If Bruno Sammartino was the greatest WWE Champion in company history, there is a strong argument that Pedro Morales wouldn’t be very far behind. Pedro, who passed away earlier this month, held the WWWF (now WWE) championship for 1,079 days from February of 1971 to December of 1973. Only Hulk Hogan, Bob Backlund, and Bruno himself can claim longer reigns. Join Seth “Zandrax” Zillmann and “Crazy Train” Jonathan Bolick as they pay tribute to one of the biggest Puerto Rican stars in wrestling history.
Pedro Morales was born on Culebra, an island off the main coast of Puerto Rico. He moved to New York at a young age and was competing in amateur wrestling by the age of 13. Baseball was also one of Pedro’s sports, but somewhere around this time was when he found pro wrestling. Morales trained for the ring under Barba Rojas and made his in-ring debut at the age of 17. While it has not been confirmed as of this writing, he may have been part of the initial roster when Capitol Wrestling broke from the NWA and rebranded into The World Wide Wrestling Federation. He would also work in the Carolinas, as well as the Los Angeles-based World Wrestling Associates, not to be confused with the Indiana WWA.
In 1965, Pedro defeated The Destroyer Dick Beyer for the WWA title in what was surely at that point his biggest win to date. He also unsuccessfully challenged Gene Kiniski for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. By this time, Morales had established himself as a reliable draw at the top of the card. When you look at the people he worked with (NWA World Champions, Pat Patterson, Dick Beyer, etc…) it was clear that Pedro was drawing money as an ethnic hero babyface. Just the type of babyface Vincent J. McMahon would like in the then-World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF).
WWWF World Title Run
In 1970, Pedro Morales debuted full-time for WWWF full time. He won the WWWF United States Title (not to be confused with the current WWE US Title) in January of 1971. Approximately one month later, he famously challenged Ivan Koloff, the man who defeated Bruno Sammartino, for the WWWF Title. When Morales defeated Koloff for the title, he became only the fourth man in history to hold that championship. It may be said, even though Pedro was the champion, that Bruno was still the #1 babyface. While that may be true, that still made Pedro the #2 babyface. And the #2 babyface under Bruno Sammartino was not a bad place to be. He feuded with the likes of Blackjack Mulligan, Freddie Blassie, and Stan Stasiak. He teamed with Bruno for superstar tag team main events. And he would sell out Madison Square Garden over 20 times. A feat second only to Bruno. We do talk more about Bruno in Vol. 18.
One of the biggest matches in the history of WWE happened in 1972 at the first-ever Showdown At Shea. Bruno Sammartino challenged Pedro for the title in a near unheard-of babyface vs. babyface main event. That match made headlines and lasted 75 minutes. But in the end, the match ended in a draw due to the City Of New York’s curfew of 11 PM at the time. While the two heroes would shake hands and embrace to bring an end to their feud, the crowd did not seem happy that there was no declared winner. But the most telling part of all was the disappointing attendance at the gate. The WWWF would not run another babyface vs. babyface main event under Vincent J McMahon again.
The following year, Morales lost the WWWF Title to Stan Stasiak, who almost immediately lost it back to Bruno. Pedro would continue to wrestle for the WWWF for the next 15 months, leaving in the Spring of 1975.
Big Time Wrestling and Florida Run
Over the next few years, Pedro worked in San Francisco for Roy Shire’s Big Time Wrestling. He also worked for Eddie Graham in Florida where he faced Harley Race for the NWA World Title and teamed with “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.
Return to WWF
Pedro returned to work for Vince Sr. in 1980. By this time, the promotion’s name had been shortened from The World Wide Federation to simply The World Wrestling Federation. In the second Showdown At Shea, Morales teamed with WWWF Champion Bob Backlund to defeat The Wild Samoans for The WWF Tag Team Titles. Their title reign was nullified due to Backlund already being a singles champion. A short time later, he defeated Ken Patera to become the third Intercontinental Champion. That made him WWE’s first-ever Triple Crown Champion (World, IC, and Tag Team Champion).
Final in-ring years
After a few years in Puerto Rico, Morales returned again to WWF to compete during Vince McMahon’s national expansion. While he did not achieve the success of the years prior, he did have the place on the card of a respected veteran. He also spent years as a color commentator for Spanish broadcasts after retiring from the ring.