In the late 1950s and first half of the 1960s Salford's Lionel “Spike” Robson worked the rings of the northern independent promoters. Mostly seems to have been billed as Spike, but we did see him a few times as Martin Robson. A good technical wrestler Spike was in the unfortunate position of being the man opposing Jack Beaumont the night Jack died of a heart attack.
Prior to wrestling Spike had a sporting background as a rugby league player for Salford and Swinton. In 1965 Spike emigrated to Australia, where he carved out a successful career where we hear his technical ability was appreciated against usually larger, gimmicky Australian and American opponents.
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Maybe we were just naive.
No we weren't, we were wrestling fans, and the promoters of the day benefited from our generous nature by knowing that when we watched one of our home grown boys with a name similar to a famous American we might just think we were watching the real thing. Well, Paul Lincoln's Anglo-Italian Antonio Rocca had only a couple of letters difference from Italian-American Antonino Rocca, but we were ready to believe.
Deep down we knew it wasn't true. But our own Antonio Rocca was a very popular light heavyweight of the 1960s, and he was a touch of class. We were told, and it may be true, that he was born in Foggia, Italy, that he came to the UK in 1956 and found his way into wrestling after working in promoter Paul Lincoln’s café.
Okay, the last bit is definitely believable.
Antonio Rocca turned professional in 1961 as one of the Lincoln boys, regularly tussling with other Lincoln youngsters Ray McGuire, Bob Anthony and the Cortez brothers. He transferred to Joint at the time of the 1966 merger with Dale Martin, quickly establishing himself as a force in the light heavyweight division.. His fast, skilful style made him popular with television fans throughout the country and particularly in the south where he mainly worked.
One look at him and you knew this boy had the star quality. Trained by Manchester's Colin Joynson, without the knowledge of his dad and Colin's old pal, Jumping Jim Hussey.
He started out as a Salford middleweight known simply as Mark Rocco, transformed himself into Rollerball ( a 1970s film) and ended one of the UKs greatest contributions to world wrestling. Rollerball had it all. Wrestling skill, creativity, hard as nails and the killer instinct.
A punishing forearm, a quick follow-up, a few dubious tactics and Rollerball was on his way to his next success.
Championship success came in 1977 with a win over the heavy middleweight champion Bert Royal. In the years that followed Mark brought vitality and excitement to a business that was in so many respects looking jaded, and we can't help but think that had there been a few more like him things may well have turned out differently. Success in North America and Japan, where he used the name Black Tiger and embarked on a memorable feud with Tiger Mask, who had wrestled in Britain as Sammy Lee. In later years he was a mainstay of Brian Dixon's All Star Wrestling, finally retiring from the ring in 1991.
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Portuguese wrestlers didn't come around very often, but when they did they were usually pretty good.
Blond haired Portuguese heavyweight Carlos Rocha was welcomed by British fans when he visited the country in the mid 1960s.
By then he was already something of a globetrotter and had worked in the United States, many middle eastern countries and most of Western Europe.
He made a couple of televised appearances, against Josef Zaranoff and Bruno Elrington, in March and December 1965. Carlos Rocha went on to emigrate to Canada and most of his career was spent working in North America.
In 1977, when he was fifty years old, he wrestled Billy Graham who was at the time the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion.
Michigan's Dean Rockwell's first venture to Europe was in the US navy when he led a group of soldiers in the Normandy landings. His decision to break radio silence prevented imminent disaster and Dean's bravery was recognised by the award of the US Navy Cross and the French Croix de Guerre avec Paume. In 1994 he received further recognition for his actions from President Clinton. Prior to joining the navy Dean had been an amateur wrestling coach and made his professional debut in the late 1930s.
He came to Britain from the USA in 1948, mainly to watch the London Olympic Games and trace his family history (his parents were British born). Whilst in Britain he took the opportunity to wrestle professionally and stayed for a year, working around northern England and Scotland.
In the summer of 1948 he seemed to be an almost weekly fixture at Belle Vue, Manchester, with opponents including Farmers Boy, Bert Assirati, Francis St Clair Gregory and Tony Mancelli, Dave Armstrong and Ray St Bernard. Dean returned to Britain for a few months in 1952.
Back home he continued to teach amateur wrestling for many years, and trained the 1964 US Olympic team. . In 2000, America's biggest wrestling library, the AAU National Wrestling Hall of Fame, was named the "Dean Rockwell Library and Research Center." In January 2007, Eastern Michigan University named a gymnasium in his honor as the "Dean L. Rockwell Wrestling Facility." Dean Rockwell died, aged 93, in 2005.
Mexican heavyweight Rito Romero was a good friend of World heavyweight champion Lou Thesz and travelled to Europe with Thesz during the winter of 1957-8. Whilst his early career was in his native Mexico Rito settled in the United States, winning the NWA Pacific Coast Heavyweight Championship, defeating Verne Gagne for the Texas Heavyweight Championship and twice holding the NWA World Tag Team Championship. In Britain Rito faced the likes of Jack Pye, Sandy Orford and Dennis Mitchell, going down to the Bradfordian at the Royal Albert Hall in February, 1958.
Rito Romeiro died of a heart attack on 17th January, 2001.
Islington's Guido Ronga was a familiar figure on the British wrestling circuit for a quarter of a century from the start of the all-in era. In 1952 he won the World middleweight championship and held the British middleweight title for a few months in 1956. Another notable claim to fame is that in 1928 he began training another son of Islington, Bert Assirati, at the Ashdown Wrestling Club.
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