Blast From the Past: The Mighty Igor - The Friendly Giant
Wrestling Revue, November 1967 -- He likes to kiss folks outside the ring. When he gets an opponent inside the ropes, it's a far different story
ROGER BAKER - SLAM! Wrestling
Digging into the archives of writer/photographer Roger Baker, we revisit a Wrestling Revue magazine article from November 1967 on The Mighty Igor (Dick Garza). Check out Roger's story -- which we vet for the kayfabe of the era (in red) -- and his cool photo gallery of him.
The small dressing room was crowded with six or seven wrestlers who weigh on average 240 pounds each. They were all exchanging small talk. A couple of them were strapping up their boots for a tag match. One of the two was a hard-knit colored wrestler who had a pair of shoulders that resembled oversized grapefruits. The younger one was a tall beautifully proportioned wrestler with the classic good looks of a matinee idol. Over in a corner of the room a huge man clad in a long raggedy overcoat with a bear fur collar sat by himself, out from under his black cap, luxuriant black hair coming down over his eyes in bangs. The bearded man in the shabby coat was busily engaged in stuffing his mouth with toothpaste.
The younger wrestler motioned to Ivan Kalmikoff who was seated next to his visitor. "What's he doing that for?" Ivan just laughed. "He wants to make sure he has kissing-sweet breath to that when he goes out there tonight he won't offend anybody that he kisses at ringside."
Igor makes a regular habit of kissing little kids whose parents prop them up on the apron of the ring to get a close look at this newest hero of the mat world.
Igor later hopped down among the ringsiders and hugged and backslapped his way amongst the fans. He spied two dolls seated in the front row, and, yep, you guessed it, he up and kissed them both -- on the cheeks of course.
Who needs Batman and James Bond anymore? We've got Igor. He's a live folk hero, and lively. Wants to give everybody he meets a big bear hug. Can Batman pick up a 1,850 pound Volkswagen by himself? Igor can. He can even lift it when it weighs 2,350 pounds with two men in it. What would happen if some body tried to break a cement block on Bond's head with a sledge hammer? Well, 007 might be a little worse for wear. But it doesn't even faze Igor.
The last time somebody did break a block with a sledge hammer on Igor's head, Igor got a ticket for littering the sidewalk; he forgot to pick up the pieces of cement block!
His feats of strength are incredible. He can hold back a car with his back to a wall, while the wheels spin. There is a buildup of 2700 pounds of torque from the axle before the wheels start to spin. Igor can stand the weight of a one-ton pickup truck passing over his chest entirely with two wheels.
For a warmup on TV before a match, he twists tempered steel chains until they snap. To keep up his jolly spirits he stokes up on ice cream, 30 scoops at a time and any flavor but vanilla. Igor wrinkles his nose at vanilla. Say the word "dance" and he leaps up and does a rousing watusi. Igor can also do the waltz, the polka and the majurka.
"He danced for 7-1/2 straight hours in Omaha," Ivan Kalmikoff recalled. Ivan, a well-known linguist, wrestler and connoisseur of Polish sausage, is Igor's manager and father figure. NOTE #1 He also makes the half-a-hundred pancakes that Igor likes to eat for breakfast each morning.
Igor doesn't speak English yet. He knows some words, but is shy about using them. NOTE #2 At 28 he is strong enough to lift a horse and he has. "Horses are easy for Igor," said Ivan. Igor is 5-foot-10, weighs 270 pounds and wears a dainty size 7 shoe.
Gene Kiniski is caught in The Mighty Igor's bear hug.
I was asked by Ivan to try and touch my fingertips as my hands tried to close over Igor's massive upper arms. No luck. His thigh muscles are so hard and bulging, it is not really surprising that he can hold back a car whose tires are burning rubber. NOTE #3
Igor came to Canada from Wilo, Poland, eight years ago as a farm laborer. How he got from there to Canada wasn't made clear, but he turned up at a Kalmikoff wrestling match one night because he wanted to meet Ivan, his hero. It had to follow that Ivan kind of adopted Igor. And Igor became a wrestler.
"It's been like living in a Walt Disney feature," said Ivan. "Little girls write to him about their teddy bears named Igor. Women think of Igor as their son. Little boys want Igor to come and lick the big bully who lives down the street. Igor is their hero. He is big, good-hearted and strong. NOTE #4
"But do you know that he can be brought to tears when people laugh at him and call him stupid? He really did cry in the ring once because he didn't understand the referee. The Crusher had to go in and tell him in Polish what he was doing wrong. Igor was very upset and sorry afterwards."
The Mighty Igor in a massive tug of war.
It can be tiresome just to glance over Igor and Ivan's schedule. A typical week goes like this: Sunday, Toronto; Monday, Kitchener; Tuesday, Nashville; Wednesday, off; Thursday, Columbus; Friday, Detroit, Michigan; Saturday, Chicago. All this, plus two TV shows during the week for while the pair travel up to 4,000 miles, mostly by plane.
When Igor relaxes, he looks at pictures in Mad Magazine or at football games on television. He is superstitious and won't wear anything into the ring except his old sawed-off long underwear.
One night recently in Toronto, Igor and Ivan were watching the matches from the sidelines. An exceptionally attractive thing came swishing by. Igor, looking very happy, suddenly reached out and grabbed the pretty one around the neck in an illegal choke hold. Then he planted a moist and furry kiss on her cheek. "Thank you," he said, in careful English.
He looked at Ivan who was standing there shaking his head. "That's one thing about Igor," Ivan said. "He kisses too many people."
The Mighty Igor photo gallery
Previous Roger Baker pieces
Wrestling Revue magazine
The Mighty Igor (Dick Garza) died in January 2002 in a Detroit hospital, of heart problems. "He lived the gimmick," The Masked Superstar (Bill Eadie) said after Garza passed. "When he was out in public, he was Igor. When he was in the ring, he was no different. I have nothing but good memories of him."
Ivan Kalmikoff (Edward Bruce) worked in landscaping at the Detroit Zoo for 20 years. He died of a heart attack in Farmington Hills, Mich., in June 1996.
Roger Baker was a writer and photographer for magazines like The Wrestler, Inside Wrestling, Wrestling Revue, and Boxing Illustrated from 1958 to 1973. An archive of his contributions to SLAM! Wrestling are here. Email him at email@example.com.