June Byers - Professional Wrestling Career

Professional Wrestling Career

Taking her family nickname of "June" and her ex-husband's last name of "Byers" for her ring name, Sibley made her professional debut in 1944. She spent the first years of her career traveling the country in Wolfe's promotion, sometimes winning preliminary matches but regularly losing to the more established stars such as Mae Young and champion Mildred Burke. Slowly rising in the ranks, she first won gold in 1952 when she and partner Millie Stafford won the Tag Title over Young and Ella Waldek.

That same year Mildred Burke had a bitter falling-out with husband Wolfe and departed the promotion, leaving the world title vacant. On June 14, 1953, a still relatively unknown Byers won a 13-woman tournament in Baltimore to claim the belt. She quickly became a popular fan favorite champion, even appearing as a contestant on the popular game shows What's My Line? and I've Got A Secret on August 16, 1953.

After a year of tense negotiation, Wolfe finally coaxed Burke into meeting Byers in a definitive two out of three falls match on August 25, 1954 in Atlanta, Georgia. Byers won the first fall, and then the match was called after an hour during the second fall. In the book The Queen of the Ring author Jeff Leen writes that despite battling injuries, Burke was able to hold Byers to a stalemate after dropping the first fall and thus deprive her of the second fall she needed to truly defeat Burke. Despite the inconclusive finish, the Atlanta Athletic Commission eventually awarded the match to Byers. Burke angrily returned to her own promotion, the World Women's Wrestling Association, where she held its title and billed herself as world champion. She maintained later that she had dropped the first fall with the intent to compete stronger in the second, and it is noted that Wolfe used all possible connections to try to get a win for his new star (and daughter-in-law) Byers. Byers, for her part, stressed that "Mildred claims she wasn't defeated, but I pinned her in the first fall. During the second fall, she left the ring and refused to come back. Regardless of what she told people, it was a shoot." Whatever the truth, the match outcome was satisfactory enough for the media to discredit Burke and acknowledge Byers as the legitimate world champion. Jeff Leen's account in Queen of the Ring contradicts Byer's claims about Burke leaving the ring and refusing to return. Furthermore, Leen details how Billy Wolfe had a great deal to do with putting Byers over as the "winner" and he quotes the ring announcer following the match as saying, "Commissioner stops the bout. Mildred Burke is still officially champion of the world".

As the face of women's wrestling for the next decade, Byers's athleticism and technical skills did much to open new markets for women's wrestling and improve its perception in the eyes of the public as being more than mere tawdry spectacle. Complementing her repertoire of scientific moves was her toughness in an age of very tough women, and she was known for working incredibly stiff against newcomers: one such wrestler recalled suffering a broken nose and two black eyes from Byers's intentionally punching her in the face. Byers wrestled many matches with Penny Banner, and the two had great respect for one another: Byers ranked Banner as among her toughest opponents, while Banner named Byers the greatest of all time.

In 1956, the Baltimore Athletic Commission stripped Byers of the NWA Championship when she announced her plans to retire as champion. A thirteen woman battle royal was used to determine the new champion. After The Fabulous Moolah won the championship, Byers came out of retirement to challenge her for the title, but Byers lost the match.

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