Bob Geigel, a heavyweight wrestler for the University of Iowa in the late 1940s who went on to a long career in professional wrestling as competitor, manager and promoter, died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease Thursday. He was 90.
Born in Algona, Iowa on October 1, 1924, Robert F. Geigel played football and wrestled at Algona High School. In a 2007 interview with the Canadian pro wrestling website Canoe.ca, Geigel recalled how he got involved in wrestling. “The wrestling coach was also an assistant football coach and asked me to try out for wrestling,” said Geigel, who grew up on a farm and had a set of daily chores to complete. “My father said I had to unload corn on Friday nights. Then one night, the coach and his wife came to my house to eat supper with us. The coach talked to my dad, and my dad said it’s hard to let me go at that time in the fall because we were unloading corn every night. The coach said ‘I can get him out by 6:30’ and my dad agreed.” The deal paid off; Geigel was runner-up at heavyweight at the 1942 Iowa high school state wrestling championships.
After serving in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theater for four years during World War II, Geigel enrolled at Iowa, where he competed on the gridiron and on the wrestling mat from 1946-1949. According to WrestlingStats.com, Geigel placed at the Big Ten conference championships twice. The hirsute Hawkeye was a runner-up at the 1948 Big Tens, losing to Minnesota’s Verne Gagne in the 191-pound finals. The following year, the 5’10”, 230-pound Geigel placed third at heavyweight.
Geigel qualified for the NCAA championships three consecutive years, earning All-American honors once. At the 1947 NCAAs, Geigel competed in the heavyweight bracket, defeating Michigan’s Dan Dworsky in the first round, 4-2 in overtime, before losing to Gagne, 6-1, in the second, failing to place.
The next year, Geigel became an All-American by placing third at 191 pounds. The 1948 NCAAs, an Olympic qualifying event with Olympic rules and bracketing, saw Geigel pin Michigan State’s Daniel Goldsmith at 8:36 in his first match, only to be pinned by Gagne in about two-and-a-half minutes in the second round. After winning by medical forfeit in the third round, Geigel got a decision over Iowa State Teachers College (now University of Northern Iowa) big man Leroy Alitz in the fourth match. Geigel concluded his appearance at the 1948 NCAAs with loss to Illinois’ Charles Gottfried in the fifth and final round.
As a senior at the 1949 NCAAs, Geigel earned a referee’s decision over San Diego State’s Don Arnold in the opening round, but lost to Gagne, 5-1, in the next match, sending the Iowan to the consolation bracket, where he was shut out by Homer Barr of Penn State, 4-0, and did not place.
Geigel graduated from Iowa with a degree in physical education in 1949. According to his biography as a 2002 inductee in the Tragos/Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, Iowa, “Geigel spurned a professional football offer to try pro wrestling, and began his career in Florida. He was a pro star for nearly three decades. Geigel won numerous titles, including the U.S. heavyweight championship, and he also held half of the NWA and AWA world tag team titles. After he was through competing in the ring, Geigel became a very successful promoter in the Kansas City area.”
Geigel was one of a number of college wrestlers immediately after World War II who went on to careers in the pro wrestling ring. In addition to collegiate rivals Verne Gagne (a two-time NCAA champ) and Don Arnold, other former collegiate big men who followed the same path include Geigel’s Iowa teammate Joe Scarpello, Purdue’s Ray Gunkel, and Oklahoma State’s Dick Hutton, who was a three-time NCAA heavyweight champ for the Cowboys.
Note: Photos of Bob Geigel are from his college wrestling career. In the late 1940s, wrestlers from the University of Iowa (and many other colleges) competed without shirts. The NCAA outlawed this practice in the mid-1960s.