Washington State Archives finds vintage wrestling collection, Muhammad Ali’s boxing application

Washington State Archives finds vintage wrestling collection, Muhammad Ali’s boxing application
The Washington State Archives found a collection of historic wrestling and boxing file including artifacts from Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Andre the Giant, Jesse Ventura, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Rocky Johnson, father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. (Washington State Archives/Washington State Archives)

The Washington State Archives found a cache of historic wrestling photos and license applications dating back to at least the 1950s.

Archives staff also found Muhammad Ali’s application to box in Washington State from June 8, 1970 -- the same year his boxing license was reinstated after his 1967 refusal to join the Army. The application, filed under Cassius Clay, includes his signature, ring record dating back to 1962, details about his violation of the Selective Services Act, and lists ABC broadcaster Howard Cosell as a reference.

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The application notes that Ali was working as a lecturer, and that his case for refusing to be drafted was being reviewed by an appeals court. That court upheld the case, but it was overturned by the Supreme Court the year after Ali applied for his Washington boxing license.

While Ali made multiple visits to Washington state, his professional boxing record doesn’t show that he fought here. At the time of the application, Ali was undefeated.

The wrestling files -- including photos of Andre the Giant, Jesse Ventura, and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper long before they were WWF and WWE superstars – were uncovered during a tour Thursday morning. Notes were in the state’s catalog, though current staff hadn’t gone through the hundreds of pages in detail until this week.

The records also include a state wrestling license application for Rocky Johnson, father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, five years before his son’s birth. The State Archive staff also found an application for The Rock’s grandfather, Peter Maivia.

George Foreman’s boxing application also was found, filed three days before his Dec. 18, 1970 fight against Bellevue’s Mel Turnbow at the now-demolished Seattle Center Arena.

“There’s some 30 feet of boxing and wrestler applications as well as venue reports,” said archivist Benjamin Helle, who located the wrestling files.

The files also include 1950s licenses for Judy Grable, Sky Hy Lee and Seattle native Dr. X (Frank Monte).

It’s not clear when exactly the licenses and venue reports were moved to the archives. They were saved as part of the Professional Athletic Commission records and marked for permanent retention, which is why they were transferred from the Department of Licensing to the State Archives in Olympia, Helle said.

The records also include show reports, receipts, advance notices, bout cards, pay sheets, contracts, referee reports, suspension letters and more. The overall Professional Athletic Commission collection begins in 1947 and goes through 1995.

And they’re all available for viewing by the public.

The archive staff likes to share the finds they uncover, and “social media has given us that opportunity,” Helle said.

Two definitive books about wrestling, including details about Washington state matches, were written by the late J. Michael Kenyon (“Wrestling As We Liked It”) and Dean Silverstone (“I Ain’t Now Pig Farmer!”).

Kenyon met Silverstone when he was 16 years old in 1960, at a Civic Auditorium wrestling match staged by promoter Harry Elliott. They became lifelong friends, united by their shared interest in wrestling. Their first promoted match in a long career together was September 22, 1966, at the Masonic Temple in Port Angeles. The town had hundreds of fans in part from KIRO 7’s Saturday night broadcasts of Northwest Championship Wrestling, often hosted by Sports Director Ron Forsell.

In 1975, Silverstone and Kenyon hosted Super Star Championship Wrestling at the Showbox across from the Pike Place Market. It packed in 1,100 fans -- a modest draw for a sport that brought thousands of spectators in the 1950s, ‘60s and 70s.

Silverstone, who started working with the State Athletic Commission in 1964, said wrestling was the top annual draw in Washington state in the 1960s. That changed only after other sports teams arrived. The Sonics arrived in 1967, the Seahawks came in 1976 and the Mariners arrived in 1977. The Seattle Pilots played one Major League Baseball season in 1969, and the Seafair hydro were the top single draw sports event in Seattle before those teams.

Members of the athletic commission were said to be on the take, accepting booze and money from the wrestling industry, and Silverstone wrote a scathing expose on the commission for the University of Washington Daily. He said for years that made things much harder for him as a wrestling promoter.

The State Archives, including the regional branches, have millions of records available for the public to view. Some of the medical information on the backs of the wrestling records may be redacted, but roughly 95 percent of the archive material is available to the public, Helle said.

The Puget Sound Regional Branch of the State Archives, located at Bellevue College, is where people can find archive photos of their homes in King County.

In the 1930s, King County received money from the Works Progress Administration to survey all county properties, and photos were taken as part of those assessments. The county continued the records, and added new photos when a property changed in addition to the older photos.

King County, Chicago and New York City are the only areas in the nation known to have similar extensive photo records. Follow this link for details on how to find your own house photo, and follow this link too see other finds from the Washington State Archives.