Orville Brown is recorded in history as the first man to hold the expanded National
Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Title. He is also the first man forced to vacate the
championship because of injury. There is lots more to the story of Orville Brown, and his
contributions to the sport of professional wrestling are not well known by those individuals
interested in wrestling history. His standing as the initial NWA champion and being kind of
territorial-type wrestler in the Central States seem to be what he is known most for.
As a political force in the wrestling industry, Brown was very important to the actual
formation of the expanded National Wrestling Alliance. Before the resolution of the Lou
Thesz-Sam Muchnick hostilities in St. Louis, Brown was relied upon and expected to be the
top heavyweight in the NWA. Although Tony Stecher and Al Haft recognized different
champions at the time (before the unification/elimination process began), Brown began
laying the groundwork for the NWA championship in many territories across the nation -
from the Central States to Southern California. Had his career not been ended in
November 1949, his role in the development of the Alliance probably would've been much
But as it is, Brown was doing his part on the mat as the standout heavyweight and
behind-the-scenes as a manipulator. His relationship with Pinkie George (founder and
initial NWA President) was key during the first year and a half of Alliance development. If
there were other concerns about the devotion to the new NWA by other members, Brown
and Pinkie knew they could trust each other. The close proximity of Des Moines and
Kansas City made their promotional efforts and friendship logical on many levels.
Brown was a popular wrestler in the territories he visited. His value, as he began to
travel as the Alliance Champion, was quite evident.
Brown was born in Sharon in Southern Kansas in March 1908, the youngest of five
children. As a youth, his family moved even further south to a farm near Hazelton. He was
orphaned by age 11 and moved in with his oldest brother, Gaines Brown. During the
1920s, he became a blacksmith in Wallace, Kansas. In October 1927, he married Grace
Charlotte Springer. Orville built his body and in tremendous shape when he started
working out with a local wrestling trainer. Instead of busting his back in a gym, Brown
worked out in a small sod house.
Brown was involved in a wild situation on November 8, 1933 in St. Louis after winning
from Chief Chewchki in seven minutes. The Chief tore the band from an audience member’
s cap and choked Brown with it. After recovering to toss his opponent again, the fans
attacked Chewchki and guards had to restore order. On April 11, 1934 in the same city,
Brown wrestled Coloradoan, George Zaharias to a thirty-minute draw. A second thirty-
minute draw was the final result of a match against Ray Steele in St. Louis on May 16th.
Brown was named one of the top twenty contenders for the World’s Heavyweight
Championship on September 21, 1936 in Houston by the members of the National
Wrestling Association. He lost an important Columbus match to Everette Marshall, the
recognized holder of one of the World Championships, on October 28, 1937. Orville was
pinned. He met World Title claimant, Bobby Bruns on January 18, 1940 at the Memorial
Hall. Brown won the 2nd fall after losing the first in 40:30. Bruns won the final in 5:00 to
retain his gold. A week later, Brown was in a main event working for another title shot. He
beat Oregon McDonald in two-straight falls. The first went a surprising one hour and 34
minutes. The second went only two, as McDonald obviously could not continue any
further. He topped Nanjo Singh in three-falls on February 1st in a match filled with anger.
From fans, officials and the local police, as Nanjo refused to release his nerve hold in the
third fall and had to be restrained after his disqualification. After several minutes, those
attempting to pull Nanjo from his position finally succeeded and the action was allowed to
In their rematch, Brown beat Singh with the 1st and 3rd falls on February 15th. He
continued to dominate foes. Brown took on John Grandovich, Kola Kwariana and Karol
Krauser in the weeks following. He won each match. At the same time, Bruns was battling
off Krauser in his own right, leading up to another World Title opportunity for Orville.
Signed for March 28th at the Memorial Hall, Brown and Bruns matched up for the MWA
World Title. The champ earned the first fall in 44-minutes, but Orville scored the second in
16:30. In the finale, both men were knocked out after a mid-ring collision and the match
was called a draw. Pete Schuh entered the Kansas City region and dominated several
opponents before meeting Brown on April 18th. Orville ended his winning streak with the
The harshest competition of recent times was entering the region, and if Brown wanted
another shot at the World Title, he would have to turn them back. Number one was former
World Champion Gus Sonnenberg on May 2, 1940. Brown won the first, lost the second,
then had his arm raised at the end of the third. A week later, a second former World
Heavyweight Champion was in the region. Lou Thesz appeared in Kansas City at
Memorial Hall on the 9th of May. Brown lost the first to Thesz after 17:01, but won the
second with his Indian Death Lock at the 17:50 mark. In the third, Thesz hit Lou Spandle,
the assigned referee, and was disqualified. Brown won the match. He dropped from the
Kansas City region until May 31st when he beat Karol Krauser. On the same card, Orville
was coaching World Junior Heavyweight Champion Claimant, Steve Brody in his match with
Bobby Bruns. His pupil lost two-straight falls in the handicap bout.
Bruns was also making it publicly known that he was not going to give Orville another title
shot because he had already beat him. On June 6th, Brown met a third former World
Champion in Richard Shikat at the Memorial Hall in KC. With his victory there, it did
nothing but put him in a position where it would be impossible to deny him a match with the
champion. The match would make history.
Orville Brown won his first World Title on June 13, 1940 in Kansas City, having beat
Bruns in two-of-three-falls. The first went to the defending champion in 33-minutes using a
backdrop. Orville returned to capture the second after 8-minutes with a pile-driver. The
third was an easy win for Brown as Bruns was still dazed. He took the match and the title
in 3:30. After the final pinfall had been counted by referee Charley Hatfield, Brown was
presented with the MWA World Belt. After more then six-years in the hunt, honing his skills
as a wrestler, Orville was a World Champion.
Wladek Zbsyzko challenged the new champion on June 20th in Kansas City. Brown won
in two-straight using his Indian Death Lock. Juan Humberto, Bobby Bruns and Don
McIntyre were Kansas City challengers in the two months following. They were all turned
back. He faced Dorv Roche on September 19, 1940 at the Memorial Hall. Brown won the
second and then the third by disqualification. A week later, he beat McIntyre a second
time in Kansas City. James J. Braddock served as the special referee. Brown met Roche
with St. Joe Promoter, Gust Karras as the special referee on October 17th. The two
wrestled to the midnight curfew tied at one. Roche won the first in 53:10 and Brown
evened things at the 14:26 mark. The bout ended three-minutes later. He matched
against Lee Wyckoff at Kansas City in the Memorial Hall on Thursday, April 17, 1941.
Brown won the first fall after a piledriver in 22:45 and lost the second in 27-seconds after
several flying tackles. The third went in 11:30 when Wyckoff pinned Brown and captured
the MWA World Heavyweight Title.
Brown drew with Jack Hader on August 10, 1944 in 45 minutes at Kansas City with the
only fall in 32:15, but returned a week later to unmask a local terror, The Black Faced
Panther in two-of-three falls. Brown revealed the Panther to be Les Wolfe. Although
unmasked, Wolfe wouldn’t leave quietly. He remained in the area, engaging Brown in one
of the most technical feuds of the year. On August 24th, Brown and Wolfe wrestled to a 1-
1 draw at the midnight closing hour in Kansas City. A week later on the 31st, the
champion beat his foe in 2-of-3 falls in their third straight weekly bout at Kansas City. The
1st and 3rd were victories. He met Tom Zaharias on September 14, 1944 in Kansas City
and repelled him with another win.
In the years following, Brown regained the MWA World Title. He retained the belt over
Ray Schwarz on September 12, 1946 in Kansas City. Brown won the 1st and 3rd falls in
front of 4,023 fans. Brown defeated Walter Sirois, who was in the midst of an impressive
win streak, in Kansas City on September 19, 1946 with the 2nd and 3rd falls. Sirois had
won the first with a body slam. During this time, more and more competitors were entering
the Kansas Region with the hopes of taking the MWA World Title from Orville. The champ’
s consecutive win streak would continue, as they turned up, they were turned back. Ernie
Dusek appeared on October 3rd and lost in two-of-three before 3,000 fans at the
Former World Champions Vincent Lopez and Danno O’Mahoney stepped up in the two
weeks following, and Orville handed a similar result. O’Mahoney was granted an
immediate rematch against Brown set for October 31st with the special referee being
Marshall Estep. The champion beat Danno with the 2nd and 3rd falls.
He made a venture to Wichita on November 16, 1946, for a Saturday Night card at the
Forum before 4,500 fans. Brown was meeting a man who had claimed another version of
the World Title for some time in the years before, and the match was beckoned by fans
and pundits for many moons. Finally, Brown was going to wrestle Ed Virag in a two-of-
three-falls match with Ed Lewis as the special referee. During the first fall, Virag suffered a
severe cut on his head from a buckle on a ring post. At the 28:50 mark, the physician for
the Kansas State Athletic Commission stopped the match and Virag was sent to a local
hospital to be stitched. Brown won the surprisingly short bout. Nevertheless, the two
finally met and promoters scrambled for the rematch. He received the challenge from yet
another former champion in the form of Everette Marshall on Thanksgiving Night,
November 28, 1946 in Kansas City, Kansas. Brown lost the first fall, but won the
remainder of the match after Everette suffered a dislocated shoulder when he missed a
flying tackle. He didn’t score a clean victory, but Orville remained the man to beat.
Brown traveled to Denver and met the local Rocky Mountain Heavyweight Champion,
Tom Zaharias, on December 16, 1946. He was billed as a claimant to the World
Championship. 2,300 fans watched Brown and Zaharias battle for 60-minutes without a
fall. On Thursday, January 2, 1947, Brown met a man that he had already had a lot of
history with and there was much more to be written. Bobby Bruns challenged him at the
Hall. Brown won the 1st and 3rd to retain his belt. A rematch with Everette Marshall was
held in Kansas City on January 16, 1947, but the finish was no better then their last in the
city. Brown won despite the finish. Marshall had been disqualified in the 2nd after losing
the first. Again, no clear-cut victory against the Colorado superstar. A week later in
Kansas City, Brown drew with George Becker, a champion from the west, when the
midnight closing rule went into effect and ended the bout after each had a fall. Becker
won the first in 29:12 and Brown tied it in 31:34 with an octopus stretch. It was a sincere
challenge. But with Becker on his mind, Orville worked through the stress and finally beat
Everette Marshall cleanly with the first and third falls in Kansas City on January 30, 1947.
After three bouts, the two were finally able to come up with a decisive end to a match.
Their fourth bout came on February 13th in the same city. Brown beat Marshall with the
final two falls, finally removing the former champ from local title contention. It was Becker
who still awaited a rematch. And he deserved one. The Orville Brown-George Becker
match was held in Kansas City on February 27th. A victory over Becker was awarded
when he captured he first and third falls in a hard fought bout. At the same time, returning
to the area was Vic Christy.
On Friday, March 14, 1947, Christy defeated Brown in St. Joseph, stunning a crowd of
4,000 at the Auditorium, to win the Midwest Wrestling Association World Heavyweight
Title. Brown won the initial fall in 13:00 with an Indian Deathlock. Christy won the second
in :30 and then the third by disqualification. Referee, Lou Spandle called for a stop of the
match when Brown began to employ illegal tactics and failed to heed continuous warnings.
The change stood despite the controversy. A rematch was held in Kansas City between
the two on March 27th, but Christy again won in three-falls.
Dropping two-straight matches to Christy, it seemed that Brown was in one of his biggest
slumps in several years. Christy, in turn, lost the championship to Roy Graham in St.
Joseph the following weekend, and promoter George Simpson quickly scheduled a match
between Christy and Brown to determine the number one contender on April 3rd. Graham
and his first KC title defense was on the undercard. Christy won the match by
disqualification in the second after winning the first. Nevertheless, Brown was given the
shot against Graham on April 10th. Although he was never able to be the man that beat
him for the title, Brown was able to beat Roy Graham in front of 4,227 to regain the MWA
World Title in two-of-three-falls. His confidence was regained.
Brown gave Christy the first match on April 24th at the Memorial Hall and finally beat him
fair and square. Simpson signed yet another Brown-Christy MWA Title Bout for the Hall on
May 1st. Brown won the first fall, and lost the second, leaving the match up for grabs.
Christy suffered a shoulder injury during an exchange of forearm smashes and Brown
retained his crown. Not allowing the feud to end with that, a fifth Brown-Christy Match was
held on May 8, 1947 by the American Legion and George D. Simpson at the Memorial
Hall. Orville won his most convincing match against the challenger with a two-straight falls
victory. Christy was out of the ratings. The Swedish Angel and Ralph Garibaldi were both
on the horizon, forcing Midwestern promoters to look their way. After the Angel disposed
of Garibaldi, he received a shot at Brown on June 5, 1947 in Kansas City. Brown beat him
Another streak was building and Brown was again at the top of his game. He beat Lee
Wyckoff, Jack McDonald, Wally Dusek and Tug Carlson in the weeks following in Kansas
City’s Memorial Hall. On August 21st, before 3,807, Brown beat the Cardiff Giant, who was
dominating opponents throughout the region.
Several of the Midwest’s most influential promoters decided to gather in Waterloo, Iowa
during the weekend of 17-18 July, 1948 for a wrestling card being staged by Paul L. and
Andrew George. Their meeting initiated a program which would draw promoters into an
alliance, which would include talent sharing. The alliance was known as the National
Wrestling Alliance and Brown, then known as the MWA World Champion, would be looked
upon as the first NWA World Champion.
On Sunday, July 18th, Brown met Joe Dusek at Waterloo’s Electric Park in front of seven
promoters. He won and retained his championship. Brown was a charter member of the
new group, recognized as the World Champion in 15 or so states at the time. He went into
Kansas and gave Buddy Rogers a title shot at the Wichita Forum on December 20, 1948.
Little did he know that the match finish would send the NWA World Title into doubt. The
referee was Ray Steele, former World Champion. Rogers took the initial in 7:07 and
Brown evened the bout in 8:56. The third was the wildest of them all. Rogers used a cold-
cream jar to knock Brown out and then pinned him. The referee reversed the decision
and disqualified Rogers after learning what had happened. Orville was laid out and
Wichita Promoter, Bill Atkinson stated that he was going to recognize Rogers as the new
champion. It was stated that he was only recognizing Rogers as the champion to secure a
rematch on his turf. Apparently, several promoters from the West Coast were backing
Rogers’ claim as well. The National Wrestling Alliance held Brown as their titleholder and
did not waiver a bit. The group did threaten to punish and expel Atkinson if he continued
his charade. NWA mediator, Ed Lewis also got involved. Brown appeared in Wichita on
December 27th and was billed as the World Champion in his victory over Ronnie
Etchison. Atkinson prepared the January 3rd rematch between Brown and Rogers for the
undisputed World Title. Rogers wired officials, stating that he was not going to appear
unless he was booked as a champion defending his title rather then being the challenger.
On January the 3rd, the two men wrestled to a 90-minute, inconclusive draw. No falls.
5,500 fans packed the Forum in Wichita to see the match. Brown remained the champion
in the eyes of the Alliance and there was no question about it. He met Tarzan Kowalski on
January 20, 1949 in front of 3,000-plus fans in Kansas City. Brown lost the initial fall, but
won the following two-straight. A week later, he beat Don Eagle in a straight set, without a
lost fall. Brown wrestled Lucky Simunovich at Kansas City on April 7, 1949 at Memorial
Hall and won two-of-three. He met Buddy Rogers on the Missouri Side of the border in
Kansas City on Tuesday, April 19, 1949. He retained his championship.
Brown beat Bobby Bruns at the Memorial Hall on April 28, 1949 to retain the NWA World
Title. The 3rd fall was won by disqualification when Bruns’ second, Dean Detton, hit the
champion. The incident immediately set up a grudge match between Brown and the
former recognized World Champion, Detton for May 5th. With the falls tied at 1-1, Detton
suffered a sprained wrist from an uppercut punch in the third. Brown seized the moment
and forced Detton to submit from a wristlock. He met Bruns again on May 19th in front of a
large crowd at the Memorial Hall. Brown won the 2nd and 3rd falls to retain the title. Joe
Pazandak, after a win over Roy Graham, became the number one contender to the title
and he met Brown for the championship on June 9, 1949. Brown and Pazandak wrestled
to a one-one draw at the midnight closing hour. The challenger won the first in 53-minutes
and the second in 44. Pazandak had given him his toughest bout in months and many
thought there would soon be a new champion.
A tag team match ended the local scene in Kansas City before the summer on June
16th. Brown teamed with Lou Newman of Calgary and the two met Pazandak and Tarzan
Kowalski. Kowalski shocked the crowd by winning two-falls straight to win the bout. He
beat Newman in the first and Brown in the second. Going into the summer, Orville had not
only Pazandak to think about, but Kowalski also. When wrestling returned to the Memorial
Hall in September 1949, Bill Longson had busted onto the scene and eliminated Pazandak
from number one contender status. Orville sat ringside for a September 22nd match
between Longson and Ronnie Etchison at the Hall. He claimed that the second fall victory
using the atomic drop was illegal, but officials declined to agree. Longson won the match.
Brown wrestled Longson on September 29th and won the final fall by disqualification after
the challenger used an illegal piledriver. He had won the first in 19:35 and lost the second
in 6:25 when Longson used his atomic drop. Longson remained the number one
Brown’s rival title claimant, Lou Thesz arrived in Kansas City on October 20th, defending
his National Wrestling Association World Title. Thesz was attempting to strengthen his
claim in the city Brown nearly owned a piece of. Kansas City was Brown’s home base and
fans believed the two would soon be locking it up in the ring to settle the confusion.
A slightly amusing piece of trivia was that many of the local newspapers billed Brown as
being the “Midwest Wrestling Association” Champion, the “National Wrestling Association”
Champion, and the “National Wrestling Alliance” Champion. Orville was billed as holder of
all three of the titles at one time. He had been the reigning MWA Champion when the
Alliance took over, but as far as the Association was concerned, Thesz was the titleholder.
Promoters scheduled a St. Louis match between Brown and Thesz to merge the
championships for late November 1949. Fate controlled wrestling history.
At one o’clock in the morning of November 1, 1949, Orville Brown and Robert Bruns
were involved in a serious automobile accident on Route 69, three miles north of
Eagleville, near Bethany, Missouri. The two wrestlers were driving south from Des Moines
to Kansas City for a wrestling show when Brown’s 1949 Cadillac Sedan plunged under the
bottom of a large trailer stalled horizontally to the highway. The car was nearly demolished
in the wreck. Brown and Bruns were taken to Bethany Hospital for initial treatment, but
later taken to the Kansas City Hospital. Brown was found to have suffered a deep
laceration on his forehead, one on his scalp, a deep gash on his right forearm and
another on his right hand. He was conscious during treatment, but lapsed into
unconsciousness, leading doctors to believe that he might have suffered a skull fracture.
Bruns’ injuries were serious, but not as bad as Brown’s were.
According to the Bethany-Republican Clipper, the crash was investigated by Trooper
Jack Huffman of Bethany and the details of the accident were detailed in such a fashion.
Alvin Henry Fleming of Tulsa, Oklahoma was driving north with a tractor-trailer, hauling
bananas for the Everette Lowrance Firm from New Orleans when the motor failed.
Fleming set out reflectors and started back to Eagleville to obtain a mechanic to assist
him. The truck’s brakes or gears, or both, failed to hold and the trailer coasted backwards
down the slope and jackknifed. The tractor remained on the pavement, but on the wrong
side for the direction in which it was headed. Two trucks passed, going north on the right-
hand side of the pavement when the Cadillac came from the north. One of the drivers of
the two trucks attempted to warn the oncoming driver by repeatedly blinking his
headlights. Brown did not see it. When Brown saw the stalled tractor in the road in front
of him, he swung the sedan out to the right and off the pavement towards the trailer. He
slowed down but retained enough speed to plow under the bed and between the set of
All who viewed the wrecked vehicle wondered how the two men could have escaped
death. Brown was released from the Research Hospital in Kansas City during the
afternoon of November 17th and told reporters that he was going to spend several days
with family before venturing south to set up a training camp. He was positive that he would
return full-time to the ring, before anyone expected. The reconditioning phase had
begun. The accident forced Brown to relinquish control of the National Wrestling Alliance
World Heavyweight Title after not being able to make the scheduled unification match later
in November between himself and Lou Thesz at St. Louis. Thesz, in-turn, was awarded the
Brown was awarded $35,000 judgment in Harrison County Circuit Court on May 16, 1950
in light of the accident. It was the largest damage settlement ever made in that particular
court. He was represented by W.V. (Varner) Mayse of Bethany. Brown made his return to
professional wrestling on a semi-active basis in October 1950. He made his first Kansas
City wrestling appearance on Tuesday, October 17, 1950 before over three-thousand
screaming fans at the Memorial Auditorium in Missouri. He wrestled Fritz Schnabel and
won the one-fall match with an Indian Deathlock in 10:40. The Kansas City Star reported
that Brown may have had a slight limp. Bobby Bruns appeared on the same card,
defeating the other Schnabel, Hans, by disqualification in 31:26.
Orville retired from the sport and began to work elsewhere in the game. He managed up
and comer, Dennis Clary in 1951. Clary went on to capture the Heart of America
Heavyweight Title and Brown accompanied him to many of his matches. Brown also
refereed on occasion.
Brown remained active in the wrestling business as a promoter/ matchmaker until
retirement in 1963. Orville lived in the Kansas City Area for 40 years until his death in
Lees Summit on Saturday, January 24, 1981. He was 72 years old.
The Bethany (Missouri) Republican-Clipper published an article written by Phil Conger
on June 10, 1998, revisiting Orville Brown and the accident which ended his pro-career.
The article mentioned the circumstances of the accident and the court case which
followed. Mr. Orville Brown was a pro-wrestling legend and in his time, ruled the
foundations of both the Midwest Wrestling Association and the National Wrestling Alliance.
Research by Tim Hornbaker
Other Notes & Information:
Orville Brown was being built up as a challenger to Leo "Daniel Boone" Savage in 1936 at
Houston, and the Houston Post had a few small articles touting his strength and abilities.
On Tuesday, May 26, 1936, a man named Andy Little talked Brown up, having written a
letter to the paper. Little wrote: "I was raised up with Orville Brown on the Kansas plains
where you've got to be a man to get to the voting age. He has baked in the hot winds,
frozen in the blizzardy winters until he is as tough as rawhide - and I claim any man who
can bulldog a 3-year-old steer in a few seconds can take a hunk of beef like Savage and
mop up the ring with him, not missing any of the corners."
Little added: "There's going to be a new Texas champion Saturday morning next and his
name will be Orville Brown of Kansas." The big match was on Friday, May 29.
The push of Brown continued in Houston when Jim Londos was asked "Who is the
strongest grappler you ever faced?" Londos replied, "without hesitation," according to the
May 29, 1936 edition of the Houston Post: "Orville Brown. Just a few nights ago I wrestled
him a two-hour draw at Detroit. He has more strength in his arms and legs than any
wrestler in the business."
|Orville Brown Wrestling History
Legends of Pro Wrestling