by Dick Bourne
We're always appreciative of newspapers that do a good job of presenting wrestling in a journalistic fashion. This is a particularly good article in the Tampa Tribune promoting an upcoming card for Championship Wrestling from Florida on February 8, 1977, just two nights after Harley Race defeated Terry Funk with an Indian deathlock to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
Who knows who wrote the piece. It doesn't really sound like it came from the office, but it sounds way too informed to be written by the a staff sports writer either.
The article captures all the complete twists and turns in the wonderful story leading up to this night at the fabled Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. There were actually two separate stories being told.
The first story cemented former champion Jack Brisco as Florida's top contender for the NWA title. Many of the fans coming to the Hesterly Armory that Tuesday night had witnessed Brisco cleanly beat Harley Race, also a former champion, that past Saturday in St. Petersburg. Surely Brisco could beat Race again, this time with his newly won NWA World championship at stake in Tampa.
The second story told answered a question many might have had following the finish to the title change match in Toronto. As a teenage fan watching wrestling in 1977, when the film of the match from Toronto was shown on Mid-Atlantic television, it seemed strange to me that Race had won by submission with an Indian deathlock. I had only ever seen our local hero Paul Jones win with that hold. In the wrestling magazines, it seemed the reports usually suggested Race typically won with various suplexes or his infamous flying headbutt from the top turnbuckle, resulting in wins by three-count pinfall. Why had Race instead gone for the submission for the win against Funk in Toronto?
The answer, it turned out, played out the night before in Florida.
The main event of the card in St. Petersburg on Saturday night was Terry Funk defending the NWA title against Dusty Rhodes. As the article above reports, Funk injured his knee in the match against
Rhodes, and "against his better judgement" went ahead with the scheduled
title defense against Race the next night in Toronto.
The rest, as they say, is history. Race knew what most fans didn't about the night before in the St, Petertsburg Bayfront Arena. Funk was hurt, and Race took advantage. He defeated Funk in 14:10 with an Indian death-lock to capture the gold belt. (I can still hear ring announcer Norm Kimber make the famous call.) It was a hold Race used infrequently (if ever?) and seemed almost out of place as it happened that night in Maple Leaf Gardens.
As the author of the article pointed out. Brisco's victory over Race in
St. Petersburg came three days too early. Race got the better of him in
Tampa this night to retain.
- SAT FEB 5, 1977 - St. Petersburg, FL - NWA Champ Terry Funk injures his knee in a successful world title defense against Dusty Rhodes. On the same card, Jack Brisco defeats Harley Race.
- SUN FEB 6, 1977 - Toronto, ON - Harley Race defeats Terry Funk to win the NWA World Title. Race deploys a rarely-used Indian deathlock to win the match, exploiting Funk's hurt knee from the night before in St. Petersburg.
- TUE FEB 8, 1977 - Tampa, FL - New NWA Champion Harley Race defeats Jack Brisco to defend title, the result of the match written about in the article seen above.
The injury to Funk's knee in St. Petersburg gave Funk an excuse he could bandy about after his loss to Race in Toronto the next night.
The article also colors between the lines nicely, accurately reporting key dates in the NWA title history of Brisco and the Funk Brothers, and even including a reference to an NWA title change in the same building eight years earlier to the week.
It's just an all around amazing piece to be found in a newspaper, and one of my favorite clippings from the history of the NWA title changes during the domed-globe era. And for those curious, it explains one of the mysteries about the historic Toronto finish some fans may have had at the time.
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Video of Harley Race's win over Funk in Toronto can be found on the Domed-Globe website here.
Late update: See three pages from the Florida program "The Grapevine" for the Feb. 5 show in St. Petersburg that set the stage for Toronto. (Thanks@bobbynorton9115 on Twitter.)
This article was originally posted on our sister website, The Domed-Globe.