Name: Mildred Burke
Year Inducted: 2002
Induction Category: Lady Wrestler
Very few persons have had a greater impact on women?s professional wrestling than did Mildred Burke, who many regard as one of the greatest female wrestlers of all time. Born Mildred Bliss on August 5, 1915 in Coffeyville, Kansas, Burke saw her first wrestling match in Kansas City and became passionate about wrestling in every sense. Shortly after witnessing her first match, Burke met Billy Wolfe. He was a Missouri State wrestling champion and the Kansas City YMCA wrestling coordinator and he would become very instrumental in her career. Burke pressured Wolfe into teaching her how to become a wrestler and eventually he let her step into the ring and compete against one of the YMCA male wrestler?s. After being slammed very hard, Burke quickly got up and returned the favor by slamming her counterpart and then pinning him. At that moment, Burke knew that she wanted to be a professional wrestler. Under the guidance of her new husband Billy Wolfe, Burke started wrestling on the carnival circuit in 1934 and offered $25 to any man within a fair weight range who could pin her in a ten minute span. No man could ever accomplish that feat due in part to her natural toughness and skill. These specific traits would lead Burke to consistent victory and main event status throughout her career.
In 1935, Mildred Burke would challenge Clara Mortensen for the World Women?s Title and defeated Clara to start a nineteen-year reign as world champion. Burke faced anyone who would challenge her, including both men and women. Burke claimed to have won 150 matches against men and more than 5,000 against women without ever losing. Utilizing her patented ?alligator clutch?, a version of the Boston crab, Burke made quick work of opponents with her uncanny strength and size. Standing 5?2?? and weighing 138 pounds, Burke?s power and defined body were unique in women?s wrestling at that point in time. She was best remembered for being the woman in promotional posters flexing her muscles with the title belt while dressed in low cut and provocative wrestling gear. Burke was even featured in popular magazines such as Life magazine, Grin and Police Gazette. Always cognizant of her look and appearance, Burke was voted one of the world?s best dressed women of the 1940?s.
After her unprecedented streak as champion, Burke would finally lose the belt in Atlanta, Georgia to June Byers on August 20, 1954 thus commencing a great rivalry. A bitter divorce with Wolfe left her virtually penniless. In 1954, Burke created the World Women?s Wrestling Association (WWWA) in Los Angeles, California and recognized herself as the first champion. However she would vacate the title in 1956 when she would officially retire from professional wrestling. The WWWA proved to be the first ever women?s wrestling promotion and served as a elevating point for several greats of the future including the Fabulous Moolah, Cora Combs, and Mae Young. Even after retirement, Burke continued to contribute to women?s professional wrestling by opening a training school in Encino, California. It was here that various female stars emerged such as Rhonda Singh, Monster Ripper, and WWF Women?s Champion, Bertha Faye.
Despite opposing a career in movies that involved professional wrestling due to the lack of respect it received during the 1930?s, Mildred Burke finally was integrated into film. Burke played herself in the 1980 film Below The Belt and she also served as the wrestling advisor for Robert Aldrich?s 1981 movie All The Marbles. Both of these critically acclaimed films were specifically concerned with women?s professional wrestling.
Mildred Burke put great effort into making women?s professional wrestling an accepted and equal entity throughout the world. Mildred Burke passed away on February 14, 1989 at the age of 73 in Los Angeles. Her life and contributions to the wrestling industry are unparalleled and wrestlers of today owe a great deal of appreciation to Mildred Burke. The PWHF takes great honor in inducting Mildred Burke into its? inaugural class of 2002.