RIP Ox Baker, Master Of The Heart Punch, 1934-2014

Sad news today for old school wrestling fans as legend Ox Baker has died at the age of 80 following complications from a heart attack.

Baker’s wrestling career spanned 30 years and saw him competing and holding championships everywhere in the world, from the NWA and AWA to the then-WWWF. He’s notable for two major things — his amazing array of iron-on t-shirts and his dreaded finishing strike, the “Heart Punch.” It was such an effective move that it was blamed for the death of two of Baker’s opponents. No joke. From Wikipedia:

On June 13, 1971, Ox and his partner the Claw were wrestling in an AWA Midwest Tag Team Championship tag team match against Alberto Torres and his partner Cowboy Bob Ellis in Verdigre, Nebraska. Torres was injured during the match and died three days later. Though evidence indicated that Torres died of a ruptured appendix, Baker’s Heart Punch was blamed and, though by his own account Baker was privately distraught over the death, he did “work” it as though he had killed Torres.

On August 1, 1972, in Savannah, Georgia Baker faced Ray Gunkel, who was a popular wrestler in (and part owner of) the Georgia promotion. Though it was claimed that Gunkel dropped dead in the ring from the Heart Punch, other accounts, most notably in the biography of Vince McMahon Sex, Lies and Headlocks, state that Gunkel had suffered a heart attack apparently from over-indulging at a restaurant before the match. The truth is that Gunkel won the match and died in the dressing room after the match. In both cases, Baker was “blamed” for the death.

Outside of wrestling, you might recognize Baker from his various acting roles, including “Slag” in the 1981 classic, Escape From New York. The cult film I Like to Hurt People not only featured him, but used one of his signature phrases as its title. Baker also put out a music CD, published both a children’s coloring book and a cookbook (!), and appeared on wrestling shows in a guest role well into the 2000s. He will be truly missed.

To celebrate the life of Ox Baker, here are two very different, equally awesome clips from his career. In the first, Baker starts a riot in Cleveland by refusing to stop Heart Punching his opponent. In the second, he shows up on ‘The Price Is Right’ and hangs out with Bob Barker.