This Ad will be removed when you a member of

Harley Race, 76 years old and eight times the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, died Thursday from complications related to cancer. He was hardly a young man—he was 13 years older than Vader, the monster heel he managed in WCW—and had been dealing with health problems for the better part of the past decade and managed chronic injuries throughout his career, a medical history galling even inside the masochistic wrestling world. But Race’s greatest attribute, his legendary never-say-die toughness, had him beating the odds, the evens, the imaginary numbers, and the hapless jabronis who crossed his path for so long that the news of his death seems almost impossible to believe. And yet there we have it: The Missouri sharecropper’s son, the carnival wrestler whose ferocious headbutts cost plenty of rubes and marks their hard-earned pay, finally went down for the count.

It’s safe to say they won’t be making them like Harley Race anymore. In fact, they probably weren’t making too many of them even when the 15-year-old Race was toiling on the Missouri farm owned by Stanislaus and Wladek Zbyszko, two great grappling legends of the 1910s and 1920s. The brothers had won their share of shoot matches, and Stanislaus in particular knew a thing or two about winning the hard way, having wrestled noted world-beater the Great Gama to a draw and later using his amateur skills to steal the world wrestling title from college football star Wayne Munn in a match that was supposed to be worked but ended up legit. After Race performed the backbreaking manual labor that developed his great grip strength—strength that, years later, allegedly would allow him to defeat World’s Strongest Man Bill Kazmaier in a game of “mercy”—the Zbyszkos would put Race in submission holds. “They’d put me in one, and say: ‘Try to get out,’” Race wrote in his autobiography. “The more I tried, the more I wore myself out or hurt myself. The sight of me hobbling around their farm for days on end wasn’t uncommon.”