Name: George Gordienko
Year Inducted: 2012
George Gordienko one said, “I’ve been so many places, geographically speaking, that I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I couldn’t hold my own.” And he could certainly hold his own, whether it came to toughness, wrestling skills, conversation, poetry, or painting.
It all added up to one of the true originals of professional wrestling and beyond.
Gordienko was born January 7, 1928, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and died May 14, 2002, in Victoria, British Columbia. His death came as a victim of melanoma cancer. “He’s one guy I would have thought would have been alive at the age of 100,” said former Edmonton, Alberta promoter Al Oeming.
In his 74 years, Gordienko carved out a remarkable life. He got into bodybuilding as a pre-teenager and worked out with his older brothers. His amateur wrestling skills were top-notch and he’d work out with touring professional wrestlers who came through Winnipeg. Joe Pazandak invited Gordienko to train with him in Minneapolis. “He was very keen on his workouts,” Gordienko said of his trainer. “I don’t know where he got all his energy.”
When Gordienko turned pro in 1946, he quickly made a name for himself as a man to be respected. He had massive forearms and natural strength. “I spent a lot of time in the gym with George. I can avouch personally to his abilities!” said Don Leo Jonathan. “George was probably the finest I ever seen.”
Early territories included San Francisco, Buffalo and Minneapolis, but his ability to compete in the United States became compromised when he was alleged to be a Communist sympathizer. In Calgary, he was able to return again and again to work for good friend Stu Hart. He competed internationally in Australia, Japan, India, and Europe. “Because of his traveling and the era he wrestled in, he likely faced more tough guys of different styles than any wrestler of any era, from the Bohlus in India to Dara Singh, to the top wrestlers of Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, to all the European stars and the top Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders,” wrote Dave Meltzer in The Wrestling Observer in an obituary on Gordienko.
Along the way, Gordienko studied his real passion of art. He learned at schools, including the esteemed St. Martin’s School of Art, and even spent time with Pablo Picasso. Yet Gordienko came at it his own way. “I consider myself self-taught” in art, he said. “You can go to schools and not learn anything.”
The wrestling and the art went hand in hand, he said in 1979. His athletic career left him “with the stamina to paint for hours at a time. Wrestling has given me a good understanding of anatomy.”
When he stopped wrestling in 1975, Gordienko distanced himself from wrestling and lived in Europe. He eventually returned to Canada in 1990, settling on Vancouver Island where the isolation was “good for my artwork.” That artwork is now highly sought after by art collectors.
- Greg Oliver