“I devoted my entire life to the wrestling world, and
there’s not a damn thing I regret,” – 8 time NWA World Heavyweight Champion,
“Handsome” Harley Race
For a man who retired from active completion in the early 90s, and had his last World Championship reign end in 1984, in 2014, Harley Race is still regarded as one of the toughest men to ever enter professional wrestling, and one of the great World Champions of all time. The name and the man both still command respect, and inevitably receive it.
www.Highspots.com has released a 2 disc DVD entitled “Harley Race: The Greatest Wrestler on God’s Green Earth,” a title Harley bestows upon himself early in this release, as do several of his contemporaries. Men such as Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Magnum TA, Jim Cornette, and Les Thatcher all contribute to the story of the legacy of one of the toughest and most influential competitors of all time.
Our story begins as Harley Race is born in Missouri in April of 1943. After a
family move to Iowa, Harley found himself kicked out of school at age 13, for an
incident with the school principal. Now needing to find work, he found himself
working on a farm owned by famous wrestlers, the Zbyszko brothers. His interest
in wrestling, and his work ethic, got him trained by the former champions, but
he had to finish all his daily farm work first.
After a year of training, Harley began working on the carnival circuit. He was utilized as both the wrestler challenging the fans, and as a handpicked opponent for other wrestlers when no one from the crowd stepped up. Harley and Jim Cornette both noted that if the carnival’s shoot wrestler lost to a member of the audience, he would not be paid.
Race’s first big connection into the business was working as the driver for the massive Happy Humphrey. Humphrey wavered between 600-800 lbs., with his highest being rumored at 1,000 pounds! Harley had nothing but kind words for the big man, his attitude, and his interaction with the fans. He also shared a humorous story about how Humphrey would wash his body, and Harley’s very personal role in that!
Unfortunately, a tragedy struck that kept Race out of wrestling for quite some time. There was a car accident in which Harley lost someone precious to him, and which was so severe, a doctor recommended Harley have a leg amputated. If he had taken that doctor’s advice, obviously, we would never have had the great Harley Race as a part of wrestling history.
A personal adviser to Harley took him to another doctor, who wound up saving
Harley’s leg, and probably his life. From there, he went to work in Memphis for
Nick Gulas as Jack Long, a brother character to a Memphis veteran. A talk with
his father made Race realize that all he was doing was making a name for someone
else, when he should be focused on making a name for himself. He reverted to
working as Harley Race, and never looked back.
He made his way to the AWA, working for Verne Gagne. He was teamed up with Larry Hennig, and began to be referred to as “Handsome,” while Hennig was nicknamed, “Pretty Boy.” Both men were well known for being rough, tough bastards, both inside the ring and out. An AWA announcer notoriously quipped that the team of Race & Hennig could “go bear hunting with a switch.” Their main rivals during this time were the legendary Crusher, and Dick the Bruiser.
Another car accident, along with Harley’s desire to pursue singles championships, led to the end of the Hennig & Race tag team. Harley was wise enough to purchase part of the Missouri territory, and became a regular holder of the Missouri State Championship. While Harley may not have been on the top of the NWA’s list to be the face of the company, politics and/or an injury led to his first World Championship reign.
At the time, Dory Funk Jr. was holding the NWA World Heavyweight Championship
for the fifth year. The Funks (Dory & Terry) had both a professional and
personal rivalry with the Brisco Brothers (Jack & Jerry.) When the time came for
Jack to face Dory for the championship, controversy swirled around the Funks
that prevented that from happening. Terry and Dory both maintain to this day
that there were no shenanigans, and that Dory’s reasoning was legitimate.
Once Dory was able to return to the ring, he faced Harley, and lost the championship to him in a two out of three falls match. Unfortunately, Race at the time, was viewed as just a placeholder to get the belt over to Jack Brisco as originally planned. When the time came for Jack to end his reign, the NWA board was torn between Harley and Terry Funk. A final push from Dory Jr. got his brother the title reign he wanted, and the championship was back in the Funks hands.
“It was the # 1 thing to be, but it was a hard ass life,” Terry Funk noted. Funk would wind up losing the championship back to the man who had ended his brother’s five year reign; “Handsome” Harley Race. Rare would be the time in the next 7 years that the NWA World Heavyweight Championship wasn’t around his waist.
My job was to have an outstanding wrestling match with whoever they put me in the ring with.” – Harley Race. As NWA Champion, he represented the NWA everywhere, including Japan for 2-3 tours a year. A lot of the wrestlers credited him for keeping wrestling so strong in Japan, where American wrestlers could make very big money.
The time came for Race to pass the torch at one of the first American wrestling super shows: Starrcade ’83. His opponent would be Ric Flair, who Harley would defeat after an initial weak title reign. Unknown to many at the time was Harley’s meeting with Vince McMahon prior to Starrcade. What is revealed in this documentary is Vince’s shocking offer, and Race’s ultimate decision.
Harley seemed happy with what Flair could bring to the NWA. “He was very very good at what he did, as far as putting butts in seats,” reflected Harley, “and there’s not a damn thing that I regret doing. However, Race was a businessman as well, and now owned the territory he had invested in. With the WWF growing exponentially, smaller territories were being swallowed up left and right.
Originally, the NWA and the AWA attempted to team up to put on more super shows. However, as has been noted by countless wrestling historians, those promoters could barely agree on what to get for lunch, let alone how to work together to take down the WWF. Race sometimes took matters into his own hands, and showed up at WWF shows to confront Vince and Hulk Hogan. There were rumors that Harley sometimes brandished a gun, but he wouldn’t confirm nor deny those claims.
Not yet ready to quit his in ring career, Harley bit the bullet and went to work for the WWF in 1986. Unlike most of the others who left their respective promotions to join McMahon, Race announced his move at the annual NWA meeting. The WWF wasn’t very successful in key NWA markets, and McMahon was hopeful that the acquisition or Harley, along with the Funks among others, could help him in those areas.
Harley was turned from “Handsome” into “King” Harley Race, and was determined to make the best of it. He wrestled a very famous match at WrestleMania III in front of 93,000 people, against The Junkyard Dog, and he was managed by top heel Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. As always, his in ring performances were rough and stiff, and the risks that he took were about to catch up to him.
A hardcore spot that Race used (and may have invented) in matches around the loop with “Macho Man” Randy Savage, was lifted by McMahon for Harley to use in his main event program with WWF Champion Hulk Hogan. While attempting a spot with a table, Race suffered a serious abdominal injury, and was out for some time, while nearly needing a colostomy bag. He returned to the WWF when he was able, finished up an angle over the title “King” with Heenan and Haku, and he left. His in ring career was on its way to over.
Moving on to WCW, Harley was used for his name value and for his presence at ringside. His top two clients as a heel manager were Vader and Lex Luger. “It was a true blessing for me,” said Vader. Harley’s wrestling days were finally concluded in one final match with Ric Flair, as an in ring replacement for Vader, in 1993. A boating accident soon after, ensured Harley would never be between the ropes as a competitor ever again.
Harley moved on from there to open a training school and a promotion, called
WLW. “Harley believe in teaching the fundamentals,” said his friend and
contemporary Les Thatcher. WLW has had working relationships with companies in
Japan, and it keeps Harley involved in the business to this day.
8 Time NWA World Heavyweight Champion. WWE Hall of Famer. WCW Hall of Famer. “World’s greatest beer drinker and the world’s greatest driver,” according to Terry Funk. “The fans of the era probably shortchange him, because he was the glue that made everybody look great,” concluded Jim Cornette.
Harley Race is one of the greatest, toughest, and most influential professional wrestlers of all time. His exploits as the NWA World Heavyweight Champion are legendary all over the world. Men such as Ric Flair, Triple H, Mick Foley, and Steve Austin hold him in the highest regard, and his influence, both from himself, and through them, is felt in the industry to this day.
Highspots produced another excellent DVD here, about one of the biggest pieces of pro wrestling history that there is. Harley Race carried the most prestigious championship in the world of wrestling during a time when wrestling was set to explode. He treasured his role, he loved his sport, and his every action gave the business credibility and brought it respect. Wrestlers and fans today can learn a lot from his story, and are missing a big piece of the puzzle if they do not give this a watch.
It also comes with a second disc that includes matches with Ted DiBiase, Ric Flair, David Von Erich and others. There are extra comments from Jim Cornette, Les Thatcher, and Vader that are well worth viewing, especially Cornette.
Please visit www.highspots.com to purchase “Harley Race: The Greatest Wrestler on God’s Green Earth,” or one of their other quality products. These includes shoot DVDS, and the biggest independent shows of all time, as well as ECW, ROH, TNA, and WWE products.
Please visit www.harleyrace.com for information on the legendary Mr. Race, information on his wrestling school and promotion WLW, and for t shirts and merchandise.
And finally please visit Harley Race Official Wrestling T-shirt Store for more t shirts for Mr. Harley Race and for WLW.