Mohammed Yakub wrestled in Britain for fifteen months in the early 1960s. He is now 89 years old, living on the Fijian island of Viti Levu. He was amazed when one of his grandchildren told him a wrestling website in Britain remembered his visit to our island and got in touch to send his best wishes to Wrestling Heritage readers.
The story of our warrior begins many years before his birth on the Fijian island of Viti Levu some ninety years ago. Mohammed Yakub's wanderlust, determination and courage can be traced back at least one generation to his father, a citizen of Patiala, a city in south-eastern Punjab, northern India.
From his home in the Punjab Yakub's father travelled to Calcuttta and sailed for Fiji as part of the indentured labourer scheme. The indentured labour system was introduced in 1833 and lasted until 1920. It was a form of debt bondage which transported more than three million Indians who had volunteered to work in European colonies. The Pacific islands of Fiji began receiving Indian labourers in 1879, mostly working in the sugar plantations, and was to receive 60,000 before the scheme was disbanded in 1916.
Yakub's father was one of those indentured labourers who came in search of a better life, but it was a hard life and there are many stories of ill treatment of the incomers. The labourers were contracted to remain in Fiji for five years, but the majority chose to stay permanently, many of them developing their own sugar cane fields or farms. Even owning their own farms the Indians were forced to give a contribution from their income to the Colonial Sugar Refinery Company.
This was the background of Mohammed Yakub, born on Viti Levu on 23rd November, 1925. Viti Levu is the largest of the Fijian islands, home to 70% of the island republic's population and the capital city of Suva.
As a child Yakub lived in Sabeto, a rural settlement in the Sabeto Valley, an area of stunning natural beauty at the base of the Sleeping Giant Mountain range, and close to the hot springs and mud pools which are now a major Fijian tourist attraction.
Life was hard as a child. Fortunate in owning his own small farm Yakub's father had to make the proceeds feed all his eleven children, of which Yakub was the youngest. Childhood for Yakub involved formal schooling, at the nearby Sabeto school, and helping on the farm. When he was older Yakub went to the larger school in Lautoka, Fiji's second largest city, where he could learn English.
Mohammed Yakub developed an interest in horse riding, not just riding them to get around near his home, but also racing. By then the youngster had developed a competitive nature, not surprising being the youngest of ten siblings forever struggling to make his voice heard, and he applied this competitive character to horse racing. He did well and became well known around Fiji as a successful jockey.
Fiji was a British colony at the time World War 2 was declared, and Mohammed Yakub was just fifteen years old. A few miles from his home in Sabeto an airstrip was built and completed in March 1940. The airfield was used by the United States Army Air Forces when the Pacific War began in 1941, with Flying Fortresses flown from Nadi against Japanese targets in the Philippines and Solomon Islands.
The teenager started to help the soldiers break horses. Animals roamed freely around Fiji, and this caused problems for the airmen with wild horses straying onto the airfield. One day an American General, Barbed Hayward, was looking for a local to keep roaming animals away from the runway. Yakub was interviewed by the General and the was given a job, keeping the animals away until the area could be fenced off.
Naturally the soldiers at the base organised their own entertainment - concerts, competitions and sports that included wrestling. Now Mohammed Yakub knew Indian style wrestling, which had been brought to Fiji by the indentured labourers. The Indian style wrestling had blended with veibo, the traditional Fijian wrestling. Yakub wrestled to entertain the soldiers, and he loved the attention,
"It was amazing and I felt great. I remember everyone cheering. After I had won a couple of matches I started loving the sport and thought, why not? I can continue doing this not just for a show but for my career"
When the war was over professional wrestling was again promoted in Fiji. There had been a professional tradition in the 1930s with crowds of more than 2,000 Fijian fans enjoying Jaget Singh, Harban Singh and Gabo Stephens. The main centre for the matches was the capital city of Suva on the south east coast of Viti Levu. Mohammed Yakub was approached by John Grant, the leading theatrical and sporting entrepreneur in Fiji, who was at the time reviving the sport. He persuaded Yakub to turn professional wrestler.
Mohammed Yakub went on to win the middleweight championship of Fiji and was to remain undefeated for many years.
In the early 1960s he came to Britain, and prior to the 1962 Immigration Act obtained British citizenship. The photo above shows him in a London park. Mohammed Yakub has memories of the British people as welcoming and kind. But he was a long way from home and inevitably lonely in a land that was very different from Fiji. To lift his spirits Yakub began going to wrestling shows which were staged every night somewhere in London. He enjoyed the wrestling immensely, it provided an interest in an unfamiliar land, and he pondered the idea of resuming his wrestling career in Britain.
Enquiries led Yakub to a coffee bar in a four storey building in Old Compton Street, London, and the headquarters of Paul Lincoln Management. The 2I's was frequented by rock stars and wrestlers. He tentatively made his way inside and asked for the owner, Paul Lincoln. Arrangements were made for Yakub to have a trial, and he was instructed to turn up at the Metropolitan Theatre the following Saturday at 3pm.
Four trial matches took place and the decision made that Mohammed Yakub was good enough to wrestle for Paul Lincoln Management. In the months that followed he was to wrestle all the big names that were working for Paul Lincoln and other opposition promoters at the time.
Amongst his opponents were the blond haired Canadian villain Flash Lee Edwards, World Champion Mike Marino, the London dock yard bad boy Don Stedman, Judo Al Hayes and many others. In total Mohammed Yakub had more than a hundred matches in Britain during his fifteen month stay.
His memories of Britain are fond ones, but it wasn't home. When he was offered the chance to wrestle in the United States Mohammed Yakub declined and made the decision to return home.
Towards the end of 1963 he left England for Fiji, where he continued to wrestle on his return. By then he was nearing his fortieth birthday and also felt a desire to pursue other interests. He founded his own company, an earth moving and public transport business, and became one of Fiji's most successful businessmen.
Six years following his retirement from wrestling Mohammed Yakub was encouraged to return to the ring, again finding championship success when he won the South Seas Light-heavyweight title, also known as Rustam- E- Fiji. He was to remain undefeated champion until his second retirement.
Now 89 years Mohammed Yakub remains healthy and active, still running, horse riding and teaching a few wrestling tricks to his great great grandchildren.
Yakub has continued the tradition of large families, having sixteen children (11 sons and 5 daughters), and 46 grandchildren.
We are told he loves telling stories of his past and still talks about his days in England and memories of Dennis Dean, Flash Lee Edwards and the other wrestlers he knew. His one wish, he told us, is that one day he will return to the ring. Not to wrestle, but as an entertainer to raise money for the less fortunate.
Here's a man who has already proved that he can make his dreams come true.