by Nick Aldis
On August 1st 2019, the professional wrestling world lost a man who genuinely deserves the superlatives that are often thrown around with a cavalier attitude; legend, icon, pioneer.
A man who embodied what it once meant to be a pro wrestler, and a pro wrestler who embodies what it once meant to be a man.
Harley Leland Race was born on April 11th, 1943 in his home state of Missouri, where he was also laid to rest on August 7th 2019 after leaving a one-of-a-kind legacy behind that will likely never be replicated.
A few hundred words is certainly not enough to cover Harley’s life and career in sufficient detail, and there are folks out there far more capable and qualified than I to do so, for example, Jim Ross’ recent podcast with Conrad Thompson did a wonderful job discussing Harley’s career and the indelible mark he made.
This piece is more of a personal thank you to Harley for what he did for the business and specifically what he did for me.
In 2007, I had been wrestling full time for almost two years; I was fortunate to work for Brian Dixon’s All Star Wrestling which meant that not only did I get to work with a lot of experienced veterans like Frankie Sloan who taught me how to get the most out of everything I did to save my body, but I also got to perform a lot, often 6 days a week and usually with at least one double (two shows in the same day) so I was getting an education and having a great time.
But there was a part of me that knew if I was going to go any higher, I had to learn from someone who had been higher. I found out that Harley Race hosted a camp at his school in Eldon, Missouri and I knew I had to attend.
From the day I decided that I wanted to be a wrestler, I had looked up to Triple H, and as my passion and interest grew, I studied the greats that had inspired the current stars.
I would hear JR reference Harley Race a lot during Triple H matches, so naturally that was one of my first stops as a teenager. So I scraped together the money and made the arrangements to attend the camp and to this day it’s one of my fondest memories in wrestling.
Despite his reputation, Harley was so nice to me, showing me some incredible memorabilia and even some huge paychecks from his days on top of the world as NWA Champion. He never blew smoke, but I remember a couple of days into the camp, he called me over and quietly said “You look real good out there kid, you could do somethin’.”
Anyone who knows the man will tell you that’s huge. It was enough to give me the belief that I was on the right track. I carried myself with a different confidence after that, and less than a year later I was on a national television show in Britain and less than two years later I debuted for TNA.
When I started with the NWA under Billy Corgan and Dave Lagana in 2017, we knew we had to remind the world of the legacy of the Ten Pounds of Gold, and a huge part of that was Harley.
However, given the less-than-illustrious recent incarnations of the Alliance in the previous decade, Harley politely stated that he had seen too many poor attempts at the NWA and would not lend his name to it.
It was absolutely understandable.
It was also why it gives us all a great sense of pride to know that one year later, Harley approved of our efforts enough to change his mind, and after a chance meeting at Wrestlecade in Winston-Salem, Harley felt the energy when fans saw us talking together with our respective championship belts and invited me to defend the championship at his Night of Champions event this past March.
He also agreed to sit down with me for our Ten Pounds of Gold series, which was one of the last interviews he would give. I was a nervous wreck and stumbled through my conversation with him because he commands the utmost respect and I was flooded with emotions understanding what his willingness to be featured on our show represented.
“No matter how you frame it, it comes down to where…if you were lucky enough to have held it, it’s damnable good.” – Harley talking about being NWA World’s Champion on Ten Pounds of Gold episode 51.
It’s almost overwhelming. But I cannot allow that approval to go to waste, I must continue to prove the man right about me and about our vision for the NWA.
And I will.
Rest in Peace