Harley Race was professional wrestling royalty long before he got stuck with the “King” gimmick in Vince McMahon’s WWF in the 1980s. Harley is a man’s man, a tough guy with a reputation for being a shooter - but behind that gruff exterior is a cuddly teddy bear of a man. His wife, B.J., will attest to that.
The book tells a little about Harley’s home life then delves right into how he got his start in professional wrestling. He broke in with promoter Gus Karras, who had a traveling carnival throughout the Midwest. Harley was getting his wrestling education while he made ten to twelve dollars for each match that he did, up to five per day. While gaining much valued experience working shows in Missouri, Harley got into a terrible auto accident (something that would plague him throughout his life). It look him nearly a year and a half to rehabilitate, but he would soon move on to other territories in the South.
After building his reputation, Harley went to work for Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Alliance. This is where he teamed with Larry “The Axe” Hennig and won the tag team titles a couple of times. It was around this time that Harley started working in Japan, as well. He would do tours for Shoei Baba’s All-Japan organization. Then poor Harley would find tragedy on the road. But tough-as-nails Harley would pull through once again.
By the early '70s, Harley was becoming a big star and was in line to hold the National Wrestling Alliance heavyweight title. It was supposed to be a short two-week stint, but he was so popular that they let him have a two-month run instead. After that, Harley’s sole ambition was to get that belt back around his waist. In 1977, he would get his chance. Harley would get his belt by beating his good buddy Terry Funk in Ontario, Canada. He would have a long title reign, for the most part, though in the late '70s he did a few favors for Baba and dropped the belt for a few days, getting it back before leaving Japan. This happened in the early '80s, as well. On April 17, 1981, he would drop the belt to Tommy “Wildfire” Rich but by May first have it back around his waist. Later that year, Harley would drop it to the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, who would then drop it to Ric Flair, and then back to Dusty Rhodes (he was under a mask and billed as the "Midnight Rider"). After all that, by 1983, Harley would have the belt again, only to gladly drop it to Flair again at Starcade '83.
By this time, Harley was aging and the years on the road had taken their toll. He was disillusioned with the business, as Vince McMahon’s national WWF promotion had pretty much destroyed the regional wrestling circuits:
“In front of the cameras, I was the angry heel. But the real me was more depressed than angry. If I was angry at anything, it was the wrestling business. The pressures of being the world champion most of the time since 1977 had taken its toll. I was earning $400,000 a year at my peak in the late '70s and early '80s, but I didn’t have time to enjoy my money. I was on the road and away from my family the majority of the time. My marriage was failing. Our Heart of America territory was bleeding red from the WWF’s nationwide expansion.”
Harley would eventually work for Vince and make some good money before succumbing to an abdominal injury that, by his own admission, he didn’t let heal properly. The tough Harley would have to battle seven more surgeries and a divorce, but he got through it all. In the early '90s he became a manager in WCW for guys like Lex Luger and Big Van Vader - fun for him, as he could teach these guys while simultaneously living vicariously through them. The final twenty to thirty pages of King of the Ring cover his time outside of wrestling and his current status running his wrestling school, his association with Japanese wrestling organization NOAH, run by Mitsuhara Misawa, and doing small shows in Missouri.
Overall, this is a great book for fans of Harley Race and those long time followers of the National Wrestling Alliance. Not as salacious as some of the other books with all the behind the scenes stuff. Though with this book, you get another point-of-view on the famous Jay “The Alaskan” York incident. It reads exactly the way you’d expect from a farm boy that made it big pro wrestling – like a king!