||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (May 2007)|
Race in 2007
|Birth name||Harley Leland Race|
April 11, 1943 |
Quitman, Missouri, United States
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||Harley Race
The Great Mortimer
|Billed height||6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)|
|Billed weight||245 lb (111 kg)|
|Billed from||Kansas City, Missouri|
|Trained by||Stanislaus Zbyszko
Harley Leland Race (born April 11, 1943) is a retired American professional wrestler and is a current promoter and trainer. During his career as a wrestler, he worked for all of the major wrestling promotions, including the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), the American Wrestling Association (AWA), the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), and World Championship Wrestling (WCW). He held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship 8 times, and was the first NWA United States Heavyweight Champion, which is now known as the WWE United States Championship. Race is one of six men inducted into each of the WWE Hall of Fame, the NWA Hall of Fame, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Professional wrestling career
- 3 Other media
- 4 In wrestling
- 5 Championships and accomplishments
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Race was an early fan of professional wrestling, watching programming from the nearby Chicago territory on the DuMont Network. After overcoming polio as a child, he began training as a professional wrestler as a teen under former world champions Stanislaus and Wladek Zbyszko, who operated a farm in his native Missouri. While in high school, an altercation with another classmate led to the principal kneeing Race in the back of the head as he tried to break up the fight. Enraged, Race attacked him, resulting in his expulsion. Already 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) and 225 lb (102 kg), Race decided to get his start in professional wrestling.
Professional wrestling career
Race was recruited by St. Joseph wrestling promoter Gust Karras, who hired Race to do odd jobs for his promotion, including chauffeuring the 800 lb (360 kg) wrestler Happy Humphrey. Eventually, Race started wrestling on some of his shows, and some of Karras' veteran wrestlers helped further Race's training. At the age of 18, he moved to Nashville and began wrestling under the ring name of Jack Long, forming a tag team with storyline brother John Long. The duo quickly captured the Southern Tag Team Championship. Race was seen as a rising star in the business with a bright future, until a car accident put him out of action, with his leg coming close to being amputated. His pregnant first wife, Vivian Louise Jones, died instantly; they had been married for little over a month. Karras heard about his employee's condition, went rushing into the hospital, and blocked the planned amputation, declaring it "over my dead body". In doing so, he saved Race's leg. Although he recovered, doctors told Race that he might never walk again, and his wrestling career was over. Undaunted, Race endured grueling physical therapy for several months and made a full recovery. Race fought in the WWWF as "the Great Mortmier" in 1963.
He returned to the ring in 1964, wrestling for the Funks' Amarillo, Texas, territory. This time, he wrestled under his own name, after his father told him that he should not work to make anyone else's name famous. Race never again used a different ring name. In Amarillo, Race met fellow up-and-coming wrestler Larry Hennig (later Larry "The Axe" Hennig and father of "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig). The two formed a tag team and moved to the American Wrestling Association.
American Wrestling Association
In the AWA, Race and Hennig branded themselves as "Handsome" Harley Race (which was actually a moniker given to him by fans in Japan) and "Pretty Boy" Larry Hennig, a cocky heel tag team with a penchant for breaking the rules to win matches. They quickly became top contenders, and in January 1965, they defeated Dick the Bruiser and The Crusher to capture the AWA World Tag Team Title. Race and Hennig continued to feud with the Bruiser and Crusher and other top teams for the next several years, amassing three title reigns. Verne Gagne, in particular, was a hated rival of the team, and recruited many different partners to try to defeat Race and Hennig during their AWA run. In October 1967, Gagne was credited with "breaking" one of Hennig's legs, thus giving him some much needed time off from the ring. Race (as the storyline went), was allowed to choose a new partner and retain the AWA tag belts. Harley's choice was Chris Markoff. The duo lost the title in their first defense of the belts to the babyface team of Wilbur Snyder and Pat O'Connor in November 1967. For the next several months, Race teamed with Hard Boiled Haggerty (Don Stansauk) who over the years presented Verne Gagne with some of his greatest matches. Together, Race and Haggerty often battled Gagne and "Cowboy" Bill Watts. In March 1968, after Hennig's return to the ring, he and Harley were back together, though the two never recaptured the AWA World Tag Team Title. Despite his tag team success, Race left the AWA after several years at the top of the division to pursue a singles career in the NWA.
Race returned to the AWA in 1984 to wrestle Curt Hennig. The confrontation was fueled by Larry Hennig confronting his former tag team partner at the end of the match. Race would also wrestle former AWA World Champion Rick Martel as part of WrestleRock '86. Toward the end of his in-ring career, he would challenge Larry Zbyszko for the AWA World title in October 1990, in the main event of an AWA broadcast on ESPN. However, all of these matches were basically just special appearances.
National Wrestling Alliance
Race jumped from territory to territory in the early 1970s, renewing his rivalry with Terry Funk in Amarillo and winning a regional title. He was seen as a gifted territorial wrestler, not quite ready for the worldwide spotlight, until 1973.
World Heavyweight Champion
In 1973, Race faced NWA World Heavyweight Champion Dory Funk, Jr. in Kansas City, Kansas. Race emerged from the battle as the new World Champion in what was perceived by fans as a stunning upset. Behind the scenes; Funk had pulled out of losing the title to Jack Brisco, citing injuries in a truck accident; Race, a known tough street fighter, was under orders from the NWA not to let Funk leave the ring as champion that night. The ending was a "work" with Funk dropping the title as planned.
A televised title defense from this first reign, held in Calgary against Klondike Bill and aired as the main event on an episode of the promotion's eponymous Stampede Wrestling program (where Race successfully defended his title), resurfaced during the 21st century as part of the WWE Video Library. Most of his televised matches of this era were squash matches held in television studios.
Though Race held the title for only a few months, losing it to Brisco in Houston, Texas in July, he became a worldwide superstar and perennial championship contender.
Race was determined to eventually regain the NWA World Championship, often moving between territories and 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, still defended today as the WWE United States Championship. This kept Race in contention for the World Championship, and Race vowed that he would only need one chance against the champion to regain it.
Race finally got his wish in 1977, facing familiar rival Terry Funk, who had become the champion since their previous encounters, in Toronto. Race won the title by submission with the Indian Deathlock, a rarely used submission move but one that put great pressure on Funk's injured leg. The NWA World Champion once again, Race this time established his dominance, defending the title up to six times a week and holding it for almost 5 years (excluding extremely short reigns by Tommy Rich, Dusty Rhodes, and Giant Baba). Race feuded with many of the legends of the NWA including Dory Funk, Dusty Rhodes, Dick the Bruiser, Pat Patterson and Angelo Poffo. In 1978, he had a series of violent matches throughout the Midwest with the Sheik, culminating in a bloody "2x4 with a nail in it" match in front of 12,313 at Cobo Hall. The NWA, AWA and WWF were on good terms, and Race engaged in title versus title matches with WWF Champions Superstar Billy Graham and Bob Backlund, as well as AWA World Champion Nick Bockwinkel. Race toured extensively all over the country and the world, including many stints in Japan, where he was already well-known from his visits with Larry Hennig. On October 13, 1978, Harley Race body slammed André the Giant
Race, after countless victories over many years over Rhodes and other great wrestlers, lost the title to Dusty Rhodes in 1981. Rhodes lost the title to up-and-coming star Ric Flair, though Race was able to defeat Flair in St. Louis in 1983 for his seventh reign as champion, breaking the record previously held by Lou Thesz. What followed was one of the classic angles of the 1980s, which led to the first-ever NWA Starrcade event. Determined not to lose the title again, 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". The match was to be held in Flair's backyard, Greensboro, North Carolina, which enraged Race. Race lost the title to Flair in the bloody and memorable Starrcade cage match (with Gene Kiniski as the special referee. Flair jumped on top of Race from top rope and pinned him to become champion.
He would regain the NWA title for a short two-day reign in New Zealand in 1984 (a change not recognized by the NWA in the U.S. until 1996, making Race an eight-time champion), but his loss to Flair at Starrcade was largely seen as the torch-passing from Race to Flair. Flair would go on and he credits Race for igniting his career.
As a promoter
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 was enraged, famously confronting Hulk Hogan at a WWF event in Kansas City. 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. He continued to travel in the US and abroad, and signed with McMahon's WWF in 1986.
World Wrestling Federation
In May 1986, Race entered the WWF managed by longtime friend Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, bleaching his hair blond and billing himself again as "Handsome" Harley Race. During a time when the WWF did not recognize the existence of other promotions and the accomplishments a wrestler made there, WWF officials came up with a solution to recognize his wrestling pedigree by having him win the King of the Ring tournament. After this, he referred to himself as "King" Harley Race, coming to the ring in a royal crown and cape, to the ceremonial accompaniment of the tenth movement (known as "The Great Gates of Kiev") of Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky. 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.
He participated in a notable feud with the Junkyard Dog, culminating in a match at WrestleMania III at the Pontiac Silverdome, in which Race cleanly pinned The Junkyard Dog. Race would spend 1987 feuding with Hulk Hogan and Jim Duggan, the latter of which was highlighted by an extended brawl at the 1987 Slammy Awards. In early 1988, he suffered an abdominal injury in a match against Hogan in which he tried to hit Hogan, prone on a table at ringside, with a swandive headbutt. Hogan moved out of the way and Race impacted the table inwards (this was long before the ECW hardcore days, in which tables were "worked" for breaking effects). The metal edge forced its way up into Race's abdomen giving him a hernia. Following this incident and during his recovery, the WWF ran an angle where they acknowledged his injury, and his manager Bobby Heenan vowed to crown a new king. He left the WWF in early 1989, following a brief comeback from hernia surgery and a failed attempt to regain his crown from the new King, Haku, at the Royal Rumble). He had many backstage roles during the 90's, including at Over the Edge 1999 the night of Owen Hart's death. This is stated in the documentary "The Life and Death of Owen Hart" in which Race states that he bumped into Owen, and that Owen told him he was uncomfortable with his new equipment for the stunt. While Race never won the WWF Championship, his career was notable enough to earn him an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
Post-WWF wrestling career
After leaving the WWF, Harley continued to wrestle until the spring of 1991, most notably with World Wrestling Council (WWC) in Puerto Rico, the NWA, and the AWA. Race defeated former NWA World Champion Tommy Rich at the Great American Bash in July 1990. He also received several US Title shots against then champion Lex Luger during his brief stint. Race then received one last shot at a recognized World Title when he faced Larry Zbyszko at the final AWA television taping in August 1990. The match ended in a double countout. After retiring from active competition, Race joined the NWA (WCW) in July 1991 as an adviser/manager to Lex Luger.
World Championship Wrestling
Race excelled as a manager as he had as a wrestler, immediately leading Lex Luger to the WCW World Championship. Later, he led Vader to win the title, as well. During his management of Vader, Race met with racial controversy when Vader was feuding with WCW wrestler Ron Simmons when saying during a promo, "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, whom he would eventually make champion. The wily veteran was popular among the young WCW talent, and developed close friendships with Mick Foley and Steve Austin, among others. As his early wrestling career had been nearly derailed due to a car accident, another car accident in January 1995 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. He would make one last return to WCW television in October 1999 as the ring announcer for the Bret Hart VS. Chris Benoit tribute to Owen Hart match in his hometown of Kansas City.
World League Wrestling
Race spent several years away from the business, working briefly as a process server before retiring with his wife in small-town Missouri. In 1999, he started World League Wrestling (originally called World Legion Wrestling, but the name was changed a year later), an independent promotion which runs shows near Race's hometown of Eldon, Missouri and other cities in Missouri including Kansas City. A year later, he started Harley Race's Wrestling Academy, which seeks to train up-and-coming wrestlers who could benefit from Race's unique experience and perspective on the wrestling business. Race's events are family-oriented, and usually raise funds for local charities. As well as featuring his students, legends like Mick Foley, Terry Funk, Bret Hart, and even Mitsuharu Misawa make guest appearances. WLW has a working agreement with Misawa's Japanese promotion, Pro Wrestling Noah and have Noah star Takeshi Morishima as a former heavyweight champion. He is credited with training WWE world tag team champion Trevor Murdoch who was then known as Trevor Rhodes and Pro-Wrestling Noah veterans Superstar Steve, Wild Wade Chism, Matt Murphy and Daniel Cross.
Race returned to WWE television in 2004 shortly after being inducted into their Hall of Fame. On an episode of Raw, Randy Orton confronted Race and spat in his face, to go with Orton's "Legend Killer" persona . Race returned again for Raw's WWE Homecoming episode in October 2005, marking the show's return to the USA Network. Race, along with the other legends who were in the ring, gave Rob Conway a lesson in respect.
In 2004, Harley Race was recruited to be a part of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling as a member of their NWA Championship Committee. Despite reportedly being an authority figure as a member of the committee, he never made any official decisions and only made the occasional on-screen appearance for the company.
At the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony on March 31, 2007, Race and Dusty Rhodes were "inducted" into the Four Horsemen by Ric Flair and Arn Anderson. On the August 8, 2008 episode of Monday Night Raw, Race sat in the front row and was acknowledged by commentators Michael Cole and Jerry "The King" Lawler. Before the show, Race accompanied then GHC Heavyweight Champion Takeshi Morishima to the ring for a dark match against Charlie Haas.
Race also made an appearance at Total Nonstop Action Wrestling's Lockdown pay-per-view in 2007 as the special guest gatekeeper for the main event. Race made a special guest appearance at the second night of Ring of Honor's Glory by Honor VI: Night Two at the Manhattan Center on November 3, 2007 in New York City.
Race made a special appearance on the March 31, 2008 episode of Raw as part of Ric Flair's retirement ceremony. He was the fourth person introduced to congratulate Flair after the Four Horsemen (Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Barry Windham and James J. Dillon), Batista and Ricky Steamboat.
On January 4, 2014, Race took part in New Japan Pro Wrestling's Wrestle Kingdom 8 in Tokyo Dome event, taking part in the title presentation before a match for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and punching out defending champion Rob Conway's manager Bruce Tharpe.
Harley participated in the 1999 NBC special, Exposed! Pro Wrestling's Greatest Secrets. His face was covered to conceal his identity as he broke kayfabe and discussed the inner workings of the business. Harley's autobiography, King of the Ring: the Harley Race Story (ISBN 1-58261-818-6), became available in 2004. Along with Ricky Steamboat and Les Thatcher, Race is author of The Professional Wrestler's Workout and Instructional Guide.
During his time in the WWF, Race underwent surgery that required the removal of a portion of his small intestine. The Honky Tonk Man later joked that Race, who is revered as one of the toughest men in professional wrestling history, "had no guts", a remark that most of the other wrestlers did not find humorous. This led to "Dynamite Kid" Tom Billington, one half of the popular tag team the British Bulldogs and who held great respect for Harley Race, to confront and threaten Honky Tonk Man with violence if he ever disrespected Race like that again. Billington was well known for his toughness and being extremely stiff in the ring; other wrestlers present mentioned they witnessed Honky Tonk Man visibly nervous after the incident.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
Championships and accomplishments
- All Japan Pro Wrestling
- American Wrestling Association
- Central States Wrestling
- Championship Wrestling from Florida
- Georgia Championship Wrestling
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI Match of the Year (1973) vs. Dory Funk, Jr. on May 24
- PWI Match of the Year (1979) vs. Dusty Rhodes on August 21
- PWI Match of the Year (1983) vs. Ric Flair on June 10
- PWI Stanley Weston Award (2006)
- PWI Wrestler of the Year (1979)
- PWI Wrestler of the Year (1983)
- PWI ranked him # 8 of the 500 best singles wrestlers during the "PWI Years" in 2003
- St. Louis Wrestling Club
- Stampede Wrestling
- World Championship Wrestling (Australia)
- World Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Entertainment
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards
1Though this championship was almost always used and defended in the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling promotion, there were times when it was won and defended through arrangements with other promotions. Race was awarded the title with the explanation that he defeated Johnny Weaver in a tournament final while wrestling on a card for Championship Wrestling from Florida.
- "Harley Race". Online World of Wrestling. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
- Race, Harley. "King of the Ring: The Harley Race Story". Sports Publishing. p. 2.
- Foley, Mick. Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks (p.234)
- Meltzer, Dave (February 17, 2010). "A Definitive Look At Jack Brisco; his life and times". Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
- Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Stone Cold Truth (p.102)
- Caldwell, James (2014-01-04). "Caldwell's NJPW Tokyo Dome results 1/4: Complete "virtual-time" coverage of New Japan's biggest show of the year - four title changes, former WWE/TNA stars featured, more". Pro Wrestling Torch. Retrieved 2014-01-05.
- "Finishing Moves List". Other Arena. Retrieved 2009-11-03.
- NWA United National Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- NWA World Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- PWF World Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- AWA World Tag Team Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- NWA Central States Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- Royal Duncan and Gary Will (2006). "(Kansas and Western Missouri) West Missouri: North American Tag Team Title". Wrestling Title Histories. Archeus Communications. p. 253. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
- "NWA North American Tag Team Title (Central States version)". wrestling-titles.com. Retrieved March 24, 2015.
- Florida Tag Team Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- NWA Southern Heavyweight Title (Florida) history At wrestling-titles.com
- NWA/WCW United States Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- NWA Mid-America Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- Maritimes North American Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- NWA Georgia Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- NWA Macon Tag Team Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- Martin, Adam (2012-12-01). "Harley Race inducted into 2013 Missouri Hall of Fame". WrestleView. Retrieved 2012-12-02.
- NWA Hall of Fame Inductees At wrestling-titles.com
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum Inductees At wrestling-titles.com
- NWA Missouri Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- Stampede Wrestling North American Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- "Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame (1948–1990)". Puroresu Dojo. 2003.
- 東京スポーツ プロレス大賞. Tokyo Sports (in Japanese). Retrieved 2014-01-20.
- IWA World Tag Team Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- WCW Hall of Fame Inductees At wrestling-titles.com
- WWA World Heavyweight Title (Indianapolis) history At wrestling-titles.com
- WWC Caribbean Heavyweight Title history At wrestling-titles.com
- WWF/WWE Hall of Fame Inductees At wrestling-titles.com
- Foley, Mick (2000). Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-103101-1.
- Stone Cold Steve Austin and Jim Ross (2003). The Stone Cold Truth. Pocket Books. ISBN 0-7434-7720-0.
- Official website
- WWE Hall of Fame profile
- World League Wrestling
- Harley Race Interview 1/24/06
- Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy Official Page
- PopMatters review of Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy