Vol. 29: Harley Race, The Greatest Wrestler On God’s Green Earth

There are a lot of cliched names for all-time greats, and many of them apply to Harley Race. A Man’s Man. A Champion’s Champion. A Hall Of Famer’s Hall Of Famer. And so on. There’s a reason why on The Wrestling Brethren shows the term “WWHD” (What Would Harley Do?) comes up from time to time. Harley Race was one of the biggest stars in pro wrestling during the 1970s. He won the NWA World Championship A total of four times during that decade, and with the exception of a few short-term losses he held it for over four years.

The Beginning

Unlike a lot of other wrestlers, Harley Race was not a stage name. It was his genuine birth name. Many fans may not know that Harley had a bout with Polio as a child. Fortunately, he was able to make a recovery. The stories of how tough he was date back to his childhood. He may not have ever truly finished a high school education. In fact, Harley was expelled from High School for getting into a fight. When the principal tried to break up the fight, Harley attacked him too.

Early Career

Harley found training with the Zbyzsko brothers, Stanislaus and Wladek. If that last name sounds familiar, these were the men Larry Zbyzsko took the last name of as a tribute. Harley also worked as a chauffeur for Happy Humphrey, a well-known wrestler at the time who weighed approximately 600 pounds. His first matches were in Missouri under the name Jack Long for promoter Gust Karras where he worked tag matches with an onscreen brother John Long. Harley was involved in a serious and tragic auto accident that killed his newlywed wife and unborn child in 1960. Doctors believed Harley’s injuries were so severe they required amputation of his leg. Karras visited the hospital and convinced the doctors not to amputate the leg. Harley was told he would not walk again, let alone wrestle. After many long months of training and physical therapy, Harley returned to the ring under the name The Great Mortimer in 1963. Shortly after this, Harley went to Texas to work for Dory Funk, Sr. There he permanently started using his real name because “Harley Race” was a much better name than “Jack Long”. This was also where he met Larry Hennig and formed a friendship.

AWA

Race and Hennig started working for Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association (AWA) where they were known as Handsome Harley Race and Pretty Boy Larry Hennig. Of course, neither man was thought of as particularly good looking so it was a perfect gimmick for a heel tag team. They won the AWA Tag Team Titles on three occasions and had a memorable feud with fan favorites Bruiser and Crusher. In fact, they frequently wrestled Verne Gagne himself, who would team with various partners.

The NWA Territories

Harley Race is regarded as one of the greatest NWA Champions of all time. What is ironic us his first run with the title was not planned in advance. It came about due to friction between then Champion Dory Funk Jr. and top contender Jack Brisco. In the early 1970s, Dory Funk Jr. was the NWA World Champion and had been for many years. Jack Brisco, who was then an up-and-coming babyface challenger, faced Junior for the title in multiple territories. Paul Bosch in Houston, Eddie Graham in Florida, and Sam Muchnick in Missouri all drew major crowds with a Dory Jr. vs. Jack Brisco main event. And they all knew that sooner or later there had to be the payoff of Jack finally winning the title. The plan was for Dory to lose the title to Jack Brisco on March 2nd, 1973 in Houston. However, one week prior to the event, Funk contacted the office and claimed to have been in a farming accident and would be unable to wrestle for six weeks. This upset a lot of people, including the promoters and Jack himself, because it came across as Dory simply didn’t want to lose the title.

Rise To The Championship

Since the highly-anticipated Junior vs. Brisco match wasn’t going to happen, The NWA board picked Harley as the man to win the title since Race had the reputation as a legitimate tough guy. The match happened on May 24, 1973 and Harley defeated Funk to win his first NWA Title. He would hold the title for approximately two months before dropping it to Jack Brisco on July 20th.

Race would not see another NWA World Championship reign until four years later. He spent those years traveling from territory to territory and winning several regional titles. Among those titles was the inaugural NWA Mid-Atlantic United States Championship, now known as the WWE US Championship.

Finally, on February 6th, 1977, Harley would finally regain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship by defeating Terry Funk in Toronto Canada. This began the reign that he is probably best remembered for because outside of a handful of title losses that lasted less than a week each, Harley effectively had the title until the early 1980s. All but one of those losses were business. The one exception was the loss to Tommy Rich in Augusta Georgia on April 27th, 1981. Depending on who you listen to, it was either an accident or a power play by promotors.

Starrcade and return to AWA

Perhaps the most famous match of Harley’s career happened on November 26th, 1983 when Ric Flair defeated him in the main event of the original Starrcade. Harley cut the iconic “Take the damn money!” promo during the buildup to that match.

Vince McMahon, who had recently purchased The World Wrestling Federation from his father, actually approached Harley with an offer to no-show the event and jump to WWF. Race refused the offer because he gave his word that he would pass the torch to Flair at Starrcade.

Race actually regained the title briefly in New Zealand and lost it back to Flair a few days later. That short reign went unrecognized for several years due to the change happening without the approval of the NWA.

Harley returned to the AWA after his final NWA Title run. There he faced the likes of Curt Hennig but never achieved the success he had in the 1970s. Within a few years, he would begin his final run as a full-time in-ring competitor.

The WWF

Vince McMahon was finally able to sign Harley to work for him in 1986. For the first several months Race worked as Handsome Harley. He won the second-ever King Of The Ring tournament and began wearing a crown and scepter to the ring. Some fans found it very odd that a wrestler who took himself so seriously would start using an over-the-top gimmick like a “King”. This run was also notable for the familiar entrance music (“The Great Gates Of Kyiv”) that Jerry “The King” Lawler would use years later.

Race had his first of two WrestleMania matches at WrestleMania III where he defeated The Junkyard Dog. After that, he began a feud with Hulk Hogan over The WWF Championship. He suffered an injury during Saturday Night’s Main Event when he tried to hit Hogan with a diving headbutt on a table. Hogan moved and Harley crashed into the table. This was long before ECW made table bumps a common occurrence.

Retirement and WCW Manager run

Harley showed up in WCW around 1990 and began a new run as a manager. His first major program as a manager was working with Lex Luger during Luger’s first reign as WCW World Champion. He also had a successful run managing Big Van Vader to several WCW title reigns. He was inducted into the WCW Hall Of Fame in w994 and the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2004.

Vol. 28: “The Destroyer” Dick Beyer

There are wrestlers, and there are champions. Then there are champions, and then there are Legends. Finally, there are Legends, and then there are people like “The Destroyer” Dick Beyer.

They say never meet your idols because you’ll end up being disappointed. Whoever said that never met Dick Beyer.” – Mike Tenay

Early Life

Dick Beyer was born July 11th, 1930 in Buffalo New York. He attended college at Syracuse University, where he was a varsity football player, as well as a wrestler. He co-captained the Syracuse Orange football team in 1952 and played in the Orange Bowl that year. Also in that same year, Beyer made the Eastern Regional Second Team. Those accomplishments helped with Syracuse University’s Athlete Of The Year. Beyer graduated with a degree in education and spent years as a teacher. Beyer coached several sports, including swimming and football. Fellow Syracuse Orangeman Jim Brown was on a team that Beyer coached during this time. Some call Jim Brown the greatest running back in history.

Breaking Into Wrestling

Beyer began what would become a 40 year pro wrestling career in 1954. He wrestled as an athletic babyface, who often would wear a Syracuse jacket to the ring. Rookie Of The Year in The readers of Wrestling Life magazine voted him Rookie Of The Year In 1955.

One of the first territories he worked was Hawaii, where he met and helped train Harry Fujiwara. There he got noticed by WWE Hall Of Famer Freddie Blassie, who was a top heel in the Worldwide Wrestling Associates in California. Blassie contacted the WWA office and told them he saw greatest babyface in the country. Blassie returned to Hawaii for a match against Neff Maivia, and Beyer was in his corner for that match. After the match, Blassie contacted California again, and told them he just saw the best heel in the country.

As if that wasn’t enough, Don Owen was at the match as well. Owen was the promoter for Pacific Northwest Wrestling in Portland Oregon. Owen offered Beyer a job when his time in Hawaii was done. A little while later, WWA promoter Jules Strongbow contacted Dick and also offered him a job in California. This put him in an awkward spot, as he had previously agreed to work for Owen and didn’t want to back down from his word. In the end, Beyer agreed to work in California, and promised Owen he would come to Portland when his time in WWA was done.

Donning The Mask

Beyer came to Los Angeles to work for WWA. Strongbow told him that he would be a masked heel under the name “Destroyer”. Beyer hated the idea and refused to do it, believing that his status as a sports star got him over and he didn’t want to use a different gimmick. Whether it was Strongbow, Blassie, or some mixture of them and other promoters that convinced him, Beyer eventually agreed to be The Destroyer.

On his first night (4/27/62) as The Destroyer, Beyer wrestled Seymour Koenig in San Bernadino California. According to Meltzer, there were 773 fans in attendance. Beyer found the mask to be uncomfortable, and difficult to work with as it restricted his vision and head movement. After the match, Beyer said he would never wear a mask again.

Ox Anderson, another wrestler Beyer knew from Texas, gave him a more proper wrestling mask. This one was much more comfortable and did no restrict his movement. Beyer and Strongbow agreed that he would continue wrestling as The Destroyer for four weeks. After that, he would be free to do what he wanted.

Rise Of The Destroyer

Over the next few weeks, The Destroyer wrestled several matches, with one of his notable opponents being a young Johnny Walker. By the end of May, the attendance had skyrocketed, and Beyer was making more money than he ever had before in wrestling. He then told Strongbow that we would continue wearing the mask.

As The Destroyer, Beyer would sometimes refuse to wrestle until he was introduced as The Sensational Intelligent Destroyer. He.claimed that nobody could escape the Figure Four, and that nobody could unmask him. If somebody managed to get out of the hold, Destroyer would claim that he hadn’t fully applied it yet/ If somebody unmasked him, he would be wearing a second mask underneath.  In just under eight weeks, attendance had risen from under 700 to over 10,000, The Destroyer had become so popular that masks and T-Shirts were sold to fans. It was around this time that Mike Tenay, as a young boy, saw Dick Beyer for the first time. To this day, Tenay calls The Destroyer his favorite wrestler.

Japan and Superstardom

Blassie defeated top babyface Rikidozan on July 25th, 1962 to win his second WWA Title. In real life, this was done because Rikidozan was traveling back to Japan and needed to drop the belt. A mere two days later, Destroyer submitted Blassie with a Figure Four to win the title. He would continue to hold the title for ten months and wrestle the likes of Dick Hutton, Lou Thesz, and Giant Baba. Even the returning Rikidozan was unable to defeat The Destroyer. Blassie finally won the title back in May of 1963.

The next few years were exceptionally big for Destroyer. His success in California and Hawaii spread around the world. The Destroyer traveled to Japan to wrestle. Despite losing the title to Blassie, he was still billed as WWA Champion. He faced names like Giant Baba and Rikidozan, who undoubtedly were the most popular wrestlers in Japan at the time. The Rikidozan match was watched by 70 million people. To this day it is one of the most-watched broadcasts of all time, let alone wrestling matches. He became a true megastar. So much so that the word “Destroyer” got incorporated into the Japanese language.

Pacific Northwest

By Summer 1963, Strongbow believed the time had come for The Destroyer to be unmasked. Beyer, on the other hand, was now against unmasking since the gimmick was still drawing well. Still, Strongbow booked Destroyer against Herculez Cortez in a Lumberjack Match in August of 1963. Rather than follow through with the finish, Beyer faked an injury when he was thrown to the outside, and when the other wrestlers stopped to see if he was OK, he sprinted to the back and rode off in a getaway car.

Through a previous phone call, Beyer arranged to finally fulfill his promise to work for Don Owen in Portland. He held several Pacific Northwest titles and faced the likes of Mad Dog Vachon and Danny Hodge. A few months later, Strongbow contacted Beyer and asked him to return to work in Los Angeles, and that he was wrong to suggest losing the mask.

Tragedy Strikes

However, November of 1963 brought very bad fortune. Destroyer faced Rikidozan in a pair of high profiles matches while on another tour of Japan, . Riki had asked Beyer to stay for a day and join him for some parties. Beyer refused and boarded a plane for home.

By the time Beyer made it back to his home, he was notified that Rikidozan had been stabbed in a nightclub the previous evening. Beyer took this very hard, because he knew Riki wanted him to stay. One week later, Riki passed away from his injuries.

Some time later, Strongbow called Beyer to reconcile, and apologized for wanting to unmask him. The Destroyer returned to California and had another run with the WWA Title.

Dr. X

After the superstar treatment in California and Japan, the next stage in Dick Beyer’s career was an unexpected one. Beyer was approached by Verne Gagne, owner and promoter of The AWA (American Wrestling Association). Gagne offered Beyer a top heel run in the territory, but with a catch: He wouldn’t be The Destroyer. Gagne believed everybody knew The Destroyer was Dick Beyer, even though virtually no fan did. Still, Gagne billed Beyer as “Dr. X” instead of The Destroyer, with the belief that he’d be seen as a different person. To his credit, Beyer furthered that gimmick by switching to a brawling based stye as Dr. X, instead of the scientific based style of The Destroyer.

In The AWA, Dr. X feuded with top babyfaces Might Igor, Bruiser, Crusher, and others. He even beat Gagne for the AWA Title in 1968. Wrestling magazines had ads for Dr. X masks and T-shirts. Perhaps you saw one of the infamous pictures of Deborah Harry of Blondie sporting a Dr. X shirt in the 70s.

Debbie Harry of Blondie fame wearing a Dr. X t-shirt

Unmasking and Semi-Retirement

By the time the 1970s Dick Beyer/The Destroyer/Dr. X had achieved all the success that could be expected. He had won three of the top five world titles (AWA, WWA, and IWA), and the remaining two (NWA and WWWF) couldn’t be won by masked men. Though Blue Demon Jr. would break that NWA rule in the early 2000s.

Dr. X got unmasked after losing a match to Blackjack Lanza in the 1970s. “Dr. X” revealed his name to be Bruce Marshall. Of course that was a pseudonym since Dr. X was supposed to be a different person than The Destroyer anyway.

Beyer dedicated the next year touring the world with his family. He used his name as a wrestler to craft a custom championship belt that he would defend in other countries. He took his family to Mexico, Japan, Australia, Europe, etc…

Return To Teaching and Retirement

Beyer would spend the rest of his life mainly as a teacher and sports coach. He still wrestled on occasions going to the 1990s. He also became a regular at the Cauliflower Alley Club. It became an annual tradition where Mike Tenay would address the gathering, and state how much of a privilege it was to have the greatest masked wrestler in the world. Destroyer would start to stand and act proud, only to scowl when Tenay would say “…and Mil Mascaras will be joining us shortly”

Vol. 24: Charting The Territories with Al Getz

This volume of Classic Wrestling Memories is formatted a little differently. In the first part of the show, Seth and Train discuss the passing of three prominent people in pro wrestling, and the territories they worked in.

Dick Slater – A regular in several territories during the 70s and 80s, Dick Slater had success as both a singles and tag team star. He first broke in wrestling via Eddie Graham’s CWF before having runs in such territories as Mid-Atlantic for The Crocketts, Mid-South for Bill Watts, and Amarillo for Joe Blanchard. Perhaps his best-remembered run would be with Cowboy Bob Orton Jr. (father of Randy Orton) and their appearance in the original Starrcade. While he did have runs as a babyface, Slater spent the majority of his career as a heel.

Jose Lothario – Modern fans likely remember Lothario as the man who trained Shawn Michaels. That is of course true, but Jose had a very successful career in the 1960s Texas territories. Unlike Slater, Lothario spent almost his entire career as a babyface. His popularity was so great that the conventional wisdom of a veteran turning heel was not used with him. Instead, the young up-and-coming stars like Gino Hernandez would be the ones turning heel, and Lothario would be the grizzled veteran trying to teach the disrespectful rookies a lesson.

Larry Matysik – Larry was not an in-ring wrestler, but he was certainly successful in the business. He perhaps most notably promoted in the St. Louis area where he hosted Wrestling From The Chase for over 20 years.

In the latter half of the show, Al Getz joins Seth and Train to talk about his project Charting The Territories. As the name implies, Al gives historical looks at specific territories in certain eras. If you’re a fan of the territory days, Al has a show for you!

As mentioned in the end of the show, Train has a new Crooner’s Playlist on Spotify

Vol. 19: “Number One” Paul Jones (1942-2018)

Paul Jones may not be the first name that rolls off a wrestling fan’s tongue, but his contributions to the wrestling world were quite substantial. Join Seth and Crazy Train as they pay tribute to the man who had a 20+ year in-ring career, as well as a memorable run as a villainous manager. Paul Jones’ career lasted over thirty years in five decades. He had worked both babyface and heel as a wrestler and worked almost exclusively as a heel during his manager run in the 1980s.

Arguably his most memorable run as a wrestler was in the 1970s as a babyface in Mid-Atlantic for Jim Crockett Promotions. There he held numerous tag team titles with a young Ricky Steamboat. However, he also had a successful run in Florida where he held the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship, a title that has been held by far too many Hall Of Famers to list here. In fact, he held the Florida Heavyweight Championship, the NWA Florida Television Championship, and the NWA Florida Brass Knuckles Championship at the same time.

Perhaps his most known role to fans who grew up in the 80s was as a heel manager where he was the head of The Paul Jones Army. There he again managed several legends and Hall Of Famers. And of course had that legendary years-long feud with “Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant, which lead to a lot of head shaving, and a lot of BALD HEADED GEEKS! Do you have any memories or stories of Paul Jones? We’d love to hear them. Sound off below or on Twitter @twbpshow!

Vol. 11: Championship Wrestling From Florida

It was one of the most infamous territories in all of wrestling history. From the 1960s into the mid-1980s, Eddie Graham’s Championship Wrestling From Florida was a beacon of wrestling talent. Seth and Crazy Train are joined by a special guest, former NWA World Tag Team Champion Chris Nelson to discuss the legendary promotion. Hear some of the names on the laundry list of alumni who all made their names in Florida before achieving legendary status on international levels. Gordon Solie, Jake Roberts, The Brisco Brothers, Hulk Hogan, Blackjack Mulligan, and many more are among those names. Also talked about is arguably the most definitive angle in the company’s history, the babyface turn of “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Yes, Dusty was a heel for years before becoming “The Dream” we all loved. In the final segment, Nelson talks about the tragedy of the final year of the promotion, which was the fallout of Eddie Graham’s passing. Plus other memorable angles from the promotion’s history. If you want to check out a TON of Championship Wrestling From Florida, check out the 106 N Albany YouTube Page! Tell ’em Classic Wrestling Memories sent you…