The Great Inventor

DernIraIt’s tough pinning down the precise moment a new hold made its way into pro wrestling. Most holds go through a process of evolution, rather than revolution. In The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Heroes & Icons, we were careful to give ourselves a little bit of wiggle room when talking about the invention of the dropkick, for example. Joe Savoldi was clearly its greatest practitioner in the early 1930s, but it probably evolved from a move employed by Stanley Buresch a few years before.

The airplane spin, one of the most familiar of all wrestling moves, offers a little more certainty. Utah star Ira Dern was using the airplane spin, and he called it that, as early as 1921. In fact, the hold was so controversial that at least one promoter considered barring it during Dern’s matches. I’ve looked at as many old-time newspapers as I can on the topic, and it’s fair to conclude Dern was the father of the airplane spin.

Dern is a figure who well could have made our book as a hometown hero. In 1913, he was a Pacific Coast amateur champion; Jim Londos eventually would beat him in a huge amateur tournament in California. He held a version of the pro middleweight championship from 1921 to 1926, mostly confining himself to Utah and especially Salt Lake City. The 200-pounder was always a fan favorite, and a valuable 1981 interview with Gordon Dixon, who hung around the boxing and wrestling scene in the upper Snake River Valley, explains why:

I want to tell you about Ira Dern’s airplane spin. He’d finally, and he did this many times, he’d finally get his opponent on his shoulder and just about to mid-sections, and he’d spin around and around until the guy got dizzy, and then he’d throw him on the mat and knock him out. And everybody was waiting for that and when they got it they’d yell. When he got that hold, they’d shout and yell, and that was the end of it.

For many years, Dern was involved in boxing and wrestling as a promoter and referee. He had a hand in starting Bill Longson, whom we identified as one of the greatest heels in history. When Dern died in 1957, the Deseret News said he was as colorful in his prime as Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, or Jim Londos: “He had ‘it,’ as the promoters were wont to say.”



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