June Byers

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June Byers
June Byers.jpg
Birth name DeAlva Eyvonnie Sibley
Born (1922-05-25)May 25, 1922
Houston, Texas
Died July 20, 1998(1998-07-20) (aged 76)[1]
Houston, Texas
Spouse(s) Sam Meneker
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s) June Byers
Billed height 5 ft 7 in (170 cm)[2]
Billed weight 150 lb (68 kg)[2]
Billed from Houston, Texas
Trained by Billy Wolfe
Mae Young
Debut 1944
Retired 1964[3][4]

DeAlva Eyvonnie Sibley (May 25, 1922 – July 20, 1998), better known by her ring name of June Byers, was an American women's professional wrestler famous in the 1950s and early 1960s. She held the Women's World Championship for ten years and is a member of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Early life[edit]

Born in Houston, Texas, the tomboyish Sibley grew up around wrestling. Her uncle, Ottoway Roberts,[4] worked for local wrestling promoter Morris Siegel, and as she got older, she often hung around the wrestlers and asked them to teach her their moves.[3] On one occasion while DeAlva was playing around in the ring, the women's wrestling promoter Billy Wolfe happened to see her and recognized her potential.[3] Already divorced once and facing poverty,[1] she accepted Wolfe's offer to be trained as a professional wrestler.

Professional wrestling career[edit]

Taking her family nickname of "June" and her ex-husband's last name of "Byers" for her ring name, Sibley made her professional debut in 1944. She spent the first years of her career traveling the country in Wolfe's promotion, sometimes winning preliminary matches but regularly losing to the more established stars such as Mae Young and champion Mildred Burke. Slowly rising in the ranks, she first won gold in 1952 when she and partner Millie Stafford won the Tag Title over Young and Ella Waldek.[3]

That same year Mildred Burke had a bitter falling-out with husband Wolfe and departed the promotion, leaving the world title vacant. On June 14, 1953, a still relatively unknown Byers won a 13-woman tournament in Baltimore to claim the belt. She quickly became a popular fan favorite champion, even appearing as a contestant on the popular game shows What's My Line? and I've Got A Secret on August 16, 1953.[5]

After a year of tense negotiation, Wolfe finally coaxed Burke into meeting Byers in a definitive two out of three falls match on August 20, 1954 in Atlanta, Georgia.[3] Byers won the first fall, and then the match was called after an hour during the second fall. In the book The Queen of the Ring author Jeff Leen writes that despite battling injuries, Burke was able to hold Byers to a stalemate after dropping the first fall and thus deprive her of the second fall she needed to truly defeat Burke. Despite the inconclusive finish, the Atlanta Athletic Commission eventually awarded the match to Byers.[3] Burke angrily returned to her own promotion, the World Women's Wrestling Association, where she held its title and billed herself as world champion. She maintained later that she had dropped the first fall with the intent to compete stronger in the second, and it is noted that Wolfe used all possible connections to try to get a win for his new star (and daughter-in-law) Byers.[6] Byers, for her part, stressed that "Mildred claims she wasn't defeated, but I pinned her in the first fall. During the second fall, she left the ring and refused to come back. Regardless of what she told people, it was a shoot."[3] Whatever the truth, the match outcome was satisfactory enough for the media to discredit Burke and acknowledge Byers as the legitimate world champion.[6] Jeff Leen's account in Queen of the Ring contradicts Byer's claims about Burke leaving the ring and refusing to return. Furthermore, Leen details how Billy Wolfe had a great deal to do with putting Byers over as the "winner" and he quotes the ring announcer following the match as saying, "Commissioner stops the bout. Mildred Burke is still officially champion of the world".

As the face of women's wrestling for the next decade, Byers's athleticism and technical skills did much to open new markets for women's wrestling and improve its perception in the eyes of the public as being more than mere tawdry spectacle.[1] Complementing her repertoire of scientific moves was her toughness in an age of very tough women, and she was known for working incredibly stiff against newcomers: one such wrestler recalled getting a broken nose and two black eyes from Byers intentionally punching her in the face.[7] Byers wrestled many matches with Penny Banner, and the two had great respect for one another: Byers ranked Banner as among her toughest opponents,[1] while Banner named Byers the greatest of all time.[8]

In 1956, the Baltimore Athletic Commission stripped Byers of the NWA Championship when she announced her plans to retire as champion.[9] A thirteen-woman battle royal was used to determine the new champion.[9] After The Fabulous Moolah won the championship, Byers came out of retirement to challenge her for the title, but Byers lost the match.[10]

On March 31, 2017, Byers was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as a part of the Legacy wing.

Personal life[edit]

The Fabulous Moolah alleges that while traveling with Billy Wolfe's troupe of female wrestlers, Byers often slept with Wolfe (despite his marriage to Burke) in order to get better bookings.[11]

Upon Wolfe's death, Byers moved to St. Louis to work for promoter Sam Meneker, who became her third husband. In 1963, while attempting to drive after being hit in the head with a Coke bottle, Byers experienced quadruple vision and collided with a tree.[12] The leg damage from the auto accident cut her career short at age 41 and forced her to retire on January 1, 1964.[3] In her later life, she had double vision from the incident.[13]

Byers returned to Texas after retirement from the ring, becoming a real estate agent.[3] She had two children, Billy and Jewel. Her son was fatally electrocuted in an accident, and Byers was reportedly never the same afterward.[1] She died of pneumonia at her Houston home in 1998.

In wrestling[edit]

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

  • Independent
  • NWA World Women's Tag Team Championship (Missouri version) (1 time) - with Millie Stafford

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "June Byers at Professional Wrestling Hall Of Fame". Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. Archived from the original on 2007-10-07. Retrieved 2007-11-11. 
  2. ^ a b The Professional Wrestling Online Museum - Women in Wrestling
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "June Byers at womens-pro-wrestling.com". Archived from the original on October 11, 1999. Retrieved September 8, 2016. . WWI Productions. Retrieved on 2001-11-23.
  4. ^ a b "The 50 Greatest Women Wrestlers of All-Time". Pro Wrestling Illustrated Presents: The Women of Wrestling. Kappa Publishing. 1 (1): 7. 1996. 
  5. ^ June Byers at imdb.com. Retrieved on 2007-11-11.
  6. ^ a b Hornbaker, Tim (2007). National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling. ECW Press. p. 292. ISBN 978-1-55022-741-3. 
  7. ^ Glory Wrestling. Retrieved on 2007-11-11.
  8. ^ Online World Of Wrestling interview with Penny Banner, 2003. Retrieved 2007-11-11.
  9. ^ a b Ellison, Lillian (2002). The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. HarperCollins. pp. 97–98. ISBN 978-0-0603-9397-7. 
  10. ^ Ellison, Lillian (2002). The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. HarperCollins. pp. 105–107. ISBN 978-0-0603-9397-7. 
  11. ^ Ellison, Lillian (2002). The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. HarperCollins. pp. 45–46. ISBN 978-0-0603-9397-7. 
  12. ^ 2006 Pro Wrestling Hall Of Fame induction ceremony report. Archived August 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2007-11-11.
  13. ^ Ellison, Lillian (2002). The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle. HarperCollins. p. 202. ISBN 978-0-0603-9397-7. 
  14. ^ "N.W.A. Florida Women's Title". Puroresu Dojo. Retrieved 2008-05-13. 
  15. ^ "Congratulations to the 2017 WWE Hall of Fame Legacy inductees". WWE. March 31, 2017. Retrieved March 31, 2017. 

External links[edit]