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This Day in Wrestling History (Dec. 30): NWA Founder Passes Away

18 years ago today at a RAW is WAR taping from New Haven, Connecticut (WWE Network link), Jeff Jarrett defeated Barry Windham to win the NWA North American Heavyweight Championship.

The episode, airing January 5, would be most remembered for Stone Cold Steve Austin's infamous "Stunner barrage", attacking anyone who thought would be a threat to win the Royal Rumble match later in the month.

17 years ago today, longtime promoter Sam Muchnick died of internal bleeding in his home of St. Louis, Missouri. He was 93.

Born Jeshua Muchnick on August 22, 1905 in Ukraine, he and his family moved to St. Louis at age 6; after moving, his father changed his name to Sam as he thought Jeshua was inappropriate for a Jewish kid. After graduating high school, Muchnick worked for the US Postal Service for a couple years before joining the St. Louis Times in 1926. He covered the hometown Cardinals as well as professional wrestling, which is how he met Midwest promoter Tom Packs. After the Times and St. Louis Star merged, he would leave the paper to work as Packs' publicist. The two were together for nearly a decade, but had a falling out after getting stiffed following a promotion of a Joe Louis title fight in 1941 (the bout drew a $14,000 profit, but Sam only saw $200 of it). Sam would enlist in the Air Force in 1942 after doing some shows, but when he returned from service, Packs still had the clout in the Midwest he had when Sam left.

Muchnick's first wrestling card was in December 1945 at the Kiel Auditorium that drew over 3,700 fans. In mid-1948, Muchnick, along with promoters Pinky George and Tony Stetcher, came up with the idea of a new wrestling union (never mind that at the time, one had already existed in the National Wrestling Association). Their idea: a collaboration of promoters who would share the bookings of the world champion and top wrestlers, while splitting the gate. The three promoters with two others and Orville Brown would then form the National Wrestling Alliance in Waterloo, Iowa, with Brown as its first champion. Their first big acquisition: "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers. Their second big acquisition: the National Wrestling Association, as the two NWA's became one Lou Thesz's NWA was being outdrawn consistently by Muchnick's NWA. It wasn't all bad for Lou: he would unify the two NWA world titles in November 1949.

Muchnick would be elected NWA President in 1950, a position he would hold for 22 of the next 25 years (often elected unanimously). While in office, he formed the St. Louis Wrestling Club, produced Wrestling at the Chase for KPLR-TV (one of the longest running wrestling shows in television history, running from 1959 to 1983), and signed agreements with territories in Mexico, the Far East, Europe, and the Caribbean. He also scouted talents such as Terry Funk, Dory Funk, Jr., Ric Flair, and Harley Race, all of whom would eventually become NWA world champions.

Muchnick promoted cards until his retirement on January 1, 1982; after his retirement, the NWA's power base eroded. Vince McMahon left the group and expanded the World Wrestling Federation to a national company, while Jim Crockett Jr. sold his shares to Ted Turner, who would create World Championship Wrestling.. He was inducted to the first Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame class in 1996, and posthumously inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2003, the NWA Hall of Fame in 2005, and the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2007. Just a year before his death, Muchnick made one of his last major public appearances at the WWF Badd Blood: In Your House PPV.

15 years ago today in Gait, California, Christopher Daniels defeated Donovan Morgan to win All Pro Wrestling's King of the Indies tournament. Daniels and Morgan would become the first ROH tag team champions two years later.

12 years ago today at a Smackdown taping in Laredo, Texas, Rey Mysterio defeated Tajiri to win the WWE Cruiserweight Championship.

8 years ago today, Ring of Honor presented Final Battle from the Manhattan Center in New York City.

  • The Vulture Squad (Ruckus & Jigsaw) defeated Matt Cross & Bobby Fish.
  • Larry Sweeney defeated Claudio Castagnoli.
  • Jack Evans defeated Necro Butcher in a No Disqualification match.
  • Naomichi Marufuji defeated Davey Richards.
  • The Hangmen 3 (Adam Pearce, Brent Albright, and BJ Whitmer) defeated Delirious, Kevin Steen, and El Generico in a "Tables are Legal" match.
  • Rocky Romero defeated Ernie Osiris.
  • Erick Stevens defeated Roderick Strong to win the FIP World Heavyweight Championship.
  • Bryan Danielson defeated Austin Aries, Chris Hero, and Takeshi Morishima in a Four-Way Fray to earn an ROH World Championship match at ROH 6th Anniversary.
  • The Age of the Fall (Jimmy Jacobs & Tyler Black) defeated the Briscoe Brothers (Jay & Mark Briscoe) to win the ROH World Tag Team Championship.

6 years ago and a day today, "Dr. Death" Steve Williams dies of throat cancer at St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver, Colorado. He was 49.

Born May 14, 1960 in Lakewood, Colorado, he was a three-sport athlete in high school at Lakewood High, wrestling, playing football, and was a part of the track team all four years. Williams went to and graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1981, where he also wrestled. He made it to the finals of an NCAA tournament, losing to Bruce Baumgartner, who would go on to medal in four Summer Olympics (including gold in 1984 and 1992) in freestyle wrestling. Williams knew he was heading for the professional ranks; in fact, he had a nickname ready to go: "Dr. Death", so named for his junior high school wrestling days when he wrestled in a hockey goalie's mask.

After training under Bill Watts and Buddy Landel, Williams began wrestling for Watts' Mid-South Wrestling in 1982. Three years later, he was in his first major feud, teaming with Ted Dibiase against Eddie Gilbert and The Nightmare. Williams would capture the renamed Universal Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Championship from Big Bubba Rogers in 1986. The company would be bought out by Jim Crockett the next year, and Williams was one of the few people that benefitted from the sale.

After initially feuding with Kevin Sullivan's Varsity Club, Williams would join the group in late 1988. He and Sullivan would win the NWA United States Tag Team Championship, and a few months later, he and fellow Varsity Club member Mike Rotunda won the NWA World Tag Team Championship from the Road Warriors. The duo would be stripped of the titles in May 1989, and the Varsity Club disbanded. He would team with Terry Gordy to form the Miracle Violence Connection and the duo would win the WCW and NWA world tag championships (from the Steiners and Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham, respectively) in a one-week span. They held them until September 1992 when they lost the unified championships back to Rhodes and Windham. The highlight of Williams' WCW run came in December 1992 when he wrestled in place of Rick Rude against Ron Simmons for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. Williams lost by disqualification, and would leave WCW shortly thereafter.

Steve would become one of the most successful gaijins (foreign wrestlers) in Japanese wrestling history during his run in All Japan Pro Wrestling, winning their Triple Crown Heavyweight title, eight tag team championships with four different partners (five of the eight with Terry Gordy), and win the World's Strongest Tag Determination League in 1990, 1991, and 2000. Williams also won their annual Korakuen Hall heavyweight battle royal in 1995 and 2000. Williams also was a part of three five-star bouts as rated by Wrestling Observer Newsletter, including the 1996 Match of the Year (Williams & Johnny Ace vs. Mitsuhara Misawa & Jun Akiyama on June 7). He also went a full decade without being cleanly pinned. That run came to an end in February 1997 during his brief run in ECW at Crossing the Line Again. He defeated Axl Rotten in about two minutes, but would lose an impromptu ECW world title match  moments later to champion Raven.

In 1998, Williams landed in the WWF and participated in their "Brawl For All" tournament, a legitimate fighting tournament. Expected to win the tournament and challenge Stone Cold Steve Austin for the WWF Championship, Williams suffered a torn hamstring in the semifinal round and was knocked out by eventual tournament winner Bart Gunn. Williams would return in early 1999 after missing some time due to the injury seconded by Jim Ross where he would attack people with suplexes. Longtime manager Jim Cornette later said that Williams harbored ill feelings toward Ross following his disappointing WWF run. He had a brief run in WCW in late 1999 feuding with the Misfits and Vampiro. He wrestled sporadically over the next few years, including All Japan, WWE, and Major League Wrestling. He had his lone mixed martial arts bout in 2004 for K-1, losing in just 22 seconds to Alexey Ignashov.

In 2004, Williams underwent surgery for throat cancer. Told initially he had just six months to live, he was declared cancer-free by 2005. By 2006, he was back in the wrestling business, training and occasionally competing for Ohio Valley Wrestling. Following the death of longtime rival and friend Mitsuhara Misawa in June 2009, Williams decided to retire from wrestling. He wrestled his final match in October 2009, just two months before his death. His final appearance came at a wrestling convention in New Jersey less than three weeks prior to his passing. The throat cancer by then had returned, and Williams' health quickly declined; the illness would take his life.

Williams was posthumously inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 2011. At the time of his passing, he was survived by his son Wyndham, and two brothers, Jeff and Jerry.

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