Race Offers Midwest Fans an Alternative

ELDON, Mo. – In 1978, Harley Race became the first man to body slam Andre the Giant. Fast-forward to 2006, and Race is hoping to body slam pro wrestling fans across the Midwest.

Race, the legendary eight-time NWA world heavyweight champion, is bringing his World League Wrestling promotion to several traditional markets that have been left ignored in the wake of the current World Wrestling Entertainment monopoly.

Race believes the area is ready to embrace WLW and its family-friendly brand of what WWE CEO Vince McMahon likes the call “sports entertainment.” And he should know. For years, Race, a Quitman, Mo., native, has promoted wrestling cards throughout the Midwest.

WLW’s motto is, after all, “Shut Up and Wrestle.”

“As far as a comparison (between WLW and WWE) on a family-friendly level, there is no comparison,” Race said. “We have a wrestling event, not an entertainment event. Ours is kept strictly 99.9 percent of the time in the ring – and it’s clean.

“The problem right now is (WWE and Total Non-Stop Action) cater toward their TV and pay-per-view events. They’re also constantly keeping a few guys on top.”

It’s a much different world at WLW. Call it old-school wrestling for a new generation.

Race, age 62, started WLW in 1999. Much like the pre-WWE days – when territorial systems ruled the sport – the promotion focuses on a specific region. In this case, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Illinois.

Chris Cotten, director at the community center in Harrisonville, Mo., has hosted two WLW events to great success already this year. He looks forward to WLW’s next visit.

“I’m real excited,” Cotton said. “I believe, hands down, that we have the nicest venue in this part of the state. There’s no reason why we can’t pack the house. I think we have the perfect hub for this.

“Wrestling is a fun venture. It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to cheer for the good guys and yell at the bad guys. It’s just good entertainment.”

Although Race spent the majority of his career playing a heel character, his intentions are quite pure. He often gives portions of concession sales or even the gate to local schools and charities.

To help generate greater heat for WLW cards, Race often appears alongside other legends of the squared circle such as Terry Funk, Mick Foley and Dusty Rhodes for autograph sessions before events.

It may seem an odd pairing – Race won his first NWA championship by defeating Funk’s brother, Dory Jr., in Kansas City on May 24, 1973 and has his own championship past with Terry – but WLW has often used legendary wrestlers to help promote events.

“It didn’t take me long to figure out that fans want to see the legends – much more so than some of the new guys,” Race said. “I think the people from that earlier era were some of the best wrestling fans ever.”

That’s not to say that fans attending WLW shows won’t get a glimpse at future WWE and TNA stars.

One of Race’s protÃ?©gÃ?©s, Trevor Murdoch, recently signed a three-year deal with WWE. Murdoch can be seen on “Monday Night Raw,” yet still returns to his WLW roots to train with Race on a regular basis.

Former WLW senior referee John Cone has also made the jump to WWE in recent weeks.

It’s about providing a future in the squared circle, not just reflecting on a glorious past.

“That’s what this whole thing is all about,” Race explained. “You’re trying to move guys along.”

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