It’s Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame season! The Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame is arguably the most significant Hall of Fame in wrestling, voted on by historians, writers and active & former wrestlers. Those groups get to vote on wrestler’s and non-wrestlers in different regional categories (although not based exclusively on their time in that region). The best part about Hall of Fame Season isn’t even the Hall of Fame itself, but the discussion and research that comes from it, with people trying to make cases for different people on the ballot.
In this article, I’m making the case for one of the most important and significant wrestlers in Australian history, Spiros Arion. I personally feel that he is under-championed by those voting in the Hall of Fame for a variety of reasons. I’m going to cover how he built his case over his career, before going into some of the reasons why I feel he is under-championed and how that impacts his voting percentage.
Note from the author: This article was originally published on 24/10/2022. As of 27/10/2022, I have added a section on Arion’s career in Greece based on Phil Lions’ research.
An Australian Icon
After honing his craft in Europe between 1961 and 1964, Arion migrated to Australia, home of his biggest successes. He joined Jim Barnett’s newly started World Championship Wrestling. He was positioned strongly as a babyface, having matches with some of the best to ever do it. In his first year, he won his first of many IWA World Heavyweight Titles and the IWA World Tag Titles (the main titles in WCW at the time). That reign cemented him as a star, with him during that reign and the rest of his time in the company being a consistent babyface draw. His time on top in WCW saw strong attendances across Australia. As a result of mass Greek migration to Australia after World War II, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, Arion had a strong connection to the fanbase in a similar way to Bruno Sammartino with New York’s Italian population. He was arguably an important part in helping the Anglo-Celtic portion of the Australian population become more accepting of Greeks, as his personality and wrestling acumen made him popular to all, not just his own community, another echo of Sammartino’s run on top in the WWWF.
We don’t have comprehensive attendance information from WCW, but according to Australian Wrestling historian Libnan Ayoub’s book, and the memories of Australian wrestling historian Ed Lock, Arion was drawing houses in Sydney that averaged around 9000 people, as well as regularly filled venues across the country. The peak of his powers as main babyface in WCW was during 1973 during the highly popular and infamous People’s Army vs Big Bad John’s Army WAR. The program saw Australia’s major talent compete in bloody, violent matches both at arenas and on TV, leading to WCW’s biggest year financially. The feud featured some of the best talkers in professional wrestling history and would have done well without Arion, who held his own on the mic. The program definitely wouldn’t have been as big without Arion though as he was the biggest star in the company at the time and according to promoter Jim Barnett the second-biggest long-term draw in WCW history, only behind Dominic DeNucci, who was long gone by that point.
Although his WCW run is what he is most known for in Australia, arguably it is his work outside of the company that truly shows off how strong he is as a draw. In addition to his time in WCW, he also drew strong houses for George Gardiner, including a 9000 seat draw in Sydney, when he was poached from WCW while still the IWA World Heavyweight Champion. The reason this brief period plays strongly in his favour is that he was able to draw strong houses, including some at the same size as his WCW run, without the advantage of television. During the 60s and 70s WCW was the only promotion with TV (outside of a brief period where TEN Network aired Club Wrestling), so therefore had the biggest advantage when it came to selling cards. The fact that Arion was able to draw people to a venue without that shows just how big he was.
Arion also has a strong case outside of Australia. He had two major runs in the WWWF. He first ventured to New York after word spread about what he was doing in Australia. His run as a babyface in New York helped to solidify his case as a worker, as he was able to shine and stand out against the traditional, more plodding WWWF house style, to the amazement of fans. This was also before he had considerably slowed down in the 70s. It was also in this run that he had multiple tag matches with Bruno Sammartino, and was WWWF United States Tag Champion with Sammartino, Tony Parisi and Arnold Skaaland. By the end of his first run, he was arguably the number two babyface under Sammartino, which put him in a very strong spot before heading back to Australia for THE WAR program!
His second run in the WWWF is even more important to his Hall of Fame case. Starting where he left off, he eventually turned heel on Chief Jay Strongbow. That heel turn would eventually lead to a big program with his former ally Bruno Sammartino, during Bruno’s second WWWF Championship reign. Not only was it a major program, but the first match sold out well in advance due to the anticipation for what was and the biggest Bruno program before his feuds with Billy Graham & Larry Zybyszko. The two faced in multiple main event matches in all of WWWF’s circuit. Most notable was the three Madison Square Garden sellouts, all of which also had fans in the Felt Forum. The biggest of those three sold out not only the arena, but the Felt Forum as well, making it the biggest wrestling attendance in 1975 and an indoor attendance record for pro wrestling, according to Dave Meltzer.
Unsung Greek God
While Arion’s time in Australia and the WWWF are at least somewhat known by people who have studied professional wrestling history, one area that doesn’t get any coverage is his career in Greece. Part of that probably comes from Greece being a far less prevalent and popular area for wrestling discussion. However, based on research by Phil Lions starting in 2018, his time in Greece may be the biggest part of his case, despite being so unknown by the masses. Arion started wrestling in Greece in 1963, two years prior to his debut in Australia. He wrestled frequently on shows, growing his name. By 1965, he had already started to grow into something of a star, bringing in 10,000 people and 15,000 people to two stadium shows as a co-headliner. By 1966 he was a main headliner in Greece, drawing similar regular attendances to what he was in Australia during the same period. At that time he was positioned as the top Greek star, much like in Australia. In 1969 he took part in a hot feud with fellow attraction George Gordienko, with two 10,000 person attendances and one 12,000 person attendance. Their feud also culminated in the first cage match in Greek Wrestling history.
Arion continued making trips to Greece until the 1970s. In 1974 he wrestled in a main event with fellow WCW star Mark Lewin which drew another 10,000 person house. According to Lions’ research, he wouldn’t wrestling in Athens again until 1979, which was the last time he wrestled their in front of, you guessed it, another 10,000 fans! According to Lions, this was the biggest house in Athens in a while (the biggest recorded attendance between 1975-1979), showing the significance of Arion even that late into his career. To put things into perspective, here are some of the attendance records Arion set during his time in Greece as a main eventer:
- May 30, 1965: Spiros Arion vs. Ski Hi Lee – Attendance 15,000 (Tied for 2nd Biggest Pro Wrestling Crowd in both Greece & Europe as a whole in the 1960s)
- July 20, 1969: Spiros Arion vs. George Korienko – Attendance 10,000 (Tied for 4th Biggest Pro Wrestling Crowd in both Greece & Europe as a whole in the 1960s)
- August 3, 1969: Spiros Arion vs. George Korienko – Attendance 12,000 (Tied for 3rd Biggest Pro Wrestling Crowd in both Greece & Europe as a whole in the 1960s)
- August 10, 1969: Spiros Arion vs. George Korienko Cage Match – Attendance 10,000 (Tied for 4th Biggest Pro Wrestling Crowd in both Greece & Europe as a whole in the 1960s)
- July 14, 1974: Spiros Arion vs. Mark Lewin – Attendance 10,000 (Tied for 4th Biggest Pro Wrestling Crowd in Europe of the 1970s, Tied for 3rd Biggest in Greece)
- July 14, 1979: Spiros Arion & Kostas Safakas vs. Stan Polanski & Monty Swan – Attendance 10,000 (Tied for 4th Biggest Pro Wrestling Crowd in Europe of the 1970s, Tied for 3rd Biggest in Greece)
Although only a blip on the radar, Arion’s final run is also important to his case. After wrapping up his time in WWWF, WCW & Greece, Arion finished off his career in the UK, working a handful of Joint Promotions events. These were primarily booked by Dale Martin Promotions. He came into the UK billed as the Mountevans Rules World Heavyweight Champion. He wrestled a series of matches, leading to him eventually being defeated by Wayne Bridges at a sold out Royal Albert Hall. This built Bridges into a formidable star, being billed as the first British born world champion. Some who have a strong disdain for fellow Hall of Fame candidate Big Daddy would argue that Bridges and his ilk kept the promotion going after World of Sport died, since many older fans around at the time, as well as wrestlers had a strong dislike for Big Daddy, something which can be argued by attendances with him as the main draw.
An Uphill Battle
Although he has a very strong case, Arion will probably still struggle to get votes. The most significant thing stacked against him is the accessibility of his career to the Hall of Fame voters, as more voters join the ranks who weren’t around for his run. Almost none of his matches from arguably his period as a worker are available on tape. Most of the footage we have comes from his second WWWF run, where although he still had great ring presence and talent, his work was nowhere near where it is said to have been at his peak, with him moving at a much slower pace and having far less interesting matches from a purely workrate standard. Matches like his big title matches in WCW and his 60 minute draws with Jack Brisco are not available in full anywhere. As a result, it is hard to make a judgement on his work, even though his work is held in high regard by people who were around at the time.
Another issue this causes is that he is someone who, despite his significance, is very unknown, which creates major problems in a very stacked and heavily debated Rest of the World section.
Rest of the World
- L’Ange Blanc (Francisco Pino)
- Big Daddy
- Dominic DeNucci
- Billy Joyce
- George Kidd
- Killer Karl Kox
- Kendo Nagasaki
- Jackie Pallo
- Rollerball Mark Rocco
- The Royal Brothers (Bert Royal & Vic Faulkner)
- Johnny Saint
- Ricki Starr
- Adrian Street
- Jose Tarres
- Otto Wanz
Look at that list. Although the credibility of each of those candidates as drawing power, wrestling skill and significance can be argued, a lot of them will get priority due to people being more familiar with their history and their history being more accessible. The perfect example of that would be someone like Big Daddy, who will probably get more votes despite his arguable positive impact, a similar or possibly weaker drawing case and almost non-existent in-ring case. Arion theoretically could beat him, but since Big Daddy’s career is more accessible and known, even though he probably won’t get the votes required to get in the Hall of Fame this year, the votes for him and others will eat away at potential votes for Arion. This all is particularly prevalent this year, with voting for almost all regions capped at 5 votes.
It is clear, from looking at all the key criteria that Spiros Arion has a bonafide case for the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame. He is a formidable, proven draw in two of the biggest territories at their time and helped to form the identity of both. He was also a proven and arguably bigger draw in Greece. He may struggle to win due to a lack of evidence of his skills as a worker for people who didn’t live through his peak working years and him being in a competitive category. I do hope though that this article has shown why Spiros Arion is one of the most under-explored, underappreciated legends of professional wrestling and should be more than a blip on your Hall of Fame radar.
Here are some of the places I went when completing research for this article that you may want to look at for more information about Spiros Arion and Australian Wrestling in general.
100 Years of Australian Professional Wrestling by Libnan Ayoub and Tom Gannon
Australian Wrestling Historian Ed Lock’s Apperances on The 6:05 Superpodcast
Various Editions of Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter
Phil Lions’ History of Greek Pro Wrestling (1928-1991)
Multiple Posts By Historian Ed Lock