Florida wrestling legend Mike Graham (Michael Gossett) was found dead last week in Daytona Beach. He was in town for Biktoberfest.
Cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was 61.
Mike Graham, at cruiserweight size (5-8, 225), more than held his own against heavyweights during his heyday. He helped prove smaller wrestlers can be believable standing their ground against bigger talent. He wrestled singles against many shapes and sizes and did it well.
The Harts, HBKs, Jerichos, Mysterios continued to prove size didn’t matter, elevating their game to an even higher level and thus main eventing on the grandest stages -- thanks partly to those before them like Mike.
Mike made a grand mark in Florida. The son of Eddie Graham, Mike learned the business from his Hall of Fame dad. Eddie Graham was a gutsy, tough wrestler himself at 5-11, 215. Eddie also had much success in the 1970s and early 1980s as a booker, promoter and owner of Championship Wrestling from Florida.
Under the guidance of Eddie Graham in Florida, Dusty Rhodes became The American Dream and Gordon Solie became the best wrestling announcer ever. Eddie, a genius of ring psychology, had a gift that resonated into successful storylines for his wrestlers.
At the height of Eddie’s business career, Championship Wrestling from Florida flourished tremendously. During the territory days, the NWA named him president in 1976.
Even with a powerful dad at the helm, Mike Graham had his work cut out. Mike wanted to prove his worth — proved he belonged — and he did, earning the respect of his peers and fans in Florida. Trained by his father, Hiro Matsuda and Boris Malenko in Tampa, where he was born and raised, Mike transitioned very well from solid amateur wrestler and standout weightlifter to professional wrestling. “The Wrestler” magazine recognized his efforts by naming him Rookie of the Year in 1972. (In 1979, its sister publication, “Pro Wrestling Illustrated,” debuted, taking over the awards.)
During a lengthy career that spanned five decades, Mike won numerous singles and tag team titles. He teamed successfully with his father, Eddie, winning NWA Florida tag team gold during his early days. Mike formed an even better tag team with his friend, Steve Keirn, a no-nonsense, up-n-coming wrestler. Eddie was friends with Steve’s father, Col. Keirn, who was a Vietnam POW. Eddie was like a second father to Steve, and Mike was like his brother.
Mike and Steve won NWA Florida tag team gold nine times. They earned NWA North American tag team gold and celebrated their biggest conquest by winning the NWA U.S. tag team titles over the WWWF’s Valiant brothers (Jimmy and Johnny) during the Superbowl of Wrestling, a mega-event (pre-WrestleMania) featuring NWA and WWWF talent at Miami’s famous Orange Bowl in 1978.
A memorable night in the Orange Bowl as I remember as a youth fortunate enough to garner a ticket with my friend, Joey DeRosa (our star hitter/pitcher on our youth baseball team) and our dads. The weather drizzling rain at times in the outdoor venue, but many fans still attended like us, and the wrestlers competed, giving their all. The South Florida crowd erupted when Florida’s Mike Graham and Steve Keirn won the titles from the boys from New York City the famous Valiant brothers.