Friday, August 2, 2019

RIP Harley Race, Legend

RIP to a King
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Harley Race, one of the greatest competitors and Champions the sport has ever seen, passed away yesterday at the age of 76. He was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year, and the disease was what claimed him. Race leaves behind a titanic legacy, not just of in-ring competition, but of stewardship of wrestling, especially in his home state of Missouri. He is on a short list for candidates for the best wrestler of all-time, and he may very well be the greatest Champion in National Wrestling Alliance history.

Race began his career in Missouri in the '60s, but it was almost derailed before it began. He suffered a car accident early on his career, one that claimed the life of his first wife with whom he was married only a month at that point. He also nearly lost his leg. He recovered and worked around various territories in the middle states. His first big break came when he and Larry "The Axe" Hennig met and decided to form a tag team in the Minneapolis territory the American Wrestling Association. It was there that Race first garnered national prominence. He would spend the back-half of the '60s in the AWA until he decided to focus more on the NWA and its touring partners in the '70s.

It was during this decade that Race ascended to legendary heights, winning the famous Ten Pounds of Gold for the first time in 1973 from Dory Funk, Jr. He would go onto win that title seven more times, cementing himself both as a reliable Champion and a great heel who could get various babyface challengers over. The second-to-last time he lost the title was one of the few times the torch would be passed successfully. At the first Starrcade, Flair defeated Race in a steel cage to cement himself as the new standard bearer for the NWA. The match culminated a famous angle where Race put up a bounty for anyone to take Flair out in advance of the match. While Race would win the title back from Flair in Wellington, New Zealand (to set up Flair winning it back in Singapore, the NWA has since stopped recognizing that pair of changes. Personally, the NWA can shove it up their asses.

Race would bounce around the AWA and WWE for the last few years of his active career. He was notable for having won the second-ever King of the Ring tournament. While clearly on the downside of his career, Race still provided some name value and veteran savvy to the early days of the expanding company. He would return to the place his old stomping grounds would become, World Championship Wrestling, in 1990, but within six months, he suffered a career-ending injury. However, he would never stray too far from the industry. He would stay with WCW through his injury, managing Big Van Vader in the company. While he was sidelined from making appearances for four years after another car accident in 1995, Race would comeback. He founded a wrestling school and World League Wrestling in Missouri. In fact, Race built the arena that houses this promotion. He also made appearances for TNA and WWE in the '00s, notably as part of the first class of the second run of the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.

It's hard to comprehend the impact and influence Race had and continue to have on wrestling, especially for younger fans who only can watch him through WWE Network's archive. At a time when it was important for wrestlers to look the part in and out of the ring, the rough and tumble Race imposed on anyone who might start shit with his barrel chest and tattooed arms. He wasn't just a body guy though; everyone who ever watched the man work knew he commanded that ring better than 99 percent of anyone who ever stepped into it. Race was a man who loved wrestling as much as wrestling fans loved him, and it showed before, during, and after his career. Wrestling has lost a true icon today. Rest in peace, Champ.