Champions in enemy territory

Page 3 of 8
March 04, 2013

NWA Champion Harley Race competes in WWE

If there’s anyone bold enough to ignore boundaries and travel the world in search of a fight, it’s Harley Race. Regarded as one of the toughest men ever to step foot in the squared circle, Race laughed off anyone who tried to tell him that he couldn’t go somewhere.

After WWE left the National Wrestling Alliance in the early 1960s, the relationship between the two organizations was tenuous, at best. That made it all the more surprising when Race showed up on WWE television in 1980, with the NWA World Championship in his hands. He had heard about WWE Champion Bob Backlund and wanted to see if the babyfaced grappler was as good as everyone said. To sweeten the pot, he put his championship up against Backlund’s. The winner would become the unified World Champion.

With wrestling history hanging in the balance, the two legendary warriors took to the mat in New York’s Madison Square Garden. In a back-and-forth battle where the two looked evenly matched for the better part of a half hour, Backlund eventually trapped the NWA Champion in a sleeper hold. Seeing his title slipping away, Race grabbed the official and sent him crashing into Backlund, giving the WWE Champion a victory by disqualification, thus preventing the unification of wrestling’s top titles.

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