Today is Wednesday, June 7, which is also just three days before...
Talking toughness? Check out this Wayne
By Wayne Baughman
I am a big fan of the Mike Chapman Book, “Two Guys Named Dan.” Dan Hodge was my first wrestling hero. Dan Gable is everyone’s wrestling hero. On several occasions since Chapman’s book came out, people have ask me why there isn’t a book on “Two Guys Named Wayne.”
I first explain that neither Wayne Wells nor I are wrestling icons or legends, although Olympic champion Wells certainly deserves to be. We do have a unique history together having both wrestled at the same high school and college with the same coaches; Coach Virgil Milliron at John Marshall Jr-Sr High School (JMHS) in Oklahoma City and at the University of Oklahoma under coaches Tommy Evans and Port Robertson.
Wells was a wrestling prodigy from the beginning. He was discovered in gym class and personally invited to come out for wrestling. I was personally invited to leave wrestling on several occasions. Wells came to JMHS when he was in the seventh grade and started wrestling in ninth grade. One of my high school classmates was the junior high coach and started Wells in wrestling. My classmate was very much attuned with Coach Milliron’s system and philosophy. They all worked out in the same room at the same time so Wells had the benefit of two great coaches.
Wells lived in Texas until he moved to Oklahoma City. His grandparents were ranchers and he spent as much time with them as possible. He was a cowboy and still is. Wells later became a lawyer to support his “ranching habit.” When I was young, I lived on the Caddo-Kiowa Indian reservation in a house with no plumbing, no electricity, wood burning stove and no outdoor outhouse. My first school was “White Bread” elementary.
I was considered a “Breed”; part Indian, part white and an outcast to both. That’s when I learned to wrestle and fight. I remember there was an Indian boy who came home from boarding school for the summer. He was about 11, but small, and I was 6 and big for my age. He taught me to wrestle. It was a combination of Greco-Roman, Sambo and Judo with submission and chokes legal; not much was illegal. No leg attacks because you’d get kneed in the face. That was my first day of “real” wrestling, I used it and it worked. It was immediately explained to me that what I was doing was alley/grade school/junk wrestling and not tolerated.
So while Wells enjoyed immediate acceptance and success, I was the trouble-making outcast. Wells placed second in junior high state and was a two-time undefeated state champion and O.W. in high school. He was also a good student and citizen. I wasn’t a bad student but my coach described me as an outlaw, a renegade who had a bad attitude and smart mouth.
Of course, Wells got a full scholarship straight out of high school and dominated from the beginning. Having only placed third in state, I got a half scholarship and was fighting to just stay on the team; literally fighting. I averaged a fight a day; fist, feet, elbows, knees my freshman year. Wells placed 2nd, 1st, 1st in the Big 8 and 2nd, 1st in the NCAAs. I placed 2nd, 1st, 1st in the Big 8, and was OW and won the Most Falls Award my senior year. I was 2nd, 1st, 2nd in the NCAAs.
Wells didn’t place in his first national freestyle tournament. I placed first in Greco and second in freestyle in my first Olympic-style tournaments. Wells missed the Olympic Trials and got a special injury invite to the final tryout camp. He had to win two matches, two days in a row against the top two Trials’ finishers to make the team. He finished fourth at the Olympics. He went on to win five national freestyle championships, placed second in the 1969 World Championships, fifth in the 1970 World Championships and won Olympic gold in 1972.
Wells had knee surgery in 1971, and suffered a disappointing loss at the Pan Am Games. He wasn’t going to try out for the Olympics but Olympic coach Bill Farrell talked him into coming back. He won the Olympics with a displaced rib, enlarged spleen and bad knee. He also finished his last semester of law school, passed the bar exam, won Nationals, the Olympic Trials and the Olympics in about a 90-day period.
My record in 25 national championships was 16 firsts, seven seconds and a pair of thirds. I was on three Olympic teams, eight World teams, a Pan Am Games team; coached two Olympic teams, 5 World teams and a Pan Am Games team. I am the only wrestler to have won national championships in NCAA, freestyle, Greco and Sambo and one of only two Americans to have placed in Olympic/World competition in three styles.
What I lacked in international success, I made up for in longevity. Actually, the USAF made me stay in competition and international coaching. I never intended to wrestle after college or become a coach. I tried to convince Wells that since I won the Pan Am Games and he didn’t, and I won more national titles, I was the better wrestler, but he didn’t buy it.
I actually met Wells between his sophomore and junior year in high school and I was going into my senior year in college. The lady who lived in the apartment below us told my wife Betty that her little cousin wrestled at our old high school, JMHS, and wanted to meet me but was too bashful. Betty said “next time he’s here, tell him you need to borrow a cup of sugar and send him up.” A few weeks later, I heard a knock at the door and there stood a little guy asking to borrow a cup of sugar. I started to give him the cup of sugar and sent him on his way when Betty came in and introduced us. I was the defending NCAA champion but Wells was already a better wrestler than I was, so he became my hero.
Wells and I shared a room at the 1972 Olympic training camp. The first night he was tossing and turning and keeping me awake. I asked, “what’s your problem?” He said every night at home I have one beer just before bedtime and I go right to sleep. I said “well there’s a liquor store around the corner, so go get a beer.” He replied that anyone caught drinking in camp would be thrown off the team.
After more tossing and turning, I went to the liquor store and said I wanted to buy a can of beer. The clerk said you can’t buy just one can, it has to be at least a six pack. I said “okay, I’ll buy two six packs but I can only pick up one beer a night” and told him the story. He thought it was funny so he put two six packs in the back cooler. He put one can in a bottle sack and I “smuggled” it back to the dorm room. Wells drank it and then said “what will we do with the can?” They’ll find the can and know we’ve been drinking.” I replied “what’s the “we” stuff stranger?”
I crushed the can, put it in the bag and took it to the central bathroom trash. By the time I got back to the room, Wells was sound asleep. That routine worked every night. Since Wells was asleep, we both got some sleep. I could write a full book on “Wayne Wells’ stories” and someone should. At the 1972 Olympic camp, Wells scored much higher on the strength/endurance research tests than all others, including Gable and the Peterson brothers. He has had multiple joint and spine surgeries, ankle and hip replacements.
He has been shot through the leg both while breaking up a fight and while hunting. He was knocked out driving a dozer when a tree fell on him while plowing up a half mile of fence line. He has been thrown and kicked by horses. He set himself on fire welding a fence, requiring skin grafts that put off his knee replacement. Obviously he is accident prone.
Fortunately, I’m more “incident” prone than accident prone. I might have to do the book after all, but mostly on Wells.