On Monday evening, historian and author Scott Teal reported that former NWA junior heavyweight champion Roger Kirby has died at 79.
Kirby’s wife, Lila, informed Teal that Kirby died on Monday afternoon. Kirby had recently broken his hip after a fall. It was also discovered that he was suffering from stage 4 pancreatic cancer and had contracted pneumonia.
Kirby was born in Muncie, Indiana on December 14, 1939, and raised in Dunkirk, Indiana. Kirby was also the cousin of Les Thatcher and was related to Dennis Hall and would be known as “The Wrestling Cousins”. Thatcher shared the following words after the news of Kirby’s passing on Monday:
“Kirb”, Dennis Hall and I bounded early in our careers and were joined at the hip for so very long. Even as the NWA Jr Heavyweight Champion never received the credit for the amazing “worker” he was. I think it was best said by our mutual friend Harley Race in a documentary when he said “The difference between Kirby and me was I got the breaks”.
All of us that were lucky enough to share a part of his life are better for it. Thank you for every minute we shared. Go with God as I know he will team you up with our cousin Dennis. Know that I will think of you often and relay some of our crazy stories from the road with so much love and respect. God bless you.
He began training to become a wrestler in 1960. He would learn under Dick the Bruiser and The Sheik, who took a liking to Kirby.
Over the years, the acquired the nickname of “Bottom Rope” Kirby for his constant breaking of a cover by placing his leg onto the bottom rope.
Kirby was well-traveled spending time in Indianapolis, Kansas City, Georgia, Florida, Oregon along with stays in Puerto Rico, Mexico, South Africa and several tours of Japan.
In Oregon, he won the NWA Pacific Northwest heavyweight title twice in 1969 when flipping the title with Moondog Mayne.
In Georgia, he teamed with Buddy Colt and became the tag champions after they were held up. Kirby and Colt defeated the Minnesota Wrecking Crew, who had held the titles prior. They dropped them two months later to Jerry Brisco and Rocky Johnson.
He had lots of success during his time wrestling for Central States territory, becoming the Central States heavyweight champion in April 1970. The title later became the Missouri heavyweight title with Kirby holding that version as well. He teamed with Jerry Valiant, Jerry Brown and Abdullah the Great in the territory, winning the tag titles for Central States fives time in 1982-83.
While wrestling in Florida, he won the NWA Florida tag titles on five occasions between April 1975 and January 1976. This included title runs with partners Harley Race, Bob Roop, J.J. Dillon, and Rip Hawk. His final run with the titles ended in March 1976 when Kirby and Hawk dropped them to Bob Orton Sr. and Jr.
His biggest championship win was over Danny Hodge to become the NWA junior heavyweight champion in 1971. Hodge was synonymous with the championship with his fifth reign ended by Kirby in New Orleans, which was said to be a decision made by Bill Watts to go with Kirby. He held the title until September and dropped it to Ramon Torres.
In 1985, Kirby retired at the age of 45, although he did come back the following year for a few matches with the World Wrestling Federation, which included some referee spots.
In his later years, Kirby’s jobs included working as a truck driver for the Kansas City Star newspaper and becoming a carpenter.
With notes from The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels by Greg Oliver & Steven Johnson