British wrestling history 

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S: Stead - Stein

Wrestling Heritage A - Z

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Johnny Stead


Johnny Stead was a class act. That's according to Heritage member Bernard Hughes, and Bernard's word is good enough for us.

Bernard recalls,  

"The best fight and certainly the most enjoyable for me was the 15 round draw at Newcastle for the world lightweight title between the holder George Kidd and the British title holder Johnny Stead. Just 15 rounds of great holds and fast counters. One pin fall each."

Hailing from Bradford, a hotbed of professional wrestling in the second half of the twentieth century we think it's a fair bet that Norman Morrell would have been a big influence on the lightweight youngster.  

Morrell had competed in the 1936 Olympics and as one of the top post war amateurs Johnny Stead seemed a likely nominee for the United Kingdom team in the 1948 London Olympic Games. Until he made the sudden decision to turn professional that is.

By 1949 Johnny had established himself as a well respected lightweight, working mostly in northern England and Scotland for promoter Norman Morrell against the likes of Tiger Woods, George Kidd and Alan Colbeck.

It was Wakefield's Colbeck that Johnny outclassed on 28th October, 1950 at the St James Hall, Newcastle, to take the British lightweight championship. This was Johnny's second bid for the title, having failed a few weeks earlier when he challenged Colbeck in a title match on 29th August in Wakefield (poster above).

Save for an eleven month period beginning April, 1953, when Eric Sands took the title, Johnny Stead regained the belt and was to remain in the dominant force on the domestic lightweight scene until the mid 1950s.

Don Stedman

18-stone 5'6" Bermondsey heavyweight in the Georges Gordienko mould, proud of never being knocked out throughout his career. He entered the professional ranks around 1950 when he was in his early twenties, and it's hard to believe that in those days he was tagged "Baby Face" Don Stedman.

A regular worker for Dale Martin Promotions he was tempted over to the opposition and wrestled throughout the early sixties on Paul Lincoln bills. When Dale Martin devoured Paul Lincoln Management in 1966 Don returned to Joint Promotions but made only limited impact for Dale Martins after the two companies fused.

He was, though, one of the semi-finalists in the tournament to decide a Southern England Heavyweight Champion eventually claimed by Judo Al Hayes. Feuded with Josef Kovacs, though two of his six televised bouts were against Pat Barratt.

Ray Steel

The lanky, blond haired light heavyweight was a popular addition to the wrestling circuit when he made his debut on 3rd June 1969, knocking out Dennis Savage at the Eldorado Stadium, Edinburgh.

There was never any likelihood of Ray being labelled as "flash" but his technical skill and agility for a man of his size did give him a certain kind of flair.  His methodical, technical style was respected more than loved by fans. 

To his not inconsiderable  credit Ray's skill did bring a much needed credibility to the wrestling rings of the 1980s when it was much needed.  He was rewarded with the British heavyweight title which he held from 1985 until 1986.

Ray, who learned to wrestle at the Leeds Athletic Institute, turned professional after a successful amateur career, winning a British light heavyweight title. A few more of Ray Steel's calibre may have maneouvred professional wrestling away from its suicidal tendencies of the 1980's

Bob Steele

The depth and richness of talent of British wrestling in the 1960s made it difficult for a wrestler to stand out amongst the crowd, especially if he failed to wear a colourful costume, dye his hair or adopt some other outrageous gimmick.

Salford's Bob Steele did stand out, and he did so simply by relying on an outstanding level of technical ability. He was singled out by middleweight champion Tommy Mann as the best of the early 1960s newcomers and biggest threat to his title.

Born in 1931 Bob became interested in wrestling whilst a child and attended his first show at the Ardwick Stadium when he was eleven years old. Manchester's second stadium, “The bloodtub,” was known for fights that were just that bit more exciting and violent than at the nearby Belle Vue, and the frenzy inside the hall hooked the youngster.

A couple of years later he joined the Manchester YMCA, initially to box, but soon turned his attention to wrestling. When Bobby was called upon to complete his National Service he became friends with wrestler Tony Vallon. Vallon encouraged the Salford yongster to put his wrestling knowledge to good use by turning professional, which he did in 1951.

Right from the start it was aparent that here was a wrestler with exceptional ability and Bobby was soon matched with the big names like Danny Flynn, Cliff Beaumont and Tommy Pye. Wins over welterweight champion Jack Dempsey were rewarded with a championship clash but Steele was unable to beat the champion in any title bouts. He remained a highly respected capmpaigner on the periphery of championship honours for the best part of two decades. By 1967 the bumps and the grind of the wrestling ring were getting the best of Bob and he took over management of a garage in Manchester.

Bob Steele passed away in 2012.

Kurt Stein (Germany)

Shaven headed, rugged features and a disinclination to follow the rules were the trademark of eighteen stone, six feet tall Kurt Stein.

The heavyweight villain from Berlin  wrestled in many  European countries  and Africa as well as extensively in the UK. His first visit to our shore was in 1958, the highlight of his visit facing Mike Marino at the Royal Albert Hall; he lost.

We would have loved to have been ringside for one of his other matches, against the turbulent Alan Garfield. No doubt the sparks flew before Kurt was disqualified and sent back to the dressing room. Cheers for Garfield were a rarity! 

He returned to Britain in 1960, with some impressive wins over top heavyweights Dazzler Joe Cornelius,  Rebel Ray Hunter, Judo Al Hayes and Gordon Nelson. Another Royal Albert Hall appearance had a more fortunate outcome than his first outing at the venue, an impressive  one fall apiece draw against Tibor Szakacs. Tibor won the return!

Kurt Stein went on to wrestle in North America as Kurt Von Brauner and Kurt Von Stroheim. He died in 1993.

Kurt Stein (St Helens)

The name Kurt Stein  was re-cycled  on the independent shows of the early 1970s. Despite an impressive build-up in The Wrestler magazine, and inclusion in the A-Z of wrestlers book,  this Stein, living in  St Helens in Lancashire, seems to have worked  mostly for the independent promoters.

Not exclusively so, as he did work for Joint Promotions using the name Karl Schultz.  Heritage member Frank Thomas remembers a rather steamy bout between Schultz and Bill Howes at Liverpool Stadium, "Got the feeling that there was very little 'fixed' about this one... " We saw him on the northern independent circuit against Orig Williams and Klondyke Bill.

Stein or Schultz the family name was far less exotic, more synonymous with Lancashire than Deutsch land!  He was Fred Hill of St Helens.  Dale Storm remembers him, "I worked with him for Danny Flynn and other Independents back in the 1960's. I remember it well, he was a big solid guy and he almost broke my jaw with a very dodgy Forearm Smash. I still have some trouble with it to this day, it clicks. He also worked as the "Masked Outlaw" for several promoters and yes he did work for Joints for a time. He also toured India with my good friend Sam Betts (both men featured in my memoir "As him again Ref!") he was a quiet unassuming individual outside the ring and he was a very good villain in his day."

Fred Hill is photographed with his friend Sam Betts, known to the wrestling world as Dwight J Ingleburgh.