Hello You! (Or should that be “Greetings Grapple Fans”?)
I decided that I’d finally get around to reviewing some classic British wrestling, especially as there’s loads of it up on YouTube.
I’ve had this one in the can for a few weeks (I’m being shockingly productive at the moment) and in the meantime Dave Newman has started looking at some classic British Wrestling on the Blog as well. I didn’t mean to step on his toes but it’s just kind of turned out that way. You should give his features a jolly good reading if you haven’t already done so. The link to his archives is right HERE.
I was going to do a collection of random matches, but then I found that a full show had been uploaded and decided to watch that instead as it’d probably be an easier entry point for newcomers. If you fancy watching the show yourself you can do so by clicking right HERE.
Due to World of Sport wrestling being so different from regular wrestling, I’m not sure whether the usual 5 Star System will work with it, but I’ll give it a try this time out and if I feel it doesn’t really make sense then I’ll try something else if I ever do anymore of these.
Wrestling was a big part of Saturday Afternoons in the UK during this time period, so I’ve decided this will fill my Saturday slot this week. Next week we’ll stick with an international vibe when it comes to what I review, but you’ll have to wait and see what that one is going to be.
Big thanks to the Wrestling Heritage website as well, as it was one of the few places I could actually find some information on some of these wrestlers. Give the site a visit if you fancy learning some more about classic British Wrestling by visiting wrestlingheritage.co.uk!
Anyway, without further ado, let’s watch some chuffing wrestling!
The event is emanating from Crawley, West Sussex on the 31st of July 1975
Calling the action is WON Hall of Famer Kent Walton
One Fall Contest
Six Rounds, Five Minutes a Round
Johnny War Eagle Vs Johnny Czeslaw
Czeslaw apparently survived Russian concentration camps as a boy and served in the Polish Army before moving to the UK and taking up wrestling, which makes him roughly at least 2000 times tougher than me. War Eagle is from Canada and, as his name suggests, is working as an Indigenous Canadian character. I’m not sure of the legitimacy of his heritage though. I’m not calling him a liar or anything like that, but it’s not like people haven’t pretended to be a Native American down in the States so I’m sure at least one person has tried that trick in Canada at some stage.
So for those not au fait with British rules, when you knock an opponent down the referee will start counting them out like it’s boxing unless you immediately follow down with a pin or a submission attempt. This makes it a tad more stop-start than American and Japanese styled wrestling, but once you get into the rhythm of the knock out teases it becomes an interesting and fun little wrinkle. There’s also a lot of technical grappling, with both men mostly fighting over holds and leverage, with merely managing to get out of a hold drawing some warm applause from the crowd.
They essentially try and present it as more of a sporting event unless they’ve got a real character based heel in the ring, and neither of these guys are like that, although Czeslaw does get a chuckle from the crowd at one stage when telling the referee he won’t submit in his thick accent. They subtly tease that things are getting a tad more heated as the match progresses, with them both being eager to come out of the corner at the start of the second round so they can go back at it again. There’s some more good comedy, as Eagle teases a chop and Czeslaw tells him not to do it, which causes Eagle to take pause.
Eagle does indeed try and start chopping eventually, with Czeslaw doing everything he can to avoid them and the ref almost catches one accidentally. Some of the holds and escapes are really well done and the crowd is into it. It’s a perfect opening match really, as they do some good wrestling but also throw in the odd comedy spot to ease the crowd into things in case it’s their first show. We do finally get a bit of “needle” (As called by Walton) when Czeslaw slaps Eagle’s head, leading to both men throwing strikes.
Czeslaw asks for no more chops from Eagle and suggests they go back to grappling, which Eagle agrees to for the time being, and we actually get the referee breaking a hold for small joint manipulation at one stage. Pete Dunne would be buggered if he had to wrestle in 1975 and they enforced the rules so rigidly. Czeslaw actually kind of goes heel following the end of the third round by attacking Eagle after the bell, earning himself a telling off from the referee. According to Walton that sort of behaviour is unusual from him, but it’s a good example of how this one has heated up the longer they’ve gone.
Eagle gets fired up in the early stages of Round 4 and throws some chops before getting a body slam, which is enough for the three count, because that was still a finish back then, which kind of makes sense as you are picking up a huge man and throwing him down to the mat from something like 5 or 6 feet in the air. If someone did that to you in real life you’d probably stay down for 3 seconds too!
WINNER: JOHNNY WAR EAGLE
This was a good opener, as they did some good grappling and sprinkled in a few comedy spots to perk up the crowd before getting serious when it came to do the finish. The crowd should be suitably warmed up following that one.
Czeslaw is in a bad mood following that loss and slaps away Eagle’s hand when he tries to offer a handshake, drawing boos from the crowd. Finally he does accept it though and both guys make nice with one another to remain babyfaces.
One Fall Contest
Six Rounds, Five Minutes a Round
Robby Baron Vs John Naylor
Baron started out as “Young Robby” in his earlier days before becoming a popular star thanks to working on TV in the 60’s and 70’s. Apparently he would drive the legendary Mick McManus to events, which would often lead to him getting booked too, especially as McManus had a say in the booking. Naylor was known as the “Golden Ace” and would bust out the sorts of high flying moves you didn’t really see in this era, which made him an instant attraction, especially in the North of England where he’d rub shoulders with the likes of Dynamite Kid and Rollerball Rocco.
Both these guys are a bit smaller and more nimble than the lads in the opener, so the pace is a bit quicker. Interestingly they seem to be working the right side instead of the left here, which might have been how it was done back in the 70’s over here in the UK. Certainly since I’ve known it we’ve tended to work the left side over here, with working the right being more something you’d see in Mexico. Maybe working the right was how they did it in Wigan and Baron is just working the style that Naylor would be comfortable with or vice versa?
The technical grappling is executed really well, with both men clearly knowing what to do on the mat, and after that big digression by me in the last paragraph; they now seem to be working the left side! It’s like they’re trying to confound me. They fight over a body vice in Round 2, which leads to one of my favourite spots as they both end up with their legs tangled in a double handstand and agree to shake on it and voluntarily break the hold because both of them are trapped. I love that spot with all my heart, almost as much as the Bob Backlund arm bar counter where he lifts them up.
We get a fantastic sequence to open Round 3, as both men go for a jack knife pinning hold but each time the other man rolls through to stop it and it ends in a stalemate. That was not only executed perfectly but it was also done at a really quick pace too. It takes real talent to make that look so good whilst doing it so quickly. There’s the odd moment where the two men lose grip on one another whilst going for a spot, but I’m guessing it’s pretty warm in that building based on how much they are sweating, so they are probably getting pretty slippy as a result. No air conditioning in 1970’s Crawley I’m guessing.
The crowd is enjoying all of the counters and pin attempts, and give both men plenty of applause when holds are escaped and the rounds come to an end. I like how sometimes they’ll just break a hold on their own accord because they know it’s not going to lead to a submission and just sitting in it will serve to merely waste time, so it’s better just to let the other guy out and try something else. Both men bonk heads at one stage, which leads to a double knock out tease, but they both make it back up at 8, with Baron looking the worse for wear. However, just as it looks like Naylor is going to finally finish him off, Baron attempts the rolling jack knife cradle he’d been trying earlier and this time he manages to get it, leaving Naylor to be pinned.
WINNER: ROBBY BARON
I felt for sure that Naylor was winning that, but they went with the wily veteran sneaking a last gasp win instead, which popped the crowd and also paid off a previous sequence in the match. I really enjoyed it and the tempo was a little bit quicker than the opener, hence the slightly higher rating. It might have been nearing ***1/2 if it hadn’t been for a few moments where they lost their grip on one another, although they covered it well each time.
Naylor is a good sport and raises Baron’s hand following the bout.
One Fall Contest
Six Rounds, Five Minutes a Round
Wayne Bridges Vs Mike Marino
In a neat twist, Bridges was actually trained by Marino. Bridges was a heavyweight who often got roped into wrestling whichever evil foreign menace they could find for him, which led to a long feud with Kendo Nagasaki. He also tagged with Lord Alfred Hayes on and off until Alfred headed over to America. Marino was known as the “Golden Boy” and in the early 50’s he’d actually wrestled to an astonishing 100 minute draw with a wrestler called Mike Demitre in Aberdeen. Of course had the bout gone less than 75 minutes the crowd would have demanded their money back! He created a bit of a stir in the 60’s by breaking away from Joint Promotions to form a new group with Paul Lincoln, and his finishing move was the humble small package.
Bridges is certainly put together here, whilst Marino has more of the Harley Race late 80’s veteran physique going on. Bridges shows that he his Bridges by name and Bridges by nature by bridging out of a head scissors to some applause from the crowd. This match is a bit slower than the previous one due to both men being in the heavyweight bracket, but they still display some good athleticism, even if the match isn’t fought at quite as quick a clip as the previous one was. In a nice touch, Marino shows off his veteran smarts by milking the count whenever he gets knocked down, waiting till the ref gets to 8 before standing up even though he could get up earlier if he wanted to.
In a nice spot Bridges goes for a cross body and Marino catches him at first, but Bridges struggles and Marino eventually drops back, which is something you never see any more but it made total sense the way they did it here. If you’re holding a 230 pound man and he’s struggling it makes perfect sense that the weight might be too much for you to bare if you hold on for too long. Marino flings Bridges across the ring at one stage and he takes a pretty rough bump from it, which leads to a knock out tease. Bridges only just managed to rotate onto his back there and hit the mat with a thud.
In Round 3 we actually get a near fall from a snap mare at one point, with the idea being that the move itself didn’t knock the man out but it was more of a pinning hold where the snap mare was how Bridges got Marino down to the mat. Of course these days a snap mare is used more to set up something like a neck snap or a chin lock rather than a pin attempt, but back then you needed to keep the momentum going or the ref would start counting, so something like the move Mr. Perfect used to do wouldn’t be allowed.
Bridges gets a few more pinning combinations on Marino, but Marino always manages to get out just before the three. They are essentially doing near falls, but just in a different way than perhaps a modern fan would recognise, and the crowd is reacting to them like a crowd today might. Its funny how this style of wrestling is so familiar yet also so different as well. It’s kind of why I enjoy it so much to be honest. I have to be in the mood for it of course, but when I am it’s a lot of fun to watch and I can see why even some American wrestlers get a kick out of it and try to emulate it like Colt Cabana and Chris Hero.
Just like in the previous match, it looks like the younger man is going to wear the wily veteran down, with it being the case of it just being a matter of time, but they do another last gasp win for the elder statesman by having Marino catch Bridges was a cross body almost out of nowhere and he manages to hold Bridges down long enough for the three count. This perhaps would have worked a bit better if they hadn’t just done it in the previous match, but the crowd doesn’t especially seem to mind and likes that Marino picked up the win.
WINNER: MIKE MARINO
I wasn’t feeling this one quite as much as the previous two matches due to the heavyweight style being a bit less exciting than the middleweight one in the second match and it lacking the good comedy and character work from the opener. It was still a solid match and I liked the idea of Marino being on the back foot for nearly the entire match but being able to sneak it in the end due to his smarts.
We cut away before seeing any post-match, but I’m sure Bridges would have been suitably charitable to the winner.
Two out of Three Falls Contest
Six Rounds, Five Minutes a Round
Steve Best Vs Mick McManus
Best was someone who was talented and managed his fair share of appearances on TV, but he never really broke out of the pack and is probably best known (no pun intended) for forming a team with Johnny Saint and usually coming up short against the name guys on TV. McManus was not only a huge star as a hated heel, so much so that he found his way into the WON Hall of Fame in 2012, but he was also booking the matches at the time as well, which sometimes led to consternation as he ensured he was always kept strong even though he’d passed his peak as an actual wrestler. He was a genuine household name at one stage, and his heel program with Jackie Pallo is still fondly remembered by people who were around to see it.
McManus gets jeered as usual for his ring introduction and gets cat called once the match itself starts. This show has been lacking a good heel performance actually, as you could usually expect one or two on a World of Sport show. We loved the hero vs villain stuff over here; it wasn’t just the technical grappling we tuned in for. McManus cheats in a bunch of sly ways, often hiding what he’s doing so that it’s left up to the crowd’s imagination, but they just know he’s up to no good. He really is a heat magnet and it’s a fantastic gimmick because the match gets great reactions from the crowd and McManus doesn’t even need to bump around a lot to get them.
One spot that often happened in a McManus match is that the opposing wrestler would tug on McManus’ prominent ears, but on this occasion it’s actually the referee who does it when McManus won’t break a hold. Best is kind of just a side attraction for large chunks of this, with him mostly being there so that McManus can do devious things to rile up the crowd, but he plays his role well and his work is decent. Walton actually mentions that Best is a teacher for his day job. Best sells really well actually and McManus punches and kicks away at him before getting a pinning hold in the second round to go 1-0 up. However, Best comes right out of the blocks in the next round and uses the the same hold to tie it up immediately at 1-1, which the crowd LOVES.
McManus doesn’t want to get up at the re-start and the referee chews him out for it whilst the fans cheer along. McManus is drawing the kind of heat that most of the people in major companies today could only dream about. Best chucks him around the ring by grabbing his ears, which the crowd loves, but the referee eventually steps in to stop it because, even though McManus is an absolute weapon and certainly deserves it, what Best is doing is still illegal. The wrestling hasn’t been amazing or anything, but the heat has been superb and it’s really boosted the match overall. McManus is such a great heel, as he outright tries to flee at certain stages when a fired up Best comes after him.
All Best has to do is merely tease that he’s going to reach for McManus’ ears again and the crowd goes nuts. In a nice spot, closed fists are illegal in British Wrestling, but there’s no rule that says you can’t rest your fist over another wrestlers face and then hit it with your other hand, so Best does that at one stage and in effect gives McManus a legal punch. I just love all the little touches like that when I watch this stuff. Finally the referee has had enough and gives McManus a public warning, which is kind of like getting a yellow card in football. I remember the FWA eventually did bring in yellow cards, which at least gives a referee something to do when they catch a wrestler cheating other than just verbally telling them off.
As we enter the latter rounds the pace really picks up, with Best flinging McManus around to fire up the crowd. However, McManus, the sly fox that he is, manages to catch Best with a running forearm smash. Best teases that he’ll be counted out but bravely drags himself back up at 9. McManus knows a weakened opponent when he sees one though and pounces with a pinning hold to pick up the deciding fall.
WINNER: MICK MCMANUS
As if the booker man was going to lose on TV! This was definitely the McManus Show, as the crowd absolutely hated him and he played up to it perfectly. Best did a fine job in his role, but to be honest you could have stuck any other competent babyface in there and the match would have worked just as well due to how much of a heat machine McManus was. The wrestling was okay at best, but the atmosphere made it a blast to watch and I was an enjoyable bit of panto.
McManus doesn’t really stick around and heads to the back, leaving the crowd fuming and probably willing to pay double the ticket price next time if it means they can see someone clean his clock.
One Fall Contest
Six Rounds, Five Minutes a Round
Steve Grey Vs Ken Joyce
Grey was one of the main stars of the lighter weight classes during the 70’s and 80’s, working a highly technical style and often clashing with Johnny Saint in a respectful rivalry over the belts in the lighter weight categories. Joyce had a similar gimmick to the one Alex Shelley used for a bit in TNA and the indies in the mid-00’s, where it was purported that he had a counter for every hold you could throw at him, regardless of how difficult it was to escape. He was often on the lower half of the card having great technical matches but never really making it as a big star. From reading up on him he kind of sounds like his generations Dean Malenko, a highly skilled technician who the hardcore element enjoyed but who could just never break out of the mid-card.
Though this one is going on last (Or at least it’s last on the match order here) for the crowd Mick McManus was the real Main Event and these lads are clearly not being positioned as being at the same level of his match. In a nice touch, Walton always tries to let the folks at home who didn’t have a colour set (Believe it or not a lot of people in the UK still had black and white telly’s in the 70’s) know who each guy is by pointing out certain unique parts of their gear or appearance so they can differentiate who is who when they start grappling. I think Michael Cole’s head might explode if he had to think on his feet for something like that. The wrestling here really is superb, with a number of really nicely executed holds and some really slick counters and reversals. Anyone who has enjoyed watching SANADA and Zack Sabre Jr do their thing in New Japan will probably enjoy this one too.
They even work a courting hold at one stage, which is something you hardly ever see done outside of British Wrestling. Essentially you lock your opponent in an arm bar and stand next to them to work it over, so it looks like you’re taking a romantic stroll arm in arm, hence the name. You watch matches like this and you realise where the whole “human game of chess” description comes from, as both men are constantly trying to find a way to edge in front and avoid defeat, with Grey even rolling himself into a ball at multiple points so that he can’t be pinned.
The crowd appreciates it and watch on respectfully, almost like a Japanese crowd. Suddenly Grey dropkicks Joyce at one stage, only for Joyce to kip up from it in order to break the count from the referee. Wow, seeing something like that all the way back in 1975 is kind of wild. That came totally out of nowhere and they just go back to wrestling after it to, but they leave it in the back of your mind that they can do something like that at any time and it forces you to stay alert in case it happens again. Some of these holds and counters are almost impossible to describe and they are all done so smoothly. At no point does it look contrived either. Despite all the flashy stuff on display is still feels like a contest where two men are trying to out wrestle one another.
Joyce swings Grey around in a Cobra Clutch at one stage, but Grey gets saved by the bell before Joyce can finish him off. Both men are drenched in sweat here, going at such a quick clip in what is probably a really warm building. Going into the latter rounds I can’t really call it. Joyce has started to control things but we’ve had a number of instances of a guy controlling things and then getting caught. It wouldn’t surprise me if they Broadway this one actually. It’s been that kind of match. Joyce does a great counter to an Irish Whip by just sitting down and then nips up again from a Grey attack before spiking him with a Tombstone Piledriver for the three.
WINNER: KEN JOYCE
ALL the veterans go over! This was some darn fine technical wrestling, with the occasional big move thrown in when I was least expecting it, and I really enjoyed it. With a few tweaks you could put this match on a New Japan show today and it’d fit in just fine. Technical wrestling is probably my personal favourite style, so I was like a pig in chardonnay watching this one. A great way to close out the show!
Joyce helps revive Grey following the match in a nice display of sportsmanship as Walton wishes us all a good week till next week.
I really enjoyed this show, so much that I intended to just do a couple of matches and then come back to finish it because it was getting late, but once I’d started watching it I was hooked and just had to watch it all. That’s how you know a show is good!
If you’ve never really seen this style of wrestling before then I think this show wouldn’t be a bad introduction, as it gives you a good idea of what this sort of wrestling entails and the last two matches especially strike me as working well for a modern audience due to McManus drawing such good heat and the Main Event featuring a good mix of stuff you’d still see today in a modified form.
Going forward I’d like to watch some more classic British Wrestling, so you might see me reviewing a match or three down the line. I might do special themed reviews, where I take a look at a selection of matches for one particular wrestler, or I might even look at a certain year and pick out some of the bigger matches to review.
Either way I think the 5 Star Rating System held up reasonably well here, although I shudder to think what sort of ratings we’ll be looking at when we finally get around to reviewing matches from you-know-who.
Let me know what you felt about the Star System being used here. If you all think it felt really out of place here then I’ll explore alternatives, but I was happy enough with it this time.
Thanks for reading anyway and have a good time till next time!