Ray Gunkel

image

Real Name - Raymond Gunkel
Lifespan - 2/16/24 - 8/1/72
??? - ???
Aliases - none
Athletic background - Wrestling (Purdue University)
Peak Years - `51-`60

Place in History - There are few figures more important in the history of wrestling in Georgia than Ray Gunkel. Gunkel was a tremendous heavyweight wrestler at Purdue with All-American honors in 1947 and 1948 and two AAU championships to match. He went pro soon after and because of his amateur credientials and natural babyface look, Gunkel was pushed hard from the start. Gunkel was already a top star in Texas, mainly feuding with Duke Keomuka over the Texas Heavyweight and Tag titles. He was also a constant challenger to Lou Thesz's NWA World Championship in the early 50s. In `53, Gunkel went to Georgia for the first time and while it was a brief trip, it wouldn't be his last. After another few years in Texas, Gunkel returned to Georgia and this time he stayed. Gunkel became a top babyface soon after and bought into the company with Paul Jones, Freddie Blassie and Don McIntyre. McIntyre and Gunkel were regularly exchanging the Southern Heavyweight title with Blassie and holding the tag belts. However, in the next few years, Jones retired, Blassie headed to Los Angeles and McIntyre moved into the background, leaving Gunkel to become the main power broker in Georgia. Gunkel was inarguably the top face at that point, sharing some of the limelight with Buddy Fuller, who became his personal and professional rival. He was embroiled in feuds with established heels like Buddy Colt and El Mongol, building Georgia into one of the premier territories and set up programming for their TV on Ted Turner's WTCG in Atlanta, which would make Georgia Championship Wrestling, as it became in 1971, into arguably the top promotion in the 70s. Gunkel was nearing fifty and after a match with Ox Baker in 1972, died backstage from a heart attack. His death led to the infamous "Battle of Atlanta." Ray's widow Ann inherited his shares of the company and became involved behind the scenes. The Florida and Alabama offices were planning to expand into Georgia and leave Ann Gunkel out of their profits, but she beat them to the punch by starting her own company, All-South Wrestling Alliance and all but a few people in the Georgia office followed her. This ended up with the NWA sending top stars in to battle the outlaw company and put them out of business after a couple years. Gunkel is often remembered as the guy who's death led to this chaos, but prior to his death he was a top talent and key booker in the rise of wrestling in Georgia.

1