by Stephen Von Slagle
Whether it was as a key member of the legendary Golden Grahams wrestling “family” during the Fifties and early Sixties, the owner/operator of Championship Wrestling from Florida throughout the Seventies and early Eighties, a three-time President of the NWA, one of wrestling’s brightest business minds and prolific trainers, or because of his career-long support of amateur wrestling and local charity, Eddie Graham was universally known as a true credit to the profession.
Eddie Graham was born Edward Gossett on January 15, 1930 in Chattanooga, TN. and he made his pro debut while still a teenager in 1947. Early in his career, while wrestling in Texas, he was often billed as Buddy Rogers’ younger brother, competing as Rip Rogers. Starting at the bottom and working his way up the card, Gossett eventually enjoyed a great deal of success while in Texas, primarily as a tag team wrestler, where he captured the NWA Texas tag team championship with the legendary Johnny Valentine as well as three NWA Southwest tag team titles with Art Neilson.
But, it was when he left Texas and relocated to the northeast, taking on the persona of Eddie Graham, Dr. Jerry Graham’s younger brother, that Gossett rose to true stardom. The duo of Jerry and Eddie Graham — The Golden Grahams — quickly became the top heel team in the territory that would soon become known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation. Together, the Graham Brothers captured no less than four United States tag team championships between 1958-1960 and villainous Golden Grahams faced the biggest names in region, including popular teams like The Bastein Brothers and Mark Lewin & Don Curtis. However, their run in the northeast will forever be remembered for the classic battles against the premier babyface team and top box-office draws of the era, the beloved duo of Antonino “Argentina” Rocca & Miguel Perez. The two teams were the unquestioned superstars of the pre-Sammartino northeast and they headlined against each other in no less than seven main-event encounters at the mecca of wrestling, Madison Square Garden, a feat that has never been repeated.
Following his tremendous run in the northeast, Eddie Graham split with his “brother” and traveled south to Florida, forever changing wrestling in the Sunshine State for the better. Now competing as a popular babyface, Graham won the NWA World Tag Team title seven times between 1961-1967 with partners like Bob Orton, Sr., Sam Steamboat, and Ike Eakins. He also dominated wrestling in the southeast as the NWA Southern Heavyweight champion, twice in 1962 and again in 1963. But, a freak accident in a locker room in 1968 almost ended his career, and took him out of action for fifteen months. While lacing his boots, a 75 lb. steel window frame fell on his head, and Graham (who was already blind in one eye) suffered torn retinas in both eyes and 300 stitches worth of damage to his face and head. The injury was a major setback for the popular Graham and Florida wrestling in general, keeping him out of the ring for well over a year. Eventually, he was awarded over $23,000 in damages by the Florida State Legislature.
In 1971, when his mentor “Cowboy” Luttrell retired, Eddie took over booking and promoting for Championship Wrestling from Florida, which arguably became the most respected and prestigious of all the many great NWA regional territories during this time period. Shortly thereafter, he introduced his son Mike Graham (Edward Gossett, Jr.) to the wrestling world, and the popular father/son duo went on to gain tremendous success. Together, The Grahams won several prestigious tag team championships in the early and mid Seventies, including both the Georgia and Florida tag team titles. Meanwhile, Graham mentored future top-tier bookers such as Bill Watts, Dusty Rhodes, and Kevin Sullivan as well as introducing the great Gordon Solie to the sport as his play-by-play announcer.
Eddie Graham’s civic duties outside of the ring truly made him an asset to the sport. His relentless pursuit of establishing amateur wrestling camps (Graham was personally responsible for getting amateur wrestling into Florida high schools, he established a $500 Wrestling Scholarship for the University Of Tampa, donated $10,000 to the University Of Florida in 1978 to create a wrestling room, and many other contributions to the amateur aspect of the sport) and his work with youth groups brought him many honors from various civic groups. In 1963, P.A.L. gave him its Achievement Award. In 1970, The Boys Club honored him with its Man-Boy Award, and in 1978 the Tampa Sports Club made Eddie Graham its Sports Citizen of The Year for his many contributions to Florida amateur wrestling. In 1980 Sen. Richard Stone awarded Graham an American flag that had flown over the White House, and proceeds from an “Eddie Graham Happy Birthday Roast” went to the Leukemia Fund. The Florida Sheriff’s Boys Ranch, which was a major project of Graham’s, also honored him in 1982. Graham once told a newspaper “When I was a kid I peddled newspapers in Chattanooga. You know, a kid can get into alot of trouble on the street. The newspaper gave us all memberships to the YMCA. It was a gift, otherwise I wouldn’t have had the money to go. That’s the way I became an athlete, and it was where I had my first encounter with wrestling. God gave me a decent enough body to be an athlete that put me in the public eye. Not only do I have an obligation to my family, but also to my community. I feel like I can influence young people.”
Eddie Graham, a very respected promoter as well as a trainer and wrestler, was elected NWA President in 1976, re-elected in 1977, and again in 1978 by the NWA Board Of Directors. The NWA’s many territories thrived during Graham’s tenure, and he was among those personally responsible for arranging the first-ever NWA vs. WWWF title unification match between Harley Race and “Superstar” Billy Graham (who was his wrestling “step-brother,” although Billy and Eddie never wrestled together and the “family” ties had nothing to do with the NWA/WWWF match) and was recognized as a very successful NWA President.
The 1980’s were not as kind to Graham, though. With his ring career over, he focused on his promotional and charitable duties, while privately battling with years of alcohol addiction. Friends said that Graham had been very despondent over his personal life, particularly regarding some non-wrestling related business ventures, and on January 20, 1985 Edward Gossett was found dead in his home, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His death created an outpouring of shock and confusion throughout the Florida cities he had helped so much and the wrestling world in general. It also left a void in Florida wrestling (both professional and amateur) that has never been filled.
Eddie graham is a member of the WCW Hall of Fame (1993), the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame (1996), the NWA Hall of Fame (2006), WWE Hall of Fame (2008), and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (2018).