Maybe The Greatest Female Professional Wrestling Match of All Time, June Byers vs Mildred Burke
What was the greatest female professional wrestling match of all time?
Well it wasn't in the WWE, WWF, TNA, WCW or the ECW.
Possibly the greatest match ever was the little known bout between Mildred Burke and June Byers on August 25th, 1954 in Atlanta, Georgia.
The build up for this vintage women's wrestling match, and the match itself was beyond anything Vince McMahon could hope to dream up in real life.
Mildred Burke was born Mildred Bliss on August 5, 1915 in Coffeyville, Kansas.
She got her interest in wrestling when her boyfriend took her to see a wrestling event and she was hooked.
Unfortunately, Mildred was pregnant at the time, and there wasn't anything she could do about following up on her interest.
After the birth of her child, she became a stenographer, but she still had that wrestling dream in the back of her mind.
That's when she met professional wrestling promoter William Harrison “Billy” Wolfe (cue boos and hisses, you'll see why later).
Billy really didn't want to meet with Mildred.
When she went to meet with Billy, he told a male wrestler to give her a good body slam and that should get rid of her.
Just like in the movies, instead of Mildred getting slammed and slinking off, Mildred turned around and body slammed the wrestler!
You see, Mildred had what we call "good genes".
She was naturally strong and fast without any training.
Wolfe may have had questionable character, but he knew talent when he saw it.
He began to train Mildred and changed her name from Bliss to Burke.
Why he changed her name is beyond me, how perfect of a name is Mildred Bliss for a female wrestler?
Anyway, he started training her, they fell in love and got married.
She then defeated Clara Mortenson for the Women’s championship in January 1937.
In a reversal of what Andy Kaufman would do years later, Mildred wrestled and beat over 200 men in the 1930s, only losing to one of them.
Despite the Hollywood movie type beginning, Mildred and Billy's relationship had a dark side.
Billy mentored several female wrestlers and when they were on the road, he "enjoyed" their company.
You see, like Elvis, Billy had a thing for women wrestlers.
This went on for awhile and finally Mildred had enough of it and they split up in 1952.
But because Billy was a powerful figure in wrestling promotions, Mildred found little work.
She appealed to another influential professional wrestling promoter Jack Pfefer for help.
You have to understand that back then, wrestling promotions were like Medieval Kingdoms and the territories really didn't co-operate.
Well Jack stepped in for Mildred and tried to negotiate with Billy, but Billy was being a real jerk.
Mildred offered to sell out to Billy for 50,000 dollars, but Billy basically laughed in her face.
Finally Mildred agreed to selling out for 30,000 dollars and she would create a new promotion for female wrestlers called Attractions, Inc.
Part of the deal was that Billy wouldn't compete with Mildred's promotion for five years and that all alimony was waived.
Well that lasted about six months because Wolfe violated the contract and started promoting wrestling in Columbus, Ohio.
What a swell guy.
Attractions, Inc. went into bankruptcy and receiver James Hoff of Columbus named Billy Wolfe as administrator.
Sound like a set up?
Yep it does.
Billy then announced that he was the booker for Burke and wrestlers.
Mildred contested that and went to the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA).
Since this was the early 50s and Mildred was "just a woman", the matter was decided for Mildred behind closed doors while Mildred sat in the lobby.
And surprise, surprise Billy won and kept his claim.
But in a show of solidarity, many of Mildred's girls refused to work for Billy.
Now another female wrestler, June Byers, comes into play.
June was born on May 25th, 1922 in Houston, Texas and grew up around wrestling, so you could say she was another natural.
Billy Wolfe saw her in the ring one day and offered to take her under his wing, where she worked for Billy as a heel (bad guy) and used the pendulum backbreaker as a signature move.
She was a good technical wrestler, but she was also rough.
One female wrestler claimed Byers punched her so hard in a match once, that she broke her nose and blacked both eyes.
When Mildred left (was thrown out) of the promotion, her World Women's Championship was called vacant.
June won a 13-woman tournament in Baltimore and was proclaimed the champ.
She became so popular that she appeared on the TV game shows What's My Line? and I've Got A Secret.
Then Billy got an idea.
Since Mildred was the ex-champ and June was the current champ and protégé (did I mention she was also his daughter-in-law as well?), he'd set up a big match between the two.
It took Billy nearly a year to get Mildred to agree to the match but finally it was signed.
The much anticipated match was scheduled for August 25th, 1954 in Atlanta, Georgia and was to be a best two out of three falls match.
Here was the former champ, Mildred Burke, the older woman that had been kicked around, stripped of her title and blackballed at every turn against the younger, prettier, naturally athletic and technically skilled June Byers.
The match came together on August 25th and is widely regarded as a shoot (a real match, not scripted).
By the way, good old Billy had a referee in the match of his own choosing that was friendly to him.
Byers took the first fall with a pin.
Mildred later said that she had given up the first fall with the intention of coming back stronger in the second.
But in the second fall, after an hour (yes...an hour) June aggravated an old knee injury Mildred had and Mildred could not continue.
Of course Billy wasn't content with a draw and used his connections to make sure June was awarded the belt.
After all, she was his star and his daughter in law.
And according to Mary Ellison (The Fabulous Moolah) who knew all three, Billy was sleeping with June while he was married to Mildred.
I told you he was a class act.
So Mildred left and started her own wrestling promotion, The World Women's Wrestling Association in Los Angeles, California.
Since she didn't actually lose two out of three falls, she still considered herself the champion even though Billy and the NWA had recognized June Byers as champion.
And get this, for the rest of her career, Mildred traveled with a bodyguard as a protective measure because of the tensions with Wolfe and the NWA.
June went on to continue wrestling, had some legendary matches with the great Penny Banner and later married promoter Sam Meneker after Billy died.
So why hasn't someone in Hollywood made a movie out of this?
Mildred Burke and June Byers
Mildred Burke at Amazon
Mildred Burke vs Millie Stafford
June Byers vs Penny Banner
Mildred Burke vs June Byers Comments
David Aaron from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 24, 2013:
Cool. It is certainly possible. I would guess that Gina Carano or Chris Santos would have great records vs men as well. Back then it really must have been a huge event.
sabrebIade (author) from Pennsylvania on January 24, 2013:
As far as I can tell these were all real, kinda like shoot matches
David Aaron from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 23, 2013:
Were Mildred Burke's early matches vs men scripted or did she win legit?
Joyce Byers on January 01, 2013:
I was married to June's son, Bill Byers. Tragic end to June's life not at all as stated in news articles. Live-in boyfriend caused June's death - he stomped on and crushed her chest. The only reason that this truth should be told is that women could learn about abusive men and avoid ending up dead like June. Absolutely tragic ending!
DRedwine on October 19, 2011:
Yes Aunt Mildred was a wonderful person! And yes her maiden name was Bliss.I enjoyed visiting her on the holidays, she had great stories! I have found memories of helping setting the table while her & Grandma Bliss were busy in the kitchen! And there were lots of National Geograpics mags to look through with Uncle Vestor!
relative wrestler on January 27, 2010:
Mildred Burke was my great aunt, and a very nice lady.
Her real name was Mildred Bliss.
ipodmovies on January 23, 2010:
Whoever invested women wrestling is a genius!!!
Agboola on January 02, 2010:
Thank you.the best sport for me is wresttling
sabrebIade (author) from Pennsylvania on September 28, 2009:
Thank you both!
prasetio: Yes they both are legends in female wrestling.
johnmce: I wanted to go into detail because of the raw deal I think Mildred got. Thank you!
johnmce from Brighton, UK on September 28, 2009:
impressive level of detail on this hub, good job
prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on September 28, 2009:
nice information. I think they become legend in wrestling.
sabrebIade (author) from Pennsylvania on September 27, 2009:
Thank you emdi!
emdi on September 27, 2009:
:-) very nice hub