Welcome back to Rotten Ink and to another “Made For TV” update and this time around we will be taking look at a sporting event that I have been a fan of since I can remember discovering it on ESPN when I was a kid and one that features Pro Athletes from all walks of life like Football, Pro Wrestling, Powerlifters and more an event that was structured to see who was the strongest of that year and of course I am talking about the World’s Strongest Man Contest, a very cool entertaining sporting event that has been going strong for over 40 Years and has seen some very cool names enter over the years. So adjust your rabbit ears and turn to Channel 3 as it’s time to talk about the first ever Strong Man Contest that started in 1977 and featured some names that I am sure many of you reading will recognize. So with that let’s talk about some Made For TV goodness.
The World’s Strongest Man Contest was created by David P. Webster and Douglas Edmunds and both had credit in booking events, and this was one that they created for pure entertainment and to air for CBS by Trans World International a company who was known for booking sporting events. And for the first one held in 1977 they picked powerful athletes from all types of other sports from Pro Wrestling to Bodybuilding as they wanted to have them all come together to take part in events that none would be fully ready for. And to enter the contest was by invite only and would take place over 10 weeks at Universal Studios and they would be not only competing for the trophy and title of World’s Strongest Man but also for cash prize money. The events themselves were odd and some dangerous and harmful to those involved, and this would change over time as the contest caught on and is still going to this day. And even in modern times the title of World’s Strongest Man seems to hold a little more weight and people seem to respect it more and more.
Let’s now take a few moments and take a look at the eight competitors that made up the first Strongmen for this contest. The bios will be brief and will kind of just tell you what each was known for as well as a few facts here and there. So let’s meet these athletes.
Jon Cole came from a powerlifting background and was even a multiple AAU US National Powerlifting Champion three years in the late 60’s and early 70’s. He was also known for squatting 900 Pounds and was considered a natural athlete even at an early age. He was a track and field star in High School and Collage and would become a famous powerlifter that was well respected. Sadly Jon would pass away in 2013 at the age of 69 of lung failure.
Franco Columbo was best known for being a Body Builder who was featured in the 1977 film “Pumping Iron” and being close friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he was much more as he was a powerlifter, a boxer, a trainer and was a showman who could blow up hot water bottles and could lift cars by their bumpers! Franco would also have roles in movies like Conan The Barbarian, The Terminator, Predator, Big Top Pee-Wee and many more. He would win Mr. Olympia contests as well as set Power Lifting records, in other words Franco was the man! And I need not forget that he was also a licensed chiropractor. Sadly Franco would pass away in 2019 at the age of 78 after suffering a heart attacking while swimming and he drowned.
Mike Dayton was a strongman who was a Martial Arts master, a stunt man for films and later body builder was an entertainer who was known for his feats of strength like bending pennies in half, and busting out of handcuffs showing he was a true powerhouse. He would also win a Mr. America and would write books about Chi as well as other martial art styles and was respected very much by his fans.
Lou Ferrigno is known for many things from being a bodybuilder who won many Mr. Olympia Contests as well as IFBB events and has graced many muscle magazines over the years and even was in the WBF. He is also a known actor working on such TV shows as The Incredible Hulk, Trauma Center and King Of Queens and in such films as Hercules, Sinbad Of The Seven Seas, Cage and I Love You Man and even voices The Hulk in the current Marvel Universe Movies. Lou truly is an icon of bodybuilding and is who most people think of when The Hulk is brought up.
George Frenn was known for being a hammer/weight thrower who even represented America at the Pan American Games wining Bronze in 1967 and Silver in 1971 and was a well respected athlete who was also a powerlifter and organizer for lifting events as well as was a High School teacher and helped promote and compete in the Gay Olympics in 1982, and the odd part was he was not gay. Frenn would pass away in 2006 at the age of 64.
Ken Patera is known for three things one for being a powerlifter who competed in the Olympics and Pan American Games winning Gold and Silver Medals. Two for being a Pro Wrestler and working for the WWF as one of their biggest heels and even had runs in other federations as AWA and UWF and won many titles during his time as a wrestler. And he is also known for throwing a rock through a McDonalds window when they refused to sell him some hamburgers and this lead to a brawl with the cops and time spent in jail.
Bruce Wilhelm is an Olympic lifter and was looked at as pure athlete as was also a Track and Field star and wrestled in school as well, and was great at it. But his calling was weightlifting as he would win the US AAU Superheavyweight Weightlifting Champion twice and this helped his later career of being a Strongman. Bruce’s personality also got him over with the fans who all seemed to enjoy his good nature.
Bob Young was a NFL star and was a guard for the Saint Louis Cardinals and was the player who introduced powerlifting into the training for football players. He was the older brother of Doug Young, a powerlifting champion, and during his career as a player he would also be on such teams as the Broncos, Oilers and Saints. Sadly in 1995, Young would pass away at the age of only 52 after health issues.
So as you can see, this first contest is stacked with true Strong Men from all types of sports and backgrounds and each guy has a competitive nature that you know will make them go hard and try their best to win the money and the title. And really these Strongman Contest are something that my Brother and I would watch all the time on ESPN. And speaking of my brother, I would like to thank him for making this update possible as he got me this and many other Strong Man Contests on DVD! And I am not going to lie as I am very much looking forward to watching this event again as I have not seen if for decades! So with that, let’s turn on the TV and give this epic event a watch and a review.
World’s Strongest Man 1977
With: Lou Ferrigno & Ken Patera Topic: Sports 1977
The 1977 event takes place at Universal Tours, and after a rundown of the competitors, the host Brent Musburger welcomes us to the event and explains some of the events the athletes will be competing in as well as the amounts of money they can win. Brent also explains the point system that each can get for placing in a event with 10 points going to the first place winner in each. And that in the end the four top competitors would go one on one in a tug or war match. And after that Brent says that over $14 thousand in the maximum amount that could be won, and once all the rules, points and money talk is out of the way we go to our first event.
The Barrel Lift is the first event and starts off with 150 Pounds and each man has to lift it over their heads and classic weightlifter Paul Anderson who is the Commissioner Of Power for the event gives some tips as well as explains that they have to deadlift the barrel up to their chest and then over their heads and this is all being timed, and they do not show the 150 lifts as Brent says all competitors did so very easily so they now have moved up to a 200 Pound Barrel and first up is Franco who struggles at first but is able to do so after a few tries, Cole is next and he as well struggles and is able to lift it over his head, but fails to pause at his chest making his lift void. Next up is the heaviest man in the event Wilhelm and he does his lift with ease making the 200 Pounds look easy. Young is up next and is able to muscle it up, then is Patera who does it fast and easy, then is Lou who as well makes it look easy but is ruled out when they think he used his knees to do the lift! It’s then Frenn’s turn and Dayton is next and unable to make the lift ruling him out. So out this round are Dayton, Cole and Lou as we go to our first commercial break.
The barrels’ weight goes up to 250 Pounds next and first up is Franco who tries, but is only able to get the barrel to his chest before bowing out as he is not able to lift over his head. Wilhelm then steps up and struggles and just barely is able to make the lift as the timer ticked down, and next Patera gives it a try and is able to get it to his chest but is unable to get the barrel over his head and this ends his time in the barrel lift. Last up is Frenn who is unable to even get the barrel up to his chest and this eliminates him from the event and allows Wilhelm to be 1st place in the lift and scores him the 10pts and lesser points go to the others. And Wilhelm is super excited when he is declared the winner of this event.
The second event is The Bar Bend and all eight competitors must square off against each other at the same time and have to bend an iron bar over their necks, heads or mouth using their arm strength and can not use any kind of support to do so, as that means no elbows or touching any other part of their bodies to get leverage as this has to be full arm power to do the bend and each time the bar will get thicker and harder to bend and for several rounds they all do this with pure fast power. And with the third bar Fenn is disqualified fast for cheating as he used his elbows to try and help bend it, but the others are also straining to get the bar bent and the judges have to now base it on who got the bar bent the most, and its Lou who ends up winning the contest showing that he had the pure power to bend the bar and he gets the 10 points. Brent then interviews Lou about his win as the fans clap and cheer.
The Wrist Roller is next and has groups of four having to square off with each other as they roll a bar to lift weights 110 pounds up to the top of a platform in the fastest time and the first batch is Lou, Cole, Young and Patera with only two being able to go onto the next round and its Patera winning and Lou coming in second and both move on. Brent then takes a moment to chat with Patera who puts over all the other Strong Men in this event. After that the second batch comes up and is Franco, Wilhelm, Dayton and Frenn and this one is fast paced as Dayton and Franco come out the winners with Dayton showing his skill and speed in Wrist Rolling. Before the third and final round Brent talks to the top four in this final round that is Lou, Dayton, Franco and Patera and each hyped up that they are ready for this round. And in the end Dayton wins and Lou and Franco tie for second and Patera comes in third. When Brent talks to Lou and Franco, they say that they want to show that Body Builders are really athletes as well.
Before the next event we see that Lou and Franco are tied for first place to take the whole contest and they hope to stay in that spot with the next event being The Wheel Barrow Race that has them pushing a wheel barrow that weighs 750 pounds up a hill and the fastest times in each race will square off to see who earns the 10 points. This will once more be broken into three races with the winners of the first two races squaring off in the third and final. The first race has Franco, Cole, Frenn and Dayton and this one is a battle from the start but its Cole who ends up taking the win with Franco coming in second. The next batch is Patera, Lou, Wilhelm and Young and its Wilhelm that takes first and Lou who was in second place gets his placement stripped when the judges throw his win out due to him falling before the finishing line and Patera is given second place. The final race is Patera, Franco, Cole and Wilhelm and this is a fast win for Wilhelm and Patera ends up winning second after barely beating Cole and its Franco in last place. After the race Brent talks to Wilhelm and Patera and it’s clear that both men are gassed but both show class and put over all the other men in this event, as this was a tiring race that made them strain to push that much weight.
The next event is the Tire Toss and this each man has to toss a tire with the winner being the one with the longest distance, and each get a few throws to try and elemenate each other with Young, Patera, Wilhelm, Cole and Frenn leading the pact. And with Lou, Franco and Dayton out of the toss early the final four are Young, Cole, Patera and Frenn with the winner being Patera with Frenn coming in second and this was a major upset as Frenn and Cole were the odds on favorites to take this event as they are Hammer and Discus throwing champions. After the event Wilhelm grabs the microphone from Brent and interviews Patera himself. And then we get a flashback of the past events to showcase were each of our athletes stand in the points.
The next event is called The Tram Pull and has the competitors put into a harness and they must pull a Tram Train a distance and they have to do so while being timed. The first two up against each other is Patera and Young with Young winning the race. The next two are Cole and Frenn with this one going to both men who tied. Next up is Franco taking on Wilhelm with the big man Wilhelm winning very quickly and takes the lead over all with the shortest time. Then its Lou taking on Dayton with this one going to Dayton, but the over all winner was Wilhelm do to the speed in witch he won his match up giving him 10 more points. After the event Brent talks to the four men who won the points Wilhelm, Young, Patera and Dayton and Patera makes fat jokes about Wilhelm, and this makes Brent laugh as well as gets Wilhelm to act even sillier.
The Car Deadlift is next and has each man having to lift a car by the bumper and the tries need to be off the ground for it to count, and after each round the weight of the car goes up until they have a winner. They skip some of the match ups and we join the start of Franco and Frenn lighting the cars that weigh over 2 Thousand Pounds with Franco making quick work of the lift, but while Frenn lifts it he also injures his arm. Next up is Wilhelm who moves on and Patera who struggles and is out when he fails to make the lift. Cole and Lou go next and both make it to the next round, with Dayton and Young also moving on to the next round. Frenn is removed from the next lift due to injury and Franco moves on as well. More weight is added and Wilhelm is unable to make the lift and is out, Lou is able to make the lift and moves on, Cole as well moves on after lifting the car, Young drops out after trying two times to make the lift and just cant. Franco as well is out after not being able to lift it. The final two are Cole and Lou and more weight is added to the car and both make the lift so more weight is added and Lou gets the win with the lift with Cole taking second place.
The weird event The Girls Squat Lift is next and each strongman has to lift two girls in cages on each side squat style and more weight is added each round. And Brent and Paul Anderson do a goofy comedy spot before bringing out our strong men to start the event. Lou, Wilhelm, Patera, Cole, Young and Franco all move on as Dayton backs out and Frenn has been removed from the event due to injury. More weight is added and the remaining strongmen keep trying to lift with Lou and Patera being out while Wilhelm, Cole, Young and Franco make it to the next round. The next round Wilhelm backs out not to risk injury while Cole can not make the lift and as he leaves the stage he walks past The Frankenstein’s Monster who is talking to a young lady in the background, this was awesome. Next Young makes the lift and moves on as Franco is unable to make the lift and this gives Young the 10 points and the win for the event. Very tough one and many of the favorites did not move on and get the win in this event.
The next event is the Refrigerator Race that has the Strong Men having to run a race with a real refrigerator on their backs and this is all about getting the best time to move onto the finals, this is a now classic event for these contests and this was the first that fans got to see aired on TV. The first race has Lou and Dayton going at it with Dayton winning, Patera races next solo, Dayton and Franco are next and Franco sadly hurts his knee in the race and Dayton wins. Next Wilhelm and Cole square off and it’s Wilhelm that wins and does so with the fastest time and this gives him the 10 points.
The final event is Tug Of War and only features the Strongmen who made it into the Top Four spots and that’s Bruce Wilhelm, Lou Ferrigno, Bob Young and Ken Patera and they must square off against each other in the classic field day event of tug of war to prove who is the strongest. The first match is Lou taking on Young and the winner is Young after an epic struggle between the two with each man falling several times. The next match is Patera and Wilhelm with this one the big man Wilhelm makes quick work of Patera who blames the weight difference in why he lost so easily. Next Patera goes against Lou and gets the win and Wilhelm makes quick work of Young. And the World’s Strongest Man in 1977 was Bruce Wilhelm followed by Bob Young, Ken Patera and Lou Ferrigno. And after being interviewed Wilhelm gives a big scream of victory and admits that his weight advantage is how he dominated the Tug Or War matches. And with that the 1977 World’s Strongest Man Contest came to an end.
What a classic event and with this being the first every World’s Strongest Man it makes it even more awesome as it brought so many different guys together to truly see who was the strongest I mean you had Power Lifters, Bodybuilders, a Pro Wrestler, a Pro Football player and even a Hammer Throw champion all going after the title as well as the prize money. I have always been a big Lou Ferrigno fan not just because he played The Hulk one of my favorite comic heroes in one of my favorite TV Shows of all time, but also cause he is one of my favorite Body Builders of all time and it was great that he made it in fourth place. I also have to say that my brother and I always liked Franco Columbo and when he hurt his knee in the refrigerator race and then blew off the doctors who told him it was broke he always laughed our asses off, as he was so calm and unfazed by the injury. And guys like Bruce Wilhelm, Bob Young, George Frenn, Jon Cole and Mike Dayton are all badass dudes it was a shame that Frenn gets injured and has to be pulled from the contest and I would have liked to have seen Jon Cole make it further. And when it comes to Wilhelm his massive size made him dominate many of the events and just showed how good of an athlete he really was. Pro Wrestler Ken Patera is a wrestler we knew as I grew up watching him in the WWF and while he never was a favorite of mine it was great seeing him compete in this event, plus his phrase after loosing the Tug Of War to Wilhelm “I Told You There Is An Advantage Of Being Fat, The Man Out Weighs Me By 50 Pounds.” is a quote that my brother and I still say to this day…classic Patera stuff. Plus it shows you that Patera had heart as he did this contest with a back injury and still was able to capture third place! Like I said in the write up it was funny to see Frankenstein’s Monster in the background of a shot, but also it was very cool as it was filmed at Universal and it showed the studio was paying respects to the classic monsters in the late 70’s. There is just something so fun about these events as you watch these athletes compete in feats of power and strength that most of use never could do. And I am going to say this right now that I will cover more of these Strong Man Contests in the future as I plan to do a few more Made For TV themed updates to add a little more fun to Rotten Ink. Oh and if you want to see this event yourself I know parts of the event are on YouTube if not the whole event. And remember the man out weighed Ken by 50 pounds and that is why he lost.
I should also say that when growing up and watching this contest for the first time I thought the final four would have been the following with my first name being the winner and so on in order of what I thought they would place Lou Ferrigno, Ken Patera, Jon Cole and Franco Columbo. And man this was a very much fun rewatch and when doing so I felt like a kid again and looking forward to covering more of these in the future. And while The World’s Strongest Man update might be over we will be sticking in the world of sports for our next update as we will be talking about a true Pro Wrestling Legend and the original Nature Boy as you guessed it Buddy Rogers will be our next update. So until next time read a comic or three, watch a sporting event or two and as always support your local Horror Host. See you in soon as the Rotten Ink Arena doors are open for more celebration of WWF WrestleMania.