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This Day in Wrestling History (Jan. 7): The Return of the King of Kings

this day in wrestling history

51 years ago today in St. Louis, Missouri, Gene Kiniski defeated Lou Thesz to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

27 years ago today, Bronislau "Bronko" Nagurski died of heart failure in International Falls, Minnesota. He was 81.

Born from Western Ukranian immigrants on November 3, 1908 in Rainy River, Ontario, Canada, most of Bronislau's young life revolved around labor, helping on his parent's farm in International Falls, Minnesota.

Nagurski was discovered by University of Minnesota head football coach Clarence Spears while he was plowing a field. Legend has it Nagurski lifted his plow to point Spears in the right direction of a nearby town, leading Nagurski to be signed on the spot. It turned out that story was false, but this next one isn't.

On the first day of practice, Bronco was tested using the "Nutcracker" drill, where a defender tries to get through two blockers leading a ball carrier. Bronco knocked down the fullback with ease on the first try. Coach Spears tried the same with three more players, with Bronco getting to the ball carrier. A third attempt produced the same results, and it was at that point, Spears realized he stumbled on a monster.

And he did: he earned All-American honors at fullback (unanimously in 1929 when he led the country in rushing) and at defensive tackle. Grantland Rice, the premier sportswriter of his era, declared that a team full of Bronko Nagurskis could win over a team full of Jim Thorpes, Glen Davises, even Red Granges. Nagurski played a critical role in Minnesota's 1928 win over Wisconsin: despire wearing a corset to protect a cracked vertebrae, he recovered a fumble, scored the game-winning touchdown, and intercepted a pass to end the game. In his three years with the Golden Gophers, the team went 18-4-2 and won the Big Ten Conference title in 1927.

Nagurski spent the next eight years as an integral part of the Chicago Bears, winning an NFL championship in 1932 and 1933. At 6'2", 235 pounds, he would be quite an intimidating presence in any era. In his era, he was a beast: a size 19 ½ ring and size 8 helmet made him quite possibly the largest running back of his era. Nagurski would be named All-Pro in three non-kicking positions, the only player ever to do so.

Nagurski also doubled as a professional wrestler starting in 1933, and in 1939 defeated Lou Thesz to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. He only held the title for about nine months before losing it to Ray Steele the following March. It would be just over a year before Bronko won the title back, but his second reign was even shorter, losing it to Sandor Szabo in June 1941.

Bronko came out of retirement from football in 1943 when many players were in service during World War II. He had one final season with the Bears, scoring a touchdown en route to a 41-21 victory in the NFL Championship game. He served as an assistant coach for the UCLA Bruins in 1944 before turning to wrestling full-time until his retirement in 1960. Nagurski would be a member of the charter class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963. He also was named to the NFL's 50th Anniversary, 75th Anniversary, and All-Decade Team of the 1930s. In 1999, Nagurski was also named to the NCAA Football All-Century team as a starting defensive tackle.

Following retirement, he opened a service station in International Falls; legend had it that he screwed the gas caps on so tight no one else in town could unscrew them but Bronko, guaranteeing him repeat business. He retired from that in 1978 and lived out a quiet life on the shores of Rainy Lake on the United States-Canadian Border. His last notable public appearance came at Super Bowl XVIII between the Washington Redskins and the Los Angeles Raiders; Nagurski did the opening coin toss.

After about a week in Falls Memorial Hospital, Bronko died of natural causes on January 7, 1990. He was 81. At the time of his death, he was survived by four sons (his oldest, Bronko Jr., was a two-time Grey Cup Champion with the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton TIger-Cats; he died of cancer in March 2011), two daughters, fifteen grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Bronko’s wife, Eileen, died just a year prior; the couple were married for 62 years.

Nagurski’s left a wide legacy in the sports world; he was named one of the four greatest athletes in Minnesota state history by Sports Illustrated, and the second greatest Minnesotan sportsman of the 20th century (behind only baseball legend Kirby Puckett) by the Star Tribune, the newspaper for Minneapolis. He was named among the 100 greatest football players ever by The Sporting News in 1999 and by NFL Network in 2010. In 2011, Nagurski was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. He was also a charter member of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996.

16 years ago today, ECW held Guilty as Charged (WWE Network link) from the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.

It would turn out to be the final televised event for the company, as mounting debt forced them to stop running shows a few days later. Two months later, the company filed for bankruptcy.

  • In a preshow dark match, Bilvis Wesley defeated Mike Bell.
  • Jerry Lynn & Cyrus defeated Joey Matthews & Christian York.
  • Danny Doring & Roadkill defeated EZ Money & Julio Dinero.
  • Nova defeated Chris Hamrick.
  • Tommy Dreamer defeated CW Anderson in an I Quit Match.
  • The Unholy Alliance (Mikey Whipwreck & Yoshihiro Tajiri) defeated The Full Blooded Italians (Little Guido & Tony Mamaluke) and Super Crazy & Kid Kash in a three-team elimination match.
  • Simon Diamond & Johnny Swinger fought Balls Mahoney & Chilly Willy to a no contest.
  • The Sandman defeated Steve Corino and Justin Credible in a Tables, Ladders, Chairs, and Canes match to win the ECW World Heavyweight Championship.
  • Rhino defeated The Sandman to win the ECW World Heavyweight Championship. He would be the company's last champion in the original ECW.
  • Rob Van Dam defeated Jerry Lynn.

15 years ago today, Triple H made his return to the WWE after suffering a career-threatening torn quadriceps injury the previous May.

After the rousing ovation from the Madison Square Garden crowd, Triple H declared that he would enter the Royal Rumble match later in the month—a match he would go on to win.

On the same show, Spike Dudley and Tazz defeated The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray & D-Von) to win the WWF Tag Team Championship. Weighing just 398 pounds combined, Spike and Tazz were at the time the lightest tag team champions in WWF history.

13 years ago today at an NWA-TNA weekly PPV taping in Nashville, Tennessee, Chris Sabin defeated Michael Shane, Christopher Daniels, and Low Ki in an Ultimate X match to win the TNA X Division Championship.

10 years ago today in Tokyo, Japan, The Briscoes (Mark & Jay) defeated Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Takashi Sugiura to win the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.

10 years ago today, WWE presented New Year's Revolution (WWE Network link) from the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri. About 10,000 were in attendance, with 220,000 homes watching on PPV. That's down from 294,000 for the 2006 event.

  • In a preshow dark match, Vladimir Kozlov defeated Eugene.
  • Jeff Hardy defeated Johnny Nitro in a cage match to retain the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
  • Cryme Tyme (Shad Gaspard and JTG) defeated The Highlanders (Robbie and Rory McAllister), The World's Greatest Tag Team (Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas), Jim Duggan and Super Crazy, and Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch in a Gauntlet match for a future World Tag Team Championship match.
  • Kenny Dykstra defeated Ric Flair.
  • Mickie James defeated Victoria to retain the WWE Women's Championship.
  • Rated-RKO (Edge and Randy Orton) fought D-Generation X (Triple H and Shawn Michaels) to a no-contest to retain the World Tag Team Championship.
  • Chris Masters defeated Carlito.
  • John Cena defeated Umaga to retain the WWE Championship. This was Umaga's first pinfall or submission defeat.

9 years ago today, WWE presented Raw Roulette 3 (WWE Network link) from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.

This was the first time RAW Roulette was presented since November 2003, and the only one to feature members of the ECW brand (by the time the fourth edition was presented in September 2010, ECW had been dissolved). As with previous editions of the event, every match on the show was determined by a spin of the wheel.

  • Shawn Michaels & Mr. Kennedy defeated Trevor Murdoch & Charlie Haas in a Strange Bedfellows match.
  • Hardcore Holly defeated Carlito in a Trading Places match. Holly got Carlito's outfit and entrance music, while Carlito got Holly's outfit and entrance music.
  • Ashley Massaro defeated Jillian, Maria, Melina, and Mickie James in a lingerie pillow fight.
  • Triple H defeated William Regal in a First Blood match.
  • Chris Jericho defeated Gene Snitsky & John Bradshaw Layfield by disqualification in a handicap match.
  • Hornswoggle & Mick Foley defeated The Highlanders (Robbie & Rory) to qualify for the Royal Rumble match.
  • Jeff Hardy defeated Umaga in a steel cage match.

9 years ago today at an Impact taping at Universal Orlando, Awesome Kong defeated Gail Kim to win the TNA Knockouts Championship.

3 years ago today, Celeste Bonin, best known to wrestling fans as NXT Volume 3 winner Kaitlyn, asked for and was granted her release from WWE.

She had one last match on the night of her release, against fellow Chickbuster (and second runner-up of NXT Volume 3) AJ Lee. On the first anniversary of her release, she opened up for the first time about it, which you can read right here. Six months later, she made her final wrestling appearance for Maryland Championship Wrestling.

Today, the now married Celeste runs a fitness clothing line and has opened a smoothie bar with her husband in Boca Raton, Florida.

2 years ago today, TNA debuts on Destination America with a live Impact from the Manhattan Center in New York City.

  • Kurt Angle defeated MVP in a street fight.
  • Revolution (Abyss & James Storm) defeated The Wolves (Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards) to retain the TNA World Tag Team Championship.
  • Austin Aries defeated Low Ki to win the TNA X-Division Championship.
  • Taryn Terrell defeated Angelina Love, Gail Kim, Havok, Madison Rayne, Rebel, and Velvet Sky in an over-the-top-rope battle royal to retain the TNA Knockouts Championship.
  • Bobby Lashley defeated Bobby Roode to win the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.

1 year ago today, TNA taped One Night Only: Rivals II from the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The show was made available on PPV on February 5.

  • Eddie Edwards defeated Davey Richards.
  • Tigre Uno defeated Rockstar Spud.
  • Eric Young defeated Chris Melendez.
  • Jessie Godderz defeated Robbie E.
  • Mr. Anderson defeated Bram
  • The Beautiful People (Velvet Sky & Madison Rayne) defeated The Doll House (Jade & Marti Bell).
  • Drew Galloway defeated Eli Drake.
  • Bobby Lashley defeated Mahabali Shera.
  • Ethan Carter III and Matt Hardy fought to a double countout for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.

1 year ago today, WWE taped WWE Kids from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.

The show, part of a set of NXT tapings, was a pilot for a new children’s themed 30-minute WWE show, with kids being used as announcers and interviewers. As of this writing, the pilot has not advanced any further.

  • Becky Lynch defeated Natalya.
  • The Big Show defeated Heath Slater.

The best of cSs on this day:

2016: Report: Sasha Banks is injured too (Sasha Banks is the latest to go on WWE’s disabled list says Wrestling Observer Newsletter; Banks refutes the reports on her Tumblr)

2015: Community stats for Cageside Seats in 2014 (Who fanposted, fanshotted, and commented the most in the Cageside Seats community in 2014?)

2014: Report: Ryback has heat for giving Dolph Ziggler a concussion (After Dolph Ziggler suffers his second concussion in less than a year, PWInsider says complaints about Ryback being reckless in the ring are growing)

2013: Backstage chaos in New Japan Pro Wrestling after biggest show of the year (Bushiroad President and New Japan owner Takaaki Kidnai resigned from his chairman position following Wrestle Kingdom 8)

2012: Ultimate Warrior responds to Kevin Nash MMA fight challenge: More money or come prepared to kill me (Ultimate Warrior goes in on Nash while responding to his silly MMA fight challenge for some reason; for what it’s worth, Nash seemingly killed the beef by offering to fight for free and fun later in the day)

2011: Rampage Jackson v Thiago Silva Slated for UFC 130 (A third match signed for UFC 130, as Quinton “Rampage” Jackson will face Thiago Silva)

2010: What everyone's missing about the 1/4 ratings (David Bixenspan says there’s more to TNA’s record rating than meets the eye)

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