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Leeds lightweight Chris Knowles was a sensation when he made his professional debut as a fifteen year old.
The blond hair, the looks, the speed and the technical skill passed on by his grandfather, the great Cyril Knowles, quickly established the teenager as a firm favourite on the northern independent scene in the mid 1970s.
Cyril was immensely proud that his grandson was carrying on the family tradition in style. Chris mostly worked in singles matches against the likes of Al Marshall (above right), Dirty Billy Bates and Shaun Lavery, but also learned a great deal partnering the veteran Gorilla Reg Ray in tag matches.
Tragically Chris's promising career, and his life, was cut short when he was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was just twenty years old.
Not the first name to come to mind when we consider the greats of wrestling.
Don't be mistaken. This man was an influential figure in British wrestling for the best part of a half century.
Former wrestler Eddie Rose told Wrestling Heritage:
Read our extended tribute Gentleman of the Land; A Man of the People.
Al Marshall Remembers Cyril....
Promoter Cyril Knowles was a lovely man, straightforward and decent, but he was very sharp and never missed a trick. One night I was working for Cyril at Hyde in Cheshire. When I got to the hall there was already a long snake of a queue waiting for the doors to open; I'd never seen anything like it.
When I went inside Cyril had a big smile on his face, already mentally counting the takings. "We'll have 'em standing said Cyril. It's that White Cloud. That's who they've come to see."
Cyril continued getting ready for the show, very happy, until about quarter past seven and there was still no sign of White Cloud. "Not to worry," said Cyril, "he'll be here any minute." Half past seven and the smile had gone off Cyril's face. I was changed and ready to go on.
"No lad," said Cyril, "I've changed my mind and I'm putting a couple of the other lads on first." Eight o'clock and the first match was underway. Still no sign of White Cloud. "I think I'll put you on after the interval tonight lad,"said Cyril.
I was beginning to suspect Cyril was up to something.
"We'll add a few minutes to the interval tonight," said Cyril, "give White Cloud a chance to make it," and with that he disappeared.
A few minutes later Cyril was back in the dressing room carrying a big suitcase. He opened it up and it was full of all sorts of costumes and masks. Cyril pulled out the full red indian gear and told me to put it on, "You can be White Cloud tonight."
I protested, "Cyril, I can't be White Cloud. I've got ginger hair. I'm a lightweight. I look nothing like him." Undeterred Cyril thought he'd found the answer to his problems. "Not to worry. We'll tell the fans you're from a newly discovered tribe with ginger hair. You're on with Reg Ray."
"We'll be awreet," growled Gorilla Reg. Thanks Reg I thought. I was reluctantly pulling on the costume when the door burst open and in charged an out of breath, apologetic White Cloud."
"Stop messing about Al," shouted Cyril, "Get that clobber off. Quick you're on next White Cloud."
White Cloud and Gorilla Reg had a good match, followed by another good one between Dirty Billy Bates and myself. The crowd went home happy, Cyril counted his money, and he went home chuffed.
Read our extended tribute: A Man of Arms
Visiting overseas wrestlers seemed to fall into one of two categories; there were the invincible ones who defeated all before them, and there were the fall guys who made the gallant Brits look good.
When the twenty stones Japanese heavyweight Shozo Kobayashi arrived on our shores in October, 1968 it was quickly apparent that although he was something of a novice sent to Britain as part of his wrestling education, he was definitely in the invincible category.
An opening win over Roy Bull Davis was followed by a first round knock out of Les Herberts in front of an astonished tv audience, and completed his first ten days in the country with a Royal Albert Hall detruction of John Cox.
The following few months saw Shozo go on to defeat the best that we could offer, including Albert Wall, Al Hayes,Bruno Elrington (at the RAH), Tibor Szakacs(on tv), Pat Roach, Ian Campbell, and even a straight falls win over Dory Dixon and a series of inclusive results against Kendo Nagasaki.
Shozo was a popular visitor to Britain during the 1968-9 winter before going on to greater things in the USA as Strong Kobayashi.
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American based Johnny Kostas stood over six feet tall and weighed 17 stones. He was known, as were others, as the “Golden Greek.
He was born in Greece in 1929 and was interested in many sports as an amateur. He turned professional in the USA in 1950 and visited our shores in 1963 and 1967. By that time he was already well-regarded in North America, boasting a drawn verdict with Lou Thesz in St Joseph, Missouri.
He remained undefeated for more than three years in South Africa between 1957 and 1961, drawing 50,000 in Sao Paulo, Brazil for his bout against Riki Dozan. Kostas caused interest with his gimmick of wrestling barefoot. We were easily pleased in those days.
Josef Kovacs, the Butcher of Budapest "looked every bit a bad dream" according to John Shelvey. We remember watching this all square heavyweight assasin only from his television appearances on our 1960s black and white screens. More fortunate Wrestling Heritage readers have fond memories of the stocky powerhouse in their local hall. Heritage member Beancounter told us, "I saw him wrestle at Blackpool and Preston a number of times in the 1960's.... His speciality K O move was a type of reverse aeroplane spin in which his opponent was lifted facing upwards, spun and then brought crashing to the floor on his back." John Shelvey recalls "..the sight of a wrestler, spinning across the ring like the blades of an injured helicopter, crash landing in a corner to be counted out." Kovacs arrived in Britain in 1958, establishing himself as a formidable force with wins over Geoff Portz, Ray Apollon and Bill Verna. Another win over Apollon was evident in a larger arena, the Royal Albert Hall in December, 1961. He was less fortunate in his following Royal Albert Hall appearance, losing to Tibor Szakacs, Georges Gordienko and local favourite Dazzler Joe Cornelius. Josef Kovacs was to remain based in Britain for a decade, occasionally leaving to share his art of skulduggery with fans on mainland Europe.
This Hampshire Farmer managed to participate in the Helsinki Olympic(trial)s that had eluded Alan Garfield (q.v.), but on two wheels in 1956.
He then went on to be trained for the ring by Bruno Elrington, though never came over as threatening, and we were uncomfortable when promoters billed him as Killer Kowalski after an American of the same surname.
Seldom outstanding but always in work thanks both to his size – well suited at 6’4” to pose a credible threat to even the most awesome opponents, such as Rocky Wall, left – and to that hallmark of many underated pros, the ability to switch believably from hero to villain according to the opponent, just like Prince Kumali, who now follows him alphabetically here.
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Billed as the statuesque negro giant from Georgetown, Guyana, his was a career full of contradictions.
We were told of his near invincibility overseas, gaining victory over the great Dara Singh in India, yet in Britain he would more often than not go down against his regular adversaries Steve Viedor, and Tibor Szakacs.
In India – see him entering the ring there, left – he also faced the original King Kong.
Trained as an amateur by the highly regarded Ken Richmond, adding to the skills he had already learned in Guyana. Tagged occasionally with Earl Maynard, and in Canada with Georges Gordienko.
Avid photographer Gordon managed deftly to adapt his style strictly according to his opponent, and further analysis of this can be found in Armchair Corner under Crowd Control of the Purest Kind.
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Billed as The King of the Head Butts from West Africa, he was famously lost for words when H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh asked him at the Royal show of 1963 where precisely he was from in Africa.
Favoured a jaw hold and wrestled unsmiliingly well into his sixties, a fact very well camouflaged from fans at the time. Featured with Jackie Pallo on the opening titles of ITV wrestling, as well as on the first Royal Show in 1963.
The alleged hardness of his famous bonce was sold strictly and exaggeratedly down the years by every single opponent as though this were one of the Great Commandments of the game, and this is discussed in detail in our Heritage feature Speciality Manoeuvres. Tagged with Linde Caulder, Johnny Kincaid and Clive Myers.
A musician and dancer, he was billed in the fifties and sixties as Black Kwango, and was the brother of Black Butcher Johnson. Ended his career as a referee, and made sure in that role that he never stole the limelight from the wrestlers even when nostalgic fans shouted complimentary remarks.
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