July 18, 1948, Waterloo, Iowa
The story of the National Wrestling Alliance, which for decades was the largest and most powerful governing body in professional wrestling, can be traced back to a rather humble beginning in rural Iowa, with its founding father, Paul “Pinkie” George. After a short career as a professional boxer, George began promoting both boxing and wrestling during the late-1920s. While Iowa has always maintained a long and rich history with the sport of wrestling, in terms of the professional side of the game, George found that his business in the Hawkeye State paled in comparison to the big numbers of other wrestling hotbeds, particularly his neighbor to the south, St. Louis. In an effort to boost his territory’s standing, George made overtures to St. Louis wrestling czar Tom Packs, hoping to forge some sort of talent exchange agreement with the powerful and influential Packs. When he was unsuccessful in that endeavor, George began reaching out to other neighboring promoters who were looking to exchange talent and increase their business while also maintaining their independence from the powerful St. Louis office.
His efforts eventually led to a strong relationship with Orville Brown, who was a top-tier, nationally-known wrestler as well as booker for George Simpson’s Kansas City-based territory. Brown soon became a major star in George’s cities throughout Iowa and, away from the public, the two became close friends. In addition to his working arrangement with Simpson & Brown, “Pinkie” George also developed loose partnerships with Max Clayton in Omaha and Tony Stecher in Minneapolis, both cities being major wrestling hotbeds during this period. Tony Stecher, who was the most successful promoter in the coalition, soon reached out to Packs’ promotional rival in St. Louis, Sam Muchnick, and recruited him into their collective. Working together, their partnership boosted business in each of their neighboring cities, and the circuit between Des Moines, Omaha, Kansas City, Minneapolis and St. Louis formed the foundation of what would soon become the National Wrestling Alliance.
Seeing the obvious benefits enjoyed by each party involved, the entrepreneurial George then took the loose affiliation a step farther and invited each man to a formal meeting in Waterloo, Iowa to discuss cementing their successful working arrangement. On July 18, 1948, the collection of promoters that Paul George brought to Waterloo convened in the ninth-floor Gold Room of the Hotel President to discuss the business at hand. In attendance on that fateful day were George (Des Moines), Max Clayton (Omaha), Orville Brown (representing Kansas City promoter George Simpson), Sam Muchnick (St. Louis) and Wally Karbo (representing Minneapolis promoter Tony Stecher). Powerful Chicago promoter Fred Kohler (who officially joined in 1949) was not in Waterloo on the 18th, but supported the cartel and acceded to the nine edicts that the group agreed upon, via telegram. Those official directives from the initial NWA meeting included the following:
1. That this organization be a cooperative group in wrestling, with each member to be free to run his existing territory as he sees fit without the interference of any other members of this group, and at no time be forced to pay any booking fee to any member of this group or to anyone else.
2. That all existing territories run by members of this group be respected and protected by the organization as a whole from the outside invasion of rights. Members of this group will do all in their power to help each other with talent.
3. This organization will recognize only one Heavyweight, and only one Junior Heavyweight champion, and champions of and recognized by this group shall at no time demand or get a fee for wrestling bouts acceding the usual 10%. It is further agreed that said champions so recognized shall post a substantial amount of money in escrow to be held as forfeit by the Chairman-President. The amounts to be decided on by vote of this membership. ($5,000/Amount by Heavyweight champion Orville Brown $1,000/Amount by Junior Heavyweight champion Billy Goelz) This forfeit is insurance for this group that said champions will not run out or refuse to defend their title.
4. All decisions of this group or organization will be by majority vote. Majority decisions will be final and accepted by all.
5. Said recognized champions will not at any time have to pay any member of this group or anyone else part of the 10% they receive from any matches.
6. That both champions have temporary managers, without pay. (Temporary manager for Heavyweight champion — Merle Christy. Temporary manager for Junior Heavyweight champion — Fred Kohler.)
7. The managers must be fair in seeing to it that said champions are equally allotted in the different territories so that each member receive equal benefits in showing said champions.
8. That this group select a temporary Chairman-President and at the next meeting elect a permanent Chairman-President to preside for a term decided by this group. (Temporary Chairman-President selected — Paul George)
9. The organization act as their own commission to police wrestling, and any wrestler who does anything detrimental to wrestling, or if any club of this group should suspend a wrestler, the suspension will be accepted by the whole group.
While Max Clayton was present at the meeting in Waterloo, the Omaha matchmaker did not officially join the Alliance until the following year, due to loyalty to the Duseks, who worked closely with Packs and the established St. Louis promotion. Additionally, while they were not present at the inaugural meeting, promoters Al Haft (Ohio) and Harry Light (Detroit) were recognized as charter members when the NWA hosted its second meeting the following month in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Pacific Northwest promoter Don Owen, who enjoyed the lengthiest tenure in the NWA, is often erroneously sighted as a founding member, despite not joining the coalition until the 1950s
On the surface, the intent of the original NWA members was quite admirable. Indeed, Article 2 of the NWA’s original by-laws states: “The purpose of this corporation shall be to promote good fellowship among its members; to elevate the standards of wrestling generally; to promote the business and interest of professional wrestling; to enlighten and direct public opinion with regard to the relation between professional wrestling and public welfare; to promote the science and art of wrestling and interest therein; to promote good will and work in harmony and full cooperation with state and city athletic commissions in the United States, its possessions, the Dominion of Canada and Mexico; to promote fair play, sportsmanship, competition and interest in the wrestling profession; and to harmonize in unity and strength in all ways possible for the advancement of wrestling. Nothing in this purpose clause shall be so construed as to supersede the functions of the various athletic commissions.” However, in reality, the individual and collective aspirations of the promoters involved in the creation of the NWA (as well as those who joined following its formation) stemmed from the same selfish motivators as always, namely, self-preservation and greed. Conversely, while their goals were no doubt solipsistic, they were also entirely understandable given the callous, predatory nature of the business that each man operated within. The opportunity to decrease competition while increasing profits was the actual goal, with the added benefit of raising the quality of professional wrestling being an ancillary bonus.
While the National Wrestling Alliance started as a relatively small cartel of exclusively Midwestern promoters, within a year of its creation the obvious benefits of the trust began enticing others from around the country to join. By September of 1950, just two years after its formation, major power-brokers such as Morris Seigel (Texas), Paul Jones (Georgia), Paul Bowser (Boston) Joe Malcewicz (San Francisco), Roy Welch (Tennessee), Ed Don George (Buffalo), Johnny Doyle (Los Angeles), “Cowboy” Luttrall (Tampa), and Sam Avey (Tulsa) had all become dues-paying members of the NWA. The unprecedented expansion had, in effect, given the National Wrestling Alliance a presence from coast to coast, in very short order. Then, with the additions of Frank Tunney (Toronto), Eddie Quinn (Montreal), Rikidōzan (Japan) and, later, Salvador Lutteroth (Mexico), Shohei Baba (Japan), Jim Barnett (Australia), Antonio Inoki (Japan), and Kim Ill (South Korea), the NWA became a truly global entity, the largest sanctioning body in professional wrestling history, and remained so for more than four decades.