The Old Guard
July 2, 2007 by Peter Sawyer
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Hello again, grapple fans, this is Peter Sawyer, back in the squared circle. With all the tragic losses in the wrestling business at the moment, I was getting nostalgic. My first ever WWE match that I remember seeing on TV was Chris Benoit versus Raven. Raven got DQ'ed for deciding to counter the Crippler Crossface with a steel chair. Those were the days. So I got to thinking on Benoit, watched some old tapes, then heard the name Owen Hart. Again, sadly missed, long to be remembered. Then I cast my eyes back even further, several wrestlers, great wrestlers and sportsmen have passed away recently and I hope to be able to pay an appropriate tribute to some of these.
John 'The Bear' Elijah was a North London boy who my grandfather had the privilege to know. Elijah earned his moniker for two reasons, he was a great hairy brute who weighed in at over 15 stone and was covered in a mop of straggly hair and, for most of his career, a shaggy beard. Elijah was devoted to the wrestling business, he worked at Tottenham College in North London and spent most of his spare time training and practicing moves, particularly the bear hug submission maneuver that won him so many matches, although very often Elijah falling on an opponent with any momentum would soon take the fight out of them.
Jackie Pallo sadly passed away on 11th February, 2006 at the grand old age of 80. When ITV began World of Sport, it was Jackie Pallo who sat with the immortal Kent Walton to teach him the names of the holds and the terminology. The viewing millions over the years have much to thank Jackie only for this. He made his televised debut in 1956 against Jack Dempsey and his long-running feud with Mick McManus that broke all TV and box office records led him to start calling himself 'Mister TV'. He had such prominent fans as the Duke of Edinburgh and sold out the Royal Albert Hall in London SIX times, on one of those occasions, he won the only title of his career- the Heavy Middleweight Championship, beating Bert Royal. In 1964 he guest-starred on The Avengers and was inadvertently knocked out by Honor Blackman, something a wrestler could never live down. Jackie Pallo, a legend, a gentleman, Rest in Peace.
All World of Sport fans has a favourite memory of Les Kellet, whether it be his spectacular spin through the ropes (falling backwards through the ropes and then propelling himself back into the ring), or making his opponent look foolish by feigning semi-consciousness and then sidestepping a blow at the last minute. It was this ability to humiliate his opponent that gave Kellet his unique flair for pleasing the fans. Kellet also had a rather selective sense of hearing and a playful dislike of the referee, often baiting the referee until the official lost his temper and then feigning innocence. Many a referee ended up tearing at his hair. The great Les Kellet was still wrestling into his sixties and died in January 2002. He was a great entertainer, a fearless competitor, a peerless showman and a gift to the wrestling business.
Paul Lincoln (Dr. Death to many), Pat Roach, Giant Haystacks, Steve Logan, Mike Marino, Mal Sanders, Goerge Kidd, the world of wrestling owes such pioneers much but perhaps our greatest debt is to the inimitable Kent Walton. For an amazing 33 years, 1955 to 1988, Kent Walton never missed a World of Sport match, he commentated on every single one, sitting by the ring with his glass of something-or-other and chain smoking in his shirt and braces, Kent's smooth tones were the un-missable side dish to the main course of competition. Kent Walton, the pioneer of wrestling announcers, passed away in August 2003 at the age of 86. Thank you, Kent.
So I ask everyone who reads this, with the scripted deaths that we will surely have in the future, the tragic losses of stars such as Sensational Sherri and Chris Benoit, please remember the trailblazers, the old guard. Until next time grapple fans.
By Peter Sawyer (View/Submit your feedback here
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