Dustin Rhodes broke the news on Twitter, but it appears that one of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA)‘s greatest champions, Harley Race, has passed away at the age of 76. Race had been battling health issues for much of 2019.
— Dustin Rhodes (@dustinrhodes) August 1, 2019
One of Missouri’s greatest wrestling legends, Harley Race survived polio as a child to become of the greatest NWA World’s Heavyweight Champions of all time. He began his journey into the world of pro wrestling at the age of 17 in 1960, working in the South as Jack Long. In 1964, he began working for the Funk family in Amarillo, Texas, returning to his real name of Harley Race. There he met another young grappler, Larry Hennig, and the two formed a tag team and headed north to work for Verne Gagne‘s American Wrestling Association (AWA).
As “Handsome” Harley Race and “Pretty Boy” Larry Hennig, the duo captured the AWA World Tag Team titles on three occasions and the NWA World Tag Team titles twice, cementing the two youngsters as two of the toughest men in pro wrestling. Race would return to Missouri and became a staple with NWA Central States Wrestling, becoming a 5x NWA Central States Champion. Race’s no-nonsense combination of unbridled toughness and technical brawling made him a regional sensation. It didn’t take the NWA to take notice.
In 1973, he defeated former mentor Dory Funk Jr. for the NWA World title, his first, and the era of Harley Race was under way. He would go on to become an 8x NWA World Champion over the next decade, including a 926-day reign from 1977 through 1979. He faced everyone who was everyone in the 1970s – from Andre the Giant to Dusty Rhodes, Bruiser Brody to Andre the Giant – and set a new standard for World Champions in the NWA.
In 1986, having passed the NWA torch to “Nature Boy” Ric Flair a few years previous, Race finally joined WWF, where he entered into the services of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. While his “King” persona was lauded by many longtime NWA fans, Race lasted three years with WWF, and won the King of the Ring in 1986.
After leaving WWF in 1989, he headed to WCW, where he continued to wrestle off and on for two years, before retiring in 1990. He continued to work for WCW for several more years, in a managerial role, before departing in 1995. In 1999, he started his own promotion, World Wrestling League (WWL), in St. Louis, Missouri and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004 and NWA Hall of Fame in 2005.
We offer our condolences to the entire Race family and Harley’s friends and peers throughout the industry and around the world.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.
Today at 12:50, we lost the man that fought up until the very last of his existence. More information will be released soon, but just know that he loved pro-wrestling and the fans that loved him.
Harley Race, we love you
— Harley Race (@8XNWAChampion) August 1, 2019
WWE is saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer Harley Race passed away today at age 76. WWE extends its condolences to Race’s family, friends and fans. https://t.co/lO4OimLsSd
— WWE (@WWE) August 1, 2019
Today the world lost one of the toughest men ever to walk God's green earth.
RIP Harley Race!
8X NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion.
The entire sport of professional wrestling and the National Wrestling Alliance sends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Harley. pic.twitter.com/rEiHknbYn1
— NWA (@nwa) August 1, 2019
AEW is saddened to learn that Pro Wrestling Hall of Famer Harley Race has passed away. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and fans at this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/Ik29DwZIQ4
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEWrestling) August 1, 2019
IMPACT Wrestling is saddened to hear of the passing of Harley Race. We send our deepest condolences to his friends and family. pic.twitter.com/OZp5KPh48F
— IMPACT (@IMPACTWRESTLING) August 1, 2019
Today We Lost Not Only A Great Personal Friend, But In My Estimation The One And Only REAL World Champion. Without Harley Race, There Was No Ric Flair. I Tried My Hardest Every Day To Live Up To His Standard In The Ring. pic.twitter.com/vUnQFuM0CT
— Ric Flair® (@RicFlairNatrBoy) August 1, 2019
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I’m saddened to learn of the recent passing of legendary champion Harley Race. It has often struck me that pro wrestlers sometimes parallel the Old West gunfighters of the past. If so, Harley Race was “Wild Bill” Hickok. The real deal! He was a true icon, a trailblazer, and as tough as they come. Harley was a great influence on me throughout my lifetime and I had the honor of wrestling him one time in 1980 in Billings, Montana. At the best of the times and the worst of times, he was there for me, my brothers, my father, and the rest of my family. Goodbye Harley. You were a true friend.
Everything about Harley Race commanded RESPECT…
Today our world mourns with all the RESPECT you deserve…
One of my favorite people in the business and in life.
See you down the road, my friend.#LegendsNeverDie#ThenNowForever https://t.co/l1q2eD7XAl
— Triple H (@TripleH) August 1, 2019
On January 25th 1993 in met a great man who became a great friend and mentor. A proper man in and out of the ring. One of the true greats. Harley Race passed today. I will be forever grateful for the time I’ve spent with him.
— William Regal (@RealKingRegal) August 1, 2019
Harley Race was literally the King of his profession for 25 years. Long live the King. pic.twitter.com/nY3V5hyp3N
— Vince McMahon (@VinceMcMahon) August 1, 2019
The Hart family loves you forever King Harley Race. Grateful I got to tell you what you meant to my grandfather Stu Hart, who adored you. My thoughts and prayers to Harley’s family today🙏 pic.twitter.com/t5PqOJW0Lx
— Nattie (@NatbyNature) August 1, 2019
RIP Harley Race. In a day and age where real men seem to be an endangered species, he embodied every bit of the word “real” in and out of the ring. A rough, tough man and a gentleman. Honored to have known him. Godspeed. #RIPHarley
— Frankie Kazarian (@FrankieKazarian) August 1, 2019
My Father learned from many but he always said he had two real mentors in the business. Harley Race was one of them. Harley was one of the greatest to ever lace them. Thank you for what you’ve done for this business and thank you for everything you’ve done for my Family. pic.twitter.com/Zpm4FAQWtR
— Big Van Vader (@itsvadertime) August 1, 2019
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Sorry to hear about the passing of the great #HarleyRace!! He was One of the best (and the toughest) to ever step in the ring, yet was a perfect gentleman outside of it. He always treated me with respect…despite the fact that he almost got into a barroom brawl w my Dad #TedIrvine in 1966!! Thanks for all you gave to our business Mr Race…someday I hope to be as good as you were. #illmove
So Sad To Hear Harley Race Has Passed😔Wonderful Man That I Admired & Loved❤️He Taught Me So Much In & Out of The Squared Circle #RIP Champ🙏🏻
— SGT SLAUGHTER (@_SgtSlaughter) August 1, 2019
I’ve never respected any wrestler more than Harley Race.
He was unequaled in the ring and as physically & mentally tough as anyone I’ve ever met.
For pool players in Heaven, when Harley’s gravely voice says, “I’ve got next” he means it! RIP Friend https://t.co/IjanNKpF0U
— Jim Ross (@JRsBBQ) August 1, 2019
RIP Harley Race. IMO one of the greatest. Did everything slightly different and had the ability to make everything and anyone look incredible. Innovative wrestler that was way ahead of his era.
— Devil's Blood (@WWEAleister) August 1, 2019
One if the true pioneers of displaying toughness, skill, talent, credibility & physicality in a wrestling ring. That’s who #HarleyRace was…complete Champion, Legend, Icon. #RIP pic.twitter.com/quiN1Z5WfM
— TAZ (@OfficialTAZ) August 1, 2019