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This Day in Wrestling History (Dec. 26): The Iron Sheik Wins WWF Title

this day in wrestling history

56 years ago today, George Raymond Wagner, best known to many fans as the legendary Gorgeous George, dies of a heart attack he had suffered two days prior in Hollywood, California. He was 48.

Born March 24, 1915 in Butte, Nebraska, George and his parents lived on a farm before moving to Iowa. When he was seven, his family moved to Houston, Texas and would hang around with the kids of the neighborhood. He dropped out of high school at age 14 and began working odd jobs to support his family. One of those jobs was competing in wrestling matches at carnivals. His days of training at the local YMCA began to play off, as by age 17, he was getting bookings from Morris Siegel, the top promoter in the Houston area at the time. Championships would eventually come as well, winning middleweight and light heavyweight championships by his 24th birthday.

That was kind of surprising considering that he was only 5'9", 215 pounds. Hardly imposing at first glance, but he had developed into a gifted wrestler. In 1939, he met and married Elizabeth Hanson in an in-ring ceremony in Eugene, Oregon. The wedding would be reenacted across the country; it is then Wagner got an ephiphany: there is a value to entertainment in wrestling, and he could take advantage of it. Inspired by an article in Vanity Magazine, Wagner began to construct a persona that would change wrestling forever.

In the early 1940s, George had a wrestling match at the Portland Armory. While walking down the aisle, one woman exclaimed, "Oh, isn't he gorgeous." From then on, he became known as Gorgeous George. Elsie Hanson, Betty's mother and George's mother-in-law, began making robes and capes for Wagner. In 1941, George began his "glamour boy" gimmick, wearing capes and robes and exhibit exaggerated effeminate behavior. Crowds didn't like it too much...not one bit. Yet, they would turn out in droves to see him.

Eventually, he would land in Los Angeles. With the encouragement of promoter Johnny Doyle, George turned up his wrestling personal to eleven. He would nickname himself "The Human Orchid". He grew his hair long, then dyed it platinum blonde. He would put gold-plated bobbing pins in his hair. His entrances to "Pomp and Circumstance" became events, often lasting longer than his matches. Always dressed to the nines, he would be accompanied by a valet, Jeffries, who would spread rose petals at his feet while walking a red carpet. He would spray the ring—and the referee—to "cleanse it of disinfectants". His cry of "get your filthy hands off me!" became famous.

Then he would cheat to win, using every underhanded trick in the book: gouging eyes, punching kidneys, headbutting, and low blows were all fair game in George's mind. It was his credo after all; "win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat". George became wrestling's first cowardly heel. And it came at a perfect time: when television started to become mainstream.

Thanks to the advent of television, Gorgeous George became an overnight sensation not just for viewers and fans, but broadcast networks, who needed cheap programming to fill their air time. Wrestling often filled that void, and in some parts of the country, live wrestling aired seven days a week. George's television debut on November 11, 1947 was named by Entertainment Weekly as one of the 100 biggest televised acts of the 20th century. George would be as big a star in television's early days as comedians Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, and Milton Berle.

In February 1949, George would be in the main event of the first wrestling event in Madison Square Garden in 12 years. By the 1950s, George's star was so huge, he would command 50% of the gate for events he appeared in, often making over $100,000 a year (just under $1 million today). Early in the decade, he would win the Boston version of the AWA World Heavyweight Championship and faced NWA world champion Lou Thesz. In 1959, he would finally get his comeuppance when he is defeated by Whipper Billy Watson in a hair versus hair match.

In 1962, he was defeated by a young Bruno Sammartino; later in the year, he lost his hair again to The Destroyer in a mask versus hair match. It would turn out to be his final bout, as his hard living had caught up with his body (George was twice divorced and was diagnosed with liver disease from his excessive alcoholism; his doctor had ordered him to call it a career).

In his wrestling days, he owned a turkey ranch in Beaumont, California (he ultimately lost the ranch) and owned a cocktail lounge in Van Nuys. The stresses of alcoholism and wrestling, combined with failed investments took a toll on his finances and his health.

On December 24, 1963, George had a heart attack in his apartment in Hollywood, California. He would die two days later. He was 48.

Many would credit George's showmanship as a part of their own careers, including Muhammad Ali, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Liberace, Elton John, and Morris Day. Of course, many wrestlers were inspired by George in some way, including Buddy Rogers, Adrian Street, Superstar Billy Graham, Ric Flair, and Goldust.

George would be a member of the inaugural classes of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and Professional Wrestling Halls of Fame (1996 and 2002, respectively), as well as a member of the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010. His first wife Betty, 97 at the time, would induct him. Betty died in 2011.

George and Betty had two adopted children from his first marriage, and one son and three stepchildren from his second wife Cherie (who died in 2000). Bobbette, one of the stepchildren, had four sons. He also had one child from a longtime mistress, and one great-nephew, Robert Kellum, who wrestled as Gorgeous George III and briefly as the Maestro in WCW.

33 years ago today in New York City, The Iron Sheik defeated Bob Backlund via manager's stoppage to win the WWF Championship. Arnold Skaaland, Backlund's manager, threw in the towel while Bob was trapped in the camel clutch submission hold.

Sheik would be the first man to hold the WWF Championship since 1978 (1979 if you count Antonio Inoki's brief run, which WWE does not). But all Sheik was in this picture was the bridge to get the championship on the soon-to-be-returning Hulk Hogan (Hogan would return to the WWF the next day and win the WWF title less than a month later). Backlund was asked to turn heel, but he had refused (that refusal may have been a detriment to Backlund, as he was phased out of the company entirely by the following summer). There was also speculation that Backlund would not refuse to lose the title to anyone who did not have a legitimate wrestling background.

Backlund’s reign of 2,135 days is the second-longest world title reign in WWE history, behind only Bruno Sammartino’s 2,803 day run spanning most of the 1960s and into 1971.

28 years ago today, WCW presented Starrcade '88: True Gritt (WWE Network link) from the Scope in Norfolk, Virginia. About 10,000 were in attendance, with 150,000 homes watching on PPV.

This is the first time Starrcade would be held around the Christmas holiday (the first four were on Thanksgiving, but the rousing success of Survivor Series the previous year combined with cable providers ordering the WWF and NWA to never put on competing PPVs in the same timeslot again forced the move), a tradition that would remain until WCW's demise.

Of note, this is the first PPV presented under the WCW name with new owner Ted Turner (Turner had bought Jim Crockett Promotions about a month before the show).

Also of note, this is the last major NWA show for Dusty Rhodes. On December 7, Rhodes was removed from his head booker position after he had violated Turner’s recently instituted no-blood policy. But the hot seat never cooled for Rhodes; he left WCW altogether on January 17.

  • Kevin Sullivan and Steve Williams defeated The Fantastics (Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers) to win the NWA United States Tag Team Championship.
  • The Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane) defeated The Original Midnight Express (Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose).
  • The Russian Assassins (#1 and #2) defeated The Junkyard Dog and Ivan Koloff.
  • Rick Steiner defeated Mike Rotunda to win the NWA World Television Championship.
  • Barry Windham defeated Bam Bam Bigelow by countout in a NWA United States Heavyweight Championship match.
  • Sting and Dusty Rhodes defeated The Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal) by disqualification in a NWA World Tag Team Championship match.
  • Ric Flair defeated Lex Luger to retain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

12 years ago today, Ring of Honor presented Final Battle from the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

  • Jimmy Jacobs defeated Trent Acid.
  • Deranged and Lacey defeated Angel Dust and Becky Bayless.
  • Rockin' Rebel defeated Devon Moore.
  • Homicide defeated Josh Daniels.
  • John Walters defeated Jimmy Rave to retain the ROH Pure Championship (11:31)
  • Dan Maff & BJ Whitmer defeated The Carnage Crew (HC Loc & Tony DeVito) in a Fight Without Honor.
  • Jay Lethal defeated The Weapon Of Mask Destruction #2.
  • CM Punk & Steve Corino defeated Generation Next (Alex Shelley & Roderick Strong).
  • Bryan Danielson defeated Low Ki by disqualification.
  • Austin Aries defeated Samoa Joe to win the ROH World Championship. The win by Aries ends Samoa Joe's 645-day reign as Ring of Honor's top man. The record still stands today.

12 years ago today, Reginald Howard White, or simply Reggie White to football and wrestling fans, dies in a hospital in Huntersville, North Carolina after being rushed there for an irregular heartbeat. He was 43.

Born December 19, 1961 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, White received All-American honors during his senior year of high school, recording 140 tackles (88 solo) and ten sacks. He would play college football for the University of Tennessee. He eventually worked his way into the starting lineup by the end of his freshman season. By the time he was done in Tennessee following the 1983 season, White would be one of the most prolific players in school history, recording 293 tackles (201 solo, 19 tackles-for-loss), 32 sacks (15 coming during his senior season), four fumble recoveries, and seven batted-down passes. His single-season and career-sacks marks are still school records; he held the school's single-game mark for sacks too until 2013.

After playing two seasons for the USFL's Memphis Showboats, White joined the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. During his eight seasons there, he became the club's all-time sack leader for a single season (21—remarkable since it was in a shortened 12-game season; he's still the only man to record 20 sacks a 12-game period), career (124), and sacks per game (1.75 in 1987). He was voted by ESPN Sportsnation as the greatest player in Philadelphia Eagles history.

In 1993, White shocked sports fans when he joined the Green Bay Packers as a free agent. During his six seasons there, he recorded 68.5 sacks, at the time the Packers' all-time record (a record that would be broken in 2007 by Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila; Clay Matthews has also surpassed White’s mark—he’s on 71.5 sacks as of this writing), win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 1998, and would have the game-clinching sack in Super Bowl XXXI, the only championship he's won on any level. He would retire following the 1998 season, but would return for the 2000 for the Carolina Panthers.

At the time of his retirement, he had more sacks than anyone in NFL history (198, a mark that would be surpassed just three years later by Bruce Smith, who would finish with 200). Including his 23.5 sacks in the USFL, his 221.5 sacks make him the all-time pro football leader. His nine straight seasons (1985-93) of ten or more sacks still stands as an NFL record. He was named All-Pro 13 times in his 15 seasons, including ten first-team All Pro selections. He was named to the NFL's All-Decade Teams of the 1980s, 1990s, and the 75th Anniversary Team.

Ok, the wrestling connection: White was a member of Lawrence Taylor's All-Pro entourage during Wrestlemania XI against Bam Bam Bigelow. At Slamboree 1997, White had his only professional wrestling match, a loss to fellow NFL alumnus Steve McMichael.

White, an ordained Baptist (thus his nickname being the "Minister of Defense"), had caused quite a bit of controversy regarding his views on race and homosexuality (after his comments in one particular interview on homosexuality went public, White’s deal with CBS to join The NFL Today following his retirement was pulled).

On December 26, 2004, White was rushed to a hospital in Huntersville, North Carolina from his home in Cornelius for an irregular heartbeat; upon arrival, White was pronounced dead. He was 43. A later autopsy showed that he had cardiac and pulmonary sarcoidsis that possibly went untreated for years. Sleep apnea may have also contributed to his death. At the time of his death, White left behind a wife, Sara, and two children, Jeremy and Jecoila.

Posthumously, White's #92 was retired by the University of Tennessee, the Philadelphia Eagles, and Green Bay Packers (White was the first NFL player to have his number retired by more than one team) in 2005. The next year, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Reggie also posthumously has a street named after him in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Green Bay, Wisconsin.

7 years ago today, WWE signs Saron Snuka and Jorge Arias.

Saron, daughter of WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, works as Tamina, while Jorge, who briefly went by Hunico, works as Sin Cara. Arias isn't the original Sin Cara; he joined the main roster as a doppelganger Sin Cara. Both Arias and Snuka are with the company to this day.

The best of cSs on this day:

2015: Report: Nikki Bella 'months away' from WWE return (Pro Wrestling Sheet reports Nikki Bella may be a long way off from returning to the ring; may also require surgery)

2014: Cageside Seats Year-End Awards: Breakout Wrestler of the Year (VOTE) (Cagesiders pick the breakout wrestler of 2014)

2013: WWE exploring idea of unifying Intercontinental and United States titles ( interviews Intercontinental and United States champions Big E Langston and Dean Ambrose about possible title unification; though 62% of those polled say the titles should be unified, the titles are never unified)

2012: Trimming the fat: WWE roster cuts that probably should have already happened (The General himself lists seven people who should get their walking papers—by 2015, all of them but Tensai do; Curt Hawkins returned earlier this year)

2011: Video: WWE mystery return on Jan. 2, 2012, latest promo from Raw (Video teasing that “The End Begins Next Monday”)

2010: [Updated] Brock Lesnar's future still up in the air, is he holding out hope that he can appear at WrestleMania? (Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Dave Meltzer says with Brock Lesnar’s UFC future in doubt, Vince McMahon believes he can get Brock Lesnar for a Wrestlemania XXVII appearance—in the end, he doesn’t)

2009: Jim Ross reports on WWE signing Mystico, shows his surly side (Jim Ross comments on the signing of lucha libre star Mystico in his blog)

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