Known for uninhibited bloodbaths, spellbinding technical bouts from the early 70s with the eminence of trusted announcer, the legendary Gordon Solie, “Championship Wrestling from Florida” was one of the most popular and most interesting territories in the United States, featuring sold out crowds in places like Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, St. Petersburg and West Palm Beach.
Although the first Florida Heavyweight Champion was crowned all the way back to 1944, it wasn’t until Clarence “Cowboy” Luttrall purchased the territory in 1949 that it began to rise to prominence. The promotion has gone under a series of name changes including Global Wrestling and Southern Pro Wrestling, before former pro-wrestler Eddie Graham and future NWA president and WWE Hall of Famer, purchased the territory in 1971, taking over for Luttrall who had heath issues that prevented him from running the organization.
As a promoter, Graham built an impressive roster including future legends, Dusty Rhodes, Dory Funk, Jr. and Bruiser Brody, Wahoo McDaniel, Dick Slater, Superstar Billy Graham and Ernie “the Cat” Ladd, that drew fans each week to the CWF television program that was filmed in the Tampa Sportatorium. Arena footage was always also used, and full arena show broadcasts began in the early ’80s. Among the CWF Spin-off shows that led to the popularity of wrestling from the Sunshine State, were Championship Wrestling Superstars, Global Wrestling, North Florida Championship Wrestling, United States Class Wrestling, American Championship Wrestling and Southern Professional Wrestling.
Fans from back in the day will remember some of the most bitter rivalries involving “the Prince of Darkness” Kevin Sullivan, with cohorts like Jake “the Snake” Roberts, Mark Lewin and others against fan favorites Dusty Rhodes, Black Jack Mulligan and his son, Barry Windham.
On Christmas Day, 1982, Dusty Rhodes and Kevin Sullivan met in a steel cage “loser leaves the State of Florida for 60 days’ match, a match that to this days fans can recall the promos leading up to the fateful event. In the middle of the match, Rhodes had taken an early advantage before a man dressed as Santa Claus appeared and handed Sullivan a foreign object, that enabled Sullivan to win the match by a pin fall over Rhodes. The intruder was later identified as Jack “the Snake” Roberts, imagine him coming down your chimney on Christmas eve. Rhodes taken offense to the interference of “the Snake” didn’t honor the commitment to leave Florida and violated the ban by returning as the “Masked Midnight Rider” to seek revenge on Sullivan, Roberts and his enemies in the Sunshine State. Rhodes would go onto win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from Ric Flair, but was forced to return it when he refuse to unmask and reveal his true identity as if there were really any question regarding the “Midnight Rider’s” identity, unless the Clark Kent’s eyeglass disguised always fooled or give you reason to doubt him being Superman.
Dusty Rhodes stands out among the noted performers because of the number of rivalries he had on air through most of CWF’s broadcasting history. Well known heels, newcomers and baby faces who turned heel during their tenure with CWF often sought out Rhodes to make their names in the territory. His rivals over the years included Superstar Billy Graham, Ray Stevens, Ernie Ladd, Ivan Koloff, Ron Bass and of course Rick Flair
The promotion was eventually purchased by another wrestling legend, manager & promoter Jim Crockett, Jr., as he tried to consolidate what little was left of the NWA territories in 1987.
In 2007, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) revived the promotion as a developmental territory under the name Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW). In 2012, the promotion began operating under the NXT Wrestling banner, dropping references to FCW.
On June 28, 2013, the WWE formally shuttered the Florida Championship Wrestling Arena, moving all equipment and personnel to the WWE Performance Facility in Orlando.
W Encyclopedia of Sports Entertainment – the Definitive Guide
Championship Wrestling from Florida. (2017, June 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:29, June 12, 2017
NWA Championship Wrestling from Florida
Florida Championship Wrestling unveils new arena in Tampa (http://www.wwe.com/inside/news/7596266)