It was announced today that Harley Race, former seven-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion of the World passed away today at the age of 76 after a lengthy battle with lung cancer.
Race began in career in the early 1960’s and he would first achieve significant success as a tag team with Larry Hennig in the American Wrestling Association where they would hold the AWA World Tag Team Championship three times. Race sought a singles career and he would cut his teeth in the Midwest, impressing NWA promoters enough to put the NWA World Heavyweight Championship on him. In what was considered an upset at the time, Race defeated Dory Funk Jr. for the title in 1973 in Kansas City, though it was not expected that he would be the World Champion for long. In reality, the NWA had Race beat Funk Jr. as they wanted to eventually put the title on Jack Brisco as they were not certain that Dory would do the honors for Brisco. With Race as his opponent, Funk Jr. would have a hard time escaping with the title as Race had already established himself as the toughest man in the business and one would only lose if he allowed himself to.
Race’s title run was brief, as he lost to Jack Brissco a few months later but Race’s profile was raised, which he continued to add to by wrestling all over the world and winning titles everywhere. This included the Stampede North American Heavyweight Title and the Mid-Atlantic United States Championship, the latter of which he would be the first ever champ.
When Brisco wanted to relinquish the title, the NWA board voted 4 to 3 in favor of Terry Funk to be the champion but Funk himself would ask to lose the title for personal reasons and in 1977, Harley Race would defeat Funk for the World Heavyweight Title. Save for brief one-week reigns by Dusty Rhodes, Giant Baba and Tommy Rich, Race was a dominant champion for four years. He lost it again to Rhodes, who in turn lost it to Ric Flair, and Race would beat Flair for his 7thWorld Title reign in June of 1983, which would set up Starrcade, a closed-circuit broadcast that was main-evented by Race defending his title in a Steel Cage Match against Flair. Race lost, and focused on the Central States and St. Louis territory of which he was a part-owner as the World Wrestling Federation was growing by leaps and bounds and he stayed in St. Louis to battle Vince McMahon until 1986 when he joined the WWF.
In the WWF, he would win two “King of the Ring” tournaments and would be given the “King” gimmick. He had a Wrestlemania III win over the Junkyard Dog and would then face Hulk Hogan in a series of matches for Hogan’s World Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Title. In a match that was televised on Saturday Night’s Main Event in early 1988, Race went body first through a table and complications from that caused him suffer a serious intestinal injury. Race’s career wound down after that, though after he left the WWF, he did wrestle again in the AWA and NWA for a bit.
He resurfaced in 1992 in WCW as a manager, where he was most closely associated with Big Van Vader, who would win the Heavyweight Title multiple times there.
Race would be inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame in 1994, Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 1996 and the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
We here at Notinhalloffame.com would like to extend our condolences to the friends, fans and family of Harley Race at this time.