Harley Race is one of the most legendary wrestlers of all time. A star from the 1960s onwards, he defined the “old-school” style of wrestling and was one of the best wrestlers during his time in the ring. He was one of the coolest stars of his day and was adored across the country, travelling from town to town and facing all the big stars during that time.
His in-ring style was innovative during his day and he inspired many current days wrestlers. Legends like Mick Foley, Triple H and Ric Flair have all professed to being inspired by the former NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion, with Kenny Omega recently paying tribute to him by growing a Harley Race-style moustache in AEW.
While the title’s credibility has been ripped to shreds in recent years with wrestlers like Tyrus holding the iconic belt, the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship used to be the most prestigious belt in all of wrestling. During it’s peak, Race won the belt 8 times, the second most in history only behind Ric Flair and just ahead of Jeff Jarrrett and Adam Pearce.
Harley Race Invented The Diving Headbutt
However, his biggest legacy is also one of his most controversial. Harley Race invented the diving headbutt move, made famous by many different wrestlers over the years. The move involves the wrestler jumping from the top rope with a splash, but landing with his head smashing into the opponents. It’s incredibly visual but also incredibly dangerous, as the wrestling world would later find out.
Like many inventions in wrestling, the headbutt was created completely by accident. As he climbed the top rope for a regular splash or cross body, he fell head first and banged his head onto his opponents. While it was a total mistake, it gave birth to the diving headbutt, something Race would use as a signature move for the rest of his career.
While it is an incredible move to watch, the effects on the user are actually quite sinsister. Race would admit regret for inventing the move after seeing the horrible effect it had on the users of the move over the years after his retirement.
The Dynamite Kid was one famous diving headbutt user. He innovated plenty in wrestling with his matches against Tiger Mask inspiring all facets of modern wrestling. However, he ended his life in wheelchair, suffering from years of spinal problems, in part caused by the diving headbutt.
It was not just spinal isses that Harley Race’s diving headbutt caused. Chris Benoit suffered a number of concussions due to the move over the years, with devestating effects. He murdered both himself and his family in July 2007, creating the biggest scandal in wrestling history. An analysis of his brain later found he had the brain of an 80 year old Alzheimer patient, due to the incredible damage his brain had taken over the years.
Daniel Bryan, the latest man inspired by Harley Race, suffered both. He spent a year out of the ring due to neck injuries and was then forced to retire due to concussions. Thankfully he has refrained from using the move in it’s original form, performing a much safer version by not actually smashing his head onto another mans skull.
The diving headbutt is not a banned move, despite the protests of Harley Race. Sadly, the former NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion passed away on August 1st, 2019 at the age of 76. He died from terminal lung cancer, which was revealed by Ric Flair and Dustin Rhodes.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.