The professional wrestling world has lost one of its greatest performers, most dedicated servants, and beloved champions of all time.
On August 1, “Handsome” Harley Race died at the age of 76. The news was shared by longtime friend Dustin Rhodes on Twitter and was later confirmed on Race’s personal account. In March, Dave Marquez of Championship Wrestling told PW Insider that Race was diagnosed with lung cancer, but it was not terminal. WWE confirmed that Race’s death was in fact due to complications from the cancer.
Harley Race Death
Race began in professional wrestling in the 1960s with the American Wrestling Association. “Handsome” Harley Race paired with Larry “The Axe” Hennig to win the AWA World Tag Team Championship in 1965, defeating The Cruiser and Dick the Bruiser. After several title defenses and tag team feuds, Race joined the National Wrestling Alliance to pursue a singles career.
There, Race had one of the greatest championship careers of any singles wrestler, capturing the NWA World Heavyweight Championship a then-record eight times, as well as numerous regional titles including the very first Mid-Atlantic United States Heavyweight Championship (now the WWE United States Championship). Race feuded with wrestling icons like Dusty Rhodes, Superstar Billy Graham, Bob Backlund and Andre the Giant, but perhaps his greatest rival, and life-long friend, was Ric Flair.
One his most memorable title matches came at Starrcade 1983, when Flair pinned Race to become world champion. It was named Match of the Year by Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
“King” Harley Race in WWF
Race left NWA to join the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1986. Shortly after, Race would win the 1986 King of the Ring tournament and transform into “King” Harley Race. Race famously pinned Junkyard Dog at WrestleMania III, as well as feuded with Hulk Hogan and Jim Duggan over the years before joining World Championship Wrestling where he was one of WCW’s most popular veterans.
Most notably outside the ring, Race co-founded World League Wrestling in 1999. The independent wrestling promotion features young wrestlers who Race himself trained at The Harley Race Wrestling Academy in Troy, Missouri. WLW events raise money for local charities, and even featured iconic names like Mick Foley, Terry Funk and Bret Hart at events over the years.
Race’s incredible career earned induction into the WCW Hall of Fame (1994), WWE Hall of Fame (2004), NWA Hall of Fame (2005), Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (2004; 2017 alongside Larry Hennig), and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (1996).
The pro wrestling business lost one of its truly great ambassadors and champions, but Harley Race’s impact on the sport will be felt for so many years to come.