The wrestling business lost a legend this past week, the legend being “Superstar” Billy Graham. In this article we’ll look back at the flamboyant former WWWF Champion’s career and how his legacy has impacted the business.
Graham was born June 7th 1943 in Arizona and took an interest in bodybuilding as well as amateur and professional boxing. He competed in various bodybuilding competitions and focussed extensively on his physique and training before he started wrestling, he even spent time training with Arnold Scwarzenegger.
His Start in Professional Wrestling:
Graham was then encouraged by professional wrestler Bob Lueck to start training for Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling promotion. He had his debut match in 1970 and after his brief stint with Stu, he went back down to America and worked for a few territories before joining the National Wrestling Alliance and that’s where he developed the gimmick of Billy Graham, named after the famous evangelist.
In 1972, Graham debuted in the American Wrestling Association under Verne Gagne. Graham feuded with the likes of Gagne, Ken Patera and Ivan Koloff all the while integrating arm wrestling contests into his storylines.
Graham made his debut for the World Wide Wrestling Federation in 1975 in a tag match featuring then WWWF Champion, Bruno Sammartino. After working for the NWA again in matches with Ivan Putzki and Dusty Rhodes, Graham returned to the WWWF in 1977 where he ended the legend’s second reign as WWWF Champion after nearly 4 years with the strap. Graham wrestled across America during his reign and wrestled some of the big names of the era including, Jack Brisco, Dusty Rhodes, Don Muraco and Mil Mascaras, as well as a huge 1 hour time limit draw in a champion versus champion match against them NWA Word Heavyweight Champion Harley Race.
After 9 months, Graham dropped the belt to the “All American” wrestler, Bob Backlund. Graham wasn’t too happy suggesting he turned babyface and feud with former tag partner Ivan Koloff, but ultimately Backlund became champion. Disillusioned by his title loss, Graham jumped ship back to the NWA in late 1978.
Graham took a hiatus from wrestling in 1980 and took nearly 2 years off before he came back to the WWF in 1982 with a new look, shaving off his famous blonde hair and sideburns, going for a bald look with a moustache. He was frustrated he wasn’t allowed to be a fan favourite and after losing a WWF Title match to Bob Backlund, he left again in 1983. Between 1983 and 1986, Graham went on to wrestle for the AWA and NWA respectively, going back to his old blonde look, growing his hair and dying his moustache blonde.
Graham had his final WWF run in 1986 where he finally came back as a babyface. Graham needed a hip replacement soon after he started and was sidelined until the following year. After he came back he worked a heavy schedule, feuding with the likes of Harley Race and Butch Reed, however the schedule soon took a toll on Graham’s hip and he was written off TV by a One Man Gang splash on the concrete floor. Graham wrestled his last match at the age of 44, against Butch Reed in late 1987 before going on to do commentary for the WWF.
Graham was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in the class of 2004 by Triple H who was inspired a lot by Graham. Graham’s Superstar persona was legendary and hugely influential to the superstars of today. Graham embraced a flamboyant and colourful style, wearing flashy outfits and essentially looking like the guy that every other guy wanted to look like. As well as his style, he was known for his exceptional physique which he wasn’t afraid to flaunt, this naturally got a lot of eyes on him as he was also able to showcase incredible strength in his matches. He was ahead of his time in this sense as there wasn’t really anyone else like him, combining his look and physique with his brilliant charismatic interviews and promos, he certainly served as an inspiration to future wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and Jesse Ventura. And even further on, guys like John Cena, Triple H and Scott Steiner. He also revolutionised the way promos were delivered, incorporating his incredible charisma, intensity and self promotion of which the likes had never been seen before. His interviews became must see TV and he captivated audiences with his larger than life personality and unique delivery. Graham was original at the time, and truly paved the way for so many wrestlers before him and because of that and his look and everything that came with his “Superstar” gimmick, Graham will go down as one of the most influential wrestlers in history.
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Author: Alex Bakothanasis
Photo Credit: WWE