1. Sports

Ex-commissioner Brian Blair named to Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame

Brian Blair, left, and “Jumpin’ ” Jim Brunzell were part of the Killer Bees, a professional wrestling tag team during the mid ’80s and ’90s.
Brian Blair, left, and “Jumpin’ ” Jim Brunzell were part of the Killer Bees, a professional wrestling tag team during the mid ’80s and ’90s.
Published Jul. 2, 2015

Tampa native Brian Blair will receive a pair of honors July 10 and 11 in Waterloo, Ind.

Blair was unanimously voted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and will be receiving the Lou Thesz Award.

"To be unanimously picked by the board to receive the Lou Thesz Award and become an inductee is humbling and it's the epitome of my sports career," said Blair, who was a Hillsborough County commissioner from 2004-08. "I'm very thankful, and I know I will be at a loss for words July 11."

The 2015 class includes current and former professional wrestlers Kurt Angle and the Great Wojo (Greg Wojciechowski). Blair joins Larry "the Axe" Hennig (2014 class) as the only wrestlers inducted into the Hall of Fame and awarded the Lou Thesz, which is presented to individuals who have taken the skills of the mat into the realm of public service. Thesz, a six-time world champion who enjoyed an almost 60-year career, was part of the inaugural Hall of Fame class in 2002.

Blair is best known for his role as a member of the Killer Bees tag team, along with partner "Jumpin' " Jim Brunzell during the former WWF and current WWE's heyday. Blair competed as part of the Killer Bees during Wrestlemania III, which set an indoor attendance record that stood for 23 years.

In his 38-year career, Blair wrestled in 6,000-plus matches in more than 50 countries. What stands out even more than Blair's wrestling credentials is his public service.

Blair started the first Police Athletic League amateur wrestling tournament in Tampa in 1985 and was a volunteer Little League coach for more than 20 years. Blair ran twice for the Hillsborough County Commission, defeating current Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn during his second run. He also has more than 7,000 documented hours of community service with more than 20 different organizations.

"I probably have double the community service hours than anyone sitting in the county office, ever," Blair said.

Recently, Blair became president and CEO of the nonprofit Cauliflower Alley Club. The club helps current and former pro and amateur wrestlers with financial challenges, and Blair has been a member since 2001.

Blair's roots in wrestling and in Tampa run deep. He moved here from Gary, Ind., at age 11 and attended Egypt Lake Elementary. Wrestling, both amateur and pro, was always on his mind.

"I have always enjoyed amateur wrestling, but I was enamored by pro wrestling," he said.

Blair was the county's first junior high heavyweight champion, at Webb Junior High School, then continued with the sport at Tampa Bay Tech — though success was harder to come by.

"I was a lamb out for the slaughter," he said. "It was humbling."

Blair was successful, however, on the gridiron and nearly signed with the University of Tampa's football team in 1975 when wrestling great and Tampa native Paul Orndorff played for the Spartans. Even bigger than college football in Tampa during the 1970s was the burgeoning independent wrestling circuit that produced many of today and yesterday's biggest names in the sport.

"Back then, wrestling was more regional and everyone respected each other's territory," Blair said. "Florida was one of the top areas."

Blair recalls spotting Jack Brisco, who at the time was wrestling for Eddie Graham at Championship Wrestling from Florida, at a grocery store and stalking him through the aisles.

"He was my hero and we became best friends," Blair said.

Brisco currently sits on the National Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame board that elected Blair this year. Blair met Graham at an amateur wrestling match and the two struck up a friendship. Graham not only served as a mentor for Blair and numerous others, but helped launch the careers of many pro wrestlers.

Blair quit college his junior year and flew around the country with Graham and a host of other soon-to-be household names, growing the sport. Blair trained at the 106 N Albany Street facility in South Tampa and eventually attended the renowned Hiro Matsuda wrestling school.

"You're meeting the top guys in the sport, the people you admire the most," Blair said.

Out of 100 candidates over three summers from 1975-77, only three wrestlers made the CWF: Blair, Orndorff and Hulk Hogan.

Blair wrestled up until last year — injuries have taken their toll — but he will suit up for one last hurrah over his Hall of Fame weekend

"You just never know what can happen with your life," Blair said.


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