Bob is a longtime member of the Florida sports media, having served as a reporter and copy editor for more than 30 years. His true sports passion, however, is the history of the various games, exhibited by his in-depth book reviews and hobby of collecting cards and other sports memorabilia. He blogs for TBO.com on both subjects, transferring his work for the Tampa Tribune to the realm of cyberspace.
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Longtime CWF star Mike Graham dead at 61
Posted Oct 19, 2012 by Bob D'Angelo
Updated Mar 27, 2013 at 09:52 PM
Old-time fans of “Championship Wrestling From Florida” lost another favorite son today. Mike Graham, a fan favorite in Florida from the day he debuted on CWF in 1972, died Thursday in Daytona Beach. He was 61.
The cause of death and the details surrounding it have yet to be released by authorities. Graham reportedly was in Daytona Beach for the 20th annual Biketoberfest, which began Thursday and runs through Sunday.
Former WWE wrestler Dustin Rhodes broke the news of Graham’s death on his Twitter account about 1 p.m. Friday, writing (quoting exactly here) “R.I.P. to my mentor in the business mike graham. My god be with his family. He will be missed. Love u mike.”
Pro wrestling websites http://www.prowrestling.net and http://www.wrestlinginc.com also have picked up on the story, Neither site has offered specifics
Dustin Rhodes is the son of famed wrestler Dusty Rhodes, who along with Graham in 1974 pulled off one of the biggest heel-turned-babyface matches in Florida history (if not pro wrestling history). In that match in Miami Beach, Graham teamed with his father Eddie against Rhodes and Pak Song, managed by Playboy Gary Hart. The ending of the match is classic, as Rhodes is jumped by Pak Song and Hart, only to be “rescued” by Mike Graham. Rhodes and Graham shook hands, and Rhodes’ career really took off as a solo babyface as he became “The American Dream.”
“Mike Graham became a brother that night,” Rhodes said in a taped TV interview shortly after that match on CWF with longtime announcer Gordon Solie.
Mike Graham, who was born in Tampa and whose real name was Edward Michael Gossett, grew up in South Tampa and attended Robinson High School. He teamed many times with his father, who was the promoter of National Wrestling Alliance events in Florida.
Quick trivia fact: if you ever paid attention to the closing credits of “Championship Wrestling From Florida” during the 1970s, you would have noticed that Solie’s hair was styled at “Lucy’s Fancy” in Tampa. “Lucy” was Lucy Gossett, Mike’s mother.
Mike Graham was Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine’s rookie of the year for 1972. When he first came on the wrestling scene, He worked with Kevin Sullivan, wrestling as a clean-cut tag team. They won their first major Florida title together on Feb. 20, 1973, defeating Gorgeous George Jr. and Bobby Shane for the Florida tag team title.
Sullivan would later break away, turn heel and famously start his “Army of Darkness,” wreaking havoc on the good guys.
Graham later teamed with fellow South Tampa resident Steve Keirn and Barry Windham, generally going against Sullivan and one of his “henchman,” as Solie would refer to them.
Graham left CWF in the early 1980s, wrestling for Verne Gagne’s AWA promotion and winning that group’s light-heavyweight title. He returned to Florida in 1983 and later teamed with Keirn.
On Jan. 21, 1985, Eddie Graham died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, a devastating blow to the Florida promotion. It also gave rise to the most debated angle of Mike Graham’s career.
In late March 1985, Graham was being interviewed by Solie on CWF about his father’s death when he was interrupted by the Fabulous Freebirds, who claimed it was their time to speak. Words were exchanged, and then Buddy Roberts delivered the line “you’re a loser … just like your father.” That resulted in what the mortified Solie would have classified as a “Pier Six brawl,” as the Freebirds bloodied Mike up. Allegedly. A closer look at the video shows Graham holding a razor blade right before the melee began.
While many sympathized with Mike Graham, many fans also found the angle tasteless. Personally, I thought it was great theater and was totally shocked. I thought “ooh, I am not sure I would have gone there, but boy, they pulled it off.”
Reaction around the wrestling world to Graham’s death was swift and the comments were glowing. Promoter Eric Bischoff tweeted “Sad to hear the news about Mike Graham. He loved the business, admired his father and now rests in peace. God Bless.”
Longtime wrestler Dirty Dutch Mantell also weighed in on Twitter: “Just heard the news about my friend Mike Graham. Good guy, great athlete, great in ring performance. RIP. Thoughts are with your family.”
Mike Graham certainly was passionate about his sport and worked with several wrestling organizations. He helped produce a video for the WWE about Dusty Rhodes, which was released in 2006. In 2008, he represented his father when Eddie Graham was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
The wrestling world will miss Mike Graham.