Grappling With Tragedy: Whitey Caldwell

Brian Damage

Grappling with Tragedy is a series of articles that deal with unfortunate, tragic incidents that have occurred throughout the history of professional wrestling. It is unlike the ‘Wrestling with Sin’ series that deals more with the seedier side of wrestling like arrests, murders and suicides. Grappling looks more at particular tragic incidents that have in some instances altered pro wrestling in some way.

Whitey Caldwell

J.C. ‘Whitey’ Caldwell began his pro career in the 1950’s and mainly competed in the Tennessee and Kentucky territories. He was arguably the most popular babyface wrestler in those territories. His intense and bloody feud with top heel Ron Wright was legendary in that area and lasted for years. Caldwell won various regional titles including being a co holder of the NWA Tennessee tag team titles six times and a two time NWA Southeastern Heavyweight champion.

Whitey was on his second reign as the Southeastern champion when tragedy struck. On October 7, 1972, Caldwell did a television taping in Knoxville, Tennessee and wrestled a match in Morristown and was then heading home to Kingsport. A little after 11pm, while Caldwell was driving, another driver coming the opposite way was passing slower cars when he crashed into Caldwell’s vehicle while on a curve. Whitey Caldwell was killed in the crash.

The tragic news rocked the area and many have said that pro wrestling in eastern Tennessee never fully recovered from Caldwell’s sudden death. Whitey Caldwell was just 37 years old at the time of his death.

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