With the retirement of Mildred Burke in 1955, a new champion would be crowned.  Billy Wolfe's Columbus based promotion had many capable performers, but none more so than June Byers.  "The greatest wrestler I ever faced", is how Penny Banner described her.

Byers assumed the role as standard bearer, and took the women's game into the turbulent 60's.  Her story follows.





As a young tomboy, little DeAlva Snyder never missed "Friday Night Wrestling" in Houston.  Her uncle, Ottoway "Shorty" Roberts, worked for Morris Siegel the major promoter of professional wrestling in Houston.  At the age of 7, Shorty had started DeAlva on a conditioning and body-building program, and by 13, the young girl could lick any kid in the neighborhood.  DeAlva was a favorite of many of the grapplers that worked for Siegel and she took more than a passing interest in pro wrestling.  As she grew older, she would pester the wrestlers with a constant barrage of questions and ask them to teach her wrestling moves.  They were only to willing to oblige.



The Byers' Bridge

The Byers' Bridge
June Byers' finishing hold


During one of his promotional swings through Texas, Billy Wolfe saw DeAlva cutting up in the ring.  Always on the lookout, Wolfe knew talent when he saw it, and he liked what he saw in the young girl.  Introduced by Shorty Roberts, Wolfe asked DeAlva if she'd ever considered a career in pro wrestling.  Recently married and divorced at a very young age, it didn't take her long to consider Wolfe's offer, and she was soon on her way to Columbus Ohio to begin training for a career as a professional wrestler.



Byers & Lorraine Johnson mid 50's
Byers & Lorraine Johnson mid 50's


Because of her background and physical training, DeAlva quickly developed and was soon ready to make her debut.  However, she needed a ring name.  "I always wrestled as June Byer.  You see, my name was DeAlva Eyvonnie Sibly.  No one could pronounce Eyvonnie and they wanted to call me Dee or Alva.  I was born on May 25th, but my parents couldn't agree on a name for me until almost the middle of June, so they started calling me June.  Then I married a man named Byers and June Byers was the name that I held onto."  So it was, as June Byers, that the young lady was introduced in 1944 at a Ladies' Battle Royal in Norfolk, Virginia that included Wolfe regulars Mae Young, Elvira Snodgrass and Nell Stewart.


In a tag-team match from 1956 ~ Byers is attacked from behind by Cathy Branch while working-over the legs of Branch's partner Bonnie Watson


Byers was a natural, and over the next few years became one the mainstays of Wolfe's travelling promotion.  She would wrestle other Wolfe regulars in preliminaries and occasionally would go up against Mildred Burke for the ladies title.  However, as always in the wrestling business, champions stay champions particularly when they’re close to the promoter.

Although the singles title was out of reach, the tag team title was certainly up for grabs.  Byers won the tag title when she and Millie Stafford took the belts from Ella Waldek and Mae Young in Mexico City in a match she vividly remembered.

The consummate performer, Byers always gave the fans their money's worth.  "I took every match and every opponent very seriously.  Every time I climbed into the ring it was my goal to make that match the best I could.  That may sound silly, but I was always nervous before wrestling, but I always gave each match my best.  I always wrestled to win, and I always tried to give the fans the best possible ring action that I was capable of."





Byers' Flyer


Byers rose through the ranks and became one of the stars of the promotion.  Like Millie Burke, she was an accomplished athlete, developing a wrestling maneuver called the "Byers’ Bridge" that she used as a finishing hold in her matches.  "I actually developed the hold accidentally", she said.  "During a match I grabbed an opponent's hands, they fell back with my legs in between, hooking them, I bridged back in a suplex for a winning pin, and that is how the hold was developed.  Actually my opponent's momentum carried me backwards, so although I found a new hold and won a match, it happened in such a manner that I almost knocked my brains out doing it."


A Familiar Site In Women's Pro Wrestling





Like most, Byers had her share of injuries over the years.  In her first nine years alone she fractured ribs, broke both collarbones, her left arm and suffered numerous concussions.  "After some bouts I was so black a blue that I looked like a leopard.  One time in El Paso, Texas I was impaled on a chair, and as a result I had to have my gall bladder and appendix removed."


Women's Pro Wrestling in the 50's wasn't for wallflowers and the girls dished-out and withstood a great deal of physical punishment
Theresa Theis takes a vicious shot to a very sensitive area in this bout with Byers from 1951






Byers with Belt

Byers is presented the world championship belt by the Commissioner of the Maryland State Athletic Commission after winning tournament promoted by Ed Contos --  June, 1953


The 2 B's ~ Byers and Banner


With Mildred Burke’s departure from the Billy Wolfe promotion in 1953, Byers would lay claim to the women's title by virtue of winning a 13-girl tournament in June, that took place Baltimore Maryland. The fact that she and Wolfe were extremely close may have had something to do with this. Nevertheless, she was popular with the fans and a talented performer in the ring.



Mae Weston struggles to break free in this match with Byers from 1950






However, many fans, and more importantly promoters, still considered Burke the women's champ as Byers had not won the laurels in the ring.  Wolfe knew he'd have to arrange a title match, and after much negotiation an agreement was reached.  Mildred Burke would wrestle June Byers for the women's world championship on the night of August 20th, 1954 in Atlanta Georgia.


Nothing barred as the lady wrestlers get to grips ~ Toe holds, elbow smashes, throat blocks, back heels and rubbing along the ropes are all tricks of the trade as Violet Vianne and June Byers battle it out



"It took Billy (Wolfe) one year to convince Mildred to wrestle me, and it was a shoot. Sam Muchnick sent a referee that we both agreed on. Mildred claims she wasn't defeated, but I pinned her in the first fall. During the second fall, she left the ring and refused to come back. Regardless of what she told people, it was a shoot. The Atlanta Athletic Commission awarded me the match, and my claim to the title, by default," said Byers years later recounting the August 20th title match.

Burke's version of the event is different, although they both agreed the match took place and that Byers won the only fall.


Byers and her tag partner are whipped into the turnbuckle




For years Burke denied the match ever took place and that she retired undefeated.   What really happened on that night lies somewhere in between.  Byers entered the match with an advantage in both height and weight.  She had been training particularly hard for the bout and was in tip-top shape.  On the other hand, Burke entered the contest with a damaged knee that would become dislocated during the fight.  In the match, which was scheduled for 2 out of 3 falls, Byers took the first fall.  Between falls, Burke popped her ailing knee back into joint and came out determined to win the second fall.  The two battled for another 47 minutes when Burke finally had to withdraw because of her injury.  It was an inconclusive end to one of the greatest women's bout's of all time, but didn't answer the question of who was champion.  At least, not at the time.



Televisions 1st Studio Broadcast of Pro Wrestling

The first pro wrestling card put on specifically for television was a 20-girl ladies tournament promoted by Ohio promoter Al Haft in the Spring of 1951 ~ The tournament featured lady wrestlers trained and booked by girl-wrestling legend Billy Wolfe and included June Byers, Mars Bennett, Mae Weston, Mae Young, Nell Stewart, Carol Cook and Dot Dotson among others ~ The matches were held in Dayton Ohio and were later re-broadcast throughout the United States ushering in the marriage between television and professional wrestling

June Byers applies a wristlock to a struggling Mars Bennett in a match for the newly conceived NWA Women's TV Title




Byers pounces catlike covering Marie DeLeon for the 3-count


It's Official
Byers is awarded the women's championship by the Atlanta Athletic Commission well after the match


After the Atlanta bout, Burke and several other girls went to Japan in what was the first appearance of American women wrestlers in that country.  In the meantime, Billy Wolfe, who had promoted the match, maneuvered the Atlanta Athletic Commission into awarding the title to Byers by virtue of winning the only fall.  Upon her return from Japan, Burke was outraged by Wolfe's scheming, but the decision had been rendered and Byers would be recognized as the lady’s champion from 1955 until she retired in 1964.



Verne Bottoms goes berserk in this shot but ends up losing the bout




With the death of Billy Wolfe in 1961 and the demise of his promotion, Byers would move on to St. Louis. There she worked for promoter/announcer Sam Meneker whom she would marry. Unlike Billy Wolfe’s, the St. Louis promotion was centered on the men and its great champion, Lou Thesz. Nevertheless, Byers was the recognized champion albeit of a much smaller group of girls that now included Penny Banner, Cora Coombs, Verne Bottoms and Karen Kellog.




Byers begins to train young hopefuls in the techniques of professional wrestling mayhem in 1965 at a facility near El Paso Texas but the school proves to be short lived


In 1963, Byers was in an automobile accident that broke her right knee cap and almost crushed her leg. When doctors advised against resuming her career and risking a more serious break, she decided to retire.  It was January 1st, 1964.

June Byers eventually returned to Houston where she became a licensed real estate agent.  She had four grandchildren and five great grandchildren. On July 20, 1998 June Byers passed away at her home in Houston.



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