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This Day in Wrestling History (June 30): The Match of the Century

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56 years ago today in Chicago, Illinois, Buddy Rogers defeated Pat O'Connor 2-1 in a best of three falls match to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

Dubbed “The Match of the Century”, a record crowd of 38,622 flocked to Comiskey Park to see the bout, bringing in $148,000 in gate receipts (about $1.2 million today when adjusted for inflation). Both the attendance and gate would be records for any wrestling event in North American until the 1980s.

22 years ago today in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, Raven and Stevie Richards defeated The Public Enemy to win the ECW World Tag Team Championship. The bout aired on the July 4 edition of ECW Hardcore TV (WWE Network link).

14 years ago today, Hulk Hogan appeared on the Bubba the Love Sponge radio show and announced his "Mr. America" character was on hiatus and that he was done with the WWE for the immediate future, citing unhappiness with his creative direction.

Three days later, Hogan's Mr. America character would be formally written off (WWE Network link) after footage of Hulk unmasking showed he was indeed Mr. America.

Pro Wrestling Torch elaborated on Hogan suddenly quitting the company in their July 4, 2003 issue:

Due to disagreements over creative issues, Hulk Hogan quit WWE last week in the midst of the angle where he was wrestling under a mask as Mr. America. The decision was made last week during a phone conversation Hogan initiated with Vince McMahon a couple days after the Smackdown tapings. Sources say the split was relatively cordial since it was a case of the two parties simply disagreeing strongly enough over the creative issues that a compromise couldn't be reached.

Hogan was concerned with how he was being used on television. The feeling was that he wasn't at the stage of his career where he could be utilized effectively as just another face appearing every week. He felt that in order to be an effective draw, his appearances on TV needed to be treated as a big deal, not as the third rung of a three-man team in a TV main event. He felt that being on TV in situation where he wasn't the center of attention was water down his image, and he didn't want to finish his career as "just another wrestler," as he has seen first-hand how Ric Flair has been treated the majority of the last or two his career by WWE.

His growing frustration boiled over last Tuesday at the Smackdown tapings at Madison Square Garden. When the crowd chanted "Hogan, Hogan," he felt that Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle should have improvised and responded to that by playing into the chants and tagging him in. Instead, Angle and Lesnar followed the script of the match, which is standard practice for TV tapings where crowd reaction isn't considered justification to deviate from the predetermined storyline points.

It didn't help that Smackdown, headlined by the six-man tag with Hogan, drew the smallest WWE crowd at MSG in over six years, under 9,000 paid (and thousands less than the live Raw just the night before in the same arena). Hogan doesn't like being associated with a "second place" product, and being in the main event of a Smackdown taping that drew so much less than Raw the night before was instrumental in his emotions boiling over last week.

Of course, money is always a factor in these situation, even though "creative differences" sounds more noble. While Hogan's feelings about being misused are genuine, it could be soothed over quickly and more easily if he felt he had been "appreciated fully financially."

After teasing appearing for TNA (an angle was shot in October 2003 that was to lead to Hogan facing Jeff Jarrett at TNA’s first ever three-hour PPV for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship), but falling through due to recurring hip and back problems, Hogan returned to WWE in 2005.

14 years ago today on RAW from Buffalo, New York (WWE Network link), Gail Kim in her WWE television debut last eliminated Victoria in a seven-woman battle royal to win the WWE Womens Championship.

Other participants were Jazz (who was champion at the time), Ivory, Molly Holly, Trish Stratus, and Jacqueline.

12 years ago today, New York high school teacher Matthew Kaye makes national headlines when he is outed for using sick days to wrestle in Japan.

The scandal would lead Kaye to resign from his teaching job—and quickly be picked by WWE a few weeks later. Kaye, who would be known as Matt Striker, clarified the matter with PWInsider.com:

I rarely if ever pay any mind to the Internet, but I felt the need to shed some light on a few facts, or lack thereof:

1. I never stole anything from the NYC Dept. of Ed. Upon realization that sick days and personal days were two entirely different things- I immediately offered to remit the money for days paid that I was in Japan.

2. I resigned under advice from my union appointed lawyer, which resulted in a backlash of student and parent response because my students were receiving excellent instruction and preparation for the NYC Regents. Parents, Students and fellow members of the faculty organized petitions and such to return me to my position. I was and still am a GOOD teacher. The bottom line was the kids.

3. Was it fraud? Yes, I wholeheartedly admit that. Am I sorry? You have no idea how sorry I am. Did this merit a resignation and whirlwind news story and unfounded venom from message board patrollers? No.

4. Was I sick? Yes. The week of my resignation, I had two lumps removed from my back (You can see the scars when you come to "boo" me) and subsequent blood tests, that were NOT covered financially because of loss of insurance benefits. The results were a toxic infection in my blood that I am currently being treated for.

5. People who want to run with minimal facts and create stories based on hearsay and conjecture are entitled, but take away with you this food for thought: New York City really needs teachers, some of the ones they have molest and abuse our children--Matt Striker established relationships and rapports with our students and presented them with a tangible role model and a belief that they could achieve their dreams. I am proud to say that a huge percentage of MY KIDS passed the NYC Regents [Exam] because I taught them!

6. It is better to be hated for who you are than to be loved for who you're not. What I did was wrong. I have said it before - I will gladly compensate the city for the 4 days, I will gladly work-free of charge- for the NYC Board of Ed as a gesture of remorse. The fact that these things, that are personal become public and become fodder for people to accuse and find enjoyment in ones misfortune is sad.

7. Look at the facts, God gave me gifts and I choose to use them to touch peoples lives. I choose to make the world better by entertainment and education. I try to bring laughter everywhere I go. In this time where there is so much hate and anger I try to bring a positive aspect and energy where I go. You can all judge me, although it is not your judgement that I await...anyone who knows me- knows who my REAL judge is!

Thanks,

Matt Striker

For what it's worth, Kaye's done pretty well for himself since leaving the classroom behind. Kaye spent eight years in WWE both as a wrestler and commentator. After being released in 2013, he briefly returned to the independent circuit before concentrating on wrestling full-time since 2014, commentating for AAA, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Lucha Underground.

9 years ago today on RAW from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (WWE Network link), CM Punk cashes in his Money in the Bank briefcase and quickly defeated Edge to win the World Heavyweight Championship.

8 years ago today, Stephen Farrelly makes his WWE television debut as Sheamus. In his debut for ECW, he defeated Oliver John.

Sheamus quickly moves up the ladder; less than six months after his television debut, he defeats John Cena for the WWE Championship.

3 years ago today on RAW from Harford, Connecticut (WWE Network link), AJ Lee in her first match since the night after Wrestlemania XXX defeated Paige in just 61 seconds to win the WWE Divas Championship.


Birthdays aplenty today, so profiles will be brief.

Happy 31st birthday to Cody Garrett Runnels. Wrestling at one time as Stardust, he is best known as Cody Rhodes.

The son of the late Dusty Rhodes and half brother of Dustin "Goldust" Runnels, Rhodes has been a champion everywhere he's been. In high school, he was a two-time Georgia State wrestling champion.

Before joining WWE, he won Ohio Valley Wrestling's Triple Crown (OVW Heavyweight, OVW TV, and OVW Southern Tag Team Championships). Since joining the main roster in 2007, he's been a two-time Intercontinental Champion, six-time tag team champion, and a 2013 Slammy Award winner for Tag Team of the Year with Goldust. That same year, Rhodes married Brandi Reed, aka WWE's Eden Stiles.

Since his release from WWE in May 2016, he has competed mostly on the independent circuit, but has also appeared for TNA, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Ring of Honor (of note, Cody appeared at Wrestlemania, Battle of Los Angeles, Bound for Glory, Final Battle, and Wrestle Kingdom 11 over a one-year period; the listed shows are the signature events for WWE, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, TNA, ROH, and NJPW).

Last week, Rhodes defeated Christopher Daniels at Best in the World to win the Ring of Honor World Championship, joining Fritz and Kerry Von Erich as the only father-son duo to win major world titles in the United States.

It’s a happy 51st birthday to Michael Gerard Tyson, or "Iron" Mike Tyson for short.

Though Tyson had a few wrestling moments, the Brooklyn-born Tyson is best remembered for his time in the boxing ring. At age 20, Tyson became the youngest world heavyweight champion in boxing history when he defeated Trevor Berbick. Within the next year, he defeated James Smith and Tony Tucker, making him the first, and to this day, only man to hold the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association, and International Boxing Federation's heavyweight championships at the same time.

At the height of his popularity, he was the focus of his own video game, a port of Nintendo arcade game Punch Out!!. The game sold more than a million copies.

On June 27, 1988, Tyson had what many believe to be his signature win when he defeated Michael Spinks in just 91 seconds to become the lineal heavyweight boxing champion (at the time, the bout was the richest in boxing history). His most famous defeat came on February 11, 1990 when 42-1 underdog James "Buster" Douglas knocked out Tyson in Tokyo, Japan.

Two years later, he was convicted of raping a beauty pageant contestant and was sentenced to six years in prison (he was released after three years).

In 1996, he won back both the WBA and WBC heavyweight championships, making him the just the sixth man to win to regain a heavyweight championship after losing it, but lost it by the end of the year after being defeated by Evander Holyfield. The next year, Tyson was disqualified in the rematch after biting Holyfield's ear. A week and a half after the bout, Tyson's Nevada boxing license was revoked.

Wrestling connection: essentially banned from boxing in the United States, he was the guest enforcer for the Wrestlemania XIV main event between Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin. In a bit of irony, Tyson was paid $3 million for the appearance (or the same amount he lost following the revocation of his boxing license in July 1997; his license would be restored in October 1998).

Tyson declared bankruptcy in 2003 and retired from boxing just three years later with a career record of 50-6 with two no contests. He's more or less mellowed out in recent years, doing a one-man Broadway show, launching a charity, taking numerous acting roles, becoming a best-selling author, and in 2012, joining the WWE Hall of Fame. Tyson is also a member of the International and World Boxing Halls of Fame.

It’s a happy 73rd birthday to "wrestling's living legend" Terrence Funk, or Terry Funk for short.

Giving pretty much his entire adult life to pro wrestling, Funk has wrestled for more than 60 promotions, including every major company in the United States and Japan. A former NWA and ECW world heavyweight champion, Funk is regarded as a pioneer of hardcore wrestling.

He is a featured subject in the wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat and has appeared most notably in Road Houseand Over the Top. He also was a stunt coordinator for Paradise Alley. Oh, and he has a music album too, Great Texan.

Funk is a member of the WWE (2009), WCW (1995), Professional Wrestling (2004), NWA (2009), Hardcore (2005), Stampede, St. Louis Wrestling (2010), and Wrestling Observer Newsletter Halls of Fame (1996).

Funk is again retired... for now, following his October 2015 bout with longtime rival and friend Jerry Lawler for USA Championship Wrestling and subsequent announcement in September 2016.

Today would have been the 126th birthday of Robert Julius Herman Friedrich, but he is most famously known as the legendary Ed "Strangler" Lewis.

Born 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 and quit the sport, he 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.

In his final years, Lewis was dependent on the help of others to function daily, including his wife and acquaintances. On August 8, 1966, Lewis passed away at Veterans Administration Hospital in Muskoghee, Oklahoma. He was 75.

Lewis was posthumously inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996, the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Hall of Fame in 1999, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002, and the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016 as a legacy member.