In The Beginning:
Jay Ambler wrote: Professional wrestling promotions in Florida went back as far as the early 1940s. These early days would be considered by today’s standards as an independent promotion. In 1949 Clarence ‘Cowboy’ Luttrell opened up Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF). Luttrell was a well traveled wrestler during the 1930s and 40s who was originally from Illinois. The organization would align themselves with the NWA confederation of promoters.
In 1960 Eddie Graham enjoyed a run in Luttrell’s territory and in the following year bought into the promotion. Graham and Luttrell then began to run a regularly televised Saturday evening show under the same name. The show’s first and only host was the legendary Gordon Solie. The ‘Dean’ as he was known by some would bring intelligent and lively commentary. The television show was key to CWF’s success as it would often show clips from shows in other cities and towns along with a series of matches and wrestler promotions. The CWF Saturday evening show was taped at the Tampa Sportatorium, which was actually a small studio with seating for about 100 people.
By 1971 Graham would gain complete control of the promotion. This event has been debated by some suggesting that Luttrell was forced out. Then wrestlers Duke Keomuka and Hiro Matsuda would become Graham’s partners. Later Buddy Colt, Dusty Rhodes, Graham’s brother Skip and Gossett become shareholders. Graham would also continue as an active wrestler throughout the 1960s and 70s, introducing his son Mike to the wrestling world. His son would later become a partner in the promotion.
Graham’s business acumen was probably ahead of his times. He realized that his promotion was limited to state of Florida and set about seeking venues that would fit the company’s mold. This was before pay per view specials and Graham’s success relied primarily on ticket sales. Graham did not promote shows in medium or large arenas. Instead Graham sought out local armories (local national guard headquarters) and high school gymnasiums. The promotion also began a newspaper of sort entitled The Grapevine, which could be purchased at shows or via a subscription.
During the late 1970s and into the early 1980s CWF hired Dusty Rhodes as a booker and writer. It was also in Florida that Rhodes began as a singles competitor and turned from heel to babyface. The angles used were the highly successful Kevin Sullivan and his Army of Darkness, Blackjack Mulligan as the ‘brass knuckles’ champion and airing the CWF program in many Caribbean countries, which would open the door for Tyree Pride and his ‘Bahamas Championship’. By now Buddy Colt would become Gordon Solie’s co-host. Additionally because CWF was thought to be airing in Cuba, Graham capitalized on this trend and showed he was once again ahead of the pack when he hired Barbara Clary as an additional co-host. Clary is bilingual and was able to provide Spanish commentary when needed.
Because CWF was part of the NWA board, an organization where Graham would serve as president on two occasions, the promotion would enjoy a series of traveling champions. These included Dory Funk, Jr., his brother Terry, Harley Race and Ric Flair to name just a few. Additionally CWF would become a bit of a ‘proving ground’ for many future stars. These included Lex Luger, Scott Hall and Magnum TA among others. For the fans of CWF it appeared that every month there was either a well-known veteran of the squared circle or promising new talent featured in regular matches. The roster of talent and angles never failed the paying customer with entertainment value.
Unfortunately Vince McMahon and the WWF was about to change the face of professional wrestling with airing their northeast shows in neighboring territories. Graham’s success had run its course. His son Mike Graham would once comment on how the smaller venues enjoyed working with father because he always paid his bills. Undoubtedly the changes in wrestling and depression brought on by then sunk Graham in. Many wrestlers competed in the Florida territory such as the Brisco brothers, Kevin Sullivan, Dick Slater, Wahoo McDaniels, Rick Rude, Sean Royal, Chris Champion, the Youngblood brothers, Jake Roberts, ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham, Black Bart, Ron Bass, Mike Rotundo, Kendall and Barry Windham.