Known with reverence and affection as the toughest professional wrestler of his era, both inside and outside of the ring, eight-time NWA world heavyweight champion Harley Race has died after a battle with lung cancer. He was 76.
Race's death was confirmed Thursday afternoon on his verified Twitter account after years. It came after years of declining health that resulted in Race being confined to a wheel chair despite maintaining a healthy schedule of public appearances up until his passing.
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 (@8XNWAChampion) August 1, 2019
Harley Race, we love you
Synonymous with his native Missouri throughout a 31-year career as a wrestler (and later as a promoter, manager and personality), Race won championships all over the globe. The 2004 WWE Hall of Famer is also one of six men to have been inducted into each of the WWE, NWA, Wrestling Observer Newsletter and Pro Wrestling Halls of Fame. He was the Observer's Wrestle of the Year consecutively from 1980-81 and held the same title with Pro Wrestling Illustrated in 1979 and 1983.
Known for his gruff voice, stiff style and insanely strong grip, Race developed a reputation rather quickly in a career that began in 1960 as someone who could handle himself quite well, if needed, in a legitimate fight. He became a star in the mid-1960s in the AWA as a tag team champion alongside Larry "The Axe" Hennig.
However, Race's biggest claim to fame would come over the next two decades as a singles star and perennial NWA worlds heavyweight champion thanks to legendary feuds with Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes and the Funk brothers, Terry and Dory Jr.
In 1983, Race headlined the first Starrcade show in Greensboro, North Carolina, by dropping the NWA championship to Flair in a bout that won Match of the Year honors from the Observer and PWI. The event, put on by Jim Crockett Promotions, is considered a forerunner to the annual WrestleMania shows that WWE (then known as WWF) birthed two years later after Vince McMahon took the promotion national.
In 1986, Race joined forces with McMahon to begin a memorable three-year run in WWE. Managed by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Race won the second King of the Ring tournament during his first year and became the first to don the famous robe and sceptre. He went on to face Junkyard Dog at WrestleMania III in 1987 before embarking upon feuds with Hulk Hogan and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan.
After retiring under the WCW banner in 1991, Race remained on television as a heel manager for the likes of Lex Luger, Vader, Super Invader and Kevin Nash (as Vinnie Vegas).
Over the past two decades, Race remained active in local promotion and by training young wrestlers at his eponymous wrestling academy. He is credited with training and developing current NXT superstar Tomasso Ciampa.
Race, who was married three times, leaves behind five children.
Today the world lost one of the toughest men ever to walk God's green earth.— NWA (@nwa) August 1, 2019
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