Tag Archives: National Wrestling Alliance

Giant wins NWA Title for third short reign

In August of 1980, during the All-Japan Pro Wrestling’s aptly named Summer Action Series II tour, the action could not have been much hotter.  We witnessed a rare sighting, the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship changed hands. However, more surprisingly within five days in between the 4th and 9th of September – it had changed twice. Yet for Japanese wrestling fans, this has now become a regular occurrence.

Shohei “Giant” Baba was crowned the king of professional wrestling on Thursday 4th September 1980 at the Sports Center in Saga, Japan when he defeated Harley Race for the World Heavyweight Championship.  The 6ft 11inch monster clotheslined the champion off his feet and the Japanese legend gained the three count to win the belt in front of 4,500 of his homeland spectators.  Although just a mere five days later in Otsu, Shiga, Race would claim the championship back and head back to the States with the strap in tow.

The Baba victory over Race meant that the owner of AJPW became the 21st NWA World Champion since its inception in 1948.  This was the Giant’s third time he had worn the belt and the third time he had lost it in a matter of days.  Despite the three title reigns, Baba has only held the championship for a grand total of 19 days so the wrestling fans in the Orient are getting too familiar with these title changes.

His first World Title was captured against Jack Brisco in Kagoshima, Japan on 2nd December 1974 but before he could take the belt home to his family for Christmas, Brisco had pinned him in Toyohashi just seven days later to board the plane home with the gold.

Baba actually defeated Race for his second reign but again only held the title for a week.  On October 31st 1979 in Nagoya, Baba used a running neck breaker to put Race away and claim the strap, but Race reversed Baba’s attempt of a Flying Body Press into a pin in Amagasaki to begin his fourth reign with the prestigious championship.

Their rivalry began in 1969 and they became quite acquainted with each other since meeting in the ring over 150 times, whether it has been in singles or tag team matches. The Japanese Wrestling Association, which was founded by Rikidozan, played host to Race’s first encounter on Japanese soil.  By the end of the sixties, Rikidozan, the legend that brought professional wrestling to the land of the Rising Sun, had passed away, however, by this point but his two major trainees were making big waves in the business – Antonio Inoki and Baba.

Giant Baba - 16文キック | Wwe legends, Pro wrestling, Professional ...

Inoki and Baba were teaming up to sell-out houses across the country and Harley’s debut in the country was a loss to Rikidozan’s proteges in a tag match with Bull Ramos partnering Race in Korakuen Hall on November 14th.  Although he and Ramos experienced a defeat that night, this was Race’s initial bout in over 300 matches in the country, he even stayed on tour for JWA for one whole month until mid-December 1969.

Race has become a popular draw in All Japan and many of the Japanese faithful refer to Harley as “Mr Pro Wrestling”. Well for the second year in a row, Mr Pro Wrestling dropped the title to their hero but has flown back into the States with NWA World Heavyweight Championship intact.

Shohei Baba was one of the most influential men in the professional wrestling business and he saw great insight to join the National Wrestling Alliance in 1973.  Gaining the membership meant he was the exclusive promoter of that title in Japan, and bringing the champions over the Pacific to defend the belt was big money for the promotion and great prestige and credibility.

Appearing on Japanese soil, made Jack Brisco, Dory and Terry Funk and Harley Race into genuine stars in the country.  In addition, the champions loved doing Baba’s tours because it always meant they were paid well, free flights and hotels, a personal chauffeur and somebody to carry their bags.  Baba made sure that these champions were treated like royalty.

Holding the NWA title three times meant each of Baba’s reigns elevated the championship in Japan and aided Baba in his war with Inoki’s New Japan Pro Wrestling promotion.  The first title win in 1974 against Brisco was a deal brokered by Terry Funk, who had helped Baba book American talents on his tours. However, unbeknownst to the NWA, was that Brisco received $25,000 from Baba for the title switch in an underhanded move to slight the Alliance board.

Without the board’s approval, Brisco and Baba had basically gone into business for themselves and the following two reigns were similar deals with Race.  Though by 1979, the lack of leadership within the NWA, ensued that although these were not approved by the board they were tolerated.  Holding the title and writing himself in the history books endorsed Baba as a national hero in Japan and helped him maintain the upper hand over Inoki in the process.

As always, thanks for reading…

Will Burns

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Profile – Orville Brown

Kansas born Orville Brown was the first-ever World Heavyweight Champion of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) after the organisation’s formation in 1948. This was a title he never lost as he was forced to retire just over a year later.

At the beginning of 1931, Brown met a local wrestling trainer called Ernest Brown, who persuaded Orville that there was a decent wage to made in the ring. He began training with a daily regime of running before breakfast, his day job of blacksmithing and gaining wrestling experience with Ernest in the evening. And by the time October rolled around that year, Orville made a winning debut that started an undefeated 72 bout streak.

With short legs and a long body, Orville was physically strong and he became a legend in the Midwest area and spent many years wrestling for the Midwest Wrestling Association (MWA).  Realising there was money to be made from professional wrestling, by Orville was the age of 32, he began promoting wrestling matches with Kansas City promoter George Simpson. The partnership worked well with Brown compiling the card and Simpson promoting these with the press.

At the time of the NWA formation, Orville was the MWA champion, a title he held eleven times. He was chosen by the NWA board (which he was a prominent member of) to become the first NWA Heavyweight Champion. Instead of creating a new title (shown below), Brown had two plates made to cover up the words ‘Midwest’ and ‘Association’.

However, much to the NWA’s displeasure there were many ‘world’ champions in circulation and these needed to be unified to recognise one champion. Plans were put in place for Brown to meet National Wrestling Association (yes, another NWA) champion Lou Thesz. The bout was due to take place on 25th November 1949 but it, unfortunately, was not to be.

Orville and in-ring rival Bobby Bruns were driving to a show on November 1st in a 1949 Cadillac Sedan. A semi-trailer truck stalled on the side of the road and Sedan crushed underneath the vehicle (see newspaper cutting below). Brown and Bruns were seriously injured. Orville suffered head injuries and paralysis down one side, and despite determined to make a comeback, sadly he never wrestled again. Thesz was awarded the NWA title.

However, Brown remained active in the wrestling business as a booker and promoter until retiring in 1963.  He lived with his wife Grace in Missouri until his passing in January 1981.  He was 72 years old.

Brown was a fantastic wrestler who held great achievements wherever he stepped into the ring, but he holds acclaim which no other human being can – he was the first-ever NWA Heavyweight Champion.

As always, thanks for reading…

Will Burns

Source: Wrestling-Titles.comTim Hornbaker – National Wrestling AllianceAntiques Roadshow (PBS): Orville Brown Wrestling Archive

The National Wrestling Alliance 1948-1979

In the 1940’s, the popularity of Professional Wrestling was growing within the United States. Many ambitious entrepreneurs had created their own regional wrestling promotions and each promoter claimed to have their own World Champion, however, the plethora of titles was damaging the sport as none of the belts were deemed legitimate.

The very influential Paul “Pinkie” George, a promoter in Des Moines, Iowa proposed a meeting with other selected promoters to try and regulate the business and create one true World Champion. The promoters would share this champion and use him as an attraction to keep the interest in wrestling growing.

The meeting was held on July 18th 1948, located in the Gold Room within the Hotel President in Waterloo, Iowa. George invited Sam Muchnick (a St. Louis promoter), Orville Brown (Kansas City), Maxwell Clayton (Omaha), Fred Kohler (Chicago) and Wally Karbo (representing Joe Stecher of Minneapolis). They all agreed on nine pledges which formed the National Wrestling Alliance and George was declared the first president of the NWA.

The newly created NWA Worlds Heavyweight Title was awarded to Brown, who ran the Midwest Wrestling Association in Kansas, where he held his own version of the World Championship. Undefeated for eight years, Brown went on to conquer many other regionally recognised World Champions in a way to try and unify into the NWA title.

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The legendary Lou Thesz

On the way, Brown needed to beat the National Wrestling Association World Champion Lou Thesz. The Association (the other NWA) was created by the National Boxing Association in 1930 as a way to try and regulate professional wrestling bouts.

On Thanksgiving night, 25th November 1949, Brown and Thesz were to compete for the NWA title at the Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis, Missouri. Devastatingly for Brown, this match would never happen. Travelling to his final warm-up bout in Des Moines on 1st November, he was involved in a horrendous automobile accident that forced Brown to retire from in-ring competition. Thesz was awarded the NWA Worlds Heavyweight title by default. Brown continued to book his promotion in Kansas until 1958.

Thesz was a legit tough-man and he excelled with the belt around his waist. On many occasions, Thesz had to force rebel competitors into submission when outlaw promoters would try and prove that their regional champion was the best in the world. For trustworthy NWA promoters, Thesz had to put on believable impressive matches but more importantly, make the regional headliners look good so that business would not drop in that area.

By 1950, the NWA had 26 members and had massively exceeded George’s expectations. George wished for the NWA to manage all the Midwest promotions and he had no plans for national expansion, so he stepped down as president in September and recommended that Sam Muchnick lead the alliance in his place. Muchnick, a successful promoter in St. Louis, booked Thesz into a full schedule and he became a credible title holder defeating all opponents across all the territories unifying all the belts.

The scheduling of the champion was the most important duty of being the NWA president. Muchnick’s task was incredibly difficult as every NWA representative wanted the champion on their events as much as possible. This became a political issue and although promoters were supposed to be in collaboration with each other, money talks and Thesz was a great draw.

Throughout the 1950s, Thesz held onto the championship until March 1956. Taking six months off while nursing an ankle injury, he lost the belt to “Whipper” Billy Watson at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Thesz returned to claim the title back in November that year in St. Louis. Dick Hutton, Pat O’Connor and “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers all went onto reigns with the title but by the start of 1963, Thesz was back in charge of the championship.

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“Big Thunder” Gene Kiniski

Finally, on 7th January 1966, Thesz ended his final reign at the age of forty-nine by dropping the belt to former Edmonton Eskimos star “Big Thunder” Gene Kiniski on a Muchnick show in St. Louis. Billed as a bad guy, Kiniski was an innovative, captivating powerhouse that carried the championship well until dropping it to Amarillo-based star Dory Funk Jr. in February 1969. Funk was a profitable champion for the territories with a real knack of making his opponent good – usually the promotions’ top star.

However, by August 1972, Funk had become tired of the constant travelling and a successor was earmarked in former national collegiate wrestling champion Jack Brisco. A bout was set for 2nd March 1973 in Houston, Texas but unfortunately for Brisco, the match was cancelled after Dory suffered an accident at his home in Umbarger, Texas around a week before the scheduled match.

After a 1,563 day reign, the second-longest in NWA history, Missouri star Harley Race dethroned Funk on 24th May 1973 in front of his home crowd of the Memorial Hall in Kansas City. Race held the title for only a few months as Brisco was crowned by July that year in Houston, but this was only the beginning for “Handsome” Harley and for the belt.

Before the bout, Race was presented with a new title belt by president Muchnick. The new NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship was created by Mexican jeweller Manuel Sabala with a “domed globe” and featured five flags of countries where the championship was defended the most: the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia and Japan. In future years, the belt became known as the “Ten Pounds of Gold” (but we will discuss that in forthcoming articles in our chronological journey).

Due to his past NCAA championship success, Brisco was well regarded instantly and Shohei “Giant” Baba quickly signed up to the NWA with his new promotion, All-Japan Pro Wrestling – founded in 1972. This gave him exclusive Japanese promotional access to Brisco and the belt and Baba, also an in-ring performer managed to convince Brisco to pass the title to him for a week while on tour. Giant Baba was champion from the 2nd until the 9th of December 1974 before dropping back to Brisco. This gave the championship further credibility overseas and the Japanese press lapped it up.

Just over a year later, the 14-month reign of Terry Funk began. Funk, younger brother of Dory Jr, had actually brokered the deal to book Brisco to face Baba, much to the disappointment of the NWA brass who had not previously been consulted. Dory Funk Jr. had been scheduled to challenge Brisco on 10th December 1975 however, he was in the middle of a three-week tour with Baba. The wild brawler Terry stormed the ring in place of his brother and cradled Brisco up for the win. History was made as Terry and Dory became the only brothers, as of the time of writing, to hold the NWA Worlds title.

The only man to defeat two brothers for the title was Harley Race, as his second reign ended Terry’s only possession of the belt in Toronto on 6th February 1977. Race held on to the gold for 926 days until he strolled into Eddie Graham’s Championship Wrestling of Florida in the summer of 1979. The popular uber-charismatic “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes blossomed in the ’70s and although this went against the grain for the usual title holders, Rhodes pinned Race in front of over 9,000 elated fans in Tampa.

History proved that the bad guy champion entering the territory to face the much-loved local guy was a recipe for success and drawing the big bucks. Dusty was the opposite, throughout the 70’s he was a major box office attraction, he’s connectivity with the audience made him easy to love. He was very much the epitome of a babyface and the NWA handed him the opportunity to be champion for only five days before it was returned to Race. For Dusty to hold the title, was merely a favour to Florida promoter Graham from the NWA board.

Harley Race

The year 1979 brought one of the most important events that formed the face of professional wrestling across the United States for years to come. NWA affiliate Georgia Championship Wrestling became the first wrestling program to be nationally broadcast on cable TV on the WTBS network. This caused many regional promoters upset and feared that Georgia would expand their shows nationwide. However, the Georgia company kept to their agreement and continued to just book shows in their territorial area.

By the beginning of 1980, Harley Race remained the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion which represented a total of 26 promotions across the territorial system.

This is where our journey will begin.

We will relive all the highs and the lows, the good, bad and the ugly of this wonderful business we call professional wrestling. This will be a long journey, we have hours of content to review, we have thousands of stories to tell, come with us, I’m sure you will find something you will enjoy.

As always, thanks for reading…

Will Burns

Sources: Tim Hornbaker – National Wrestling Alliance, Dick Bourne – Ten Pounds Of Gold, Cagematch.net