34 years ago today, Hulk Hogan defeated Antonio Inoki by countout to win the International Wrestling Grand Prix tournament and the NWF Championship.
The month-long tournament featuring ten wrestlers (Inoki, Hogan, Killer Khan, Big John Studd, Andre the Giant, Rusher Kimura, El Canek, Enrique Vera, Otto Wanz, and Akira Maeda) competing in a round-robin tournament, with the top two scores facing off in a one-match final to determine the winner. Hogan and Inoki finished with 37 points each, edging out Andre the Giant who was on 36.
Hogan's win over Inoki is considered one of the biggest upsets in puroresu history, as Inoki vacated the NWF Heavyweight Championship prior to the tournament and was expected to win it back.
On the same show, Tiger Mask defeated Kuniaki Kobayahi to win the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship.
30 years ago today in Buffalo, New York, The Honky Tonk Man defeated Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat to win the WWF Intercontinental Championship.
Steamboat, who had been champion since Wrestlemania III, was set for an extended run as Intercontinental champion, but he asked to take time off to care for his wife and soon-to-be-born son. The request put Steamboat in the doghouse not only for the remainder of his run with the company ending in late 1988, but for his return run in 1991 (though Ricky rarely lost, his more famous run was seldom mentioned, if at all).
As for The Honky Tonk Man, he would go on to hold the title for a company record 454 days, surpassing Pedro Morales’ run of 425 days. The record run ends with a 31-second squash at the hands of the Ultimate Warrior at Summerslam 1988.
29 years ago today, No Holds Barred was released in theaters.
The movie stars Hulk Hogan (who is also an executive producer) as WWF Champion Rip Thomas being challenged by Zeus, the winner of a Toughman-style tournament put on by a rival network.
The film was produced by the WWF under the Shane Distribution Company (named after Shane McMahon) and directed by Thomas J. Wright (best known as a TV director, he most notably worked on late-1990s crime drama Millennium; this is Wright’s only theatrical director credit), with both Hogan and WWF chairman Vince McMahon as executive producers. Legend has it that Hogan and McMahon worked on the script used for the film over a three-day hotel stay.
The film was panned by critics (just an 11% rating based on 19 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes). Though the movie makes a somewhat respectable (for the time) $4.96 million in its opening weekend, good enough for second place, it was trounced by the wildly popular Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which made over $21 million in its second weekend of release.
WWF brings the theatrical feud between Rip and Zeus to their programming during the second half of the year, with Hogan and Zeus being involved in tag team bouts at Summerslam, Survivor Series, and No Holds Barred: The Match/The Movie (the latter of which being the reason the film turns in a small profit, as it made just $16 million at the box office).
No Holds Barred was released on VHS in October 1989, on DVD with a digital remaster in July 2012, and on Blu-Ray in April 2014.
21 years ago today, Raymond Neil Combs, Jr., or Ray Combs as he was best known, was found hung in a closet in Glendale Adventist Medical Center's psychiatric ward in Glendale, California. He was just 40 years old.
The stand-up comedian did warm-ups for sitcoms including The Golden Girls and Amen before he broke through nationally on a guest appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in October 1986.
A year and a half later, Combs was tapped by famed game show producer Mark Goodson to host the 1980s Family Feud reboot on CBS. At the height of his popularity, Combs was one of the most seen emcees on television, with Family Feud airing as many as seven and a half hours a week (the daytime version expanded to an hour late in its run, with a syndicated 30-minute version also airing during the early evening hours in most markets).
Wrestling connection: Combs had a cameo appearance at Wrestlemania VIII in 1992 and appeared as a guest commentator for the Hart family versus Shawn Michaels and his knights match at the 1993 Survivor Series. Both appearances coincided with WWF crossover episodes of Family Feud, which enabled him to befriend wrestling manager and commentator Bobby Heenan.
With sagging ratings, CBS cancelled the daytime version of Family Feud in March 1993 (though reruns continued to air until September); the syndicated version was nearly cancelled the following year, also due to falling ratings. In the end, Mark Goodson Productions stuck with the syndicated version, but with a returning Richard Dawson as host. Hurt by his dismissal, Combs walked off the set during the end credits of his final taping in February 1994 (made even more infamous by a zero-out in the second half of the Fast Money round, a rarity in the show’s history) and left the studio without saying goodbye.
Problems began to mount for Combs in his final days: an auto accident in July 1994 ruptured one of his spinal discs, rendering him in perpetual pain; two of his comedy clubs were closed down, and his home in Hamilton, Ohio went into foreclosure. In September 1995, Combs and his wife of 18 years, Debbie, separated (they ultimately filed for divorce).
Several attempts were made to revive his television career, including hosting a talk show pilot (it was never picked up) and hosting one season of Family Challenge for The Family Channel. His final major television appearance came a week before his death on The Home and Family Show hosted by Christina Ferrare and another game show host, Chuck Woolery.
Just a day before his death, police were called into the home of Combs; the inside of his home was reportedly destroyed. Debbie, Ray's estranged wife, informed police that he was suicidal and he had spent the previous week in a hospital following a failed suicide attempt. He was involuntary admitted into the psychiatric ward of Glendale Adventist Medical Center and placed on a 72-hour mental observation hold. Despite that, Combs, using hospital sheets, hung himself in a closet at the facility, where he was found the next morning.
Combs, who had earned nearly a million dollars a year at his peak, had trouble managing his finances, and between back taxes, loans, and a mortgage, was over $700,000 in debt at the time of his death.
At the time of his death, Ray was survived by his parents Ray Sr. and Anita Jean, his ex-wife Debbie, and six children.
19 years ago today, Sylvester Ritter, best known to wrestling fans as The Junkyard Dog, was killed in an automobile accident in Forest, Mississippi. He was 45.
Born December 13, 1952 in Wadesboro, North Carolina, Ritter played football for Fayetteville State University, twice earning All-American Status and is honored in their sports hall of fame. After graduating with a degree in political science, he began a wrestling career.
After working for Jerry Jarrett, Nick Gulas (as Leroy Rochester), and Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling (as Big Daddy Ritter, where he won their North American heavyweight title twice), he debuted for Bill Watts' Mid-South Wrestling in the early 1980s under his most famous gimmick, The Junkyard Dog.
Wearing white boots and a dog collar with a chain attached (and pushing a cart full of junk early on), Ritter struggled, but eventually he would catch on with fans; over time, he became the top face in the company. Junkyard Dog is often regarded as one of the first African-Americans to be the top face of their promotion.
In one of his more infamous feuds, he was blinded by the Fabulous Freebirds when they blinded him with hair cream. At the height of the feud, Ritter's wife gave birth to their first child. In storyline, Ritter's blindness caused him to miss the birth of his daughter, giving the Freebirds so much heat, they needed police escorts in and out of the ring. The feud culminated with the Junkyard Dog and Michael Hayes facing off in a dog collar match.
JYD also feuded with his one-time tag team partner and friend Ted DiBiase; the feud ultimately ended with the latter turning heel and winning a loser leaves town match with help from a loaded glove. But the Dog wouldn't stay gone forever; he returned as the masked "Stagger Lee" and would defeat the competition, including DiBiase. Eventually Junkyard Dog rode out the loser leaves town clause as Stagger Lee, returned as himself, and won the North American Heavyweight Championship. Junkyard Dog was in a heated feud with Butch Reed before being eventually lured away by the World Wrestling Federation.
Ritter made his WWF debut in August 1984. His interaction with young fans made him an instant hit. JYD feuded notably with Harley Race, the Funk Brothers, Adrian Adonis, Greg Valentine, and "The Outlaw" Ron Bass. Though he never won a championship, he did win the Wrestling Classic tournament in 1985, knocking off Moondog Spot, former world champion the Iron Sheik, and future world champion Randy Savage. Ritter left the WWF in October 1998.
Two months later, he debuted for the NWA at Clash of the Champions IV, saving Ivan Koloff from an assault from The Russian Assassins. Success came quickly for Ritter; he won a $50,000 "bunkhouse battle royal" at Starrcade '88.
By the middle of 1990, Junkyard Dog was a main eventer, notably defeating Mean Mark Callous (who would go on to somewhat moderate success as The Undertaker) in just 39 seconds. He briefly feuded with Ric Flair over the world heavyweight championship. Though he'd defeated him in non-title bouts on the house show circuit, he could not take the title from him, winning via disqualification at Clash of the Champions XI. He feuded with television champion Arn Anderson late in the year, defeating him on the house show circuit three times in less than ten seconds in non-title bouts.
In February 1991, JYD would win his first championship, the short-lived WCW six-man tag team titles, winning them with Ricky Morton & Tommy Rich over Dr. Z, Dutch Mantell, and Buddy Landell. They would hold them for about four months before losing them to the Freebirds. He would leave WCW later that summer to improve his conditioning.
He returned in February 1992 to save Ron Simmons from an attack by Abdullah the Butcher. He would spend most of the remainder of his time in WCW wrestling in tag team bouts, teaming with Simmons, Barry Windham, Big Josh, the Big Cat, and Jim Neidhart. He left WCW for good in July 1993 and largely retired.
On June 2, 1998, as Ritter returned from his daughter Latoya's high school graduation in Wadesboro, North Carolina, he fell asleep at the wheel and suffered what would be a fatal single-car accident in Forest, Mississippi. He was 45.
Ritter was active in the wrestling business until his death, training husband and wife Rodney and Carlene Begnard (aka Rodney Mack and Jazz) and appearing at ECW's Wrestlepalooza '98 just a month prior to his passing.
His daughter Latoya and sister Christine Woodburn represented Sylvester when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004. He was also posthumously inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2012.
14 years ago today, Frederick Kenneth Blassie, best known to wrestling fans as "Classy" Freddie Blassie, died of heart and kidney failure in Hartsdale, New York. He was 85.
Born February 8, 1918 in St. Louis, Missouri to German immigrants, Blassie was an only child; he watched his father abuse his mother and often stayed with his grandparents to get away from the abuse. At age 13, he threatened to attack his father with a baseball bat after seeing him abuse his mother. He stayed with his aunt for six months before his mother asked him to come home.
After graduating high school, he got a job at a meatpacking plant. In his spare time, he took up boxing and won a heavyweight championship. It was while he boxed he took interest in wrestling. The locals would recognize him and they would teach him holds.
His first wrestling match was actually a shoot bout; he did it to impress a girl he brought to the show. He would soon get work at wrestling carnivals; it was in one of those carnivals he came up with his most famous catchphrase "pencil-neck geek", in reference to a performer known as "The Geek" who had a thin neck like a stack of dimes. Eventually, he would work with famed Missouri promoters Tom Packs out of St. Louis and George Simpson out of Kansas City.
After a three and a half year stint in the Navy during World War II (he got married and reached Petty Officer Second Class before being discharged), he returned to the ring as "Sailor" Fred Blassie to capitalize on the wave of war-time patriotism. The gimmick flopped.
In 1952, Blassie moved to Los Angeles and worked with promoter Jules Strongbow for the World Wrestling Association. He teamed with Billy McDaniel as the McDaniel Brothers, but away from California, they were known as the Blassie Brothers.
The next year, he worked for Paul Jones (no relation to the wrestler of the 1980s) in Atlanta, Georgia. He captured the NWA Georgia Southern Heavyweight Championship, putting him in line for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. It was during his seven years in Georgia he developed his heel gimmick: he was a Yankee who, like many other stars of the day, dyed his hair blonde. He also bit his opponents during matches and filed his teeth during interviews, giving Blassie the nickname "The Vampire".
Freddie returned to Strongbow's WWA in Los Angeles in 1960, and would be one of the biggest draws to the Olympic Auditorium...and among the most hated; he was often surrounded by uniformed police officers during his entrances and exits. Blassie, who claimed to have made Regis Philbin the celebrity that he is, won his first WWA World Heavyweight Championship in 1961 from Edouard Carpenter; his first major successful defense came a month later against former NWA world champion Lou Thesz.
The next year, he feuded with Japanese wrestling icon Rikidozan. Rikidozan defeated Blassie for the WWA title; the two rematched in Japan, and bit the forehead of the legend. Many viewers were horrified to the point of heart attacks and even death. The act made him even more hated overseas than on American soil. He would regain the title from Rikidozan, but would lose it just two days later to "The Destroyer" Dick Beyer. He would win it back in 1963, but lose it to Bearcat Wright, at the time one of the more notable title wins by an African-American in wrestling. He would capture that championship once more in 1964, losing it to Dick The Bruiser before heading east to the World Wide Wrestling Federation.
During his first stint with the WWF, Blassie feuded with Bruno Sammartino and Bobo Brazil, claiming to be the Pacific World Champion and he had come to Sammartino's backyard to unify the belts. The feud lasted throughout the year, and although Blassie did defeat Sammartino, he never pinned the champion. The feud culminated in Madison Square Garden, where Bruno defeated Freddie.
In 1965 while on tour in Japan, he met Miyako Morozumi. Miyako would go on to be Blassie's third wife; he first married while on shore leave during World War II, but his philandering ways caught up with him. It would again with his second marriage, leading him to become estranged with his children. Blassie thought his reputation in Japan (not to mention the 28-year age difference) would be a dealbreaker for the Morozumis, but eventually her parents gave him their blessing, and Freddie took her home to the United States. They would marry in late September 1968.
That same year, Blassie returned to Los Angeles for the WWF just as promoter Mike LeBell returned to the NWA. Blassie's antics that made him the among the most hated eventually made him a fan favorite, and he was turned face in the 1970s. He feuded most notably with Soulman Rocky Johnson, The Sheik, and "The Golden Greek" John Tolos; the Blassie-Tolos bout in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum broke attendance and gate records for the state of California.
In 1971, Blassie returned to the WWWF and under the tutelage of Captain Lou Albano, challenged for the WWWF title held by Pedro Morales.
In 1974, Blassie retired from in-ring competition due to California regulations preventing anyone over 55 from obtaining a wrestling license. He devoted the remainder of his wrestling career to managing in the WWWF, which eventually became the WWF. He managed among others Nikolai Volkoff, High Chief Peter Maivia, Jesse Ventura, Adrian Adonis, Dick Murdoch, the Iron Sheik, Mr. Fuji, Professor Tanaka, Kamala, Hercules Hernandez, Hulk Hogan, and in 1976, Muhammad Ali for his boxer-wrestler match with Antonio Inoki.
His close relationship with Vince McMahon Sr. made Blassie a part of the WWF umbrella until his death. He made infrequent appearances for the company following his retirement in 1986; most notably as a guest on Prime Time Wrestling in 1989 and 1990, in an impassionate speech to the WWF roster during the Invasion era in 2001, and on RAW in 2003 when he did Bubba Ray Dudley's catchphrase ("D-Von, get the tables!"). His final words on WWE programming came just three weeks before his death. On June 2, 2003, Blassie died of heart and kidney failure in Hartsdale, New York. He was 85.
In 1994, Blassie was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame. He joined the inaugural class of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996, was honored by the Cauliflower Alley Club in 1998, given the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Stanley Weston Award for lifetime achievement in 2000, and was posthumously inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2004 and the NWA Hall of Fame in 2011. He was also honored with a Lifetime Achievement Slammy by the WWF in 1996.
13 years ago today at an NWA-TNA weekly PPV in Nashville, Tennessee, Jeff Jarrett defeated Ron Killings, AJ Styles, Raven, and Chris Harris in a King of the Mountain match to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
Jarrett would hold the championship for the next ten months (officially; unofficially, it's eleven and a half months until NWA recognized Ray Gonzalez defeating Jarrett for the title), the longest championship reign since Dan Severn's four year run in the late 1990s.
10 years ago today, SHIMMER Women Athletes presented Volume 12 from the Eagles Club in Berwyn, Illinois. The show featured the conclusion of the tournament to crown the first ever SHIMMER Champion.
Non-tournament matches in order of occurence:
- Josie defeated Alicia.
- Allison Danger defeated Cindy Rogers in a street fight.
- Nikki Roxx defeated Ariel, Eden Black, and Portia Perez in a four corners survival match.
- Rain defeated Serena Deeb.
- Cheerleader Melissa & MsChif defeated Lexie Fyfe & Malia Hosaka.
SHIMMER Championship Semifinals:
- Lacey defeated Daizee Haze.
- Sara Del Rey defeated Sarah Stock.
SHIMMER Championship Final:
- Sara Del Rey defeated Lacey to become the first SHIMMER Champion.
5 years ago today, TNA announces via press release that the company is introducing its own Hall of Fame at Slammiversary later in the month. The press release in part:
TNA IMPACT WRESTLING ANNOUNCES "TNA HALL OF FAME" WITH FIRST INDUCTEE TO BE ANNOUNCED AT "SLAMMIVERSARY" ON JUNE 10
TNA IMPACT WRESTLING announced the beginning of a "TNA Hall of Fame" with the first inductee to be announced at this year's 10th Anniversary celebration, "Slammiversary" in Arlington, Texas.
TNA President Dixie Carter announced the news as part of the first live IMPACT WRESTLING event of the summer from Universal Studios.
This is TNA's chance to recognize the great contributions of the people who gave so much to make this 10-year anniversary possible.
"This 10 year milestone is an incredible achievement for TNA," stated TNA President Dixie Carter. "In honor of that, we felt it was time to begin recognizing the contributions of those who have made the greatest impact on our success."
The first man inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame: Sting. Kurt Angle was inducted in 2013 and Team 3D was inducted in 2014. The last two inductees, referee Earl Hebner and TNA founder Jeff Jarrett, are the only two still with the company, with Jarrett rejoining them earlier this year.
4 years ago today, TNA presented Slammiversary XI from Agganis Arena in Boston, Massachusetts.
- Chris Sabin defeated Kenny King and Suicide in a Ultimate X Match to win the TNA X Division Championship.
- Magnus, Samoa Joe, and Jeff Hardy defeated Aces & Eights (Mr. Anderson, Wes Brisco, and Garrett Bischoff).
- Jay Bradley defeated Sam Shaw to win the TNA GutCheck tournament and qualify for the TNA Bound for Glory Series.
- Devon defeated Joseph Park by forfeit to retain the TNA Television Championship.
- Abyss defeated Devon to win the TNA Television Championship.
- James Storm & Gunner defeated Chavo Guerrero, Jr. & Hernandez, Austin Aries & Bobby Roode, and Bad Influence (Christopher Daniels & Kazarian) in a four-team elimination match to win the TNA World Tag Team Championship.
- Taryn Terrell defeated Gail Kim in a Last Knockout Standing match.
- Kurt Angle defeated AJ Styles.
- Bully Ray defeated Sting in a no holds barred match to retain the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. Per pre-match stipulations, with the loss, Sting could never challenge for the TNA world title again.
3 years ago today on RAW from Indianapolis, Indiana (WWE Network link), Dave Batista quits WWE for a second time, just one night after Evolution was swept out of Payback by The Shield in an elimination tag team match.
In reality, it was a write-off for him to promote his featured role in Guardians of the Galaxy to be released a couple months later. The movie is a massive hit, generating over $770 million at the box office. Its sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, is doing even better, grossing nearly $800 million to date, making it the third highest grossing movie of the year so far. With a third edition in development, a Batista return is probably unlikely.
Oh, and this happened.
Why yes, that is Seth Rollins hitting Dean Ambrose with a chair, then doing the same to Roman Reigns, breaking up The Shield. The trio had been together since their callup from NXT at the 2012 Survivor Series.
All three had gone on to varying degrees of success post-Shield. Rollins would win the Money in the Bank briefcase a month later and would win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship following a successful cash-in at Wrestlemania 31.
Ambrose would go on a similar path, winning the Money in the Bank briefcase in June 2016, then cashing it in the same night on Rollins after he had defeated Roman Reigns for the WWE Championship. Ambrose is currently in his second reign as WWE Intercontinental Champion.
Despite missing three months with a sports hernia, Roman Reigns controversially won WWE’s Superstar of the Year Slammy in 2014. He would win the Royal Rumble match in 2015 to massive fan backlash. Later in the year, he would win—and lose—the WWE Championship at Survivor Series. He would win it a second time three weeks later, and a third time in front of a record-breaking crowd at Wrestlemania 32. Reigns is generally considered to be the focal point of WWE.
Plenty of birthdays, so profiles will be brief.
It's a happy 36th birthday for Jamie Lynn Szantyr, best known to wrestling fans as Velvet Sky.
The multi-sport athlete in high school began her career on the independent circuit in 2004, wrestling as Talia Madison, Talia Doll, and Miss Talia. She would be the T of the T&A tag team with April Hunter, wrestling most notably for Women's Extreme Wrestling. Jamie made a few appearances for WWE in the mid-2000s, usually as a plant or an extra (though she did wrestle one match for the company on an episode of Heat). She tried out for the 2007 WWE Diva Search, but did not make the cut.
Jamie as Talia was one of the ten charter knockouts for TNA's new women's division in 2007. Soon renamed Velvet Sky, she formed an alliance with Angel Williams (aka Angelina Love), first as Velvet Love Entertainment before being known as The Beautiful People, a pair of arrogant blonde Barbie dolls. Including at various points "Cute" Kip James, Madison Rayne, and Lacey Von Erich, the group would win the Knockouts Tag Team Championship and defend them under the Freebird Rule. Velvet herself would go on to win the Knockouts title twice, once in 2011 and again in 2013. She would have to brief sabbaticals from the company (2012 and 2015) before leaving the company for good—for now, in April 2016.
Jamie is currently in a relationship with Mark Lomanaco, aka Bubba Ray Dudley.
It's a happy 40th birthday for Allen Neal Jones, best known to wrestling fans as "The Phenomenal" AJ Styles.
These days, Jones competes for WWE, but he's best known for his 12-year run with TNA Wrestling, of which he is a charter member of their promotion. Styles is one of only four men to hold TNA's grand slam (world, tag team, X division, tertiary) championship, and is the only man to do so twice. Styles is a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, two-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion, six-time X Division Champion (and the promotion's first ever X Division champ), four-time NWA World Tag Team Champion, and two-time TNA Tag Team Champion. In 2010, Styles became the first TNA-contracted wrestler to appear atop Pro Wrestling Illustrated's annual PWI 500.
Styles was also very successful on the independent circuit, winning heavyweight championships for Family Wrestling Entertainment, IWA-Mid South, NWA Wildside, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, and Revolution Pro Wrestling. He also won the Pure and tag titles for Ring of Honor, and was a World-Wrestling All-Stars cruiserweight champion.
After more than a decade in TNA, Styles joined New Japan Pro Wrestling in March 2014 and would win their top title, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, in his debut match, joining Brock Lesnar, Bob Sapp, Scott Norton, and Big Van Vader as the only Americans to hold the title. In two G1 Climax appearances, Styles had a combined record of 14-4. Styles was a member of New Japan's notorious Bullet Club stable while with the promotion.
After two years with New Japan, Styles joined WWE in January 2016. He turned down a developmental deal back in 2002 citing his wife's college plans. Styles' debut came in the show's Royal Rumble match, lasting nearly 30 minutes and scoring two eliminations before being ousted by Kevin Owens. He would enter into a feud with Chris Jericho leading up to his first Wrestlemania bout in April before feuding with WWE Champion Roman Reigns.
After failing to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, he would enter into an extended feud with John Cena, a feud that carried over into the second brand extension. Styles defeated Cena at Summerslam in August, then declared himself to be the “face that runs the place”.
Styles became the “champ that runs the camp” in September when he defeated Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Championship. Late in the year, Styles was defeated three times on television by enhancement talent James Ellsworth (all in non-title bouts). AJ finally beat Ellsworth in December in a WWE World Championship match on December 20, needing less than a minute. Styles’ reign as WWE Champion ended at the 2017 Royal Rumble at the hands of John Cena.
Jones, a devout Christian, has been married for 17 years to his wife Wendy; the couple have four children, twelve-year old Ajay, ten-year old Avery, seven-year old Albey, and two-year old Anney. The birth dates of his four children are tattooed on the right side of his torso.
Jones, one of the world's best and most successful wrestlers, has a part in the only TNA match rated five stars by Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Unbreakable in 2005 against Samoa Joe and AJ Styles). He won the publication's most outstanding wrestler the last three years and is the publication’s Wrestler of the Year for the last two years. His bout against Minoru Suzuki during the G1 Climax was the Observer's Pro Wrestling Match of the Year for 2014.
It’s a happy 44th birthday for Kim Nielsen, though wrestling fans may best remember her as Desire.
Born in Falmouth, Michigan, the former fitness competitor trained under Dusty Rhodes and appeared for Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling in 2001 and 2002. She briefly had a WWE developmental contract, but was released after the developmental territory she was assigned to, Heartland Wrestling Association, was dropped.
She wound up in TNA in late December 2002 as Every Man's Desire (later shortened to Desire). She wrestled sporadically until a career-altering back injury in June 2003 during a dark match. Nielsen would make it back to the ring in the spring of 2004, appearing for the company until late summer. Nielsen retired from the ring in 2005, citing the combination of being pregnant with her third child and her lack of desire to take bumps.
During her third pregnancy, she gained about 80 pounds; unhappy with her weight, she tried out for The Biggest Loser in 2011 at the suggestion of Sonny Siaki (one of the men she managed during her TNA run). She would be the show's thirteenth season runner-up, losing 118 pounds.
It's a happy 59th birthday for Lawrence Wendell Pfohl, but he is best known to wrestling fans as Lex Luger.
Before getting into wrestling, Pfohl tried his hand at football. He was a briefly a member of the 1979 Miami Hurricanes, but was kicked off the team five games into the season. He would play for the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes, including playing on their Grey Cup team in 1979 (they would lose to the Edmonton Eskimos). He spent a season with the Green Bay Packers, all of it on injured reserve due to a groin injury. He was released prior to the 1983 season, but he is noted for being the last man to wear #66 for the Packers, the same number worn by Ray Nitschke, before it was retired. He played for three teams in the United States Football League before ending his football career in 1985.
After meeting wrestler Bob Roop at a celebrity golf event, Pfohl would hook up with wrestler-turned-trainer Hiro Matsuda. He would adopt the ring name Lex Luger, based on comic book villain Lex Luthor. He wrestled for NWA's Florida territory in late 1985 and 1986 before joining Jim Crockett Promotions (later World Championship Wrestling) in 1987 as a part of Ric Flair's Four Horsemen. Success came quickly for Luger; in July 1987, Luger would defeat Nikita Koloff for the NWA United States Championship. He would go on to win it two more times, with his third reign lasting 523 days, a record for the championship that stands to this day.
At the 1991 Great American Bash, Luger won his first WCW World Heavyweight Championship, but not from Ric Flair as many expected; Flair left the company after a pay dispute just two weeks before the event (Flair at the time was the WCW champion). He defeated #2 contender Barry Windham. Ironically, a pay dispute ended Luger's tenure in WCW while he was still champion. After working the required number of dates under his contract, Luger sat out the remainder of his contract, dropping the WCW world title to Sting at SuperBrawl II.
Luger would join Vince McMahon, but not with the WWF, but with his new venture, the World Bodybuilding Federation, co-hosting WBF BodyStars and making a cameo appearance at Wrestlemania VIII. He was set to take part at the first-ever WBF pay-per-view, but was injured in a motorcycle accident prior to the event. With the WBF out of business, Luger joined the WWF in early 1993 as Narcissus before being altered to "The Narcissist" Lex Luger. He went on a bit of a winning streak thanks to a metal plate inserted into his forearm as a result of his motorcycle accident.
Luger would become a fan favorite on July 4, 1993 when he bodyslammed then-WWF Champion Yokozuna aboard the USS Intrepid. He would more or less adopt Hulk Hogan's "All-American" gimmick and go on a tour of the country with his Lex Express. It led to a Summerslam 1993 encounter with Yokozuna for the WWF title; Luger would win the bout, but not the title after he defeated Yokozuna via countout. Lex would get a shot at redemption after co-winning the 1994 Royal Rumble match, but would be disqualified in his title match against Yokozuna by guest referee Mr. Perfect. Luger left the WWF shortly after Summerslam 1995.
In a shock to many, Luger returned to WCW (reportedly for much less than what he got when he left the company in 1992) just a day after appearing at a WWF house show in New Brunswick, Canada. He appeared on the debut episode of Nitro during the main event between Hulk Hogan and Big Bubba Rogers. After briefly joining the Dungeon of Doom (and later the Alliance to End Hulkamania), Luger would be on WCW's front line against the New World Order. Luger briefly held the WCW World Tag Team Championship in February 1997, and in August 1997, ended the year-long reign of Hollywood Hogan as WCW World Heavyweight Champion (he would lose it back to Hogan just five days later).
After fighting against the nWo for nearly two years, Luger would join one of the split factions, nWo Wolfpac in May 1998; he even convinced Sting, who was as anti-nWo as Luger was, to join the group. That summer, he would defeat Bret Hart for the WCW United States Championship for a fifth time. It would be Luger's last title with the company. He would remain with WCW until its closure in March 2001.
Luger joined the European leg of World Wrestling All-Star's European tour, and would briefly hold the WWA World Heavyweight Championship when he defeated Sting at Retribution on December 6. Luger lost the title to Sting just a week later in Zurich.
In April 2003, Pfohl was involved in a domestic dispute with his then-live-in girlfriend Elizabeth Hueltte (aka Miss Elizabeth). He was charged with one count of battery and released on $2,500 bond. Two days later, he was arrested on DUI charges and driving with a suspended license. Two weeks later, Hueltte was found dead in the home they shared in Marietta, Georgia. Pfohl was charged with thirteen felony counts of drug possession after a search was done on the home. Larry pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced to five years probation and fined $1,000. Elizabeth's death was ruled accidental due to a drug overdose. Pfohl was arrested for violating his probation in 2005 when he tried to leave the country without permission. He was sentenced to four months in prison.
Larry suffered a nerve impingement in his neck in October 2007; the spinal stroke left him temporarily paralyzed and a quadriplegic for months. By the summer of 2008, he was able to walk again and stand for short periods of time. In 2010, he said he was able to walk more comfortably and drive.
In 2011, Larry began working with WWE on their Wellness Policy, working mainly as a counselor. In 2013, the born-again Christian published his autobiography, Wrestling with the Devil: The True Story of a World Champion Professional Wrestler—His Reign, Ruin, and Redemption. The foreword was written by longtime friend Steve "Sting" Borden. Larry has two children from his marriage to Peggy, 21-year old Brian, and 16-year old Lauren.
The well-accomplished Luger was Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Rookie of the Year in 1986, and would win three Feud of the Year awards from the publication in four years (1987, 1988, and 1990). He also won PWI's Most Popular Wrestler award in 1993 and their Wrestler of the Year award in 1997. He was ranked by the publication as the #2 singles wrestler in the world in 1991 and was one of the top twenty singles wrestlers of the PWI Years in 2003.