, for a complete retrospective on Beyer’s life and career.

I first learned about The Destroyer as a kid in the early 1990’s. My grandfather –John Doyle, or Big J as he was known–had been an amateur boxer in Oil City, Pa. and retired in Cuba, NY after his career on the railroad ended. My grandfather was a quiet, gruff character. He wasn’t mean, just a silently intimidating man with a head like a cinder block.

Watching wrestling at my grandparent’s house was a weekend tradition. In my mind, the colorful characters and over the top presentation of the WWF didn’t mesh with my grandpa’s stone-like personality. Today, I wonder if Big J knew wrestling was rigged. This was the era of the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan, after all. Either way, I see his appreciation for wrestling as a glimmer of the imagination and sense of wonder so identifiable in his son and my father, Michael Doyle.

There was a workroom behind a heavy door in my grandparent’s house filled with old tools and pieces of exercise equipment. You could smell the kerosene heater that kept the bathroom warm nearby, and on the wall of the workroom were the lone decorations – two classic cardboard posters for wrestling events held in Olean in the late 1970s and 1980s. Each poster included the billing of a masked wrestler known as “The Destroyer”. Another flyer for one of the events was also present, this one solely focused on “The Intelligent, Sensational Destroyer,” and his upcoming matches in Olean. I truly doubt that Big J attended these events as he rarely left Cuba, and Olean was what, 12 miles away?

I would take a trip into the workroom during every visit to my grandparent’s house, remembering names of stars like Bob Backlund, Bob Orton and Tony Atlas and imagining what these events at Bradner’s Stadium must have been like. I would receive these posters after my grandfather passed years later in the mid 90’s, just as my love for pro wrestling began to verge on obsession. I treasured the posters as symbolic of the cosmic link between myself, my grandfather and the place I grew up, all interconnected by the crazy world of wrestling.

Fast forward 20 some years. I’m a 30 year old man who, over the past few weeks, has learned that he is going to have his first child and that I was laid off from a Buffalo tech company. My best friend was terminally ill. I was the perfect recipe for a 1/3rd life crisis.

Distracting myself from the chaos, I poured my focus into a pro wrestling-themed party, just like most normal people do. The party would follow a WWE live show held on a Saturday afternoon in Buffalo. My event was to take place right next to the arena, giving the thousands in attendance an extra attraction to enjoy downtown. It seemed to make sense at the time.

I booked WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy Hart to help draw a crowd and organized a charity raffle for the Ilio DiPaolo Memorial Scholarship Fund. One of my collaborators, ex-Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Editor Dan Murphy, suggested reaching out to the Destroyer, who was a booster of the DiPaolo Scholarship and many other local causes. Destroyer and his family lived in nearby Akron.

After some initial hesitation, Destroyer’s daughter Kris informed me that Destroyer would like to take part in my “Rock N Rumble Mega Party” event to support the DiPaolo Scholarship. They did not ask for an appearance fee.

When the day of the event came around, I finally got to meet the masked man from my grandpa’s posters, which I showed to the Destroyer, Kris, and Destroyer’s wife Wilma. The Destroyer recalled promoting these regional events many years before. He offered to sign the posters in his unique style, one of which I had him sign for my father. The electricity of having this legend sign a poster that belonged to my grandfather, then belonged to me for 20 years to be gifted to my father was absolutely overwhelming.

The event itself wasn’t what we call a “financial success”. Police had shut down traffic around the arena due to bad weather, significantly hurting the turnout. But Destroyer and his family didn’t seem disappointed by my first foray into the wrestling business. Kris in particular gave me a vote of confidence by asking if I could help lead a campaign to try to get Destroyer into the WWE Hall of Fame, a task I was honored to take on.

Over the coming years I worked to promote Destroyer’s merits as a WWE Hall of Famer. Already enshrined in every other respected wrestling hall, Destroyer’s incredible in-ring career was absent time spent in the WWE or its prime competitors, the NWA and WCW. While American wrestling promotions were expanding their reach through cable television in the 1970s and 80s, the trailblazing Destroyer was already a pop culture deity in Japan.

Read comments from RIC FLAIR on DICK BEYER

I wrote letters to corporate officers, published a press release with quotes from Ric Flair and Mike Rotunda, started a website and online petition and even presented the case for Destroyer’s entry into the Hall of Fame to WWE officials backstage at an event in Buffalo. Of course, the only reason I was allowed back there was because I was with Destroyer and his family. While hanging out backstage, we were greeted by several wrestlers — I remember Charlotte, Sheamus, Cesaro, Enzo Amore, Big Cass and Jinder Mahal all greeting the Destroyer warmly. The Destroyer was also treated very gracious by Chris Jericho.

Eventually, Jericho would return to town with WWE, and I would arrange for Destroyer to appear on Jericho’s popular Talk Is Jericho podcast. It was absolutely surreal to sit in on the interview, watching a legend from my generation interview a legend of the past like the Destroyer.

It was a significant moment in terms of recording and sharing the Destroyer’s history with a contemporary audience, and I’m proud to have been a small part of it.

But the campaign to get the Destroyer into the Hall of Fame seemed blocked at every turn. The WWE Hall of Fame is not voted on democratically, it’s controlled by one person, WWE CEO Vince McMahon. And as other WWE personnel had informed me, if McMahon wasn’t personally vested in seeing someone go in, the induction simply wouldn’t happen.

As the years crawled on and as the Destroyer got older, it seemed that his odds of going into the WWE Hall of Fame were dwindling. Those in the know reminded me that the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony is a television production first and foremost. How would a wheelchair restricted masked Destroyer in his late 80s go over with a largely unfamiliar audience during his acceptance speech?

Kris told me that Destroyer wasn’t worried about getting into the WWE Hall of Fame on a personal level, and I can truly understand that. The criteria for entry appears so random and thin, yet it is by far the most famous pro wrestling hall of fame in the world.

I always felt that the mission to get the Destroyer into the WWE Hall of Fame was more for the Destroyer’s family, community and fans more than anything else. It would be setting something unjust right. It would mean validation and respect for someone who succeeded wildly by following their own path, even if it wasn’t the path owned by the status quo. It would open the modern American wrestling world’s eyes to the greatness they had yet to witness.

And now, the Destroyer is gone. There is a sense of a mission unfinished. I envision watching the Destroyer on stage in front of thousands, recalling his historic match with Rikidozan and his bloody wars with Abdullah the Butcher in his gravelly, booming tone. I see his tearful wife Wilma and daughter Kris beaming with pride. And I think about Jericho, Flair, Rotunda and all of the wrestling heroes who bow in respect to the Destroyer knowing that the proper recognition had finally been delivered. That history had been set straight.

But then I remember all that being involved with the Destroyer had given me. None of what I had experienced would have happened without the Destroyer and his family accepting me. Hearing first hand stories from the Destroyer’s glory days? The Destroyer signing my prized posters? Going backstage at a WWE event? Spending quality time with Ric Flair and talking to him on the phone? Becoming friendly with people I grew up watching on TV like Jericho, Rotunda and JJ Dillon?

I got to meet my idols and play in an industry that always seemed like a fantasy world. It’s something I’ve continued to be involved in through the years, and I even have a charity wrestling event in the works later this year.

These are all dreams that I realized in my life, and it happened to me because the Destroyer and his family accepted and trusted me. It happened because the Destroyer was a great man who raised great kids like Kris, a person who could sense my sincere reverence for her dad.

The Destroyer with Kip and Mary Doyle

And as I watch my daughter grow up, I see new dreams ahead of me. I see an old Kip, maybe wearing a wrestling mask, but probably not. And I see my grown up daughter Mary, proud and protective of everything I’ve done and everything I am. And I think, what greater honor could there be than that?

Want to help remember the Destroyer? Donate to the Ilio DiPaolo Memorial Scholarship Fund in memory of Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer today.

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