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Oklahoma has an interesting tradition within professional wrestling. For a state that currently ranks 28th in population, it has churned out consistently talented professional wrestlers, most of them coming up through the ranks of the state's divine amateur programs. Danny Hodge, LeRoy McGuirk, Bill Watts and Steve Williams all hail from the Sooner State. A big part of all of those wrestlers characters were that they were Oklahoma born and bred. Oklahoman's always seem to have a little-brother complex when it comes to dealing with their border rival, Texas, and all of those guys listed above drew big money feuding with Texans in battles not just over championship, but over state pride.
Perhaps there was no greater performer from Oklahoma than Jack Brisco, the two-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion and gifted amateur who was a big draw for the entirety of his career. Brisco grew up in Blackwell, Oklahoma and was a tremendous athlete in high school, turning down a football scholarship from Bud Wilkinson and the University of Oklahoma in favor of a wrestling scholarship at Oklahoma State, which at the time had won 23 national championships in wrestling. Brisco would go on to have an outstanding amateur career, not only winning a national championship in 1965, but also finishing the entire year without ever getting taken down by an opponent.
That same year Brisco made his debut in professional wrestling after being trained by McGuirk, and because of his popularity in Oklahoma from being a standout amateur and his natural athleticism, immediately became a notable talent in the territories. Mainly working in his native Oklahoma, Missouri and in the Tri-State Tennessee region, Brisco became one of the NWA's fastest rising stars, winning multiple regional titles including the Tri-State version of the NWA United States Tag Team Championship, teaming up with Haystacks Calhoun, a 600lb wrestler from McKinney, Texas.
Brisco would then travel to Eddie Graham's promotion, Championship Wrestling from Florida where he would end up becoming a top star for the promotion, winning the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship 8 times and the NWA Florida Tag Team Championship 10 times, 8 of which were with his brother, Gerry, who would become known nationally when he emerged as one of Vince McMahon's corporate stooges in the late 1990s.
In Florida, The Briscos would begin a long an arduous feud with the Funk brothers, Dory Jr. and Terry, in a rivalry that would help define all four men's career. The feud featured a combination of some of the best technical wrestling around, mixed in with heated feelings towards one another, each side representing their home states with great pride. Also during his time in Florida, Brisco engaged in a big feud with another Texan, Dick Murdoch, over the NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship.
During the 1970s Brisco epitomized what most fans believed a babyface to be. A skilled mat technician that could take a beating as good as he could dish one out, and someone who always spoke with class and great humility. Brisco was also of Native American heritage, and what is interesting is that during a time when the wrestling landscape was filled with Native American wrestlers both real (Wahoo McDaniel) and fake (Chief Jay Strongbow, Billy White Wolf) Brisco being a legitimate Native American was rarely brought up.
Because of his legitimate athletic background and his popularity with fans, the NWA Board members voted on Brisco to be their new NWA World Heavyweight Champion. Brisco was scheduled to take the championship off of Dory Funk Jr., but right before Funk was supposed to drop the title, he was injured in a truck accident. Brisco would continue to feud with Terry Funk, and later that year Dory Funk Jr. lost the championship to not Brisco, but Harley Race. The legitimacy of the truck accident has always been a topic of debate among wrestling historians, with some believing that Dory's father, Dory Funk Sr. had orchestrated the ordeal so that his son wouldn't have to drop the title to a legit amateur wrestler from Oklahoma.
Despite that setback, it was still only a matter of time before Brisco became the man, which he accomplished on June 20, 1973 when he defeated Race in Houston Texas. Brisco would run the usual gambit, working a brutal schedule that only the NWA World Heavyweight Champion deserved and working with top names all across the globe. Some of his opponents were Gene Kiniski, Johnny Valentine, Harley Race, both Funk brothers, Tim Woods, The Sheik and Bill Watts. The one blip on Brisco's title reign was that he lost it on a tour of Japan to All-Japan Pro Wrestling owner Giant Baba. Brisco would regain the title at the end of the tour a week later, in a move that would become a trademark of both Harley Race and Ric Flair later. Between his two world title reigns, Brisco held the title for over two years, eventually dropping the title for good to Terry Funk on December 10, 1975.
Following his lengthy run as world champion, Brisco became more of a regional wrestler, staying closer to home but still remaining one of the top draws in the industry. He wrestled a series of matches with Memphis star Jerry Lawler, which would help elevate Lawler into the national wrestling scene. He also continued to team up with his brother and the two engaged in memorable feuds in the Florida territory, working with teams like Ox Baker and Superstar Billy Graham and Killer Karl Kox and Bobby Duncum.
The Brisco brothers became pivotal figures in Georgia Championship Wrestling, an NWA affiliate that through close affiliation with Ted Turner, found its way onto the fledgling TBS Superstation, making it the first NWA affiliated promotion to be broadcasted nationally. Georgia Championship Wrestling was one of the top shows on cable during the early years of the industry, and the program's popularity, combined with its cheap production costs, helped keep the struggling network afloat during it's early years. The promotions biggest stars were the Brosco brothers, and they won the Georgia version of the NWA Tag Team Championships twice. Jack Brisco would also win the NWA National Heavyweight Championship, defeating his longtime rival Terry Funk in 1979. Eventually the Brisco's became part-owners of the company, and in 1983 sold their share of the company in 1984 to Vince McMahon, in what became the first real sign that McMahon was taking his World Wrestling Federation promotion national.
During that same time period Brisco wrestled for World Wrestling Council in Puerto Rico, winning the WWC Carribean Heavyweight Championship and holding the title for nearly seven months before dropping it to Hans Muller. He also appeared occasionally in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, with the Brisco's teaming up as heels this time and feuding with the exciting babyface team of Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood.
Brisco would retire from professional wrestling in 1985 after selling his share in GCW to McMahon. While his brother would continue as an agent for the WWF and would ultimately be well-known by most casual fans, to any fan of the territory days Jack Brisco was the real deal. Brisco was a top babyface everywhere he went, combining athleticism and a fast pace with amateur wrestling skills that were second to none. Like the wrestling territories that have faded into the history books, Brisco is a wrestler who embodies a time gone by in the industry, when babyfaces were soft-spoken and handled their business in the ring against all-comers. Today Brisco's character seems outdated and bland, but at the time nobody was more popular in the territories he worked, especially in his native Oklahoma where he remains a revered name to all wrestling fans.
Next week, #32 will be revealed, a charismatic brawler who became the biggest draw in wrestling during part of the 1990s.
The Top 50 so far:
50.Ted DiBiase (click link for description of the qualifications of the list)
49. Superstar Billy Graham
47. El hijo del Santo
45. Bruiser Brody
43. Kurt Angle
42. Hiroshi Tanahashi
41. The Sheik
39. Perro Aguayo
38. Ricky Steamboat
37. Toshiaki Kawada
36. Jushin Thunder Liger
35. El Canek
33. Jack Brisco