On May 17, 2023, the wrestling world lost a legend. He was 79 years old and his name was “The Superstar” Billy Graham.
Billy Graham was a superstar in every sense of the word.
Billy Graham, whose real name is Eldridge Wayne Coleman, unfortunately had been dealing with several health issues for many years, before things took a turn for the worst this past February 2023. Because of various infections and organ failures, he required emergency surgeries and was placed on life support until his passing.
Billy was born on June 7, 1943, in Phoenix, Arizona, and at the age of 5, he was immediately attracted to bodybuilding. During his teenage years, he grew up reading bodybuilding magazines and idolizing bodybuilding legends Steve Reeves and John Grimek. Billy was also a devout Christian, and traveled to various Christian churches and religious revivals, where he incorporated feats of strength into his sermons. Billy competed in the 1961 Mr. Teenage America West Coast Division Bodybuilding Contest, and subsequently was the winner. He trained with bodybuilding legends Franco Columbu, Dave Fraper and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 1975, he won the World Bodybuilding Guild’s Pro “Mr. America Contest” for having the biggest bicep in the Best Developed Arms Division. He would go on to compete in various bodybuilding and strongman contests throughout the years.
Around 1969, Billy started training with Legendary Promoter Stu Hart and also worked for his company, Stampede Wrestling Promotions. Upon leaving Canada, Billy worked for numerous wrestling companies such as the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and the American Wrestling Association (AWA), where he had one of his most memorable feuds with Chief Wahoo McDaniels. In 1975, he made his debut for the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), which would turn into the WWF, and then later the WWE. He tag teamed with Spiros Arion, and went on to defeat Bruno Sammartino and Dominic De Nucci. Bruno, at the time, was the World Heavyweight Champion. Billy would also go on and defeat Bruno on April 30, 1977, becoming the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion. He would defend the championship against legends such as Dusty Rhodes, Pedro Morales, Mil Mascaras and Jack Brisco. He also wrestled against the NWA Heavyweight Champion Harley Race in a Heavyweight Championship Unification Match that would go on to a one-hour time limit draw.
Billy spent many more years working for the NWA and the WWE. He was an iconic figure, and there are many in the industry who feel that if he wasn’t involved in the pro wrestling business, then pro wrestling wouldn’t be what it is today. He changed the landscape of pro wrestling by introducing the bodybuilder figure to the business. Many wrestlers throughout the years have based their looks and style on Billy Graham. He is also credited with bringing and using the term “Brother” which was used when referring to fellow wrestlers. A larger than life individual, who made loving the bad guy look easy.
Rest in Peace Brother! Thank you for the many years of entertainment.
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