by Stephen Von Slagle
Championship Wrestling from Florida (a.k.a. “Tampa”)
Clarence Luttrell (1949-1971)
Eddie Graham (1971-1985)
Mike Graham (1985-1987)
Hiro Matsuda (1985–1987)
Duke Keomuka (1985–1987)
STATES & PRIMARY CITIES:
Florida (Tampa, Orlando, Miami, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, Tallahassee, Miami Beach)
Southern Heavyweight title (1962-1987)
Southern Tag Team title (1960-1971)
Florida Heavyweight title (1934-1988)
Florida Tag Team title (1968-1987)
Florida Television title (1970-1987)
Florida Bahamas title (1982-1987)
Florida Brass Knuckles title (1960-1984)
For nearly four decades, the Florida territory was one of the National Wrestling Alliance’s premier regions, known for its stellar array of big-name superstars and a management team that placed a very high premium on technical skill and in-ring performance. Originally promoted by the legendary Clarence “Cowboy” Luttrell, who operated the territory from 1949-1971, it was under the auspices of Luttrell’s protégé Eddie Graham (Edward Gossett) that the Tampa-based promotion truly reached its zenith. Having studied under the Cowboy for more than a decade prior to Luttrell’s retirement in 1971, when Graham took over ownership of the Florida office he combined the many lessons he’d learned from his mentor with his own promotional creativity and knowledge of the business, guiding the Florida territory to new levels of popularity.
As an owner/operator, the talented Graham employed a number of promotional strategies, both prescriptive and nontraditional, that resulted in continual growth during the fourteen years that he ran the territory. Over the course of a decade and a half, Graham’s keen eye for talent and his ability to both create new stars and attract the best available wrestlers to his promotion led to a territory that overflowed with top performers. Meanwhile, his popular Championship Wrestling from Florida program drew impressively high ratings not only in the Sunshine State, but also in the New York/New Jersey market, where it was broadcast on a Spanish language station, WNJU-TV Channel 47. Eddie Graham’s strong friendship with Vincent J. McMahon resulted in a healthy talent-trading agreement between the two masterminds, leading to several inter-promotional championship matches, most notably the “Superbowl of Wrestling” card that took place in Miami on January 25, 1978. Held at the Orange Bowl, the unique event featured several matches pitting Graham’s NWA stars against McMahon’s WWWF wrestlers, including a main event match-up between NWA World champion Harley Race and WWWF Heavyweight titleholder “Superstar” Billy Graham. Later, Graham would promote other groundbreaking “supercards” such as 1980’s “The Last Tangle In Tampa,” which drew nearly 18,000 fans. He also personally groomed his two star pupils, Jack Brisco and Dusty Rhodes, to become eventual NWA World Heavyweight champions.
Although he was a revolutionary promoter and a tremendous businessman, by 1985, Eddie Graham found himself in a truly dolorous situation. Years of alcohol abuse were catching up with him and, additionally, he was reportedly very despondent over some business dealings that were unrelated to wrestling which would have likely destroyed his good standing as a civic leader and possibly have led to some type of jail time. On January 20, 1985, a despondent Edward Gossett committed suicide. In the aftermath of his death, the Florida promotion was taken over by his longtime associates and minority owners Hiro Matsuda and Duke Keomuka. Graham’s suicide and the subsequent change in leadership came at an already tumultuous period for the Florida promotion that had seen the territory lose much of its best talent to Vincent K. McMahon’s WWF and other competitors. Under the leadership of Matsuda, Keomuke and Gossett’s son Mike Graham, the Florida territory carried on, but in doing so it continually lost money. Within two years of Eddie Graham’s death, the once-mighty Florida promotion found itself on the verge of bankruptcy and, in February of 1987, it was purchased by Jim Crockett Promotions. In the years following Graham’s death and the eventual closure of his territory, several attempts were made to form new Florida promotions that hoped to replicate the popularity of Graham’s CWF, however, none were able to do so successfully.