By Ryan K. Boman, Editor in Chief
On January 20, 1998, Bobo Brazil died of complications due to a series of strokes at Lakeland Medical Center in St. Joseph, Michigan.
Born Houston Harris on July 10, 1924 in Little Rock, Arkansas, before moving north to East St. Louis, Illinois, he would initially work in a steel mill and play Negro League Baseball.
When he entered professional wrestling, Harris was trained by Joe Savoldi, and was originally named, BuBu Brasil, “The South American Giant,” but a misprint led it to it being “Bobo” in an advertisement. The name stuck and Brazil’s popularity on the wrestling circuit came quickly.
He originally battled only his fellow African American grapplers, but by popular demand, a call came for Brazil to face white grapplers, as well. He would take on many of the top stars of the time, including Killer Kowalski, Dick the Bruiser, Johnny Valentine, and Dr. Bill Miller. And for years, his legendary and brutal war with The Sheik tore through Detroit’s Big Time Wrestling.
In October 1962, he would defeat “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers for the NWA World Champion, a history. The reign isn’t officially recognized by most wrestling historians but the win is acknowledged. Brazil refused the title since Rogers said he had to fight Brazil while “injured”
In 1968, became the NWA United States Champion for the Detroit area making him the territory’s top champion. Brazil would make his way to wrestle on WWWF shows in the 1960s and 1970s getting matches against the WWWF’s World Champion Bruno Sammartino.
While in the WWWF, Brazil would become the first and last United States Heavyweight Champion, winning the belt seven times. Brazil wrestled well into the 1980’s, and while never working on top again for a major promotion, was still a main eventer in the Detroit area.
Brazil eventually retired in 1993 and was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame in 1994 by “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd. Brazil was also a member of the inaugural Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame class in 1996.
A pioneer and ground breaker, Brazil is credited with being one of the most influential talents in professional wrestling history. His struggles and triumphs during a racially explosive era helped elevate African Americans in professional wrestling to new heights.
Bobo Brazil was admitted to the hospital on January 14, 1998, after suffering a series of strokes. He would die six days later, at the age of 74.