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Sam Rabin


Wrestling's Forgotten Genius

Sam Rabin's background was interesting to say the least. He was not just an accomplished wrestler, but a highly acclaimed artist whose paintings sold at Christies auction house. 


Sam Rabinovitch was born in Manchester on 20th June, 1903, to Russian born parents Sarah and Jacob Rabinovitch, Jewish exiles from Belarus. Jacob was  a hat and cap designer. 

As he grew up in Manchester young Sam dreamed of being the strongest man in the world, emulating his heroes Sandow and Hackenschmidt. His father was scornful of such ideas but  was quick to sing the praises of his son as a naturally talented artist. Indeed he was, and at ten years old Sam won a diploma for art. He did what any young artist would do! He bought himself some muscle building equipment.

Just 11 years old Sam was the youngest ever student enrolled to the Manchester Municipal School of Arts. Four years later Sam won a scholarship  to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. He moved to London and celebrated by joining a wrestling club, the Ashdown Club in Islington where he trained under the tutorship of George MacKenzie, and alongside Bert Assirati, Bill Garnon and Atholl Oakeley. He subsequently went on to Paris where he was greatly influenced by Charles Despiau, the sculptor.

Selected for the 1928 Olympic Games he won a bronze medal in Amsterdam. Controversy surrounded the opening of the games when Queen Wilhelmina arranged a visit to Norway, against her Government's wishes, and was the first Head of State unavailable to open the Games. 

In the years that followed various rumours persisted explaining the Queen's non-appearance. The release of official papers eventually revealed Queen Wilhelmina postponed her return from Norway because she was aggrieved that she had not been consulted on the precise date of the opening ceremony. 

Controversy aside the Olympic Games went ahead with great success; 1928 being the first year that women were allowed to participate in track and field athletics, the austerity of the post war years having passed whilst the depression of the 1930s, Hitler's political interference and post world war 2 boycotts remained into the future. 

With nine competitors in the freestyle middleweight competition Sam Rabinovitch was one of the fortunate seven who were drawn a bye into the second round. Sam progressed through the competition until he was denied a silver medal, and awarded bronze, following a seven minute defeat by Canadian Donald Stockton.

Following his Olympic success Sam pursued his artistic career, commissioned by architect Charles Holden to carve West Wind, one of eight personifications of the four winds for the headquarters of the London Underground, two decorative winged masks, The Past and The Future, for the Daily Telegraph building in Fleet Street. 

Like most artists Sam found there was little money to be made as an artist and following a dabble with boxing he turned to boxing (as sparring partner for Len Harvey) and professional wrestling. 

We wonder where he got the idea there was money to be made in wrestling? 

With all-in wrestling rapidly gaining popularity there was a need for new talent, and Sam proved a perfect recruit. He turned professional and shortened his name to Rabin, also using the names Sam Radnor and The Cat. By 1932 Sam was travelling up and down the country facing the likes of Billy Riley, Jack Pye, Karl Pojello, Henri Letailleur, George Gregory, Norman the Butcher, and just about every big name in British wrestling. The Portsmouth Evening News reported:

"The bout between Rene Morris and Sam Rabin was an example of the more classical possibilities of the sport.The Adonis-like Hebrew Rabin gets to work with all the grace of a champion of old Olympia." 

Sam was cast in two Alexander Korda films, as wrestler in The Private Life of Henry VIII in 1933 and prize-fighter Daniel Mendoza in 1934’s The Scarlet Pimpernel. 

Sam was also a talented baritone who auditioned for La Scala's conductor, Victor de Sabata.

In 1949 Sam began teaching at  Goldsmiths' College of Art. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography said, "He was an outstanding teacher of drawing, renowned among his students and colleagues for his commanding presence and disciplined classes and for demonstrating the principles of drawing.”

Three quarters of a century later the name Sam Rabin is rarely remembered amongst wrestling fans, an injustice according to historian Allan Best, who refers to him as "The Forgotten Genius of wrestling." 

Sam Rabin died on 20th December, 1991.