There are many famous families in the world of pro wrestling. The Harts may be the most well known, The Anoa’i family may be the largest. But the focus of this volume of Classic Wrestling Memories is dedicated to The Armstrong Family: Bob, Scott, Brad, Steve, and Brian.
Bob Armstrong was born Joseph Melton James in Georgia in 1939. He first saw wrestling as a child and trained to wrestle as a teen. After serving as a United States Marine in the early 60s, Bob became a firefighter. Bob Armstrong retired from full-time wrestling in 1988. He would still wrestle on independents for another 30 years and acted as commissioner for Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling. He was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2010. He passed away from cancer in 2020.
Brad Armstrong was born Robert Bradley James on June 15th, 1962. He made his in-ring debut in 1980 and quickly found success teaming with his father Bob in Southeastern Championship Wrestling. In the following years, he also won tag team championships with Magnum TA and, of course, with Tim Horner as The Lightning Express.
Scott Armstrong, born Joseph Scott James in 1961, is the oldest of the Armstrong brothers. Like his father, he started wrestling in the Georgia territory. He wrestled in mainly preliminary matches and in lower card tag team matches with his brother Brad.
Like the rest of The Armstrong Family, Steve started out in Southwest Championship Wrestling. His first major program was teaming with Johnny Rich against Ron Fuller’s Stud Stable, which included a young Arn Anderson. Steve teamed with Tracy Smothers as The Southern Boys and won the tag team titles in Eddie Graham’s Florida Championship Wrestling. The two also won the tag titles in Fuller’s Continental Championship Wrestling.
Brian and Billy Gunn formed the very successful tag team that would become known as The New Age Outlaws. They spent the next four years at the top of the WWF card as part of Degeneration X where they held the WWF Tag Team Championship four times.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What’s this? A Classic Wrestling Memories episode about a 2019 event? What gives?
Well, yes. Classic Wrestling Memories exists for fans of the previous generations of wrestling. But so do Halls Of Fame. We consider anything before the end of the Monday Night War in 2001 to be fair game. And everybody listed in a WWE Hall Of Fame so far had some semblance of a career before that. Basically, it is our look at the careers of the people who are entering the highest-profile wrestling hall of fame.
Bruiser Brody – Brody was legitimately one of the toughest men in and out of the ring in his day. His career could easily fill up multiple volumes.
Jim Barnett – “Mah boy…” Barnett was a successful promoter in three different territories, including Australia. In fact, he promoted the original World Championship Wrestling before The Crocketts used the name for the TBS broadcasts.
Hisashi Shinma – Shinma was a former booker for New Japan. He was also the on-screen president of WWF from the late 70s until the National Expansion when Jack Tunney took over the role. He is probably most famous for arranging the legendary match between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki, Shinma was President during the 1979 World Wrestling Federation tour of Japan, where Antonio Inoki beat then WWF Champion Bob Backlund for the title. That reign is of course not officially recognized in WWE history.
Luna Vachon – One of the staples in the early Attitude Era programming, and arguably should have been inducted years ago. Train knew Luna and gives look at who the woman was behind the character.
Buddy Rose – A one-time superstar of Portland, Buddy Rose was an underrated performer in mainstream wrestling. WWE fans may recognize the “Blow Away” diet, or the role he played in the original WrestleMania as The Executioner.
Primo Carnera – Primo was a professional boxer with an 89-14 record, who had a high-profile match with Joe Loui. He also wrestled and had matches with then NWA World Champion Lou Thesz.
“Professor” Toru Tanaka – Tanaka and Mr. Fuji were a hated and feared tag team in the mid-1970s. However, Tanaka’s list of championships more than makes the argument for a Hall Of Fame career.
Special Delivery Jones – Jones was a charismatic performer who had good success in territories before having the infamous Squash Match with King Kong Bundy. If you have the WWE Network, check out his speech inducting Tony Atlas into the Hall Of Fame in 2006.
2019 has begun on a sad note. The Wrestling World lost another legendary talent with the passing of longtime interviewer and personality “Mean” Gene Okerlund. Seth “Zandrax” Zillmann and “Crazy Train” Jonathan Bolick return to pay tribute to the man some call the greatest interviewer of all time.
While millions of fans know of his work in The Wrestling World, many are unaware of his pre-wrestling days. Eugene Arthur Okerlund was born in South Dakota in 1942. He worked in radio as a disc jockey, and in TV production in Minnesota. Then in the early ’70s, he became part of the AWA and began the career he would be associated with for the rest of his life. Over the next 30 years, he would appear regularly on TV for The AWA, WWE, and WCW. Often, he would have multiple segments where he interviewed wrestlers for upcoming matches or shows. He would also host the infamous PPV pitches on syndicated shows. Occasionally on WWE programming, Gene would wind up singing on camera. Perhaps most prominently performing The Star-Spangled Banner at the first WrestleMania. What a lot of fans may not know is Okerlund did have a musical background. Sometime during the 1960s he was part of a band “Gene Caroll And The Shades” and recorded a few songs. You can tell it’s him singing here in “Is It Ever Gonna Happen”.
Do you have any favorite memories of “Mean” Gene Okerlund? Let us know in the comments below.
The wrestling world mourns the lost of another great. Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart passed away earlier this week at the age of 63. Join Seth and Crazy Train as they cover Neidhart’s career from its beginnings in Stu Hart‘s Stampede Wrestling up through his multiple stints in the then World Wrestling Federation in the Monday Night Wars. Neidhart was born in Florida, but went to high school and college in California. He held a shot put state record for over a decade. When you think of the size and population of California, that is quite an accomplishment. Jim initially sought to play in the NFL. While he participated in several pre-season activities with The Oakland Raiders and The Dallas Cowboys, he never formally made any NFL roster. However, his athleticism caught the eye of the legendary Stu Hart. Neidhart began training at the Hart Dungeon for a wrestling career in the late 1970s. He also met and married Elizabeth Hart around this time. After completing training, Neidhart wrestled for Stu’s Stampede Wrestling in Calgary. He then worked in Georgia Championship Wrestling, Bill Watts‘ Mid-South, Jerry Jarrett‘s CWA, and Eddie Graham‘s Florida territory before getting work in Vince McMahon‘s World Wrestling Federation. At first, Neidhart was paired with Mr. Fuji as a singles wrestler, and worked matches against his now brother-in-law Bret Hart. Shortly afterward, the plan changed and the two were paired together with Jimmy Hart as The Hart Foundation, where they were staples in the WWF tag division for the rest of the 1980s. The Anvil would have several memorable, and maybe not so memorable, runs with the WWF for the next decade, and would make indie appearances into the 2000’s. We here at Classic Wrestling Memories extend are deepest condolences to the Hart and Neidhart family
The wrestling world has lost another legend with the passing of multi-time World Champion Big Van Vader, aka Leon White. Join Seth and Crazy Train as they pay tribute to arguably the greatest “Big Man” to step foot into the squared Circle. White was born on May 14, 1955, in Lynwood California. He was a two-time All-American football player for the University Of Colorado. After college, he was drafted into the NFL by the Los Angeles Rams where he played Center for two years. He was part of the NFC Championship team that played in Super Bowl XIV. Shortly after that, he was forced to retire from the NFL due to injury White began his professional wrestling career in 1985 for Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association. There he was given the name “Baby Bull” Leon White, a babyface who eventually challenged Stan Hansen for the AWA World Championship.
It was his time in Japan where White truly gained his stardom. In New Japan Pro Wrestling, he was christened “Big Van Vader”, and given the now-famous mask and headgear that would become a definitive look for the rest of his career. On April 24th, 1989, Vader became the first “gaijin” (foreigner) to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship by winning a tournament, defeating Shinya Hashimoto in the finals. Vader would win the title on two more occasions, in 1989 and 1991. During this time, he also wrestled for Otto Wanz’s Catch Wrestling Association in Austria, and Universal Wrestling Association in Mexico. With World Title wins in all three promotions, Vader became a world champion on three continents simultaneously. He and fellow gaijin Bam Bam Bigelow won the IWGP Tag Team Championship under the name Big, Bad, And Dangerous.
Upon losing the tag titles to The Steiner Brothers in 1992, Vader began wrestling full time for World Championship Wrestling. There he defeated Sting for the WCW Title at The Great American Bash and feuded with top stars such as Ric Flair, Ron Simmons, and Mick Foley. Vader would hold the WCW Title on three occasions, with reigns totaling 377 days. After a successful run in WCW, Vader was hired by Vince McMahon to work for the then World Wrestling Federation, where he was given a much-hyped debut at the 1996 Royal Rumble. While he did not win any championships in the WWF, he did have high-profile feuds against The Undertaker and World Champion Shawn Michaels.
Yes, you’re reading correctly. A show called Classic Wrestling Memories is covering a 2018 event. Why? Because everybody inducted still qualifies for the eras we like to talk about at Classic Wrestling Memories. Just look at this list!
The Dudley Boys – Attitude Era
Hillbilly Jim – Rock ‘n Wrestling Era
Stan Stasiak – World Wide Wrestling Federation
El Santo – Legends Of Mexico
Jim Londos – Pre-NWA
Sputnik Monroe – 1950s-60s Territories
Boris Malenko – 1950s-60s Territories
Daran Singh – 1950s-60s India
Hiro Matsuda – 1960s-70s Florida
Rufus R. “Freight Train” Jones – 1970s-80s Territories
Cora Combs – 1950s-60s Territories
Lord Alfred Hayes – Just about everything
Ivory – 1980s/Attitude Era
Jeff Jarrett – Pre-Attitude Era Through Attitude Era
Mark Henry – Attitude Era
Goldberg – Nitro Era
All This and more in another history filled Classic Wrestling Memories
WCW, Fall 1991. WCW introduced one of the most star-studded stables of all time. Join Seth and Crazy Train as they talk about the relatively short-lived stable, The Dangerous Alliance, who wreaked havoc on WCW from fall 1991 through Spring 1992. The story began with “Ravishing” Rick Rude’s WCW arrival at Halloween Havoc 1991. Shortly after that, we got one of the most underrated angles in the history of wrestling, Rick Rude facing Sting for the WCW US Title. Sting attacked before his US Title defense. Sting desperately tries to defend The US Title, and Paul E. Dangerously’s epic promo that followed, complete with the first mention of The Dangerous Alliance. The reveal of The Dangerous Alliance culminated with a WarGames match, Sting’s Squadron vs. The Dangerous Alliance at WrestleWar ’92. All these memories and more are discussed in this can’t miss episode of Classic Wrestling Memories!
It’s another career-focused episode of Classic Wrestling Memories. This episode is dedicated to the career of the late great WWE Hall Of Famer, “Ravishing” Rick Rude. Seth and Crazy Train discuss Rude’s beginnings in Florida, all the way through his run in WCCW, Jim Crockett Promotions, The World Wrestling Federation, and his final years in WCW. This is a must hear show if you are a fan of Rick Rude. What are your Rick Rude memories? Sound off below!
Classic Wrestling Memories is back for 2018 with a special look at one of Seth’s favorite wrestling events, WCW Great American Bash 1992. The event was centered around a tournament to crown new NWA Tag Team Champions, and a WCW World Title match between Champion Sting, and Challenger Big Van Vader. Here is the card. Notice all the WWE Hall Of Famers in the lineup.
Flyin’ Brian Pillman & Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat & Nikita Koloff
The Fabulous Freebirds (Michael P.S. Hayes & Jimmy Jam Garvin) vs. Hiroshi Hase & Shinya Hashimoto
Barry Windham & Dustin Rhodes vs. Ravishing Rick Rude & Stunning Steve Austin
WCW World Title: Sting vs. Big Van Vader
In the first segment, Seth and Crazy Train give the set-up for the event and the state of World Championship Wrestling at the time. This is a must-hear discussion for WCW and early 90s wrestling fans alike.
What do you want to hear Classic Wrestling Memories discuss? Sound off in the comments below. We want to hear from YOU!