The Days Of Sport
May 26, 2006 by Peter Sawyer
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I'll keep my intro short as it seems to be the way that things are going. I'm Peter and a loyal English follower of WWE, TNA and ROH. I also think Triple H sucks, Rey Mysterio rules and Samoa Joe is a world-beater but that's all beside the point.
I got into watching wrestling by watching WWE broadcasts at ridiculously late times at night and then discovered World of Sport. For those of you who don't know, World of Sport was the original British Saturday afternoon wrestling broadcast. The inimitable John Kent sat at ringside and started every single broadcast with 'Hello again, grapple fans'. And that's what it was. Grappling- traditional freestyle wrestling. The referee's gave out public warnings for minor rule-breaking, when a competitor was knocked down the opponent had to back off and allow them to get up before the ten-count, rope breaks were sacrosanct, they were sportsmen who shook hands at the end (mostly) and many wrestlers were firm friends outside the ring. World of Sport spawned some great wrestlers- some of whom went on to be a success in Europe, Asia and even the USA. I wanted to write about these guys and the way they operated.
Two wrestlers who gained international notoriety were Big Daddy (Shirley
Crabtree- I'd use an alias!) and Giant Haystacks (Martin Ruane although I don't think he ever used that name in the ring). Both were not particularly technical or skilled wrestlers but their power and size more than compensated for it. Neither man was particularly fond of rules but only broke them on occasions- Giant Haystacks especially was a good sportsman although a rather sore loser!
Before going on, I must take a moment to mention the legendary Max Ward. In the British wrestling world, Mr Ward has become an icon. A former middleweight wrestler himself, he took over as World of Sport's senior referee. Max Ward did not suffer fools gladly and had the size and strength to keep the wrestlers in line. Often when wrestlers refused to break a hold Max Ward would physically force them to.
Comedians were rife in the World of Sport ranks. Foremost among them was the ever-entertaining Les Kellett. Les Kellett would make the likes of Eugene and Doink the Clown look orthodox. Kellett had numerous tricks in the ring which, as over-used as they were, never failed to confuse his opponents and delight the fans. Kellett had a rather selective sense of hearing which meant that when he was on the wrong end of a hold, he would hear the end of round bell very clearly and make a big show of it: "Was that the bell"" etc. If he was on top, he would often not hear it until the referee shouted at him, at which point he'd look straight at his opponent and say "The bell's gone, we have to break the hold". It enraged officials, frustrated his opponents and had the audience rolling in the aisles. Kellett always went through phases in the match were he would get a bad beating and start looking rather disorientated. His glassy eyes and flyaway thinning hair only added to this impression, much as it does with Eugene now. But rather than getting mad, Kellett would play on the disorientation and as his opponent charged at him, Kellett would stagger sideways or even do a single casual step. He would do this three or four or more times until the opponent got annoyed with him, then Kellett would unleash. He also had a habit of playing with the referees, standing on their toes and twisting their arms when he shook hands with them. Les Kellett was and remains a legend to all the old World of Sport fans. On top of everything, he was a sportsman. He had several long-running feuds but they never got nasty, they were sporting competitions between athletes who respected each other's ability and character.
Another comedian in the ring was Johnny Czeslaw, a Pole by birth who moved to Britain as a young man. Part of the comedy of Czeslaw's matches was that he was bald and perspired a lot. This meant that most attempts at headlocks, snapmares and other moves around the head failed because his opponent's hands used to simply slip off of his head. Czeslaw was powerfully built but remarkably athletic. He could bend his back a long way and used it to slip out of awkward positions. He often used to fool opponents by pointing to something outside the ring or staring at something until his opponent looked and using the distraction to get himself free. Just to watch on TV, the simplicity of the action is amazing but so many of his opponents fell for it.
A great competitor who was more in the American style was the Dynamite Kid (Tom Billington). He was very popular and his hard-hitting, high-impact style was very different to many of the wrestlers in World of Sport in the late 70s to early 80s. Although he was very bad at allowing his opponent up and breaking when told, his exciting style meant that he gained great popularity. Dynamite Kid was one of the first wrestlers to use the crowd as a source of confidence, taunting his opponent and actively getting the crowd on his side. Another contributory factor to his success was his amazing (for the time) diving head-butt finisher and the amount of time he spent climbing to the top rope. It was Dynamite Kid's influence that led a young Chris Benoit into the business and the Rabid Wolverine now is, of course, famous for his diving head-butt- his tribute to a legendary wrestler.
Another pioneer of the head-butt was Johnny Kwango. He also used a diving head-butt but also used to put his hand on the opponents hand and butt his own hand to stun his opponent. Kwango was an amazing athlete, with a tremendous vertical leap, prodigious leg strength and he could do the splits with his legs in both directions, bringing tears to the eyes of many. Kwango was a multiple-time champion both in Britain and Europe and a greatly missed competitor.
The Little Prince was a Pakistani competitor and nobody was ever sure of his real name. He personified the camaraderie and sportsmanship that most World of Sport wrestlers tried to live up to and that Ring of Honor has tried to emulate in the modern era. He was only about five feet six tall but his arms and chest were enormous and his strength was such that he straight-lifted the rather large Max Ward once with ease. The Little Prince always bowed to his opponent, shook hands with the opponent, referee and the announcer and always thanked the crowd for their support.
One wrestler who became renowned for not quite sticking to the law was Jim
Breaks- a frequent holder of the middleweight belts. His striped trunks and close-cropped hair were immediately recognisable, as were his rather small stature. Jimmy Breaks was the master of the Breaks Special- an arm lock that bent the shoulder and wrist joints the wrong way until the hand almost touched the underarm. It was an excruciating hold (don't try this at home) and won him many matches. However he often used closed fist blows behind the referee's back and threw childlike tantrums, literally jumping up and down, if he thought a decision had gone the wrong way. 'Cry Baby' Jimmy Breaks was a fantastic wrestler and his tantrums only added to the enjoyment.
I could go on for hours on this subject. There are so many competitors who deserve a mention- 'Tally Ho' Kaye with his fox hunting gimmick, John Naylor, 'Flash' Jordan, Tibor Szakas, Jimmy Moran, Fit Finlay, Bert Royal and his brother Johnny Saint... and all the rest. So many of these men were competitors who helped keep wrestling a sport. It's something that is so lacking nowadays. ROH has tried hard to keep the sportsmanship in wrestling.
There is room for the showmanship, as wrestlers like Dynamite Kid and Johnny Kwango showed, but surely there is still room for sport in the midst of the entertainment. As long as people watch and remember World of Sport, the legacies will remain. They were great wrestlers and superb competitors and should be celebrated as such. In the words of the immortal John Kent: "Until next time, grapple fans".
by Peter Sawyer ..
Langdon Beck wrote:
Great column, it put me in the mood to watch some more World Of Sport on the Wrestling Channel. It's good to see some of the British legends getting some more recognition.
Richard Gittins wrote:
I hate to nit pick but I didn't see anything about one of my personal favourites, the legendary Catweazle.
Apart from that a fine article. Bring back world of sport!
Rule Britannia dude
Hi Peter -- Great to see that you are reviving interest in British Wrestling, but I am guessing that most of what you are writing about comes from the World of Sport show on The Wrestling Channel" You have a few mistakes in there; it was Kent Walton, not John Kent, who was the commentator. Jim Breaks held titles at Lightweight and Welterweight, not Middleweight. Johhny Kwango held no British or European titles that I am aware of. Giant Haystacks was a career rule breaker. Good to see people still have an interest in the more realistic style that Britain produced. Thanks
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