Harley Race, an eight-time NWA champion and legendary figure within the industry, has died at the age of 76.
Race had been hospitalized recently while traveling to Knoxville, Tennessee for a fan convention and didn’t appear as a result.
Race began his career in 1960 and ascended to the top of the industry as a cornerstone of the NWA in the 1970s and ’80s.
While wrestling for the AWA in the early stages of his career, he formed a team with the late Larry ‘The Axe’ Hennig. The tandem won the AWA tag titles on January 30, 1965, from The Crusher and Dick the Bruiser. It was their first of three reigns the champions. They regained the titles in August 1965 and for the final time in January 1967 losing the titles to Pat O’Connor and Wilbur Snyder that year.
The biggest moment of his career to that point occurred on May 24, 1973, when he ended Dory Funk Jr.’s four-year plus run as NWA champion defeating him in Kansas City, Missouri. Race was only put in the spot to keep the title for two months before transitioning it to Jack Brisco in July 1973.
Race had the distinction of between both Funk brothers to become NWA champion with his second title reign beginning on February 6, 1977, when he defeated Terry Funk in Toronto. This run was a sustained one with Race holding it for 2 ½ years until he was defeated by Dusty Rhodes in August 1979 in Tampa and was Rhodes’ first title run, which lasted five-days and Race won it back in Orlando.
Race traded the title several times with Giant Baba and lost it again to Rhodes in June 1981. It was his seventh reign as champion that began in June 1983 that set up the main event of the inaugural Starrcade event that November. The show culminated with Flair’s title victory in a Steel Cage match with Gene Kiniski as the guest referee.
Race had one more quick title reign when he beat Flair in New Zealand and dropped it back three days later in Singapore.
Race had ownership points in Central States out of Kansas City and in St. Louis but made the decision in 1986 to join the World Wrestling Federation as it expanded nationally. It was in the WWF that he was repackaged as ‘King’ Harley Race
Race was pushed at various points but not as a top attraction. He had a feud with Hulk Hogan that featured the two having a match on Saturday Night’s Main Event on NBC in March 1988 from Nashville. The match featured an incredibly dangerous spot where Race dove off the apron with a diving head butt and went through a table after Hogan got out of the way. The impact of the move caused tremendous issues for Race and sped up his retirement.
He served as a manager in WCW for Lex Luger, Big Van Vader, Curtis Hughes, Vinnie Vegas, and Super Invader and had occasional matches through 1993.
After WCW, he launched the Missouri-based World League Wrestling (WLW) that had connections with Pro Wrestling NOAH.
In 1996, he was part of the inaugural class named to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. In 2004, he was named to the WWE’s Hall of Fame when they resurrected the ceremony and made it a part of WrestleMania weekend.
We send our condolences to the family and friends of Harley Race.