Herbert Edward “Bert” Willoughby was born 14 September 1890 in Lancaster, Texas, and died 12 December 1963 at the age of 73 in Fort Worth, Texas. His parents, John Henry and Bell (West) Willoughby married on 4 September 1887 in Dallas, Texas. From a humble beginning in 1919, working during the day as a coffee roaster and at night as an amateur wrestler, he raised enough capital in 1920 to buy land at the intersection of Cadiz and Industrial Boulevard and build the first Sportatorium in 1922. As a wrestler, he steadily advanced to the professional class while he promoted wrestling wherever he could find a convenient place to hold matches. Through the next few years, he advanced as a promoter and a professional wrestler, gaining skill and notoriety to a degree that allowed him to begin a tour of the United States in 1927.
On 18 August 1928 in Columbus, Ohio, wrestling under the professional name of Bert Willard, he challenged and defeated the welterweight champion of the world, Jack Reynolds. Wrestling fans in Columbus still talk about the sensational win that he staged that night.
A short time later, Bert abandoned the wrestling field, returned to Dallas, and devoted his full time as sole promoter. His success largely came from the fact that he always considered his fans first in staging exhibitions. Records indicate he would intentionally take a financial loss to give wrestling fans the best talent obtainable. Records also document that, during the more prosperous years of his career, he promoted a special match and asked his friend and world-famous boxer, Jack Dempsey, to referee. Mr. Dempsey received ten thousand dollars for refereeing for one night. For many years, the Sportatorium in Dallas was the scene of “World Championship” wrestling matches and exhibitions arranged by Willoughby.
Through all of his success, Bert Willoughby never forgot his uphill climb as a wrestler.
Though he had no children of his own, his love for the young and underprivileged grew stronger in the later years of his career. Promising youngsters were always given a chance in the game, and he developed some of the best talent in the country. At the same time, charitable organizations knew they had a friend in Bert—someone who would always answer their calls for assistance.
Photo: Bert Willoughby, Championship Wrestler & Promoter