During his career as a wrestler, Race worked for all of the major wrestling promotions, including the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), the American Wrestling Association (AWA), the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE), and World Championship Wrestling (WCW). He held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship seven times, and was the first NWA United States Heavyweight Champion, which is now known as the WWE's United States Championship. Race is one of six men inducted into each of the WWE Hall of Fame, the NWA Hall of Fame, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, and is considered by many past and present fans/wrestlers and promoters as one of the best professional wrestlers of all time. He is highly respected for his toughness and lifelong dedication to the business.
Early life[edit | edit source]
Race was an early fan of professional wrestling, watching programming from the nearby Chicago territory on the DuMont Network. After overcoming polio as a child, he began training as a professional wrestler as a teen under former world champions Stanislaus and Wladek Zbyszko, who operated a farm in his native Missouri. While in high school, an altercation with another classmate led to the principal kneeing Race in the back of the head as he tried to break up the fight. Enraged, Race attacked him, resulting in his expulsion. Already 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) and 225 lb (102 kg), Race decided to get his start in professional wrestling. Race then became the driver of Happy Humphrey, as he was too large to drive at the time.
Professional wrestling career[edit | edit source]
Early career[edit | edit source]
Race was recruited by St. Joseph wrestling promoter Gust Karras, who hired Race to do odd jobs for his promotion, including chauffeuring the 800 lb (360 kg) wrestler Happy Humphrey. Eventually, Race started wrestling on some of his shows, and some of Karras' veteran wrestlers helped further Race's training. At the age of 18, he moved to Nashville and began wrestling under the ring name of Jack Long, forming a tag team with storyline brother John Long. The duo quickly captured the Southern Tag Team Championship. Race was seen as a rising star in the business with a bright future, until a car accident put him out of action, with his leg coming close to being amputated. His pregnant first wife, Vivian Louise Jones, died instantly; they had been married for little over a month. Karras heard about his employee's condition, went rushing into the hospital, and blocked the planned amputation, declaring it "over my dead body". In doing so, he saved Race's leg. Although he recovered, doctors told Race that he might never walk again, and his wrestling career was over. Undaunted, Race endured grueling physical therapy for several months and made a full recovery. Race fought in the Jack Pfefer and Tony Santos in the Boston territory as the Great Mortimer in 1963.
He returned to the ring in 1964, wrestling for the Funks' Amarillo, Texas, territory. This time, he wrestled under his own name, after his father told him that he should not work to make anyone else's name famous. Race never again used a different ring name. In Amarillo, Race met fellow up-and-coming wrestler Larry Hennig (later Larry "The Axe" Hennig and father of "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig). The two formed a tag team and moved to the American Wrestling Association (AWA).
Japan (1965–1984)[edit | edit source]
In the AWA, Race and Hennig branded themselves as "Handsome" Harley Race (which was actually a moniker given to him by fans in Japan) and "Pretty Boy" Larry Hennig, a cocky heel (villain) tag team with a penchant for breaking the rules to win matches. They quickly became top contenders, and in January 1965, they defeated Dick the Bruiser and The Crusher to capture the AWA World Tag Team Championship. Race and Hennig continued to feud with the Bruiser and Crusher and other top teams for the next several years, amassing three title reigns. Verne Gagne, in particular, was a hated rival of the team, and recruited many different partners to try to defeat Race and Hennig during their AWA run.
Race jumped from territory to territory in the early 1970s, renewing his rivalry with Terry Funk in Amarillo and winning a regional title. He was seen as a gifted territorial wrestler, not quite ready for the worldwide spotlight, until 1973. In Kansas City, he did very well teaming with Roger Kirby. As a singles wrestler, he held the NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship as well as the Mid-Atlantic version of the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship. He also started what would be many tours to Japan where he faced Giant Baba.
Race was determined to eventually regain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, often moving between territories and collecting several regional titles, including eight Central States Heavyweight Championship, seven Missouri Heavyweight Championship, the Georgia Heavyweight Championship, the Stampede North American Heavyweight Championship in Canada, the Japan-based NWA United National Heavyweight and PWF World Heavyweight Championships, and becoming the first-ever holder of the Mid-Atlantic United States Heavyweight Championship, still defended today as the WWE United States Championship. This kept Race in contention for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, and Race vowed that he would only need one chance against the champion to regain it.
Race finally got his wish in 1977, facing familiar rival Terry Funk, who had become the champion since their previous encounters, in Toronto. Race won the title by submission with the Indian Death Lock, a rarely used submission move but one that put great pressure on Funk's injured leg. The NWA World Heavyweight Champion once again, Race this time established his dominance, defending the title up to six times a week and holding it for almost five years (excluding extremely short reigns by Tommy Rich, Dusty Rhodes, and Giant Baba). Race feuded with many of the legends of the NWA including Dory Funk, Dusty Rhodes, Dick the Bruiser, Pat Patterson and Angelo Poffo. In 1978, he had a series of violent matches throughout the Midwest with the Sheik, culminating in a bloody "2x4 with a nail in it" match in front of 12,313 at Cobo Hall. The NWA, AWA and WWF were on good terms, and Race engaged in title versus title matches with WWF Heavyweight Champions Superstar Billy Graham and Bob Backlund, as well as AWA World Heavyweight Champion Nick Bockwinkel. Race toured extensively all over the country and the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and many stints in Japan, where he was already well-known from his visits with Larry Hennig. On October 13, 1978, Harley Race body slammed André the Giant
World League Wrestling[edit | edit source]
Race spent several years away from the business, working briefly as a process server before retiring with his wife in small-town Missouri. In 1999, he started World League Wrestling (originally called World Legion Wrestling, but the name was changed a year later), an independent promotion which runs shows near Race's hometown of Eldon, Missouri and other cities in Missouri including Kansas City. A year later, he started Harley Race's Wrestling Academy, which seeks to train up-and-coming wrestlers who could benefit from Race's unique experience and perspective on the wrestling business. Race's events are family-oriented, and usually raise funds for local charities. As well as featuring his students, legends like Mick Foley, Terry Funk, Bret Hart, and even Mitsuharu Misawa make guest appearances. WLW has a working agreement with Misawa's Japanese promotion, Pro Wrestling Noah and have Noah star Takeshi Morishima as a former heavyweight champion. He is credited with training Trevor Murdoch who was then known as Trevor Rhodes and Pro-Wrestling Noah veterans Superstar Steve, Wild Wade Chism, Matt Murphy and Daniel Cross.
In 2014, Race and World League Wrestling relocated to Troy, MO. Along with relocating his wrestling academy and promotion, Race also built the Race Wrestling Arena - where events are put on once a month.
In August 2015, WLW put on a local event with special guest Ric Flair.
Personal life[edit | edit source]
Race was born to sharecroppers George and Mary Race in 1943. He married three times. Race married his first wife, Vivian Jones, in 1960. Jones died five weeks after their wedding in the same car crash in which Harley nearly lost a leg. His second wife who Race refused to mention by name in his 2004 book King of the Ring, divorced him after a few years of marriage in 1990. Together they have a son Justin Race. who was an amateur wrestler but never a professional. His third wife Beverley, also known as B.J. was vice president of the Commerce Bank of Kansas City when they married in late 1995 after Harley's career-ending car crash earlier that year. She often traveled with Harley until she died of pneumonia. Race has five grandchildren. Harley continued running World League Wrestling (WLW) and his wrestling camp in Eldon, Missouri. He later moved the businesses to nearby Troy. Many of his trainees were sent to the NOAH promotion in Japan for extra seasoning. Over the years he would need surgery to his neck, hip replacements, knee replacements and had five vertebrae in his back fused together due to the years of taking hard bumps.
Special appearances[edit | edit source]
On January 4, 2014, Race took part in New Japan Pro Wrestling's Wrestle Kingdom 8 in Tokyo Dome event, taking part in the title presentation before a match for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and punching out defending champion Rob Conway's manager Bruce Tharpe.
Other media[edit | edit source]
Harley participated in the 1999 NBC special, Exposed! Pro Wrestling's Greatest Secrets. His face was covered to conceal his identity as he broke kayfabe and discussed the inner workings of the business. Harley's autobiography, King of the Ring: the Harley Race Story (ISBN 1-58261-818-6), became available in 2004. Along with Ricky Steamboat and Les Thatcher, Race is author of The Professional Wrestler's Workout and Instructional Guide.
During his time in the WWF, Race underwent surgery that required the removal of a portion of his small intestine. It was said that Honky Tonk Man (though HTM says that it was Bobby Heenan) later joked that Race, who is revered as one of the toughest men in professional wrestling history, "had no guts", a remark that most of the other wrestlers did not find humorous. This led to Dynamite Kid Tom Billington, one half of the popular tag team the British Bulldogs and who held great respect for Harley Race, to confront and threaten Honky Tonk Man with violence if he ever disrespected Race like that again. Billington was well known for his toughness and being extremely stiff in the ring; other wrestlers present mentioned they witnessed Honky Tonk Man visibly nervous after the incident though Honky Tonk Man also denied this.
In wrestling[edit | edit source]
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
- Bobby Heenan
- Wrestlers managed
- Big Van Vader
- Yoshi Kwan
- Entrance themes
- "Galaxy Express" by Ryoichi Kuniyoshi (AJPW)
Championships and accomplishments[edit | edit source]
- All Japan Pro Wrestling
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- Match of the Year (1973) vs. Dory Funk, Jr. on May 24
- Match of the Year (1979) vs. Dusty Rhodes on August 21
- Match of the Year (1983) vs. Ric Flair on June 10
- Stanley Weston Award (2006)
- Wrestler of the Year (1979, 1983)
- Ranked No. 8 of the 500 best singles wrestlers during the PWI Years in 2003
- Tokyo Sports
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter
- Match of the Year (1983) vs. Ric Flair at Starrcade
- Wrestler of the Year (1980, 1981)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (Class of 1996)
References[edit | edit source]
- Harley Race . Online World of Wrestling. Retrieved on 2009-09-11.
- Race, Harley. "King of the Ring: The Harley Race Story". Sports Publishing. p. 2.
- Foley, Mick. Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks (p.234)
- Caldwell, James 2014-01-04. Caldwell's NJPW Tokyo Dome results 1/4: Complete "virtual-time" coverage of New Japan's biggest show of the year - four title changes, former WWE/TNA stars featured, more . Pro Wrestling Torch. Retrieved on 2014-01-05.
- MMvsAM .
- PopMatters .
- Finishing Moves List . Other Arena. Retrieved on 2009-11-03.
- Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Stone Cold Truth (p. 102).
- NWA United National Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- NWA World Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- PWF World Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- ja:東京スポーツ プロレス大賞 (in Japanese). Tokyo Sports. Retrieved on 2014-01-20.
- Foley, Mick (2000). Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-103101-1.
- Stone Cold Steve Austin and Jim Ross (2003). The Stone Cold Truth. Pocket Books. ISBN 0-7434-7720-0.