Mal Sanders exploded onto the ITV wrestling scene on Fireworks Day 1977, when his opponent in Aylesbury was Steve Grey. His yellow trunks and blond hair combined with youthful good looks immediately to capture the public’s imagination - but make no mistake, appearance was backed up by a full arsenal of slick wrestling skills.
Less than a year later Superstar Sanders was doing the unimaginable, not only winning the European Middleweight title but in so doing bringing to an end the seven-year reign of the redoubtable Mick McManus.
Victory was admittedly gained via the controversial disqualification route, but a week later in Huddersfield Sanders once again beat McManus two falls to one to cement his status as European kingpin and to claim one of only two falls victories ever over McManus in his 170+ television appearances, as well as becoming and remaining the only wrestler ever to have defeated McManus on television twice.
The burdens of fame and glory could have unsettled many a youngster, but Sanders, a self-confessed addict to tv wrestling in his teens, went on to enjoy a glittering career in which he filled every role in the game.
In terms of titles, he was a televised championship contender at all weights from Heavy Middleweight downwards.
He put his European Middleweight title on the line on wrestling’s day of the year, as centrepiece of the FA Cup Final spectacular. At the famous Wembley Arena showdown in 1981 between Mighty John Quinn and Big Daddy, remember it was Sanders who, on the same bill, successfully defended his European title against visiting Spaniard, Chato Pastor.
At welterweight, he feuded for national and European honours with Bristol’s Danny Collins. And a career-long feud with Steve Grey (left) continued into the eighties as the British Lightweight title became their bone of contention.
In terms of opponents, Superstar Sanders faced them all. As well as appearing on the same bill as Big Daddy on numerous other occasions, including at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall, Sanders would often share a tag rope alongside the Halifax giant. This alliance would bring him into in-ring confrontation with many of the super-heavyweight villains – and none were bigger than Giant Haystacks himself.
Even in solo action, Sanders would frequently face opponents far heavier than himself such as Butcher Bond and Super Destroyer Pete Roberts, but his most regular opponents were in the lighter divisions. He perhaps faced rule-breakers Syd Cooper and Zoltan Boscik too often, as it wasn’t long before the golden boy from Morden, South London, was emulating their style and becoming a rule-breaker in his own right, chalking up an uncomfortable number of disqualification verdicts.
Mal Sanders continued to be a regular on ITV’s weekly wrestling right up until the final televised bouts in 1988, and his career has continued well beyond into the New Age.
However, one honour from Sanders’ outstanding career sticks out in the minds of wrestling fans. When British and World Mid-Heavyweight Champion Mike Marino, the Anglo Italian ring stylist of the fifties, sixties and seventies, met with a tragic roadside death on the way home one 1981 summer evening, he had been accompanied by Mal Sanders. Dale Martin promotions quickly arranged the inaugural Mike Marino Memorial Shield trophy and on 29th September 1981 at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, Mal Sanders battled Judo Pat Patton, Golden Ace John Naylor and Cyanide Syd Cooper to emerge victorious.