Harley Race, 8 Time NWA World Champion, Passes Away

He was 76...

Harley Race, renowned the world over for his eight reigns as NWA World Heavyweight champion, as well as his unquestioned status as one of the toughest professional wrestlers that has ever lived, passed away Thursday at the age of 76, per a tweet from Race's official Twitter.

Race was in poor health for some time, hospitalized prior to a convention appearance last month. He had reportedly been diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year.

Race began his career as a teenager in 1960, wrestling in territories such as St. Louis and Nashville. In the mid-sixties, Race formed a partnership with Larry "The Ax" Hennig (father of "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig and grandfather of Curtis Axel), and the duo won the AWA World Tag Team titles on three occasions.

Race won the first of his eight NWA World titles in 1973, defeating Dory Funk, Jr. While his first reign lasted just under two months, his second reign (which began when he defeated Dory's brother Terry in February 1977) lasted over 900 days, before he was defeated by Dusty Rhodes in August 1979.

Race exchanged the belt with the likes of Giant Baba and Tommy Rich in the late seventies/early eighties, getting him to his sixth reign. His seventh kicked off in June 1983, when he defeated then-rising star Ric Flair in St. Louis. Flair regained it from Race at the first Starrcade that November. Race's final reign came the following March, when he and Flair traded the belt on a tour of southeast Asia and Australia.

In 1986, Race, now in his early-forties, became a full-time wrestler with WWE. He was dubbed "The King" as a means of acknowledging his cultured wrestling heritage, without actually mentioning other territories by name. Race won the 1986 King of the Ring tournament, and took part in a number of high profile matches with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and The Junkyard Dog, before departing in 1989.

Race also holds the distinction of being the very first holder of what is today the WWE United States championship (through its appropriation of the NWA United States title history), after defeating Johnny Weaver in a tournament final on New Year's Day 1975.

After retiring from the ring in 1991, Race continued to serve in a managerial capacity, most notably as the on-screen adviser for Big Van Vader in WCW. With Race as his manager, Vader held the WCW World Heavyweight title three times.

Race was also a renowned trainer, having a hand in the development of talents that include Barry Windham, Tommaso Ciampa, Trevor Murdoch, Curtis Axel, Ted Dibiase Jr, Richie Steamboat, and Bobby Fish, among numerous others.

Race is part of numerous Halls of Fame, including WWE (2004), WCW (1994), NWA (2005), Wrestling Observer (1996), and was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in Wichita Falls, TX twice: as a singles in 2004, and with Larry Hennig in 2017.

In regards to Race's affirmed status as one of the toughest wrestlers of all time, former WWE manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan has said that Andre the Giant only feared two men: the notoriously-tough Haku, and Race.

The National Wrestling Alliance tweeted of his passing, "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.”

Cultaholic offers our condolences to Mr. Race's family and friends.

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Justin Henry

Written by Justin Henry

In addition to writing lists and commentaries for Cultaholic, Justin is also a features writer and interviewer for Fighting Spirit Magazine, and is co-author of the WWE-related book Titan Screwed: Lost Smiles, Stunners, and Screwjobs.