|Birth name||Mildred Bliss|
|Born||August 5, 1915|
Coffeyville, Kansas, US
|Died||February 18, 1989 (aged 73)|
Los Angeles, California, US
|Spouse(s)||Billy Wolfe (–1952)|
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||Mildred Burke|
|Billed height||5 ft 2 in (157 cm)|
|Billed weight||138 lb (63 kg)|
|Trained by||Billy Wolfe|
Mildred Burke (August 5, 1915 – February 18, 1989) was an American professional wrestler. She is overall a three-time women's world champion under different incarnations and recognitions.
Burke's heyday lasted from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, when she held the NWA World Women's Championship for almost twenty years. Burke started out in 1935, wrestling men at carnivals. She was managed by her second husband, promoter Billy Wolfe. She is a charter member of WWE Hall of Fame's Legacy Wing, Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame.
Born Mildred Bliss on August 5, 1915, in Coffeyville, Kansas, at age 15 she dropped out of school and began to work as a waitress on the Zuni Indian Reservation in Gallup, New Mexico. She lived there for three years, before leaving for Kansas City after agreeing to marry her boyfriend. He took her to a professional wrestling event, which sparked her interest in the sport. Burke, who was pregnant at the time, later persevered. She worked as a stenographer prior to her wrestling career.: 290
Prior to wrestling, she was an office stenographer by day, had outstanding muscle development, and was hoping to become a professional wrestler.: 290 Locally, Billy Wolfe was training aspiring women professional wrestlers. At first, Wolfe did not want to train Burke and instructed a male wrestler to body slam her, so she would stop asking Wolfe to train her. Burke, however, performed a body slam on the man instead, which resulted in Wolfe agreeing to train her.: 44–45 Wolfe tutored her and realized that she was the prospect for which he was waiting. The close proximity of their training resulted in a relationship and ultimately marriage. Changing her name to Mildred Burke, she defeated Clara Mortenson for the Women's World Championship in January 1937.: 290
In the 1930s, Burke wrestled over 200 men, but only lost to one of them.: 33
Despite the riches that her husband earned as a promoter of women grapplers, there was a dark side to their marriage. On the road, Wolfe acted as a father figure to the women he trained and managed, but he also earned a reputation as a womanizer because he repeatedly cheated on Burke.: 291
The problems caused by Wolfe's adultery came to a head in 1952 when Wolfe and Burke separated. Burke found herself frozen out of professional wrestling among all National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) channels.: 291 Desperate, Burke decided to consult Jack Pfefer for help. The NWA attempted to reconcile the couple, but the only agreed upon solution was that one would sell out to the other. Burke volunteered to sell to Wolfe for Burke's Attractions, Inc. went into bankruptcy and into the hands of receiver James Hoff of Columbus. Eight months later, Hoff named Wolfe as administrator and was approved by Franklin County Judge William Bryant.: 291 A memorandum dated August 20, 1953, was circulated by Wolfe, in which he boldly announced that he was the booker for Burke and her stable of 27 wrestlers. The claim was disputed by Burke on August 26, 1953, by stating that the issue would be settled in the courts. It was emphasized that her contract prohibited Wolfe from competing in wrestling and was in breach of the binding agreement.: 291 She consulted with Leroy McGuirk and hoped that she would be vindicated by the NWA at their September 1953 meeting in Chicago.: 291
Burke faced many obstacles, as women were banned from yearly NWA conferences, and this diminished the importance of women in professional wrestling.: 292 An example of the discrimination was evident during the dispute with Wolfe. Burke sat in the lobby of the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago as male dignitaries argued behind closed doors about her future. Wolfe's voice was the only one heard by the membership. In the end, the NWA declined to recognize women's wrestling after the meeting, Wolfe regained his stake, but many women were loyal to Burke and refused to wrestle for Wolfe.
In a letter to NWA members on November 4, 1953, Burke refuted Wolfe's claim that she would wrestle only one woman grappler.: 292 She claimed that there were twelve grapplers with whom she would work. Wolfe, however, used his influence to get her frozen from NWA members and her promising run in the Southeast with Cowboy Luttrall and Paul Jones in 1954 fizzled.: 292
Emotionally exhausted, Burke wrestled Wolfe's daughter-in-law June Byers and there was genuine heat between the two. The match took place on August 20, 1954 in Atlanta.: 292 It was a grudge match that quickly became a shoot fight, due to genuine enmity between the two women. Wolfe had the support of the local commission, and he positioned a referee that was friendly to his goals into the match. Burke later admitted that she had given up the legitimate first fall with the intention of competing stronger in the second.: 292 The second fall never had a finish. Officials called the match, and Burke left the ring believing that her title was safe because she had not lost two falls. The result was that many in the press stated that Byers had defeated her and the importance of Burke's championship began to diminish.: 292
In the early 1950s, Burke started the World Women's Wrestling Association in Los Angeles, California. She returned to her promotion after her match with Byers, still recognizing herself as the World Women's Champion even after the NWA had recognized rival June Byers as champion since then, and continued to defend it. She vacated the title in 1956, when she retired from professional wrestling. In 1970, the title was revived by All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling (AJW) as their top prize.
After the tensions with Wolfe and the NWA, Burke traveled with an escort for the rest of her career as a protective measure. She started International Women's Wrestlers Inc. with Bill Newman and the promotion had offices in New York City, San Francisco and Sydney, Australia.: 293 These offices served in the dual capacity of booking offices and training centers.
Her efforts to spread women's wrestling internationally reached Japan and brought about the World Wide Women's Wrestling Association (WWWA).
Mildred Burke introduced women's wrestling to several countries, including almost every state of the United States, Canada, Cuba, Mexico and some parts of the Orient: Japan, Hong Kong, Macao and the Philippines. All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling (AJW) bought the legal rights of the WWWA World Championship from her and later created the WWWA World Tag Team Championship, in 1971 and the All Pacific Championship, in 1977.
In 2002, she was posthumously inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.: 293
On April 2, 2016, Burke was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as a "Legacy" member.
On August 17, 2018, NWA's owner Billy Corgan acquired Burke's original title belt and presented it on August 28, at NWA EmPowerrr. The NWA World Women's Championship is also referred to as "The Burke".
In her later years, Burke ran a women's wrestling school in Encino, California. Among her students was Canadian Rhonda Sing, who went on to fame as WWWA World Champion, Monster Ripper, and later WWF Women's Champion Bertha Faye.
Burke died from a stroke on February 18, 1989 in Northridge, California, and was buried at the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.