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Florida & Puerto Rico

Pro-Wrestling in Florida & Puerto Rico

Pro-wrestling in Florida went from an attraction in the 1930s and 1940s when stars from the Northeast like Gus Sonnenberg and Ed Don George would venture down for vacations and there were numerous regional talents who never really caught on elsewhere with the exception of Roy Welch, who traveled with Ginger the Bear who always brought in the crowds. A long list of promoters had operations throughout the state, Nick Gulas being the only one of note. He promoted out of Tampa from 1945 to 1947. He and Roy Welch hooked up in Nashville, Tennessee and made that region. Florida's equivilent was Clarence P. Luttrell, better known as the roughneck heel "Cowboy" Luttrell who challenged Jack Dempsey in a legendary exhibition fight. Luttrell became the main promoter in the state, basing his operation out of Tampa on the southwestern side of Florida.  It should be noted that the Florida Panhandle (Pensacola, Panama City, etc.) was promoted by and affiliated with Lee Fields, Buddy Fuller or Ron Fuller and it is more in line with the Tennessee and Alabama tradition than the Florida tradition.

Luttrell's protege, Eddie Graham, soon bought into the Tampa office and a couple years later they were an NWA affiliate known as Championship Wrestling from Florida. The promotion steadily grew with this new connection and were running a significant operation and even expanded into the Caribbean, where there was great potential for pro-wrestling. With boxing being wildly popular, a worked sport like pro-wrestling could whip fans into a frenzied riots that have become notorious in the rest of the wrestling world.  Luttrell and Graham began running Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and other spots over the years with great turnouts, but some terrifying scenarios.

Arcadio Brito’s Dominica Espectaculos promotion in the Dominican Republic was a long-time NWA member and in a famous incident, Ric Flair had an impromptu NWA title loss to Jack Veneno to avoid a lynching.  One example of an attempt that could have been fruitful was former Buffalo promoter Ed Don George's group that opened in Cuba in the 1950s when that island was a haven for the wealthy. The rise of Fidel Castro ended that. There are numerous other groups and promotions that have opened up and thrived in this region, but Puerto Rico is usually considered the main island with the premier pro-wrestling in the region.  In the 1960s,  L&G Promotions ran the island (and other islands), but it seemed inevitable that a native product would develop.

It was a group of Puerto Rican wrestlers and Gorilla Monsoon, who formed that company known as the World Wrestling Council. That group took over the island for the next twenty years and enjoyed great success.  WWC always enjoyed a balance of popular native stars and top-notch foreign stars and their formulas were successful for a long time.  Despite the danger and poor conditions, many huge stars traveled to Puerto Rico.  

As the 1970s rolled in, Eddie Graham's power was growing and "Cowboy" Luttrell's was deteriorating and eventually he left as a partner. Graham severed some of his promotional efforts to focus on taking his company to another level. In the 1970s, Florida was perhaps the hottest territory in the country with main event talent throughout the roster. Then came the 1980s and the decline of pro-wrestling in Florida. Graham's company began a steady decline and he committed suicide in 1985, leaving Duke Keomuka and Hiro Matsuda to run the promotion for a couple more years before folding into Jim Crockett Promotions.  Florida would see attempts at a rebirth, but nothing succeeded in the era of WWF and WCW.

Puerto Rico was still going strong throughout the 1980s and its domestic product was never notably damaged by the flashier American product.  However by the late 1980s, Bruiser Brody's murder and the monopolization of American wrestlers by WWF and WCW led to a drought of talent for WWC.  The turmoil eventually boiled over and a start-up promotion, the AWF, made an unsuccessful attempt to challenge WWC.  Although it failed, a second attempt, the IWA, became much more successful and became the premier pro-wrestling company in Puerto Rico in the new millennium.  Puerto Rico was perhaps the hottest spot in the world in the first decade of the twenty-first century and it continues to produce to this very day.

Tampa in southern Florida lies along the state's Gulf Coast. Across Tampa Bay from the city of Tampa is St. Petersburg, these would become two key cities for one Clarence "Cowboy" Luttrell in the 1950s. Luttrell expanded out, a little further down the coast to Sarasota, a little ways inland to Lakeland, northeast to Orlando, Ocala and Jacksonville, southeast to Miami Beach, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale and northwest into the panhandle to Tallahassee. "Cowboy" Luttrell's region become one of the most impressive and Florida was a growing state. The most significant visitor during this period was Eddie Graham. Half of the "brother" tag team with Dr. Jerry Graham, Eddie was a deep-tanned, bleached blonde coming off a great run in New York City. He quickly became Luttrell's right-hand man and built up his influence and eventually bought into the territory in 1961. Luttrell secured excellent talent in both great wrestlers and great personalities as well as in great minds, who helped shape the company in their own way. 

Buddy Austin 
"Wild" Red Berry 
Primo Carnera 
Al Costello 
Don Curtis 
Dick the Bruiser 
Ernie Dusek 
Don Eagle 
Gorgeous George
Eddie Graham
Jerry Graham 
Duke Keomuka 
Great Malenko
Danny McShain 
Mighty Atlas 
Eduardo Perez 
Angelo Poffo 
Argentina Rocca
Buddy Rogers
Hans Schmidt 
Wilbur Snyder 
Lou Thesz
Enrique Torres 
Johnny Valentine
Johnny Walker

L&G Promotions 
When Puerto Rico aligned itself with the United States, it was a two-way street. Puerto Ricans flooded into the United States for new opportunities and Americans invaded the island and tried to Americanize it. One could look at numerous aspects of Puerto Rican culture that were affected by America, but pro-wrestling is perhaps a frequently overlooked one. There was pro-wrestling in Puerto Rico prior to this era, native stars had small local groups similar to Mexico. Puerto Rico was just seen as a new market for NWA’s representative in Florida, “Cowboy” Luttrell. He came in with group, which bragged more financial backing and better workers and the small native looked bad by comparison and their stars were not afforded opportunities in this new outside company. Although numerous Americans established themselves there, there were scant Puerto Rican stars. They mainly pushed Jose Lothario as “Puerto Rico’s Adopted Son.” The Florida office ran shows there into the 1970s, but they were eventually undermined by a native product.

Bob Armstrong
The Assassin (Jody Hamilton) 
Hercules Ayala 
Jack Brisco 
Jerry Brisco 
Haystacks Calhoun 
Huracan Castillo 
Ciclón Negro 
Don Curtis
Jim Dillon 
Ron Fuller 
Dory Funk, Jr. 
Mike Graham 
Great Mephisto 
Jose Lothario 
Great Malenko 
Hiro Matsuda 
Missouri Mauler 
The Mongolian Stomper 
Don Muraco 
Tony Parisi 
Thunderbolt Patterson 
Dusty Rhodes 
Buddy Roberts 
Bob Roop 
Baron Scicluna 
Dick Slater 
Pak Song 
Roberto Soto 
Toru Tanaka 
Lou Thesz 
Les Thornton 
Greg Valentine 
Bill Watts 
Johnny Weaver

Championship Wrestling from Florida (1963-1987) 
The 1960s were a topsy turvy time in Tampa. In 1961, Eddie Graham had bought into the promotion and was finding great success as both a star preformer and a booker. Throughout the decade others bought into Florida, including trainer Hiro Matsuda, renowned Japanese heel Duke Keomoka, Lester Welch of the powerful and influential Welch family and a several others. The biggest change for the promotion occured in 1963, they joined into the National Wrestling Alliance and became a regular stop for the NWA World Heavyweight and Junior Heavyweight Champions. This began a steady incline for the CWF, which began expanding throughout the decade. The Caribbean, namely Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, became good irregular stops for "L&G Promotions" in the 1960s. In 1968, Eddie Graham's career path changed in an instant when a 75-pound steel window fell on him and ended his full-time wrestling career. After that the success of Florida became his full-time focus and he began making aggressive moves to gain power. In 1971, "Cowboy" Luttrell was "forced out" by Graham, who assumed majority control. Second, he closed "L&G Promotions" and stopped trying to compete with the new promotions in Puerto Rico. Third, Graham began aggressively recruiting talent and trying build up his company as the crown jewel of the NWA. The NWA soon found themselves at war in Georgia in the early 1970s. Buddy Fuller (Edward Welch) had grown tired of dealing with Ray Gunkel and traded his shares of company with Lester Welch. Buddy headed to Tampa and Les headed to Atlanta and the problems escalated, then Gunkel died and they took another dramatic turn when his widow opened a rival company (which was not an NWA affiliate). Graham was frequently sending talent up to support the NWA and even sent in Bill Watts, his protege booker, for a spell. As that battle raged, the NWA was weakened when long-time president Sam Muchnick stepped down. From that point forward, the presidency of the NWA became the ultimate prize and after a brief stint by Fritz Von Erich, Eddie Graham took the office in the 1976 and held it until 1978. During this time, Championship Wrestling from Florida was perhaps the hottest company in the world. The roster was busting with main event stars and they were frequently cycling in established stars from elsewhere, building up new stars and utilizing the NWA Championship's drawing power. While Bill Watts had left, Dusty Rhodes had stayed and soaked up much of Graham's booking genius. Rhodes had also become the company's biggest star and was one of the hottest acts of the 1970s and even worked his way into the NWA title scene as the decade came to a close. In the early 1980s, pro-wrestling began changing radically. Vince McMahon and his World Wrestling Federation were taking over the United States, but he had great competition. Unfortunately, those companies could never cooperate enough to win the war and they began falling. Jim Crockett Promotions out of the Carolinas began expanding and trying to beat McMahon at his own game. This one company essentially assumed control of the fragmented NWA and presidency bounced between Jim Crockett Jr. and Bob Geigel (who wielded influence, but did not have a big money promotion). The power was shifting again and Dusty Rhodes left Florida to work for the Crocketts as their booker and one of their top stars. This was a deathblow to Championship Wrestling from Florida, which could not compete with the expanding companies in the United States. They held on for a few years, but financial problems were creating personal problems for Eddie Graham. The pro-wrestling world was shocked when Eddie Graham, one of the greatest minds in the sport's history, commited suicide on January 20, 1985. The company was inherited by Hiro Matsuda and Duke Keomuka. Dusty Rhodes still owned a piece of the company as did Buddy Colt and Eddie's son Mike and brother Skip rounded out the remaining owners. They kept it open for a couple years and tried to align with the Crocketts, but the magic was gone. Championship Wrestling from Florida became part of Jim Crockett Promotions in 1987. 

Jack Brisco
Buddy Colt
Eddie Graham
Mike Graham
Gary Hart
Sir Oliver Humperdink
Boris Malenko
Hiro Matsuda
Dusty Rhodes
Gordon Solie
Pak Song
Kevin Sullivan
Johnny Valentine
Bill Watts
Barry Windham

CLICK HERE for a full Florida alumni list

WWC - World Wrestling Council (1973-) 
NWA's influence over the pro-wrestling world extended into Puerto Rico in the 1960s when the country became an American commonwealth. "Cowboy" Luttrell moved in and established himself there with great success. However, a group of Puerto Ricans (Carlos Colón, Victor Jovica, José Miguel Pérez and a few others) along with Northeastern American star Gorilla Monsoon formed Capitol Wrestling Promotions and ran under the banner "World Wrestling Council". They ran regular shows and established their own stars and brought in talent from the United States' Northeast (they eventually aligned themselves with Pedro Martinez's IWA), Tennessee and Florida in addition to Canada and Japan and of course stars from Spanish-speaking countries, namely Mexico and the Dominican Republic. They even brought in El Santo in 1975, which really solidified the WWC as the main promotion in Puerto Rico. The company had some competition over the years, Mexican promoter Arturo Mendoza ran successfully in the late 1970s and many wrestlers left to form the AWF in the 1990s. The company though remained strong albeit controversial until the end of the century when they were nearly run out of business by Victor Quiñones and his IWA company. Puerto Rico became infamous for its innovative gimmick matches. They had steel cages and street fights, but took things to another level with barbed wire and even fire! These bloody battles in huge stadiums became the trademark of wrestling on the island. However, they were a successful company and as an NWA member in the 1980s, they really boomed, until 1988. There are two infamous deaths in Puerto Rico. First, Michel Martel died in 1978 and Invader #1's heart punch became the "reason," which led to a feud with the Martel brothers. Despite the ghoulish nature of this angle, it was a key element in building the WWC's peak years in the 1980s. Ten years later however, Invader #1 became known as the man who murdered Bruiser Brody. Everything about the incident turned heads: the premeditation, the violence of the act, the inadequate of medical assistance, the following legal action and the fact that José Huertas (Invader #1) never served time. This horrific event is perhaps what Puerto Rican wrestling is most famous for and it caused a near collapse of the promotion in the years that followed. The WWC has survived though and became one of the hottest promotions in the world when pro-wrestling everywhere else was struggling early in the new millennium. Although they nearly lost the promotion war with the IWA, WWC clung on to their native stars and has rebounded fairly well.

Abdullah the Butcher
Hercules Ayala
Bruiser Brody
Huracan Castillo
Carlos Colon
Victor Jovica
Dutch Mantell
Jose Miguel Perez
Miguelito Perez
Eddie Gilbert
The Invader
Jose Rivera
Hugo Savinovich
Chicky Starr

CLICK HERE for a full WWC alumni list

AWF - Americas Wrestling Federation (1991-1993) 

After the murder of Bruiser Brody, Puerto Rico has never been entirely the same. Many outsiders never returned and many natives quickly distanced themselves from the company. In 1991, a rival promotion was formed backed by a lady named Glora Uribe. The promotion was headed by Hugo Savinovich, a long-time announcer and creative mind behind WWC's success, Hercules Ayala, a top star for the WWC and Chicky Starr, the top native heel. The group had a solid base and secured some good WWC talent, but they could not compete with the establishment.

Chris Adams
Tony Atlas
Hercules Ayala
Huracan Castillo Jr.
Manny Fernandez
Ray Gonzalez
Miguel Perez Jr.
Butch Reed
Jake Roberts
Chicky Starr

IWA - International Wrestling Association (1994-) 

Although the AWF did not succeed, Victor Quiñones started a company the following year that developed while WWC was still in a weakened state and through Quiñones' connections nearly toppled the giant in the new millenium. In 1999, the IWA secured a deal that aided their growth more than any other - they became a developmental territory of the WWF. This meant that biggest company in the US would send their young stars to the company for seasoning and periodically their established stars. This relationship only lasted until 2001, but it allowed the IWA to become very competitive with the established WWC. In 2001, the WWF began struggling financially, so they cut way back on their developmental program. The United States and the rest of the world was hitting a down time when the war over Puerto Rico was heating up. Over the next few years, IWA and WWC did battle on television and in the arenas with the IWA taking the dominant position. They never crushed the WWC like they wanted, but they became the top company and have maintained that spot. Several years back, IWA changed bookers and Victor Quiñones died of a heart attack, which has seen them level off to an extent.

Tommy Dreamer 
Eddie Guerrero
Scott Hall 
Dutch Mantell
Diamond Dallas Page
Road Warrior Hawk
The Sandman
Chicky Starr 
Rick Steiner
The Undertaker 
Luke Williams