The world of professional wrestling has always been filled with colourful, eccentric, boisterous characters from Gorgeous George all the way up to the Velveteen Dream; larger than life personas the business is built on. For me, there is still one who remains head and shoulders above the rest and his name is “Superstar” Billy Graham. Superstar exploded onto the scene on January 16.1970 wrestling under his real name of Wayne Coleman after completing his training under the tutelage of Stu Hart.

At 6’4” and weighing in at a chiselled 275 pounds, sporting a bronze tan and having bleach blonde hair, Graham stood out head and shoulders above other wrestlers as while wrestlers were always strong and many were thick, Graham sported a bodybuilders physique at a time when in wrestling, many of the stars were sporting beer guts and endless amounts of body hair. On top of the ripped physique and blonde hair, Graham also wore bright coloured outfits making him stand out even more in an era where the typical wrestler wore either red, black or blue trunks or generic long tights; Graham wore tie-dye shirts and splashed tights the man looked like a Superstar.

Photo Courtesy of

Graham had a brief run in Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association where he would feud with Ken Patera, Wahoo McDaniel, The Crusher and The Bruiser. Graham would then go to Japan and compete for the International Wrestling Alliance where he would have matches with Mighty Inoue, Rusher Kimura. It did not take long for the charismatic Superstar to get picked up by the World Wide Wrestling Federation where he would make his debut in a tag team match alongside, Spiros Arion and face the tandem of, Dominic De Nucci and the WWWF Heavyweight champion, Bruno Sammartino. From June to August of 1976 Graham would in the NWA’s Houston territory. After this run, Graham would go back to Japan and be managed by, Ivan Koloff in a feud with Japanese wrestling icon, Antonio Inoki.

After this Graham and Koloff would return to the states and make an unsuccessful attempt at making their own wrestling promotion in southern California. Graham would then receive an invitation to join the NWA’s territory in Florida where he would defeat the white-hot Rhodes for the Florida heavyweight title on November 22, 1976. Around this time, Graham would make stops in St. Louis where he was a substitute for, Ric Flair who had been injured in a plane crash. Graham would soon return to the WWWF and on April 30, 1977, would defeat Bruno Sammartino in Baltimore Maryland to capture the heavyweight championship dethroning the Italian superman.

Photo Courtesy of footage owned by World Wrestling Entertainment
Photo Courtesy of footage owned by World Wrestling Entertainment

Graham would have a historic and successful run as champion defending the belt against all comers, Ivan Putski, Mil Mascaras, and Gorilla Monsoon all fell at the hands of the Superstar. It was also here where; Graham would resume his rivalry with the American Dream, Dusty Rhodes. On September 26. 1977 Graham and Rhodes would clash in Madison Square Garden in front of a sold-out, raucous crowd, it would be their next showdown which would end up being Graham’s favourite match of his career. On October 24, 1977, Graham and Rhodes would have a return bout after Rhodes had defeated Graham in the first match by a count-out, this time it would be a Texas Deathmatch. At one point during the match, Graham would go underneath the ring and pull out a long rope and proceed to wrap it around the ample waist of Rhodes in a modified version of the Superstar Bear Hug.

Photo Courtesy of

The two men would brawl to the outside and Rhodes would end up busting Graham wide open. Rhodes would use the rope on Graham, causing him to make a crucifix like, pose as Rhodes hung him with the rope in a historic shot. Graham would get the victory, however, as Rhodes and Graham would collide in the centre of the ring and a bloodied Graham would fall on top of Rhodes and gain the victory. The crowd still wanted to see a true conclusion to the Graham/Rhodes saga and Dusty would pitch an idea to the office, he told them that they could get one more sell-out in Madison Square Garden off the backs of Graham and Rhodes and this time, the third and final showdown would be a Bullrope match.

A packed crowd witnessed one of wrestling’s most famous matches as Graham and Rhodes battered one another with a dirty Bullrope that had a rusty Cowbell at the centre which  both men used to carve into one another, As an added attraction, Chief Jay Strongbow was made the special referee. Strongbow would strongly favour Rhodes throughout the match and would gift Rhodes the victory by a count-out. Graham would yet again make history as he would face Harley Race in the Orange Bowl football stadium in Miami, Florida in what was billed as the “Superbowl of Wrestling” it was a title unification match with WWWF champion, Graham facing the double tough NWA champion, Harley Race. In a rain-drenched ring, the two men battled to a one-hour draw in a gruelling, unique spectacle.

Photo Courtesy of World Wrestling Entertainment

Despite being portrayed as a heel, Graham was getting massive cheers from the audience, his colourful wardrobe, tremendous physique and his Muhammad Ali like promos made him a captivating character, the fans wanted to cheer for. Graham, knowing this pitched an idea to Vince McMahon Senior where during a title match with Backlund, Ivan Koloff would turn on Graham and make Graham a babyface and he and Koloff would feud for the title. Vince did not see Graham as anything but a cocky, arrogant heel, despite the crowd beginning to tell him otherwise, so he went through with his plans to give the title to the traditional all-American good guy, Bob Backlund, taking the belt off of Graham. Graham would lose the championship to Backlund on February 20, 1978.

Graham would get his rematches but would lose them all to Backlund and in many cases, Graham was cheered over the do-gooder Backlund. Seeing the writing on the wall and growing frustrated with Vince Senior’s inability to see him as anything but a heel, Graham went into a deep depression, already a known and admitted steroid abuser, Graham would seemingly stop training altogether, shave his head and grow a mustache during a hiatus from the wrestling business. It did not take long for the statuesque physique of, Graham to turn to mush as he would be noticeably smaller and flabbier upon his return to wrestling.

Photo Courtesy of

Graham would return to the WWWF to face the old foe, Backlund. Gone were the larger than life colours and the flamboyant rap of the Superstar, he was now proclaiming himself the world Karate Champion and wore black pants and a Karate Gi to the ring as well as adapting some martial arts moves to his repertoire. Graham has admitted that he wanted to retire the “Superstar” persona out of frustration towards Vince Senior’s lack of interest in making him a babyface. Graham was now a more sinister and devious type of character. The “Superstar” name was still able to get sell-outs in Madison Square Garden and the Philadelphia Spectrum, but he was the “Superstar” in name only.

After failing to gain back the championship from, Backlund, Graham would go down to Florida and join, Kevin Sullivan’s Army of Darkness stable and would become Satanic to match the characters of Sullivan, Humperdink and the other members of the stable. This was short-lived as Graham would turn face by standing up to Sullivan, stopping him from hitting a woman. The Army would then turn on, Graham and assault him before apparently tying him down him out in a desert somewhere and leaving him for dead. Graham would return a few weeks later to help his kayfabe relative, Mike Graham who was also in the midst of a feud with Army of Darkness.

Graham would join Jim Crockett Promotions and be a heel once more as he aligned himself with Paul Jones in his feud with Jimmy Valiant. By now, Graham had once again begun training and this combined with more abuse of steroids allowed him to regain some of the muscle mass which he had before, but the damage had been done as the years of abusing steroids combined with the lack of training was starting to take its toll. Graham would eventually turn on Jones, grow in a full goatee, and return to the tye-dye flamboyant “Superstar” Billy Graham.

Photo Courtesy of

Graham, now a beloved babyface was getting good reactions from the crowd but it was clear his best drawing days were behind him. Despite this, he was in line to feud with Ric Flair for the NWA title but before any real headway could be made in the feud, Graham would return to the World Wrestling Federation which was now being run by Vince McMahon Jr. Seeing big money potential in Graham still, Vince brought him back as a good guy and Graham was slated to be a member of Hulk Hogan’s 1987 Survivor Series team and it is rumoured that he would have turned on Hulk and feuded with him for the championship. Unfortunately for Graham, his body would fail on him in 1987 and he would suffer numerous injuries caused directly by his steroid abuse. Vince would try various other roles for Graham, he would make him a manager for a newly turned face, Don Muraco, he would even put Graham in the booth as a commentator, but neither would really catch on.

These days Graham still makes headlines but usually for the worst possible reasons, he has verbally attacked, Chris Jericho who called him a has-been. While I do not think, Jericho had any malice in calling Graham a has been, I think the lack of respect is what triggered Graham who had as evil a verbal tirade as one can conjure up in response to, Jericho. Unfortunately for a man who was so famous for his promo style he now uses his gift of gab to berate the very industry he helped revolutionise. He has also encouraged current stars such as Kofi Kingston and Adam Cole to use steroids, stating they are too small to be serious champions. It is obvious that Graham is as bitter as the day is long and I am not going to attempt to defend his many outbursts. I do think, however, his bitterness still stems from the fact that he was never given a fair shot to reach his full potential.

So many credits the rise of Hulkamania in the mid-80s as the turning point for wrestling going mainstream but the truth is, without Billy Graham there would be no Hulk Hogan. Hogan himself has admitted that he took a lot of his character from Superstar Billy Graham. Graham has also been listed as an influence on men like Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, Paul Ellering, Scott Steiner, and countless others. While Graham can be directly linked to the steroid culture that ran amuck in the 80s and early 90s in wrestling, he should also be directly linked to being one of the most influential wrestlers of all-time through his colorful attire, tremendous ability to talk and being one of the first “larger than life” stars in a profession built on larger than life stars. After all there is a reason why WWE wrestlers are called “Superstars”, that is thanks to Billy Graham.



By Mark Cannon Jr.

Total wrestling nerd. I also like Batman, Basketball, and video games!

Leave a Reply