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This Day in Wrestling History (Sept. 10): Hart Returns To Montreal; Jerry Lawler’s Heart Attack

this day in wrestling history

36 years ago today in Ohtsu, Japan, Harley Race defeats Giant Baba to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship for the fifth time.

28 years ago today in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, NWA United States Tag Team Champions The Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane) defeated Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard of the Four Horsemen to win the NWA World Tag Team Championship for the first, and surprisingly, only time.

The win for the Midnight Express made them the first duo to hold both the NWA United States and World Tag Team Championships simultaneously.

Interesting story with this one: at the time of the match, Turner Broadcasting was conducting interviews with people associated with Jim Crockett Promotions as part of their due diligence in buying out the promotion (which they would two months later). The interviews were kept confidential—at least that’s what the idea was supposed to be. Tully Blanchard had an unfavorable opinion about Dusty Rhodes...who just so happened to be the head booker at the time. You can probably guess where this is going.

The comments somehow got back to Rhodes, and Tully, who along with Arn was already having issues with Crockett concerning their pay, gave their immediate resignation notice. They were given the option to drop the title on that night or not at all (basically be stripped of them post-release). The duo chose the former.

The title change marked the end of an era in the NWA, as Anderson and Blanchard left for the WWF, essentially breaking up arguably the most successful incarnation of the Four Horsemen. Anderson and Blanchard would be known as the Brainbusters in the WWF, and under the management of Bobby Heenan, they would win the WWF Tag Team Championship in July 1989.

As for the rest of the group, they would essentially go their separate ways soon enough. Longtime manager JJ Dillon left for a front-office position in the WWF in February 1989. Barry Windham and Ric Flair remained a duo until Windham left for a brief run in the WWF in June 1989 as The Widowmaker (Windham left due to personal reasons after just four months). Flair stuck around until July 1991, by which time Anderson had returned to the company.

20 years ago today, Juanita Wright, best known to wrestling fans as Sapphire, died of a heart attack in her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. She was 61.

Born October 24, 1934 in St. Louis, Wright was always connected with the wrestling business. As a fan, she drove wrestlers to arenas in the St. Louis area. She became the first female licensed referee in Missouri before trying her hand at wrestling. She wrestled as Princess Dark Cloud and once wrestled a bear.

Wright was a saleswoman for a clothing company when she was discovered by the WWF. She debuted at Saturday Night's Main Event on November 25, 1989 as a fan cheering on Dusty Rhodes. The two evenutally bonded and would enter a feud with Macho Man Randy Savage and Sensational Sherri, a feud that would run through Summerslam the next year, highlighted by Rhodes and Sapphire defeating Savage and Sherri at Wrestlemania VI and Sapphire losing to Sherri via forfeit at Summerslam. At that event, it was revealed that Ted Dibiase had "bought" Sapphire, causing Dusty Rhodes to turn despondent. Sapphire would appear in segments with Dibiase, but would leave the WWF shortly thereafter.

In shoot interviews, both Sherri and Dusty offered differing accounts of Juanita's exit: Sherri says Wright was heartbroken after being told the news that the Dusty-Sapphire partnership was ending and had lost interest in the business altogether, while Rhodes contends that while he liked Sapphire, her character was pointless and asked for her to be released, only to relent after Vince McMahon told Rhodes that she made his character and she should stay.

Little is known of Wright's post-wrestling career other than she had worked at a discount store outside of St. Louis, where she would often tell wrestling stories to the children of her co-workers.

19 years ago today, Jack Adkisson, best known to wrestling fans as Fritz Von Erich, dies of brain and lung cancer at his home in Denton County, Texas. He was 68.

Born August 16, 1929 in Jewett, Texas, Adkisson was a two sport athlete at Southern Methodist University before trying his hand at wrestling. While trying to break into the Canadian Football League, he met Stu Hart and was paired with Walter Sieber, aka Waldo Von Erich as pseudo-Nazis (they weren't really Nazis or brothers). At 6'4", 260 pounds, Adkisson was an imposing figure.

He would wed Doris Smith in June 1950 and give birth to Jack Barton, Jr. two months later. Jack Jr. would die via accidental electrocution and drowning at just six years old in Niagara Falls, New York. Jack Sr. stopped travelling to the east coast following his death, allowing Waldo to carry on the Von Erich name in the WWWF.

Jack's biggest in-ring wrestling accomplishments came in the 1960s where he would win both versions of the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. He was a prominent figure in the NWA St. Louis territory until losing a NWA World Heavyweight Championship match in 1967 against Gene Kiniski. Jack Sr., with Sam Muchnick's backing, would become the promoter for all the major territories in Texas. His Iron Claw hold was revered and feared not just in the United States, but in Japan as well, where he's credited in part of the rebirth of the sport there following Rikidozan's fatal stabbing.

In 1982, he wrestled King Kong Bundy in what was billed as his retirement match for World Class Championship Wrestling, one of the most successful promotions of the 1980s. By the end of the decade, with their talent pool raided, WCCW merged with Jerry Jarrett's Continental Wrestling Association to form the USWA.

Doris and Jack would have six sons, and the couple divorced after 42 years in 1992. From 1984 to 1993, four of the five living second generation Von Erichs would die (three of them to suicide). Fritz left the business altogether after that and lived the remainder of his days on his ranch. On September 10, 1997, Jack died of brain and lung cancer at his ranch in Denton County, Texas. He was 68.

15 years ago today on RAW is WAR from San Antonio, Texas (WWE Network link), Yoshihiro Tajiri defeated Chris Kanyon to win the WCW United States Championship.

Of note, because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks the next morning, this would technically be the last ever episode of RAW is WAR. The is WAR is dropped from the title by the next show, with WWF’s flagship show simply called RAW. It’s been that way ever since.

13 years ago today, TNA aired a special edition of their weekly PPV.

What’s so special about it? The price: one cent. No, seriously. TNA did a one-cent PPV. It was actually a compilation show, featuring some of their most memorable moments and matches from the summer.

The gimmick worked: 40,000 homes bought the show, at the time the most for a TNA event ever.

9 years ago today at an Impact taping at Universal Orlando, Solofa Fatu, Jr., best known to wrestling fans as Rikishi, makes his TNA debut as Junior Fatu.

He lost his debut match to Christian Cage later in the taping due to interference by AJ Styles. He would leave the company just a month and a half later over a pay dispute.

9 years ago today on RAW from Green Bay, Wisconsin (WWE Network link), arguably the biggest angle in wrestling in 2007 ended in a huge whimper. Vince McMahon's illegitimate child is revealed to be Hornswoggle.

The spot was intended for Mr. Kennedy, but just over a week earlier, a Sports Illustrated investigation into the Internet-based Signature Pharmancy outed ten members of the roster as having purchased performance-enhancing drugs; Kennedy (real name Ken Anderson) was one of them. Kennedy would be suspended for a month as a result.

The angle would die a slow, horrible death over the next six and a half months, culminating in JBL defeating Hornswoggle's "real" father Finlay at Wrestlemania XXIV.

7 years ago today, WWE releases a special edtion magazine entitled The Untold History of the WWE. In the magazine is an interview with Vince McMahon, and among the questions he answers is one concerning Chris Benoit, asking will there be a time where he can be acknowledged as a part of WWE history. McMahon’s answer:

"It's not right to pretend he didn't exist. It's one thing to include him as part of a historical perspective, which I believe is OK, and it's another thing to promote him, which is not OK. The situation is very similar to that of O.J. Simpson - despite his controversy, O.J. was still a part of the NFL scene. You can't deny that he existed."

The stance pretty much remains to this day. Benoit isn’t promoted by the company, though all his recorded matches are available on WWE Network, with each show or clip featuring Benoit opening with a disclaimer.

4 years ago today on RAW (WWE Network link), Bret Hart makes his first appearance on WWE programming in Montreal since the infamous "screwjob" at Survivor Series 1997. That story would be a distant second to real-life events by the end of the night.

Just minutes after competing in a tag team match, Jerry Lawler suffers a heart attack while on commentary. Thanks in part to the quick work of WWE doctor Michael Sampson sitting nearby, Lawler is administered CPR and his life is saved. The remainder of the show went without commentary, but Michael Cole announces as the show closes that he was breathing on his own and was responding.

Lawler undergoes angioplasty the next day and is back home in Memphis by the following Monday. During his hospital stay, it was determined that it was an unexpected cardiac arrest that caused his heart attack, and not a blocked artery. Lawler would return to commentary on November 12, and although he had not worked a match in WWE since his heart attack, he has worked a few dates on the independent circuit.

It’s a happy 32nd birthday to WWE referee Drake Wuertz, though he was known in a past life as Drake Younger.

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Drake became a wrestling fan as a child and attended Wrestlemania VIII. He was a Hulk Hogan fan before discovering Sabu and Cactus Jack. Drake's career began for backyard wrestling group Crazy Ass Wrestling before he and a few other natives began formal training under American Kickboxer for the R.A.A.G.E. Dojo and Insanity Pro Wrestling.

Despite suffering a gruesome shoulder injury during his time away from wrestling, he began picking up steam in 2006. He returned to Insanity Pro in March 2006 losing to "Diehard" Dustin Lee, but would defeat him three months later in a first round IWA Mid-South King of the Deathmatch tournament match. The next month, he would debut for Combat Zone Wrestling at their fifth annual Tournament of Death, making it to the final before losing to Nick Gage. He would win their sixth annual tournament the next year defeating Brain Damage in the final.

2008 was a banner year for Younger: in July, he defeated Nick Gage to win the CZW World Heavyweight Championship, making him a double champion as he held their Ultraviolent Underground title. In September, he won the IWA Mid-South Ted Petty Invitational defeating Sami Callahan and Claudio Castignoli in the finals, making him the first wrestler to win both a technical wrestling tournament and a deathmatch wrestling tournament in the same year. Younger would give away his Ultraviolent Underground title to Danny Havoc in October 2008, but would not lose the CZW world title until B-Boy defeated him in January 2010. His 567-day run as world champion is the longest in company history. But he would not be without gold for long, as he and Eddie Kingston won the CZW World Tag Team Championship in April 2010. They would be stripped of the titles three months later when Kingston quit the company.

Younger also wrestled for Pro Wrestling Guerilla, based out of Los Angeles. He debuted in July 2012 at PWG Threemendous III in a losing effort to B-Boy. He returned for Battle of Los Angeles in September losing to Roderick Strong. Following a strong, yet losing, effort to Sami Callahan at Mystery Vortex in December, Younger and Callahan engaged in a three-match series for a shot at the PWG World Championship. Drake would win the next two matches, a knockout or submission-only match at DDT4 in January 2013, and a Guerilla Warfare match in March. Younger could not cash in on his title opportunity, however, as he lost to Adam Cole the next day for the title. Younger made the semifinals of 2013 Battle of Los Angeles before losing to eventual tournament winner Kyle O'Reilly.

Younger made a cameo appearance on Smackdown that August where he was bulled by Ryback, then after trying out in December of that year, signed a WWE contract in March 2014. His last major appearance on the independent circuit was for CZW, winning Best of the Best XIII, making him the only man to win both of CZW's tournaments (Best of the Best and Tournament of Death). Today, Drake works as a referee for WWE's NXT brand, so it looks-at least for now-his deathmatch days are behind him.

It’s a happy 65th birthday to Stephen Paul Keirn, or Steve Keirn for short.

Born in Tampa, Florida, Keirn spent much of his early career as a successful tag team wrestler. He won the NWA Florida Championship on twelve occasions, nine of them with Mike Graham. He has one reign each with Jimmy Garvin, Brian Blair, and future WWF Champion Bob Backlund.

He was also a pretty successful singles wrestler, winning the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship, the NWA National Television Championship, the NWA Mid-America Heavyweight Championship twice, and the AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship once.

In 1982, Keirn teamed with Stan Lane as The Fabulous Ones, one of the first tag teams to use the “fun loving pretty boy” gimmick. The duo would win the AWA Southern Tag Team Championship 14 times (Keirn would win the titles 17 times overall) and the CWA World Tag Team Championship twice.

The Fabulous Ones were well traveled and very successful, also winning the Southwest Championship Wrestling World Tag Team Championship, the NWA Florida United States Tag Team Championship twice, and the USWA Tag Team Championship before the duo disbanded in 1991.

Keirn joined the WWF in 1991 as alligator hunter Skinner. His highest-profile bouts were both losing efforts; at This Tuesday in Texas to Bret Hart (Skinner’s first TV loss), and at Wrestlemania VIII when he was quickly defeated by Owen Hart. At Wrestlemania IX, Keirn as a second Doink helped the original Doink the Clown defeat Crush.

Keirn was briefly in WCW in 1994 as one half of Bad Attitude with Bobby Eaton. Despite their past successes in tag teams, they were mostly an afterthought; the duo lost to Brian and Brad Armstrong in dark matches at Bash at the Beach and Fall Brawl in 1994. Later in the year, Keirn was one of the black masked men who attacked Hulk Hogan during and after matches.

Keirn operated a wrestling school, the Professional Wrestling School of Hard Knocks, since the late 1980s. Originally located in Tampa, the school is now in Brandon, Florida. Most famously, Keirn had a hand in training Mike Awesome, Dustin Rhodes, and Diamond Dallas Page. The school was incorporated into WWE’s developmental territory, Florida Championship Wrestling, and Keirn made regular appearances on FCW programming. After FCW shut down in 2012, Keirn became a trainer for the WWE Performance Center and its new developmental territory, NXT.

It’s a happy 82nd birthday to John Francis Walker, best known to wrestling fans as Mr. Wrestling II.

Spending most of his early career as Johnny "Rubberman" Walker, a nickname given to him by famed Houston promoter Paul Boesch, Walker adopted his most famous gimmick after he was talked out of retirement in 1972 by Georgia promoter Paul Jones and booker Leo Garibaldi. Initially introduced as the masked partner of the original "Mr. Wrestling" Tim Woods, Walker became a top draw not only in Georgia, but for Eddie Graham's NWA Florida.

At the height of his popularity, Walker, who would go on to win the Georgia heavyweight title ten times, was considered one of the most popular wrestlers not just in Georgia, but in the entire country. He even had then-Georgia Governor (and future President) Jimmy Carter to count among his fans (in fact, Walker was invited to Carter's inauguration, but declined after the US Secret Service insisted that Walker appear unmasked).

While he spent the majority of his career in the Southeast, he worked for Mid-South Wrestling in 1983 and 1984 mentoring a young Terry Allen, who would go on to a successful, but short career as Magnum T.A. The duo won the tag team titles together on Christmas 1983, but would lose them just three months later to the Midnight Express when Wrestling II turned on Allen. The next week, he threw in the towel on Terry's behalf in a tournament match for the Mid-South television title. In May 1984, Walker, who was the Mid-South North American Champion, was defeated by Magnum T.A.

Walker would be one of just seventeen men inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame (he was inducted in 1993), and was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2014.