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Ray Gunkel (1924-1972)

Real NameRaymond Fred Gunkel

Lifespan - 2/16/24 - 8/1/72

6’3” 260 lbs. - Chicago, IL

Athletic BackgroundWrestling [AAU Championships `47 & `48], Football [Purdue]

Teacher(s)Billy Thom

AliasesLe Masque

Peak Years`53-`64

Place in HistoryAlthough he was an excellent collegiate wrestler, a major pro-wrestling star and a successful promoter, Ray Gunkel is best remembered for his death and the chaos that followed.  His journey began in his hometown of Chicago, where he excelled as both an amateur wrestler and football player.  After serving in the Marines during World War II, Gunkel headed to Purdue University, where he continued his success in both sports.  On the Boilermakers’ mat, Gunkel excelled.  He was a two time All-American, a two-time AAU Champion as a heavyweight and a runner-up in NCAA Championships.  He lost that championship as well as a spot on the Olympic team both to Dick Hutton.  Gunkel, like many top amateurs of the era, went pro.  He succeeded in the Midwest, then headed South, where he established his legacy.  In Texas, Ray Gunkel became a top star for Morris Sigel and boxing legend Jack Dempsey served as his manager for a time.  He was the ideal babyface hero - a good-looking All-American boy with amateur credentials and scientific skill.  Feuding with heels like Bull Curry, Duke Keomuka and the Zebra Kid, Gunkel was a made man who was soon nipping at the heels of NWA World Champion Lou Thesz.  Gunkel relocated to Georgia and while he continued his in-ring success, he set his eyes on owning a piece of the territory.  The area was operated by Paul Jones and Don McIntyre and through connections to the Chicago office was becoming one of the premier territories in the 1950s.  Gunkel bought a stake in 1958 and working with Jones, McIntyre and later Buddy Fuller in addition to local promoters like Fred Ward, Atlanta became a strong and stable booking office for the next fifteen years.  Gunkel, like many promoter-wrestlers, put himself on top and beat everyone.  He had teamed with McIntyre for a time and later his “half-brother” Dickie Gunkel (Dick Steinborn), but his most famous and successful pairing was with Buddy Fuller.  However, their relationship became contentious in time and eventually Fuller traded his shares in the territory with his uncle Lester Welch.  The relationship between Welch and Gunkel was no better.  Ray Gunkel has been compared to Eddie Graham, his counterpart in Florida, as a cold-blooded promoter with great vision for his territory after learning in Texas.  Both men were known for their light payoffs and strict management, but they ran two of the premier promotions in the United States.  Gunkel was a gambler who would bet on anything and was a mythical card player and not only among the boys.  By the early 1970s, Gunkel was still working and while he was still a popular babyface and institution in Georgia, he was well past his prime.  In 1973, Ray Gunkel suffered a massive heart attack while talking with local promoter Aaron Newman after a match and set into a motion an unbelievable turn of events.  Gunkel’s widow Ann, determined to carry on her husband’s work, wanted to take an active role in the Georgia promotion.  However, the others with a stake in Atlanta were not so keen on the idea.  The ABC Booking office was closed down and new one opened in its place, effectively cutting Ann out.  She aligned with Tom Renesto and formed her own outfit, commonly known as “All-South” and the so-called “Battle of Atlanta” commenced.  Most of the wrestlers left and joined All-South.  The NWA fought back bringing in the best talent including Bill Watts as booker, they also threatened the blackball talent that worked for Ann and were connected to some other shady dealings.  It was two years where Georgia saw the best collection of pro-wrestling talent come in and transformed the state into one of the hottest in pro-wrestling world.  Although All-South folded in time, the war led to a product that Ted Turner’s WTCG station began to beam out across the United States and in time Georgia Championship Wrestling became something more than a regional territory.  It is fair to say that while many men had as much or more influence on pro-wrestling in their lifetime, none had more influence on pro-wrestling in death than Ray Gunkel.