The First Night of Ten Pounds of Gold

By Steve Bryant: The owner of and a contributor to the history of professional wrestling.

Jack Brisco was born in the small community of Blackwell, OK, population 7,000, on September 21 1941. One of six children, his father had deserted his family when he was young and his mother worked hard to raise the kids. His youth was filled with uncertainty but one constant he had was his love of professional wrestling, and NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz in particular. On July 20, 1973, Brisco would etch his name next to his hero Thesz, on a night that’s legacy still reverberates today.

While attending high school in Blackwell, Brisco was All-State as a fullback in football, did shot put, ran the relay, competed in high jump, and of course wrestled. In his senior year, he was voted the outstanding high school wrestler for Oklahoma by the wrestling coaches in the state. He spent his summers and spare time doing manual labor on farms to help make ends meet. Brisco declined multiple football scholarships and attended Oklahoma State where he continued to excel as a wrestler. He won the Big Eight title twice as a heavyweight and one the college championships once and was runner-up once. In 1965, Jack Brisco, wrestling in the 191-pound weight class, became the first Native American to win an NCAA championship in wrestling. Also in 1965, he began training for professional wrestling under LeRoy McGuirk.

After debuting in wrestling, Brisco had won the NWA Missouri Junior Heavyweight Championship within a few months. By the late 1960s, he had moved to Florida where he had become one of the top stars. It was in Florida where his feud with the Funks began and would continue for several years. Brisco wanted nothing more than to get a shot at Dory Funk Jr.’s NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship.

Funk and Brisco had incredible chemistry together. They traveled around the country to almost every NWA territory and had one-hour time limit draws in major cities in front of capacity crowds.

On March 2, 1973, Brisco was set to meet Funk in Houston and finally end Funk’s nearly four year-reign as champion. However on February 28, Funk was involved in a car accident and separated his shoulder. So on March 2, Brisco wrestled Fritz Von Erich in Houston. Brisco won the match but he was angry. He knew there was nothing he could do but wait. Brisco would keep coming back to Houston and wrestle the area’s top guys from Wahoo McDaniel, Johnny Valentine, and others but he couldn’t help but think that Funk was avoiding him.

On May 24, 1973, in Kansas City, Harley Race was given a title match against Funk and won. Harley Race had ended the four-year reign of Dory Funk Jr. But what about Brisco?

Houston had been promised an NWA Worlds Championship match. And on July 20, 1973, they were going to get it. The advertising for the event stressed that there was to be no television broadcast of the show. If you wanted to see the title match you had to be there live.

In addition to the big match, that night at the Sam Houston Coliseum the NWA would unveil their brand new $10,000 dollar gold championship belt, replacing the title that had been in use since 1959. The new belt would go on to be known as The Ten Pounds of Gold, the championship that was the backbone for one of the NWA’s true high periods and the model for the current title (and the name of the NWA’s YouTube series).

After five matches on the undercard, NWA president Sam Muchnick came to the ring carrying a large case that contained the new championship belt. Then, the challenger Brisco walked from the dressing room to the ring to a thunderous ovation from the audience.

After a few moments, Harley Race appeared from the darkness and walked to the ring wearing the NWA belt that had been in use for 24 years. Once in the ring, Race handed the title to Muchnick, who then made the proclamation that this new championship belt will usher in a new era no matter who walks out of the ring with it.

Once the match began, Brisco was in control for the majority of the first fall, but Race managed to slam him to the mat and get a pin in just over 12 minutes. In the second fall Brisco, fighting for his life, threw everything he had at Race, finally getting him to submit with a leg breaker. The match was even at one fall a piece.

When the two wrestlers came out for the third fall, it was Brisco who once again set the pace. When Race threw Brisco into the ropes, expecting to toss him into the air for a backdrop, they hit, with Brisco coming high. The move had knocked Race down and Brisco landed on top to get the fall.

The crowd exploded and photographers flooded the ring. Race picked himself up, went over and shook Briscos’s hand and left the ring. There was a new National Wrestling Alliance Worlds Heavyweight Champion.

This was the first time a world championship had changed hands in Houston since Bobby Managoff defeated Yvon Robert in November 1942. Prior to that Bronko Nagurski defeated Lou Thesz in June 1939.

Brisco would be the first wrestler to hold the Ten Pounds of Gold and would hold the championship for most of the next three years over two reigns. For a lot of fans, the time period that followed, from Brisco’s reigns through Ric Flairs was a true golden age for the NWA. The Ten Pounds of Gold would become the belt that is most synonymous with the NWA.

Muchnick was right. That night Jack Brisco ushered in a new era of the NWA.

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