Fighting

Honoring Cowboy Luttrall, Eddie Graham at CWF Fanfest

Thanks to Barry Rose, I spoke with Belinda Luttrall, the daughter of the late, great Cowboy Luttrall, who started what became Championship Wrestling from Florida with another late, great legend Eddie Graham.

Hillsborough County will honor the CWF forefathers Luttrall and Graham during the CWF Fanfest on Saturday, June 3 at the American Legion Hall Post 147, 17383 Gunn Hwy., Odessa, Fla. 33556 in North Tampa.

Their family members will accept the honor for these wrestling legends who made Saturday TV viewing in Florida fun during my youthful days in the 1970s and 1980s.

“They did a lot for the community, and we’re all just very honored that they’re actually honoring them,” Belinda Luttrall said. “Nicole Gossett Alonso, the grand daughter of Eddie Graham, they’re going to be honoring her and her family for her grandfather, and we’ll be there for my father, Cowboy Luttrall.”

The life of Cowboy Luttrall is fascinating.

A few years before Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki were born, boxing great Jack Dempsey and heel wrestler Cowboy Luttrall had a high-profile boxer vs. wrestler boxing match.

That contest occurred on July 1, 1940 at Pone de Leon Park in Atlanta.

Ali and Inoki had a high-profile boxer vs. wrestler match in Tokyo in 1976.

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Belinda Luttrall discussed her father, the wrestler, boxing Dempsey, who retired from the ring eight years prior.

“My father was really good friends with Jack Dempsey,” Belinda said. “I remember him when I was as a little kid. I called him Uncle Jack.”

Belinda was not born when Uncle Jack and her father boxed in the squared circle, but she was told the story by those combatants.

After retiring from boxing, Dempsey worked wrestling matches as a referee. He officiated one of Cowboy Luttrall’s matches, and things got heated.

“After Jack Dempsey retired from boxing, he did a lot of refereeing,” she said. “I don’t know if my dad decided to do this or it just popped up, but my dad was wrestling one night, when Jack Dempsey was refereeing, and my dad didn’t like one of the calls, so he hit him.

“Then my dad said in front of everybody there, ‘I challenge you to a wrestling match,’ and Jack Dempsey said, ‘No. I’ll box you,’ and my dad said, ‘All right, I’ll do that.’ You know that drew in the crowd right there.”

Belinda continued: “Second round knockout, Jack Dempsey knocked my dad out of the ring...When my dad got knocked out of the ring, he hit his head on the iron ring bell, and it knocked him out cold. My dad was in a coma for a couple of days. When he woke up, he was paralyzed on his right side, and he couldn’t see out of his right eye. It took him a while, but he got back to normal, but he lost the eyesight in that right eye for good.

“My dad was still best friends with Jack Dempsey. Jack felt bad, but my dad was like,’ Hey, that’s what we were going to do, and that’s the way it worked. I’m a wrestler. You’re a boxer.’ That’s the way it worked.”

It worked very well. The Dempsey-Luttrall match packed the place.

Belinda said: “My dad said, ‘Hey, we made a helluva lot of money, though, didn’t we, Jack?’ Jack said, ‘Yea, but I didn’t want that to happen to you, and my dad said, ‘Hey, that’s what happens in this profession.’”

The Luttrall-Dempsey friendship lasted a long time.

“My dad had known him for quite some time, even before that,” Belinda said. “I knew Jack Dempsey when I was a little kid, and that was in the early 50s, when I knew him, and I knew him all through my lifetime, until he passed away. We went to New York several times, and we would go to his restaurant, Jack Dempsey’s [Broadway] Restaurant [in Manhattan in New York City].”

So what would you eat at Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant?

She chuckled: “I would always have a hamburger and a small Coke.”

Belinda, 65, graduated from King High School in Tampa. She became a housewife, before turning to teaching, involved in pre-school and after-school care for 26 years and counting. Her daughter, Heather, and son-in-law, Karl, have a grandson, Logan, 11, who is a big wrestling fan. Her daughter, Jenny, and son-in-law, Daniel, have a 3-year-old daughter, Zoe.

Hillsborough County is honoring Cowboy Luttrall and Eddie Graham at the CWF Fanfest for their pro wrestling acumen and philanthropy efforts in the community (including the Harris Cancer Foundation, University of Florida, University of Tampa, Florida Sheriff’s Boys’ Youth Ranch) in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s.

When Cowboy Luttrall retired from active wrestling in 1949, he moved to Florida and opened the office, which later became Championship Wrestling from Florida. Graham, who was trained by Luttrall to wrestle in 1947, reunited with his mentor in 1960 in Tampa, the Florida promotion’s home base. Graham wrestled as one of the top stars in Florida and assisted greatly behind the scenes. Graham took over the promotion in 1971, when Cowboy retired for good from the profession because of health reasons.

“Eddie did not want him to retire,” Belinda said. “They were doing it together. It was L&G Promotions.”

Belinda reflected further: “In 1949, Col. Hesterly from the Armory in Tampa sent a telegram to my father, wanting him to come in and do the wrestling promoting. My dad accepted the job and did it for a long time, and then him and Eddie worked together, forming L&G Promotions in 1961.”

Cowboy Luttrall treated Eddie like a son.

“My dad met Eddie in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when my dad was living there for a while, while wrestling...That’s where my dad met my mom, too,” Belinda said. “Eddie lived there in Chattanooga. He was about 15 or 16 when my dad met him.

“My dad told me this story. ‘This skinny little kid came up to me and said, ‘I want to be a wrestler.’ My dad said, ‘You’re too skinny little boy,’ and Eddie said, ‘Well, I’ll do whatever I have to get that way. I want to be a wrestler like you.’

“My dad told him, ‘Well, I’m selling this wrestling newspaper on this corner right here, and I’m gonna see what kind of kid you are. I’m gonna let you do this everyday and see how many you sell, how good you do, and if you do good, I’m gonna pay you good, and then I might think you’re serious about this.’ Eddie showed how serious he was, and my dad took him under his wing, and the rest is history.”

Quite the history.

The Florida promotion thrived with stars such as Lou Thesz, Gene Kiniski, Graham, Don Curtis, Sam Steamboat, the Great Malenko, Johnny Valentine, Hiro Matsuda, Bob Orton Sr., Bob Orton Jr., Joe Scarpa (Chief Jay Strongbow), Wahoo McDaniel, the Funks (Terry and Dory Jr.), the Brisco Brothers (Jack and Jerry), Buddy Colt, Dusty Rhodes, Blackjack Mulligan, Jos Leduc, Steve Keirn, Barry Windham, Mike Rotunda, Mike Graham (Eddie’s son), and Kevin Sullivan and his cult-like Army of Darkness.

Iconic announcer Gordon Solie called the action, beginning in 1960.

Under the CWF and NWA banners, Dusty Rhodes became The American Dream in Florida. His rivals included Harley Race, Superstar Billy Graham, Ray Stevens, Ernie Ladd, Ivan Koloff, Ox Baker, King Curtis, the Funks (especially Terry), Ron Bass, Abdullah the Butcher, Ric Flair, his old Texas Outlaws partner Dick Murdoch and of course Kevin Sullivan.

Belinda said: “My dad’s health started failing a lot in 1970, 71. He wrestled a lot himself when he was younger. He had a lot of injuries.”

Graham took full control, buying out Luttrall. The promotion became Championship Wrestling from Florida. Graham and Luttrall remained close, but Luttrall did not return to pro wrestling in any capacity. He just felt that if he could not work, he did not want to be around it. He died in 1981.

- CWF Fanfest

Championship Wrestling from Florida Fanfest is Saturday, June 3 at the American Legion Hall Post 147, 17383 Gunn Hwy., Odessa, Fla. 33556 in North Tampa.

Meet the Masked Assassin, his son and former WCW and WWE Referee Nick Patrick, Steve Keirn, Bugsy McGraw, The Cuban Assassin (making his first fanfest appearance as The Saint), Rick The Gladiator Hunter, Lady Maxine and more.

The Assassin had a legendary feud with the American Dream Dusty Rhodes. He later worked for WWE, running Deep South Wrestling, when it was developmental for WWE in Georgia.

There will also be special recognition by Hillsborough County for the late, greats Cowboy Luttrall and Eddie Graham, the two masterminds behind CWF. Members of the families of both wrestling legends will accept the honor on their behalf.

Tickets are limited to only 200 wrestling fans.

SuperTickets to this event are available on a first come, first serve basis and include a photo opportunity and one autograph with all of the wrestling legends. Additional autograph opportunities will be made available. This SuperTicket, which includes admission to the event is $55.

Following the Fanfest, there will be a 90-minute CWF Archive Group Cocktail Party. There will be a cash bar and complimentary hors d’oeuvres plus the opportunity to mingle with select legends and catch up with other CWF Archive group members. A SuperTicket + CWF Archive Group Cocktail Party opportunity is $75.

In addition, a Dinner MegaTicket will be available to 30 fans. They will have a catered dinner with The Assassin and Nick Patrick. There will be nothing off limits in conversation while conversing over a meal with one of the most unique talents ever to compete in CWF.

The Dinner MegaTicket, which includes a photo op and two autographs with all the fanfest guests, a catered buffet dinner with The Assassin and Nick Patrick, a group dinner photo, and VIP Access to the entire event is $125 and is available to only 30 guests.

General admission to the event which will also feature vendors with unique wrestling memorabilia is only $5. Other opportunities to just meet certain CWF legends are also available.

EVENT TIMES

Fanfest: 2:30-5 p.m.; VIP Cocktail Hour: 5-6:30 p.m.; Dinner: 6:30-8 p.m.

GetCWFFanfestTicketsHere

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Mixed Matches

Boxer Jack Dempsey-Wrestler Cowboy Luttrall

Boxer Joe Louis-Wrestler Cowboy Rocky Lee

Boxer Muhammad Ali-Wrestler Buddy Wolfe

Boxer Muhammad Ali-Wrestler Antonio Inoki

Boxer Chuck Weppner-Wrestler Andre the Giant

*Boxer Rocky Johnson-Wrestler Jerry Lawler

Toughman Butterbean-Wrestler Bart Gunn (thanks Nick Mayberry)

Boxer Floyd Mayweather-Wrestler Big Show

Boxer James Toney-MMA Randy Couture (thanks Meir Nissim)

Boxer Rocky-Wrestler Thunderlips

*Rocky Johnson was a former amateur boxer, and he appeared in Memphis to play the role of boxer in the boxer vs. wrestler match against Lawler.

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