Sunday, August 14, 2022

Waterloo: The First Ever NWA World Heavyweight Title Defense

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

It certainly wasn't official, but I enthusiastically put forth the argument that the first ever defense of the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight championship was on the very evening following the formation of that alliance.

In an earlier article, I wrote about my pilgrimage to the Hotel President in Waterloo, Iowa, while attending the 2022 Induction Weekend of the Tragos/Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. The Hotel President holds a significant place in pro wrestling history.  On July 18, 1948, a group of five Midwest wrestling promoters, led by Iowa promoter Paul "Pinkie" George, met there where they forged the documents that chartered the National Wrestling Alliance. But that wasn't all the group did on that historic day.  

That very Sunday evening, this group attended a wrestling card in Waterloo promoted by Pinkie's brother, Andy George. That card featured a world heavyweight title defense (Midwest Wrestling Association version) by Kansas City's Orville Brown against the top contender, Nebraska's Joe Dusek.  

The Waterloo Courier newspaper had several mentions in the week leading up to July 18 of the gathering to attend the matches at Warerloo's Electric Park, but no mention was made of the real reason they gathered along the shores of the great Cedar River, which was the meeting to discuss forming an official alliance.

On the Friday before the Sunday wrestling card, the Courier reported that attending the matches would be a group of distinguished promoters including Fred Kohler of Chicago, Pinkie George of Des Moines, Max Clayton of Omaha, Sam Muchnick of St. Louis, George Simpson of Kansas City, and Wally Karbo representing Tony Stecher of Minneapolis. Karbo got a booking out of the trip, too, as the referee for the world title tilt between Orville Brown and Joe Dusek.

As it turned out, Simpson was not at the Waterloo combine, but Orville Brown was. Brown, while as champion, was also a partner in Simpson's Kansas City office. It isn't clear why Simpson wasn't there, but he would later be a signatory at the second meeting of these same promoters in Minneapolis in September.  

Fred Kohler also did not attend due to a prior commitment, but consented to the agreements made that day by telegram.

One of the covenants agreed to at the Waterloo meeting was that the allied promoters would recognize one single world heavyweight champion, Orville Brown. It is fair then to say that Brown's heavyweight title defense that night can be considered the first ever title defense of the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship. It surely was not declared officially as such, but it was - - in essence - - exactly that. The Alliance had been formally founded and Brown had been named its champion only hours earlier. Brown walked into the ring against Dusek that night at Electric Park with the official recognition of the allied promoters as NWA world champion, even if the five people that met earlier in that Waterloo hotel conference room were the only ones who knew it at that point. 

Brown successfully retained his title that night. The undercard included Jr. Heavyweight champion Billy Goelz of Chicago topping Mashall Estep out of Missouri. Otto Kuss of Minneapolis took the opener from Nebraska's Danny Plechas. 

Promoter Andy George had called this event "a card of national importance" in the hype leading up to the July 18 program at Electric Park. Most of that hyperbole regarded the dignitaries attending the world title event. But even Andy was likely unaware of the significance of the main event that night in Waterloo. 

In PART THREE, the final post in this series, I'll take a look at the belt that likely was used as the first NWA title belt, modified from the Midwest Wrestling Association belt Orville Brown wore at the time of the chartering of the NWA.

See also: Part One - Walking with Ghosts: A Visit to the Birthplace of the NWA

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In an unrelated side note, I was delighted to see the name of "Bulldog" Danny Plechas on this card. Pleachas must have been somewhat of a memorable character throughout the years as Blackjack Mulligan would occasionally mention him in his local promos in the Mid-Atlantic area in the 1970s. Occasionally Plechas would sarcastically be included on a list of challengers Blackjack claimed he was willing to face for his U.S. title. Other times he would mention him as someone he'd had a fight with out behind the Mesquite Club at 1:00 AM on a Saturday night. For some reason, I remembered Bulldog Plechas and was happy to come across his name on such a historically significant card, even if the true historical significance really wasn't known at the time.   


Special thanks to Tim Hornbaker and his book "National Wrestling Alliance."