Bearcat Wright: A Trailblazer in the Wrestling Ring

Edward “Bearcat” Wright was a towering figure in the world of professional wrestling, not just for his impressive 6’6″ stature and 275-pound frame, but for his groundbreaking role as one of the first African American World Heavyweight Champions in the sport. Born on January 13, 1932, in Omaha, Nebraska, Wright’s athletic career began in the boxing ring, where he followed in the footsteps of his father, Ed “Bearcat” Wright, a professional boxer. Wright Jr. himself boasted an undefeated record before transitioning to the wrestling world in 1959.

Wright’s wrestling career took off in the late 1950s and 1960s, a period marked by racial tension in the United States. Despite this, he became a beloved babyface, drawing thousands of fans to arenas to witness his battles against formidable opponents like The Sheik, Johnny Valentine, and Kinji Shibuya. His in-ring style was dynamic and athletic, featuring flying dropkicks and spin kicks, and he was known for his finishing move, the claw hold.

One of Wright’s most significant contributions to wrestling was his stance against segregation. In a bold move, he declared in Gary, Indiana, that he would not participate in segregated matches. This stance led to a temporary suspension by the Indiana State Athletic Commission, but it also played a part in the eventual desegregation of professional wrestling.

Wright’s championship victories are numerous and span across various regions and promotions. He held titles such as the NWA Florida Tag Team Championship, the Midwest Wrestling Association Ohio Heavyweight Championship, and the NWA Pacific Northwest Tag Team Championship. His international acclaim included winning the IWA World Heavyweight and Tag Team Championships in Australia.

Perhaps one of his most notable achievements was defeating Killer Kowalski in April 1961 to become the Big Time Pro Wrestling titleholder, effectively making him the world heavyweight wrestling champion. Just days before Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I have a dream” speech, Wright won the WWA World Heavyweight Championship from “Classy” Freddie Blassie in Los Angeles, California.

Bearcat Wright’s influence extended beyond the ring. His strength and charisma made him a popular figure, often showcased in promotional interviews where he would demonstrate his power by ripping phone books in half. His legacy as a pioneer in wrestling was further cemented when he was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017 as part of the Legacy wing.

Wright’s career came to a close in 1975, but his impact on the sport of wrestling remains undeniable. He broke barriers, championed equality, and entertained countless fans with his athletic prowess. Bearcat Wright passed away on August 28, 1982, at the age of 50, but his legacy as a trailblazer in the wrestling ring endures to this day.

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