A while back I made a post about the sport of professional wrestling, which I didn’t really finish…or really start, now I think about it. Anyway, I had a phonecall from my dad a little while after I’d made the post, asking a few questions. Namely, “where’s the British wrestlers?”. So, after some research/youtubing/watching a few old World Of Sport videos, I can bring you a second part to my wresting rambling.
As I’ve mentioned before, my all-time favourite wrestler is Mick Foley (in his various personas), and I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t feature in Wrestlemania, other that in a slightly surreal advert with Santino Marella for some TV show about fishing. Anyway, I went to one of the local hostelries to view the spectacle that is Wrestlemania, replete with a home-made Mr. Socko.
Anyway, British wrestling. Far, far less glamourous that the American counterpart has ever been, it has remained hugely popular across the country for many decades. Arguably, the peak in popularity and fame for UK wrestling was during the 1970s and early 1980s, where the competitors took on slightly more colourful personas.
The most popular of the lot being a very large man named Shirley from Halifax. Shirley Crabtree, also known as Big Daddy, was probably the closest thing that 1970s Britain had to Hulk Hogan. He was the face (in both the literal and wrestling sense of the word) of the sport- his exploits in the ring could pull thousands in to watch, even though he was a very technically-limited fighter, who more often than not just relied on his sheer size.
Another, very similar, contemporary of Big Daddy, hailing from Salford. If Big Daddy was Hulk Hogan, then Giant Haystacks was Andre The Giant. A massive man (standing at 6’11” and weighing over 670lbs) and cast as a heel (baddie), Haystacks enjoyed a long career, feuding with several stars of the time, even though, like Big Daddy, he had a fairly limited repertoire of moves. In short, walk over to the opponent, knock them about for a few minutes, then pin them- they won’t move.
To continue the vein of comparing ’70s UK wrestling stars with 1980s/90s/current competitors, the next chap was essentially the cockney version of Ric Flair- who would have wrestling about the same time, as it happens. Mick McManus was the celebrity heel, not afraid to fight dirty, if it meant he would win. His dirty tricks still made him famous, spouting his nickname “The Man You Love To Hate”. He, unlike many of his contemporaries, pushed the boundaries outside of the ring, maintaining his persona as a celebrity, appearing on television shows, writing newspaper columns and working as a colour commentator. At the time, very few did this. Now it’s commonplace.
I’m going to mention one more British wrestler from around the same time, complete with one more comparison. If Big Daddy was the 70s UK Hulk Hogan, Haystacks was Andre The Giant, McManus was Ric Flair, then the closest to this man would probably be The Undertaker- Peter Thornley, also known by his in-ring name of Kendo Nagasaki. The masked ‘Japanese’ wrestler enjoyed a very long career, continuing the same gimmick without ever looking stale. Like The Undertaker’s initial period in the WWF, Kendo relied on his manager, Gorgeous George, to act on his behalf, further enshrouding the man. His bouts were some of the greatest of the era- mainly due to the fact that the majority of his time in the late ’70s was filmed and broadcast across the country. However, the mystery of his appearance continued until a fight in 1978, wherein Nagasaki chose to fight unmasked for the first time. He is still held in very high regard within the sport.
Of course, there have been many wrestlers who began their careers in the UK before moving on to bigger and better things- Fit Finlay, The Dynamite Kid, William Regal, Davey Boy Smith, Robbie Brookside, and the 2012 Royal Rumble champion Sheamus, amongst many others. But I’d quite like to celebrate those who chose to battle it out in civic halls and corn exchanges up and down the land. So I have. There.
I’ll go with that for now…I think.
So anyway, I’ve ran out of things to talk about. Again. So rather than go on a post-ramble ramble, I’ll stop now. Although as a postscript/cheeky advert, one of my favourite singer/songwriters, Luke Haines (who is playing at the New Continental in Preston on the 21st April), released an album last year entitled Nine And A Half Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s And Early ’80s. It’s worth a purchase. Here’s a link to it- http://www.amazon.co.uk/Psychedelic-Meditations-British-Wrestling-1970s/dp/B005NO0300/ref=mb_oe_o