Name: Ray Steele
Year Inducted: 2008
Induction Category: Pioneer Era
Ray Steele was born Peter Sauer in 1900 in the town of Norka, which was a German colony in Russia. His parents were Conrad Sauer and Catharina Margaretha Glanz. After his father passed away in 1901, Ray was raised by his grandfather's brother and his wife. The family immigrated to America in 1906 and they settled in Lincoln, Nebraska. Ray's brother, George Sauer, won a claim to the world's middleweight championship from Gus Kallio and Ray was also a cousin to another George Sauer, who became a famous football player and coach.
Ray began his mat career under his real name and by 1919, young Peter Sauer was becoming well-known as a professional wrestler, having faced world light-heavyweight claimant Clarence Eklund on several occasions. On October 9, 1922 in a bout with Eklund at Santa Paula, California, Pete won the match by taking two falls of three to claim the world's light-heavyweight championship for his first title.
During the 1920's he was one of the top wrestlers in America and, depending upon the territory, wrestled as either Pete Sauer or Ray Steele. He also took a turn working under a hood, becoming one of the various Masked Marvels. He lost his mask by losing a match with Jim Londos in Atlanta, Georgia on April 26, 1926.
Ray was often billed as Londos' "policeman" by the papers during the title reign of the "Golden Greek." If a wrestler could beat Steele, he would get a title shot. Many experts considered Ray a better wrestler than Londos but without the color necessary in the changing mat game to draw fans like Jimmy did.
On February 5, 1937 at Columbus, Ohio, in a contest with world's heavyweight champion Everett Marshall, the bout ended in a dispute. Marshall put a full nelson on Ray, who was outside the ropes and slammed him to the floor. Referee Clete Kauffman awarded Marshall the match when Steele was injured. The commission reversed the decision and gave the contest to Steele. Ray claimed the title and defended that claim until he was hurt in an auto accident near Portsmouth, Ohio.
Steele often served as a training partner of the young Lou Thesz and guided him in his rise to the upper levels of professional wrestling. On March 7, 1940, Ray finally captured the National Wrestling Association world's heavyweight title by pinning Bronko Nagurski in St. Louis. He held the championship belt until March 11, 1941 when Nagurski regained the belt in a Minneapolis contest.
Steele continued to wrestle and referee mat shows until he went into the hospital in June 1949. Ray was training to return to the ring when he suffered a fatal heart attack on December 11, 1949 at Warm Lake resort near Boise. He was 49 years old.
- Don Luce