I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to the family of former wrestler Mike Graham, who was found dead at age 61 from a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head by his wife on Friday morning in Daytona Beach, FL, where they were attending the Bike Week together. This is a tragedy of Von Erich family level proportions, as his father, Eddie Graham, the promoter of Championship Wrestling from Florida, committed suicide in the exact same manner on January 21st 1985, after a lifelong battle with alcoholism and depression caused from watching his real estate and wrestling empire crumbling before his very eyes. Mike's son Steven had also killed himself in December 2010.
There was a lot of factors at play in his untimely death. Clearly, losing his own flesh and blood would have been a heart wrenching experience that would have been very tough to deal with. Like his father, financial difficulties may have had a part to play too:
"Graham suffered business misfortunes in recent years, and a restaurant he owned in Florida closed in 2011 after about two years of operation. He and his wife had been involved in real estate, which took a beating in Florida during the recession."
Dave Meltzer on his Oct. 20th subscriber only Wrestling Observer radio show, also cited how he had a tough time transitioning into a life without pro wrestling, a business he had grown up with and worked in for over three decades. He desperately wanted a full time job in the industry he loved, but no-one was interested in his services any longer. It also broke his heart to sell the Florida tape library to WWE several years ago.
Graham predominantly worked for his father's Florida territory as a top babyface from 1972 until the dying business was sold to Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) in February 1987, forming championship teams with Steve Keirn, Kevin Sullivan, Barry Windham and his father Eddie, amongst others. Due to his small stature and being the boss' son, his push was resented by many of the wrestlers in the area, which was perhaps a little unfair, as his father put a lot of pressure on him to become a legitimate shooter and a good hand in the ring. That said, his father's connections likely led to his short run as NWA International Junior Heavyweight Champion in the spring of 1980, where he traded the belt with New Japan Pro Wrestling's Tatsumi Fujinami, one of the best workers in the world at the time. He also had a couple of runs as AWA World Light Heavyweight Champion for Verne Gagne in Minnesota.
He eventually wound up in WCW for a short run as a wrestler in 1991 / 1992 and later became a road agent for the company, which was memorable for a couple of notorious confrontations.
Firstly, in an incident which made the then WWF star Sid Justice (real name Sid Eudy, aka Sid Vicious and Sycho Sid) a complete laughing stock, the much smaller Graham disarmed Sid when he got a weapon to attack Brian Pillman with, who had gotten fed up of Sid's constant boasts about how much he was making in New York at the time, which led to an argument that was close to blows. What was the weapon you may ask? You might think a baseball bat or a bar stool, but you'd be wrong! Sid thought he'd clean up with a squeegee.
Secondly, Graham was the man whose unprofessional actions were ultimately responsible for the disgruntled Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn being granted their unconditional WCW contract releases in January 2000, allowing them to jump ship to the WWF. As the Pro Wrestling Torch reported at the time, when those four wrestlers, as well as others like Shane Douglas, complained to WCW management about his good buddy Kevin Sullivan's promotion to head booker, replacing Vince Russo, Graham confronted the ringleader in Benoit and threatened him with physical violence:
"Between his meeting with [Senior Vice President Bill] Busch and his match with Sid, road agent Mike Graham approached Benoit. Graham would benefit from Sullivan's promotion. He and Sullivan spent days together in Florida dating back to the early '80s. He was going to be on the booking committee with Sullivan. Benoit has told people that when Graham confronted him backstage, he asked him if the rumors were true that he and some other wrestlers demanded that he, Sullivan, and J.J. Dillon be fired. Benoit said the only name they brought up was Sullivan, and they didn't ask that anyone be fired; they asked for their releases, which is something Busch offered if wrestlers weren't happy. Benoit claims that Graham said something to the effect that it's a good thing Benoit didn't mess with his job and his ability to support his family because he would have slit his throat in retaliation. Benoit reported the incident to Turner's Human Resources Department."
Not wanting an expensive lawsuit on his hands that the company would likely lose, Busch gave into their demands and gave the four of them their unconditional pink slips. Meanwhile, Douglas was out of a job for three months until Russo regained power in WCW, having been betrayed by the Radicalz, who had all promised him that they would negotiate with Vince McMahon as a group, only for them to sign without him and he was left out in the cold. It's a bitter irony that both tough men who locked horns in that ugly incident, Benoit and Graham, both ended up committing suicide.
In recent years, his only involvement in the wrestling business was some part time work for WWE: being a talking head on some of their DVD releases, appearing as a panelist on WWE 24/7's Legends of Wrestling series, hosting some classic episodes of Championship Wrestling from Florida on that channel and inducting his father into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2008. WWE.com had this to say about his passing:
"WWE is saddened to learn of the passing of Mike Graham, 61, son of legendary promoter Eddie Graham. While never under contract with WWE, he was part of our extended family. The sports-entertainment world lost a beloved member today. WWE extends its sincerest condolences to his family and friends."
And on a personal note, Cagesiders, if any of you ever have suicidal thoughts please get in touch with a counsellor or a doctor before doing anything rash. Professionals are out there that can help you. Don't put the people that love you through that pain.