Tommy "Wildfire" Rich started his career in 1974 in the Georgia territory at the age of 18. After a few years working the area, he moved on to Memphis, where he wrestled as a heel managed by Jimmy Hart. A year later, he returned to Georgia and redebuted as one of the hottest faces working in the nation.
Georgia was a NWA territory, and Harley Race was the NWA World Champion. Before he left to work as a heel in Memphis, Tommy Rich had lost a series of matches to Race and left Georgia in disgust. Upon his return, he declared that he would win the World Title from Race or retire. On April 27th, 1981, in Augusta, GA, the unthinkable happened. Here is the video. Sorry for the quality, but this was a house show in 1981, and at the time no one thought there would be any value in these tapes.
Rich's title rain only lasted 4 days, having won it on a Monday and losing it back to Race on Friday. Many theories have been given as to why a 5 day reign:
- It has always been rumored that Jim Barnett worked a deal out where, in return of performing sexual acts on Rich, he would in return become champion for a short time.
- Michael Hayes, of the Fabulous Freedbirds, was on the card where the title switch took place and seems to think it was a screw job, with Race not knowing he was getting pinned until the 3 count.
- Probably most likely, and the story that Race gives: Barnett and Race worked out a deal amongst themselves where Rich got the belt to boost attendance, forcing a rival booker out of the territory making the job solely Barnett's, and Race would have another proven draw to defend against.