Yesterday, the pro wrestling world lost a legend, as WWE Hall of Famer “Superstar” Billy Graham passed away at the age of 79. With his flamboyant style, and preference for entertainment over technical grappling, he essentially created the template for what would become the modern WWE pro wrestler. Of course, WWE doesn’t call them pro wrestlers and Paul Heyman noted on Twitter that Graham is a big reason for that.
“Before Billy Graham, performers in WWWF / WWF/ WWE were known as professional wrestlers,” Heyman began. “After Billy Graham left his mark, Vincent Kennedy McMahon decided everyone would be a WWE Superstar. A most heartfelt RIP to the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour!”
Graham began his pro wrestling career in 1970 and was given the “Superstar” nickname in 1972 when he joined the AWA. As someone who idolized Muhammad Ali, Graham began to incorporate more poetry into his promos, coining such iconic lines as “I lift barbell plates. I eat T-bone steaks. I’m sweeter than a German chocolate cake. How much more of me can you take?“
Graham also began wearing tye-dyed shirts and other over-the-top outfits to help him stand out from the more serious grapplers of the day. A look that would go on to serve as inspiration for Hulk Hogan and Jesse Ventura.
“There wouldn’t be a Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura without the in-ring success and trailblazing showmanship of Superstar Billy Graham,” Ventura writes on Twitter. “One of my proudest wrestling memories was having the honor of being inducted into the same WWE Hall of Fame class as Graham. Rest In Power Superstar.”
Graham went on to become the WWWF Heavyweight Champion, among his many other championships and Hall of Fame inductions. He also won back-to-back Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of The Year wins in 1977 and 1978, for his bouts against Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund, respectively.
Haus of Wrestling sends its condolences to the family, friends, and fans of “Superstar” Billy Graham.