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This Day in Wrestling History (August 8): Jay Leno, Professional Wrestler

54 years ago today, Verne Gagne defeats Gene Kiniski in Minneapolis, Minnesota to win the AWA World Heavyweight Championship for the second time.

52 years ago today, Verge Gagne defeats Fritz Von Erich in Amarillo, Texas to win the AWA World Heavyweight Championship for the fifth time.

49 years ago today, Robert Friedrich, best known as Ed "The Strangler" Lewis died in New York City. He was 75.

Born June 30, 1891 in Nekoosa, Wisconsin, Friedrich took to wrestling in his early teens. He first wrestled at age 14 in legitimate matches, but after going nearly a half hour in 1911 against former champion Fred Beell (despite losing two straight falls), Robert traded small-time carnies for big-time wrestling events. Frederich would be renamed Ed "The Strangler Lewis" in honor of another Wisconsin champion Evan "The Strangler" Lewis. His stranglehold, which for all intents and purposes looked like a choke, made him infamous, and in a period of "legitimate wrestling", the hold eventually was banned. In 1916, Lewis and world champion at the time Joe Stetcher wrestled for more than five hours... if Lewis basically running refusing to engage for much of the match was called wrestling. The match was declared a draw, and began one of the biggest rivalries in the sport at the time. Lewis would eventually defeat Stetcher in December 1920 to win the world title.

Along with Toots Mondt and Billy Sandow (the character Damien Sandow came from Billy's namesake), the three formed "The Gold Dust Trio", (a name not coined until Marcus Griffin's Fall Guys was released in 1937), a group that would revolutionize wrestling promotions by booking full cards instead of single-match attractions. They would use feuds and storylines and use screwjob endings until a feud was hot and ready for a payoff. This would help the perception of professional wrestling transition from legitimate sport to "sports entertainment".  Lewis' feud with Stetcher extended to behind the scenes when Stetcher buddied up with former world champion Stanislaus Zbyszko, who went into business for himself in a 1925 match against the Trio's handpicked champion Wayne Munn. Lewis and Stetcher would settle their differences and Joe would drop the belt to Ed in 1928.

At the height of his popularity, Lewis was one of the most popular athletes of his time, behind baseball star Babe Ruth and boxing champion Jack Dempsey, but his popularity, the sport, and his health were all fading in the early 1930s. In December 1932, Lewis defeated Ray Steele via disqualification in Madison Square Garden. Lewis would drop the world title to Jim Browning within a year. Lewis would have one last hurrah in 1934 when a bout against Jim Londos drew 35,000 fans to Wrigley Field and a gate of $96,302 (that would be over $1.7 million today), a record that would stand for more than a decade.

The next year, now in semi-retirement, Lewis would befriend 19-year old Lou Thesz at a gym in St. Louis. Though Thesz was humiliated to the point he quit the sport, Lou returned after an encouraging phone call to Thesz's father. Lewis, now legally blind, would return to the ring in 1942 at age 51. Trachoma would ultimately force an end to his in-ring career in 1948 at age 57. As for Thesz, the rest is history: under Lewis' guidance, Thesz became a dominant NWA world champion.

Lewis was posthumously inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996, the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002.

34 years ago today in Greensboro, North Carolina, Wahoo McDaniel defeats Roddy Piper to win the NWA United States Championship.

22 years ago today in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tito Santana defeated Don Muraco to win the NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Championship.

18 years ago today in Memphis, Tennessee. Dutch Mantel defeats Jerry Lawler to win the USWA Unified Heavyweight Championship for the third time. Mantel would be the promotion's final champion, as they would shut down that November. On the same show, Steven Dunn and Flash Flanagan defeated PG-13 (JC Ice and Wolfie D) to win the USWA Tag Team Championship for the third time. PG-13 would win the belts back for the 15th (and final) time at the end of the month.

17 years ago today, WCW presented Road Wild (WWE Network link) from the Stugis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota. About 8,500 were in attendance (all of them got in for free, by the way), with 365,000 homes watching on PPV. The show featured Jay Leno's one and only wrestling match-and it main evented over Bill Goldberg, who was the WCW World Heavyweight Champion at the time. The event also had a post-show concert from country music star Travis Tritt. The concert was available only to those that either bought the show or was in attendance, as the concert was cut from all commercial releases of the event since. A scheduled Scott Steiner vs. Rick Steiner match was postponed, claiming Scott had injured Rick with a chairshot. The match was rescheduled for Fall Brawl.

  • Meng defeated The Barbarian via disqualification.
  • Public Enemy (Johnny Grunge and Rocco Rock) defeated Disco Inferno and Alex Wright.
  • Saturn defeated Raven and Chris Kanyon in a Raven's Rules triangle match.
  • Rey Mysterio, Jr. defeated Psicosis.
  • Stevie Ray defeated Chavo Guerrero, Jr. to retain the WCW World Television Championship.
  • Steve McMichael defeated Bryan Adams.
  • Juventud Guerrera defeated Chris Jericho to win the WCW Cruiserweight Championship. Dean Malenko was the special referee.
  • Bill Goldberg won a non-title battle royal match against members of nWo Wolfpac and nWo Hollywood. Other participants included The Giant, Scott Hall, Curt Hennig, Konnan, Lex Luger, Kevin Nash, Scott Norton, and Sting.
  • Diamond Dallas Page & Jay Leno defeated Hulk Hogan & Eric Bischoff.

17 years ago today, Masahiro Chono defeated Tatsumi Fujunami to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

5 years ago today, WWE signs Colby Lopez, at the time known as Tyler Black (the ROH world heavyweight champion) to a developmental contract. Though he wrestled a match as Black, he debuted for FCW in September as Seth Rollins.

5 years ago today, TNA presented Hardcore Justice from the Impact Zone at Universal Orlando. The show, originally named Hard Justice, got the name changed and served as another ECW reunion show... one that couldn't use any of the ECW trademarks as WWE owns the rights to ECW. The original main event of Rob Van Dam versus Jerry Lynn was changed due to Lynn pulling out of the show with a back injury. Despite all this, with 20,000 buys, it's the second most bought TNA PPV of the year behind October's Bound for Glory. The event was voted 2010's Worst Major Wrestling Show by Wrestling Observer Newsletter readers.

  • The FBI (Tracy Smothers, Little Guido, & Tony Luke) defeated Kid Kash, Simon Diamond, & Johnny Swinger.
  • 2 Cold Scorpio defeated CW Anderson.
  • Stevie Richards defeated P.J. Polaco.
  • Rhino defeated Al Snow & Brother Runt in a three-way dance.
  • Team 3D (Brother Ray & Brother Devon) defeated Axl Rotten & Kahoneys in a tag team Street Fight. Raven defeated Tommy Dreamer.
  • Rob Van Dam defeated Sabu.

4 years ago today, Ring of Honor announces via a press release that they have re-signed Jay Lethal. Lethal had first wrestled for the promotion from 2003-2006 and had won the ROH Pure Championship. Lethal at the time was last seen in TNA, where he had been a six-time X Division Champion and tag team champion in his six years there. Less than a week after signing re-signing, he won the ROH World Television Championship from El Generico. Today, he's the ROH World and World Television Champion.

A happy 41st birthday to Scott Francis D'Amore Best known for his time as the manager of TNA's Team Canada, Scott founded Border City Wrestling in his native Windsor, Ontario, Canada with his first trainer Doug Chevalier and Chuck Fader. Save for a few months in 2000, the promotion ran from 1993-2003. He also ran the Can-Am Wrestling School and trained dozens of wrestlers, notably Chris Sabin. In 2003, D'Amore went to TNA first as a road agent, then as the "coach" for Team Canada. He was appointed head of TNA Creative in 2005, which would eventually reduce his on-screen appearances. He was written off TV in July 2006 and would not reappear until just before his contract expired two years later. He was rehired in 2009 as the road agent for the Knockouts division, but left the promotion again for good in February 2010 when his Border City Wrestling merged with another Canadian promotion, BSE Wrestling to form Maximum Pro Wrestling.

A happy 48th birthday today to Rena Marlette Lesnar. Born Rena Greek and later Rena Mero, she's best known to wrestling fans as Sable. A model in her younger years, Rena had two runs in the WWF; her first and far more successful run came in the late 1990s initially as a valet for Hunter Hearst Helmsley, then for her real-life husband Marc Mero. Following Mero's injury in 1997, Sable's popularity skyrocketed to the point the WWF found it as an excuse to revive the WWF Womens Championship in 1998. She didn't win it right away (Jacqueline beat her to that), but would do so in November 1998. That popularity carried over into the cover of the April 1999 issue of Playboy, at the time, one of the most popular editions ever.

Her popularity on-screen rubbed the WWF locker room the wrong way; it also didn't help that Rena was allegedly less than cordial behind the scenes. She held the WWF Womens Championship until abruptly quitting the company in May 1999 over a dispute with management. She sued the company for $110 million shortly after leaving the WWF, citing sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions, but the two sides settled that summer (the exact terms were undisclosed, though it is believed Mero didn't get much financial compensation and did not retain the rights to her character, thus the reason why Rena's second Playboy appearance was under her real name).

She appeared on Relic Hunter, First Wave, and has small roles in Corky Romano and Ariana's Quest following her exit from the WWF. She also released an autobiography, Undefeated, in 2000, and her own comic book, The 10th Muse, in 2001.

In 2003, Mero shocked the wrestling world and returned to the company she sued, the WWE. She spent most of sixteen months there as a heel, feuding with Stephanie McMahon and Torrie Wilson, with whom Rena would appear with in the March 2004 issue of Playboy. She left the company again in August 2004, citing she wanted to spend more time with her family. Rena's second exit was much more cordial.

Around the time of her release, she had divorced Marc Mero and began dating Brock Lesnar. The couple married in May 2006 and has two children together. Rena also has a stepdaughter and a granddaughter.

Today would have been the 87th birthday of "Lord" Alfred George James Hayes. Born in London, England, Hayes worked on the British wrestling circuit from the late 1950s to late 1970s as "Judo" Al Hayes, based on his black-belt training in judo as a youngster. After a long feud with Dr. Death for Paul Lincoln Promotions, Hayes joined the WWF in 1982, but his popularity took off in 1984 with WWF talk show Tuesday Night Titans as Vince McMahon's sidekick.

He served as a sideline reporter for the original Wrestlemania and commentated the main event of Wrestlemania II. His humorous and gentle demeanor also made him a mainstay on WWF home video releases, usually with Sean Mooney, and in skits for Saturday Night's Main EventPrime Time Wrestling, and WWF Mania.

Though he was generally a face commentator, he leaned heel towards the end of his WWF run. Hayes left the WWF in 1995 following a series of budget cuts that affected the company. McMahon and the office took the loss of Hayes hard. Around the same time, he was involved in an auto accident that ultimately resulted in part of his leg being amputated, confining him to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. His last major wrestling gig came for the short-lived American Wrestling Federation in 1996.

Hayes spent his final years in nursing homes and hospitals; it was at Baylor Hospital where he ultimately passed away on July 21, 2005. At the time of his death, he was survived by his son and daughter, along with three grandchildren. Poshumously, he was inducted last year into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.

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