"If I hit him with my left and he doesn't go down, I will walk around him to see what's holding him up."
Harley Leland Race was born on April 11th, 1943. Right away, he showed the toughness he would be renowned for as he at one time got in a fight in high school that forced the principle to break it up. What did Race do? He beat him up too. His entry into pro wrestling had him doing simple tasks. Particularly driving and serving the 800 pound Happy Humphrey as he trained under Wladek and Stanislaus Zbyszko.
His debut took place in the Nashville territories as Jack Long with storyline brother John. Injuries and tragedy struck and took Harley out for many years. His return came in AWA teaming with Larry “The Axe” Hennig after the two met in Amarillo, Texas. They wrestled in, of all things, a “pretty boy” gimmick to great success before moving to the NWA for a singles run. Following 3 years of grooming, winning regional titles, tours of Japan and more, he was finally given the big opportunity. He defeated Dory Funk Jr. for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. From that point on, he became the flagship of the National Wrestling Alliance due to his loyalty and ability to genuinely defeat opponents in matches, keeping them in control. Trading the title in numerous, big drawing feuds against the likes of Jack Brisco, Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes, Dick The Bruiser, Tommy Rich and more. Race even faced the likes of Billy Graham, Bob Backlund and Nick Bockwinkle in inter-promotional champion vs champion matches.
However, after 20+ years, his time was coming to an end. And a young, up and coming star by the name of Ric Flair was able to upset the NWA titan for the championship once. Race would regain it not long after, but not wanting to be upset for the title again, Race offered $25,000 to take Ric Flair out and after Flair faked an injury, the stage was set in Greensboro, North Carolina. A Steel Cage match with former NWA Champion Gene Kiniski as referee in the main event of “Starrcade”. The birth of the modern era supercard events. Race would lose in the main event and move on to a short run in the WWF. To recognize his success without naming other promotions, he won the King Of The Ring tournament. Dubbed, “The King”, he feuded with Junkyard Dog, Hulk Hogan, Jim Duggan and Haku before his career winded down to part time work in smaller promotions, backstage work in WWF and as a manager in WCW. Most notably, to Vader.
Did You Know?
- Early into his career, Harley was taken out by a nasty tragedy. A car accident saw the death of his then pregnant wife as well as nearly costing Harley one of his legs. The promoters stopped the amputation and Harley endured a hard road to recovery.
- In the mexican luchador film “Mil Mascaras vs The Aztec Mummy”, a scene shows a match between Mil Mascaras and El Hijo Del Santo. The ring announcer was none other than Harley himself.
- He innovated the Diving Headbutt. And given what has happened to future users looking to emulate him like Chris Benoit and The Dynamite Kid, he greatly regrets his choice in finishers.