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If the criteria for being a Hall of Fame member includes changing the business and leaving your mark, then Bearcat Wright is definitely qualified to be included in the Class of 2024.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1932 to heavyweight boxing champion Ed “Bearcat” Wright, “Bearcat Jr” eventually followed in his father’s footsteps achieving a professional boxing record of 8-0 in the early 1950s before transitioning to the world of professional wrestling. In 1958 he was quoted as saying that he had earned $225 for his first two wrestling matches, more than he had made his entire boxing career. The following year he made his official professional debut and began a successful career, but the success did not come easy. Early in Wright’s career he would participate in “black only” matches, as was the normal practice in both boxing and wrestling at the time.

In areas that didn’t practice this segregation, black wrestlers were often depicted as heels and at 6’6 and 275lbs, Bearcat was a formidable opponent for the popular grapplers of the day. He utilized his boxing skills and a brawling style to further accentuate this villain persona, but soon added a variety of kicks and splashes from the top rope as he began to transition to babyface. He is credited for being one of the first to feature the flying drop kick in his move set. He wasn’t known as a mat technician, but became a fan favorite due to his roughhouse style, athletic build, natural charisma, and arial attacks, which ironically were grounds for disqualification at the time. It was said that he was able to pull a good entertaining match out of technically sound opponents that lacked personality.

As Wright’s popularity increased, so did the controversy that surrounded his career, although most of it was created by Bearcat and became the genesis of the contributions that highlight his legacy. In the early 60s Bearcat Wright publicly declared before an audience in Gary, Indiana, that he would no longer participate in segregated wrestling. This stance earned him a suspension from the Indiana State Athletic Commission. He began to draw huge crowds, sometimes selling out events where he faced the likes of Johnny Valentine and Nature Boy Buddy Rogers. Although he had earned several regional titles, in 1961 he defeated Killer Kowalski to win the Big Time Pro Wrestling Championship. On August 23, 1963- five days before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic 'I Have a Dream' speech, Bearcat Wright defeated Classy Freddie Blassie for the WWA World Heavyweight Championship making him the first black world champion in professional wrestling. After winning this title, he refused to relinquish it to both Edouard Carpentier and the former champion Blassie stating that as champion he was a role model to the entire race.

When the promoter Mike LeBell enlisted the services of his son, legendary shooter Judo Gene LeBell, Wright refused the match and was stripped of the title. This controversial stand resulted in many promoters refusing to work with him, although he did eventually return to their good graces. Bearcat Wright enjoyed another decade of success in the business.

He even survived a death hoax that was started by promoters still looking to affect his popularity. This rumor was so strong that it was reported in Inside Wrestling magazine by Nebraska Pro Wrestling Hall of Famer Bill Apter in 1973. The magazine received letters reporting Bearcat sightings, and two years later Apter crossed paths with Wright backstage in Florida, where he was managing the Mongolian Stomper. Bearcat thanked the writer for the article which he called the biggest help of his career, from which he retired in 1975. Bearcat Wright passed away in 1982 from sickle cell anemia complications, but not before leaving behind an impressive legacy. He will forever be known as a pioneer in the business, as someone not afraid to take a stand and shatter barriers, and from this point on as a member of the Nebraska Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Please join us in welcoming Edward “Bearcat” Wright to the Class of 2024.

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