By Dave Meltzer
Jack Brisco, a former NWA world champion and NCAA champion who was considered one of the greatest workers in the history of the industry, passed away earlier today at the age of 68.
"He was my best friend and my hero growing up," said Brian Blair, echoing comments made by several wrestlers and people in wrestling this morning in their 50s who grew up when Jack Brisco was a larger-than-life type of personality, promoted as the greatest technical wrestler who nobody could beat in a fair match, which in his era, may not have been far from the truth.
Brisco had been battling an assortment of health problems in recent years, including circulatory problems and emphyzema. He underwent open heart surgery a few weeks ago, and a little over a week ago, collapsed while undergoing rehab, and flatlined at one point. Brother Gerald, who was very close with him, has been battling to regain his health after suffering strokes.
Outside the ring, Brisco was a well known practical joker, but in the ring, for his time, he may have been the best in the business. Wrestlers like Dory and Terry Funk, who wrestled virtually every major star of the era, had both told me at times that Jack Brisco and Johnny Valentine were the two best workers they had faced.
Brisco, who grew up in Blackwell, OK, was a huge wrestling fan as a child, telling stories about going to the newsstands and leafing through wrestling magazines to see stories on his two heroes, Lou Thesz and Danny Hodge, never to realize that he would grow up and be mentioned in the same breath with them.
Brisco got into amateur wrestling because of his love for pro wrestling, and was an all-state football player as well as a state high school wrestling champion.
Due to having to work and support a young family, he only wrestled two years at Oklahoma State, as part of a powerhouse team that included wrestling legend Yojiro Uetake. During those two years, he only lost one match, in the finals of the 1964 NCAA tournament to Harry Houska, helping his team capture the NCAA title. Brisco went undefeated in 1965, taking the NCAA title at 191 pounds, and immediately started wrestling for Leroy McGuirk, capitalizing on his national title.
Brisco was reputed to be like an Owen Hart or Kurt Angle, in that he was a natural, already a smooth pro from almost the start of his career. He started off as a headliner but was largely considered a main event superstar until his retirement, in 1984.
Brisco's rise to superstardom came through the booking of Eddie Graham in Florida. His first big money break was in Australia, where Jim Barnett saw superstardom in him because of his good looks and athletic ability. Graham and Sam Muchnick from just a few years into his career groomed Brisco for the NWA world heavyweight title, then considered by many as the ultimate prize in the industry. People would marvel at Brisco's ability to smoke a pack of cigarettes and then go in the ring and go 60 minutes hard.
Throughout the four-year reign of Dory Funk Jr., Jack Brisco was considered the heir apparent and No. 1 contender for the title. The Brisco chase of Funk Jr. in the early 70s is considered one of pro wrestling's all-time legendary feuds and were considered the greatest technical matches of the era, drawing sellout crowds in many parts of the country. To this day, in St. Louis, Brisco vs. Funk and Lou Thesz vs. Pat O'Connor were widely remembered as the two greatest matches of that era in what was considered one of wrestling's best cities.
This also led to the natural tag team feud with the Funk Brothers (and on occasion the father-and-son team of Dory Jr. & Sr.) against the Brisco Brothers.
Jack was scheduled to win the title from Dory Funk Jr. in early 1973, but an injury to Funk Jr. led to a string of events over the next few months where Funk Jr. lost to Harley Race and Race lost to Brisco on July 20, 1973, in Houston. Except for a one-week switch in Japan to Giant Baba, Brisco remained champion until December 10, 1975, losing to Terry Funk in Miami Beach.
Jack was always considered a top contender for the title, until the era of Ric Flair, but because of his closeness with younger brother Gerald Brisco, became a tag team wrestler. The Briscos were a top babyface team in Florida through the 70s, and in the 80s, when going to the Mid Atlantic promotion, held the world tag team titles including a well remembered run as heels against Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood.
Jack was also the architect of the sale of Georgia Championship Wrestling to Vince McMahon in 1984, which led to the one-year run of WWF on TBS, and the resulting McMahon vs. Ted Turner feud when Turner wanted McMahon off the station.
Brisco was given part ownership of the Georgia territory during a promotional war as a way to get him based in Atlanta as world champion. Brisco rounded up enough disgruntled stockholders to have proxy for a majority interest, and made a secret deal with McMahon. The Brisco brothers were working a program in late 1984 with tag champs Adrian Adonis & Dick Murdoch, when Jack, in the middle of a Northeast blizzard, told Gerald that he was flying home. Unlike virtually every other wrestler in history who retired, Jack never wrestled again.