Friday, November 4, 2016

FROM CHARLOTTE AND BROOKLYN




Southern wrestling audiences heard many times, during his ring introductions, that GEORGE BECKER was born in Brooklyn, New York. And that was true. He became interested in amateur wrestling, going to the Cooper Athletic Club in the same city. Training long and hard, he excelled in the sport during the Great Depression. During one tournament, BECKER wrestled eight matches in one day, winning the first seven and dropping the eighth to a more experienced competitor.

BECKER's place of employment, an aquarium in New York City, went out of business during the difficult economic times, so the young GEORGE decided to turn professional, making his debut at the Ridgewood Grove Arena in 1934.

In the later years of his long career, George often told the story that he had to laugh when some of the new wrestlers complained that they were not getting paid what they thought they should. "One night in 1938, while I was in Alabama, I wrestled four times in one night and was paid a total of $3.40. And while I was taking a shower after the matches, somebody stole the $3.40 out of my pants."

In 1936, BECKER had one of the most important matches of his young career at the Ridgewood Grove in hometown Brooklyn. His opponent was a highly-touted lad by the name of Lou Thesz, who soon became the World Heavyweight Champion. "I learned a lot about wrestling that night," George told folks.

BECKER was in Philadelphia when World War 2 broke out, so he joined the Coast Guard, but continued to wrestle when he could get any leave time. When the war ended, GEORGE headed to California to wrestle full-time, becoming a big hit in the Golden State. It was out on the west coast where he teamed up with 'brother' BOBBY BECKER, and the two became the tag team champions.

The wrestling matches from California were being filmed and soon were being shown all over the country, including the Carolinas and Virginia, on that new device called television. The demand for the BECKER brothers was so intense that Bill Lewis, then wrestling promoter of Richmond, Virginia, convinced the two to leave California and come to the east coast in 1951, where they began wrestling under the banner of JIM CROCKETT PROMOTIONS.

They immediately became the top drawing wrestlers in the then twenty-year history of JCP, which was established back around 1932. But tragedy struck in 1954 when BOBBY BECKER (real name John Emmerling) died of leukemia.


GEORGE with 'brother' BOBBY BECKER.



GEORGE with frequent mid-1950's tag partner JACK WITZIG. In 1956, they were the SOUTHERN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS.



GEORGE with DICK STEINBORN. The two often teamed in the late 1950s and early 1960s.



GEORGE in a posed publicity shot - 1951.




They were at their peak, the toast of the wrestling world. BOBBY had been sick for some time, but other than GEORGE and his immediate family, nobody in the business knew anything of his illness. During the middle of November, 1954, GEORGE and BOBBY wrestled a match with HANS SCHNABEL and MRMOTO in Greenville, S.C. The next day, BOBBY went to his Charlotte doctor, who transferred him to a New York hospital. Two days later, he passed away.

BOBBY's final Charlotte match was during the previous month, at Griffith Park, with boxing legend JACK DEMPSEY as special referee.



In the early 1970s, BECKER poses with his son, CRAIG, then two years of age.
During his career as a student at CLEMSON UNIVERSITYCRAIG would be a three-time All-American swimmer. Becker had three other children with his first wife, who died of cancer.



The team of GEORGE BECKER and JOHNNY WEAVER was idolized by the wrestling fans.



Mr. and Mrs. GEORGE BECKER with wrestler VICKI WILLIAMS.
JOYCE BECKER teamed with WILLIAMS when she was JOYCE GRABLE before her marriage to GEORGE.



'Big' JIM CROCKETT (the man who built a wrestling empire) and his top wrestler for twenty years.


GEORGE stopped wrestling for a while after BOBBY died. "It just didn't feel right without him."

After some time, GEORGE returned to the ring. He had found a young college student from Wisconsin named JACK WITZIG, who had turned professional and was doing well as a single. The two teamed up, and during their run as a combo, GEORGE and JACK won the SOUTHERN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP and were recognized as WORLD TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS as well. Out of nowhere, WITZIG decided to quit the business and go back to school. He became a dentist.

It was, at this point, that GEORGE began teaming with young DICK STEINBORN, the son of wrestler / promoter MILO STEINBORN. For about two years, the BECKER / STEINBORN team was the top combo in the territory.

BECKER then worked with a number of partners off and on, including SANDY SCOTT (the two were SOUTHERN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS), ENRIQUE TORRES,
BOBBY RED CLOUDARGENTINA ROCCA and BILLY TWO RIVERS. Quite an impressive list.

Another milestone in BECKER's career occurred in 1962. A youngster named JOHNNY WEAVER came to JIM CROCKETT PROMOTIONS (we can thank RIP HAWK for it happening). GEORGE and JOHNNY soon began to work together, and this relationship blossomed into a decade-long run in the MID-ATLANTIC territory. GEORGE and JOHNNY were the top team in the company, hands down. The fans loved them (and that is putting it mildly). Any 'heel' team of the 1960s and early 1970s, to succeed in JCP, had to go through BECKER and WEAVER. The two were the yardsticks for which everyone else was measured.

GEORGE BECKER left CROCKETT PROMOTIONS in 1971, ending an incredible twenty-year run that was never equaled by any other wrestler. He briefly started his own wrestling promotion and then retired.

He passed away at the age of 85 on October 25, 1998, in Florida, where he had lived for the last twenty-five years of his life. Death was due to Alzheimer's Disease, which he had suffered from its effects for seven years.

Mike Mooneyham had this to say at the time of BECKER's passing, "No wrestler in the pre-Flair era was more popular in the Carolinas than GEORGE BECKER. He was a wrestling icon before the word became commonplace and overused."

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