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Richmond Reflections

by David Chappell


Fans of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling lost another one of our most memorable performers as Robert Fort Hanson, known to us as Swede Hanson, passed away on February 19, 2002 at the age of 68.

 Big Swede was a stalwart for Jim Crockett Promotions for decades, and it’s certain that anyone who watched the promotion anywhere from the early 1960’s through the early 1980’s has fond and lasting recollections of Swede. 

Undoubtedly, Swede will be remembered by many fans of Jim Crockett Promotions in large degree for his being part of one of professional wrestling’s greatest tag teams with partner Rip “The Profile” Hawk. The team of Rip Hawk and Swede Hanson was one of wrestling’s most feared duos, and caused considerable havoc in the sport for portions of three decades. Hawk and Hanson dominated the tag team division in what would later be called “Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling” from the early portions of the 1960’s through to 1973, when a change in the direction of the promotion and Swede’s health problems led to the breakup of the duo in the Carolinas and Virginia.

 Anyone who saw Swede and Rip team will have undying memories of this tandem. The two perfected the art of the quick tag, in fact, one would literally get dizzy watching the two tag in and out in seemingly one continual motion when they had a helpless opponent trapped in their corner. Rip was the “mouthpiece” of the team, and many times this tag team also had a manager to do a lot of its talking. Big Swede rarely said a word, but his actions in the ring spoke volumes. While Hawk was sneaky and cagey, Swede was solid as a rock and was without a doubt the “tough guy” of this duo. 

During the years of the Hawk-Hanson tag team, Swede was far bigger physically than nearly all of the wrestlers he encountered during that era. With a crew cut and menacing scowl, Swede and his tremendous size drew a sharp contrast to his “good guy” opponents such as George Becker, Johnny Weaver, Jerry Brisco, Abe Jacobs, Nelson Royal and Paul Jones. Even during occasional “Battle of the Bullies” matchups with fellow heels Gene and Ole Anderson, Swede was by far the most imposing man in the ring. 

Swede and Rip traded Crockett’s tag team prize, the Atlantic Coast Tag Team Titles, multiple times with their archrivals George Becker and Johnny Weaver during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The battles between these four were truly legendary, the classic battle of “good versus evil.” However, Big Swede was never one that most fans of the time could truly “hate.” Swede never ran his mouth, nor because of his massive size did he have to resort to the out and out sneaky tactics of his partner. If anything, people didn’t care for Swede because he just seemed just too big and strong for his opponents of that time. But while Big Swede may not have been adored by the masses during his run with Hawk, he was without a doubt respected.

 The year of 1973 brought winds of change to Jim Crockett Promotions, and to the career of Swede Hanson. Jim Crockett, Jr. and booker George Scott decided to move the promotion away from its reliance on tag team wrestling, instead concentrating on bringing in established singles stars from other parts of the country. This effectively ended Swede’s run as a tag team star, and to remain in the promotion, Swede had to quickly prove that he could “cut the mustard” in a singles style. 

As the year 1974 dawned, Crockett’s promotion was now called “Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling,” and Big Swede began the year wrestling at or near the top of cards in singles matches in his typical heel persona. However, in mid January, Swede began teaming with the Super Destroyer, Don Jardine, in what would be a career-changing move. In February of 1974, the Super Destroyer made the mistake of ordering Big Swede around during a television match and when Swede wouldn’t follow the masked man’s orders, Jardine slapped Swede in the middle of the ring in front of all to see. Swede was infuriated, fired back on the Super Destroyer, and a feud for the ages had begun! Amazingly, after a decade as a heel, one slap had turned Swede into the top “good guy” in the Mid-Atlantic area!!

The feud with the Super Destroyer spanned nearly six months, and may have been Swede’s finest hour while in Crockett’s promotion. Hanson showed everyone that he had what it took to be a star in the single’s ranks at the highest level. Swede stood toe to toe with Jardine in possibly the promotion’s most violent and intense program ever. The sledgehammer blows that Swede threw on Jardine rivaled those of heavy hitter extraordinaire, Johnny Valentine. While the Super Destroyer ultimately prevailed in this feud, this was a war that had no real losers. 

The rest of 1974 saw the promotion come to realize that a program between the area’s top “good guy” Swede Hanson and former partner Rip Hawk was a “must.” Initially, the Rip versus Swede matchups were within a tag team context, where Swede and partner Tiger Conway, Jr. battled Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Champions Rip Hawk and a very young Ric Flair. These tag matches in reality turned into matches between Rip and Swede, and the action between these two was intense! By November and December of 1974, Swede and Rip finally faced each other one on one, in single matches the area’s fans could not wait to see! The promoters made these matches even more special, by making the majority of these contests non-sanctioned fence matches! Swede dominated his former partner Hawk in this series of emotional matches, which were some of Hawk’s last matches ever for Jim Crockett Promotions. Interestingly enough, Swede’s victories over Rip Hawk also marked Hanson’s last main event program while in the Mid-Atlantic area. Swede’s career was set to take another turn as the calendar turned over to 1975. 

The year of 1975 saw Jim Crockett Promotions transition Swede into mid card status, a position he would basically hold for his remainder of time with the promotion. Swede was involved in no more angles, but until he left the area in the middle of 1976 he won his share of matches and was the babyface who was the big test for the star heels who were new to the area. In 1975, Swede gave newcomers Blackjack Mulligan and Angelo Mosca a real initiation into the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling wars!! In the eyes of the promotion and its fans, if a supposed big name could get over on the Swede, he was then, and only then, legitimate!!

 Hanson left the Mid-Atlantic area for Texas in mid 1976, and while down there actually teamed again with Rip Hawk and won championship gold. Swede did not become a Mid-Atlantic regular again until early 1978, when he returned as a heel and with a new look that included frizzy hair and psychedelic colored wrestling outfits! Swede was still a mid-carder at best in 1978 and 1979, but formed some solid teams with Gene Anderson and Sgt. Jacques Goulet during this time frame. In fact, there were some terrific matches in the late 1970’s where Swede would team with fellow aging stars Gene Anderson and Brute Bernard and battle fellow aging babyfaces Johnny Weaver and Abe Jacobs! While these matches didn’t have the impact they did ten years previously, Swede always gave supreme effort. And as Swede got older lost more frequently, the promotion was always quick to point out that he was a legend and was still a man to be feared. There was never a question that Jim Crockett Promotions and the wrestlers in the promotion always held Swede in the highest regard.

 Swede had one final run in the Mid-Atlantic area in the early 1980’s. Again, Hanson was a heel who won his share of arena matches, particularly in early tag matches on arena cards. Swede formed good teams with Gene Lewis and Tenru in the early 80’s, though by this time Swede would not prevail on television matches. Still, the Big Swede would give anyone who he faced a real run for their money. During this time period, Hanson was much better known by many fans for two very successful stints he had in the WWF as a main event performer.

For Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling fans, Swede Hanson will forever be remembered for being a rough and tough competitor who always strove to give his absolute best in the ring. His career with Jim Crockett Promotions spanned many years, and gave us oh so many memories. While we mourn his passing, Swede’s death will never be able to extinguish those memories nor diminish his Mid-Atlantic legacy. Your many fans will never forget you. Rest in peace, Big Swede.