Today I would like to profile one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time, Harley Race.
Wrestlers Name: Harley Race
Real Name: Harley Leland Race
Gimmick Names: Jack Long, “Handsome” Harley Race. “King” Harley Race
Born: April 11, 1943
Hometown: Quitman, Missouri
Height and Weight: 6’1” / 245 lbs
Trained by: Stanislaus, Wladek Zbyszko, Buddy Austin, Ray Gordon and Guss Karras
Favorite Moves: The Knee Drop, The Body Slam and Belly to belly suplex
Finishing Move: The Piledriver
In who’s who in wrestling, there may be none better than Harley Race. An 8 time NWA World Champion, 7 time NWA Missouri Heavyweight Champion, and numerous other singles and tag team championships throughout his illustrious career.
As a child, Harley battle Polio, and won. While in high school, Harley started training with professional wrestlers Stanislaus and Wladek Zbyszko in the hopes of turning pro after school. That all changed when a fight with another classmate led to the principal kneeing Race in the back of the head as he tried to break out the altercation. Enraged, Race attacked him, resulting in his expulsion. At the time of the incident Harley Race was 6’1” and 225 pounds, more than ready to take on professional wrestling.
Harley’s career started by doing odd jobs for St. Joseph wrestling promoter Gust Karras. One of the jobs was to chauffer an 800-pound wrestler Happy Humphrey. It was just a matter of time before Race started wrestling. Veteran wrestlers help train Race in all facets of what goes on in the wrestling ring.
In 1961, Harley Race, age 18, moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and changed his ring name to Jack Long, forming a tag team with John Long and they became known as the Long Brothers. What a tongue twister. The Long Brothers captured the Southern Tag Team Championship. Early in his career, as a rising star, Harley was in a car accident . His first wife, Vivian Louise Jones, who was pregnant at the time, died instantly. They were only married for a month. With Race’s leg requiring amputation, his former boss Karras, went to the hospital and blocked the planned amputation, stating “over my dead body”. His Guss Karras’ bold statement saved Harley Race’s leg. Doctors told Harley that he might not walk again, and his wrestling career was over. After working out on a tough physical therapy regiment for several months Race made a miraculous recovery. Harley returned to wrestling in 1964, for the Funk’s Amarillo, Texas territory. He used his own name after his father told him that he should not work to make anyone else’s name famous. Race teamed up with Larry “The Axe” Hennig. They both moved to the American Wrestling Association (AWA).
Entering the AWA, Harley was called “Handsome” Harley Race and Hennig was called “Pretty Boy” Larry Henning. They were a rules breaking team, and would do anything to win matches. A Brash duo, they became top contenders. In January 1965, they won their first AWA World Tag Team Titles as Race and Hennig defeated Dick the Bruiser and The Crusher. They won 2 other AWA titles during their time in the organization. In October 1967 Verne Gagne was credited with breaking Hennig’s leg. Race was allowed to choose a new partner and retain the AWA Tag Team Belts. Harly picked Chris Markoff. Together they held the belts for 10 days losing the title to Wilbur Snyder and Pat O’Connor in November 1967. Larry Hennig returned in early 1968, and teamed up with Race, but, they could never recaptured the AWA World Tag Team Title. Race soon left the AWA to purse a singles career.
Harley Race wrestled in many different territories in the early 1970’s. He won a title in Amarillo, Texas. Race finally settled down in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), in 1973. In Kansas City, Harley faced Dory Funk, Jr., the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. In a fierce battle Harley became the new World Champion in a major upset. This match, and one in which he lost the Championship to Jack Brisco, cemented his status as a Superstar and a championship contender wherever he goes. During his time in NWA, Race would often move between territories, collecting several regional titles, including eight Central States Titles, seven Missouri Titles, the Georgia Heavyweight Championship, the Stampede North American Title in Canada, the Japan-based NWA United National and PWF Titles, and becoming the first-ever holder of the Mid-Atlantic U.S. Title, defended today as the WWE United States Championship. He also won the NWA World Championship on numerous occasions. At on point Harley Race held the NWA World Championship for almost 4 years while defending the title up to 6 times a week. His main adversaries, were NWA stars, Terry Funk, Tommy Rich, Bob Orton, Jr., Dick Slater, Dusty Rhodes, Giant Baba, and Rick Flair; WWF stars, “Superstar” Billy Graham, and Bob Backlund; AWA star Nick Bockwinkel all had their run-ins with Harley Race.
In 1983, in St. Louis, Harley Race defeated Rick Flair to win his seventh NWA World Championship, breaking the record previously held by Lou Thesz.
In one of the classic angles of the 1980s, Race offered a $25,000 bounty to anyone who could eliminate Flair from the NWA. Bob Orton, Jr. and Dick Slater attacked Flair, inflicting what appeared to be a career-ending neck injury, and collecting the bounty from Race after Flair announced his retirement. Flair's retirement was a ruse, however, and he eventually returned to action, much to Race's surprise. NWA officials set up a championship rematch, to be titled "NWA Starrcade: A Flare for the Gold". This was the first ever NWA Starrcade. Harley lost the title to Flair in a bloody cage match. Most wrestling experts see this as the passing of the torch from Race to flair.
Earlier in his career, Race became involved in the ownership side of wrestling, buying a portion of the Kansas City and later St. Louis territories. St. Louis was a stronghold of the NWA, and around this time in 1984, WWF owner Vincent K. McMahon began his invasion of NWA territories, including St. Louis, in his ambition to build a truly national wrestling promotion. Race lost over $500,000 as an owner of the Kansas City territory, and despite his championship years being at an end and wishing to retire from active competition, was forced to rely on continuing to wrestle to make a living.
In late May 1986, Harley, joined the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) . He was managed by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and bleached his hair blonde. Race entered the WWF at a time when they did not recognize other promotions and the accomplishments made there. To recognize his wrestling greatness, the WWF had Race win the King of the Ring Tournament. After winning the tournament Harley Race started referring himself as “King” Harley Race. After winning a match, Harley would make his defeated opponent "bow and kneel" before him. Usually Bobby Heenan would assist the defeated opponent to "bow and kneel" by grabbing their hair and forcing them to bow before King Harley Race.
During his time in the WWF Race had memorable matches against the Junkyard Dog at WrestleMania III, pinned JYD; Jim Dugan brawl at the 1987 Slammy Awards; and in early 1988, against Hulk Hogan. During the Hogan match, Harley Race suffered an abdiminal injury in which he tried to hit Hogan, prone on a table at ringside, with a swan dive head butt. Hogan moved out of the way and Harley landed on the table wrong. The metal edge of the table forced its way into Race’s abdomen giving him a hernia. After returning from his injury, he tried a brief comeback against the new “King” Haku. He lost to Haku at the Royal Rumble. Harley Race left the WWF in 1989. While Race never won the WWF Championship (at the time dominated by Hulk Hogan), his career was notable enough to earn him an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
After leaving WWF, Harley Race continued to wrestle with the World Wrestling Council (WWC) in Puerto Rico, AWA and NWA until mid-1991. During this time he had feuds with Larry Zbyszko, Tommy Rich and Lex Luger. After retiring from active wrestling, in July 1991, he joined the NWA (WCW) as an adviser to Lex Luger.
As a manger, Harley led Luger to the WCW World Championship. He also led Vader to win the title. During his time with Vader, Race met with racial controversy when Vader was feuding with WCW wrestler Ron Simmons when saying during a promor, "When I was World Champion, I had a boy like you to carry my bags!" This was actually part of the booking strategy of then-WCW head Bill Watts to build support for Simmons, who he would eventually make champion. HarleyRace was popular among the young WCW talent, and developed close friendships with Mick Foley and Steve Austin. As his early wrestling career had been nearly derailed due to a car accident, another car accident forced Race out of the wrestling business altogether. Race required hip replacement surgery, which, along with injuries accumulated after years in the ring, prevented him from even being a manager.
Harley Race retired with his wife to Missouri. In 1991, he started World League Wrestling, an independent promotion throughout Missouri. Later in the year he started Harley Race’s wrestling Academy, which trains up-and-coming wrestlers. Race’s events were family oriented and raise funds for local charities. Besides featuring his students, wrestlers Terry Funk, Mick Foley, Bret Hart and Mitsuharu Misawa made guest appearances. Harley is credited with training former WWE wrestler Trevor Rhodes..
Here is a clip of Harley Race in action:
Harley Race wrestled in the following Wrestling organizations:
St. Joseph wrestling
The Funks, Amarillo, Texas territory 1964
All Japan Pro Wrestling (NWA United National Championship defended here)
American Wrestling Association (AWA) 1964-1970, 1984-1986
National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) 1970-1984
World Wrestling Federation (WWF) 1986-1989
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year (1973) vs. Dory Funk
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year (1979) vs. Dusty Rhodes
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Wrestler of the Year (1979)
Wrestling Observer Newsletter Wrestler of the Year (1980)
Wrestling Observer Newsletter Wrestler of the Year (1981)
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year (1983) vs. Rick Flair
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Wrestler of the Year (1983)
Wrestling Observer Newsletter Match of the Year (1983) vs. Rick Flair
World Championship Wrestling Hall of Fame (1994)
Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (1996)
Pro Wrestling Illustrated #8 of 500 best singles wrestlers (2003)
Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum Class of 2004
WWE Hall of Fame (2004)
NWA Hall of Fame (2005)
Cauliflower Alley Club Iron Mike Mazurki Award (2006)
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Stanley Weston Award (2006)
Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame
St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame (2007)
NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship April 5 - May 3, 1968
NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship January - April 1971
NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship June 1971 - February 11, 1972
NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship July 7 - November 24, 1972
NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship September 16 - December 16, 1972
NWA World Heavyweight Championship May 24 - July 20, 1973
NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship September 22 - October 11, 1973
NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship October 13, 1973 - May 24, 1974
Stampede North American Heavyweight Championship February 22 - March 8, 1974
IW North American Heavyweight Championship May 7, 1974
NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship July 11- August 1, 1974
NWA Georgia Heavyweight Championship September 13-30, 1974
NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship (Florida version) 1975
NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship February 21, 1974 - April 23, 1976
NWA Mid-America Heavyweight Championship May - August 1975
NWA Mid-America Heavyweight Championship September 9 - December 1975
NWA United States Heavyweight Championship (Mid-Atlantic version)
(This is now the WWE United States Championship) January 1 - July 3, 1975
NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship July 8, September 5, 1976
NWA World Heavyweight Championship February 6, 1977 - August 21, 1979
NWA World Heavyweight Championship August 26 - October 31, 1979
NWA World Heavyweight Championship November 7, 1979 - September 4, 1980
NWA World Heavyweight Championship September 9, 1980 - April 27, 1981
NWA World Heavyweight Championship May 1 - June 21, 1981
IWA World Tag Team Championship (WCW Australia) April 24 - July 1982
NWA United National Championship August 1 - October 24, 1982
NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship September 17, 1982 - January 23, 1983
Pacific Wrestling Federation World Heavyweight Championship October 26, 1982 - February 11, 1983
NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship May 13 - June 10, 1983
NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship June 2 - June 10 1983
NWA World Heavyweight Championship June 10 - November 24, 1983
NWA World Heavyweight Championship March 21-23, 1984
NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship January 6 - November 16, 1984
NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship October 25, 1984 - January 10, 1985
NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship
NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship August 2, 1985 - February 1986
WWC Caribbean Heavyweight Championship January 1 - March 4, 1990
[b]Tag Team Championships[/b]:
Southern Tag Team Championship (as Jack Long) with John Long, 1961
AWA World Tag Team Championship with Larry Henning January 30 - July 24, 1965
AWA World Tag Team Championship with Larry Henning August 7, 1965 til May 28, 1966
IWA World Tag Team Championship (WCW Australia) with Larry Hennig June - July 1, 1966
AWA World Tag Team Championship with Larry Henning (replaced by Chris Markoff on November 1st due to a broken leg by Henning) January 6 - November 10, 1967
NWA Macon Tag Team Championship with Buddy Colt November 12 - December 3, 1974
NWA Florida Tag Team Championship with Roger Kirby April 16 - May 1975
NWA Florida Tag Team Championship with Bob Roop June 14 - July 1975
NWA Florida Tag Team Championship with Roger Kirby unkown - September 1975
(NWA Florida Tag Team Championship records are unclear during Harley’s time as a Tag Team Champion)
Info: Pacific Wrestling Federation World Heavyweight Championship and NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship are under the National Wrestling Alliance Banner.