Cora Combs passes away

Jun 22, 2015 - by Steve Gerweck

The Wrestling Observer reports that Cora Combs, the last surviving member of the Billy Wolfe troupe in the heyday of women’s pro wrestling, passed away at 7 a.m. today at a hospital in Nashville.

She was 92. She had been suffering from pneumonia in the last week.

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Born into a family of coal miners in Hazard, Kentucky on March 17, 1923, Cora Svonsteckik had plans to leave the Appalachian range known as the Great Smoky Mountains. While attending high school, she was a star on the girls’ track team and won honors in the high jump category. When Svonsteckik graduated, she ventured to Nashville, Tennessee with the dream of singing at the Grand Old Opry. Her vocal talents were good enough to become apart of a country western group known as the Trail Riders.

During her time away from singing, Cora attended wrestling matches at the famous Hippodrome in Nashville. It was her first exposure to live professional wrestling and she was easily drawn to the spectacle. Here Cora witnessed the acclaimed Women’s World Champion Mildred Burke. In 1949, Cora was able to get in the backstage area and meet Nashville promoter Nick Gulas, who introduced her to renowned women’s wrestling promoter and trainer Billy Wolfe. Cora brought her singing career to an end and moved to Columbus, Ohio to begin an intense training regime at Wolfe’s wrestling school. It was not long before she was on the road seeing many parts of the country and wrestling some of the greats of the sport.

Combs’ association with Billy Wolfe ended with the split between Wolfe and Mildred Burke. In the early 1950’s, Cora opted to join the ranks of Burke’s World Women’s Wrestling Association (WWWA), which lead to the immediate rise of her career. In addition to wrestling all over the United States, Combs competed in Canada, Mexico, Japan, pre-Castro Cuba, the Fiji Islands, and Nigeria. A wrestler with a wide variety of moves and holds, Cora had exciting matches with many greats including Mildred Burke, Mae Young, The Fabulous Moolah, Kay Noble, June Byers, Mary Jane Mull, Jessica Rogers, Nell Stewart, Ida May Martinez, Gladys Gillman, and many others. In 1967, she was proclaimed the United States Women’s Wrestling Champion after a reported series of elimination matches.

Her most famous match was on March 3, 1972 in New York City. She and Princess Ti Ti (Chi Chi Paris aka the Black Dragon) were the first professional female wrestlers to have a match in New York State. The match was covered by major television and radio stations and also several print media outlets throughout the city. After breaking the fifty-year ban on women’s wrestling in the Empire State, Combs continued to wrestle and signed with a new wrestling promotion based out of Cleveland called the International Wrestling Association (IWA), which was operated by Pedro Martinez and Eddie Einhorn. In the IWA, Combs dawned a new look by wearing a mask and wrestled as Lady Satin. In the mid 1970’s, Combs’ daughter Debbie joined the ranks of s professional wrestling. Cora and Debbie then formed the only mother-daughter tag team duo in wrestling history.

Cora was considered one of the best-dressed women in the wrestling business. Her ring attire, which was made by her sister, consisted of a wide variety of colorful jackets and robes. Combs differentiated herself from her competition and established new ground for female wrestlers. Cora’s career spanned from 1949 to 1985. Combs has appeared in two movies, one with Ann Margaret. She has also appeared in twenty-four music videos. Today, she enjoys her retirement in Nashville with her husband and family and is an avid gardener.

Former WWF grappler Velvet Mcintyre posted on Facebook:

Cora Combs……one of the funniest ladies back in the day……she had me rolling in tears of laughter…..passed away today at the age of 92…..regardless of the thought “that’s a good run”….she will be missed in the wrestling world dearly… heart goes out to her daughter and the rest of the family…..RIP Cora……you did your part well…..I will never forget you….

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