The Cockney Cavalier
Dazzler Joe Cornelius
We can still hear the crowds roar. Especially at the Royal Albert Hall and the Wimbledon Palais, where Dazzler Joe was the local hero, vanquisher of all those put before him. Georges Gordienko, Jack Pye, Bill Benny, Gerry de Jaeger, Bill Joyce, he was a man who faced every big name in British wrestling.
The black tights and gold sequinned capes were the trademark of the hugely popular Londoner. From the moment he flipped over the top rope until the day he retired as undefeated Southern England heavyweight champion Dazzler Joe was a crowd pleaser throughout.
Before turning to wrestling Joe worked for the Daily Mirror as a maintenance engineer keeping the printing presses working. Encouraged and trained by his friends Tony Mancelli and Joe D’Orazio the Dazzler made his professional debut in Germany, substituting for his injured mentor, Joe D’Orazio.
A couple of years later novice Joe challenged Bert Assirati at the Wimbledon Palais and we find Joe knocked out by Assirati in September, 1955. The young David facing the Goliath was the making of the man and Joe was on his way, right to the top of British wrestling as one of our top heavyweights and most successful exports.
It was success all the way, albeit with a painful hiccup early in 1956. Joe suffered a knee injury thanks to Robert Duranton of France. The injury was to become a recurrent problem during the years to follow. He was out of wrestling for some time but it's an ill wind that blows no good and good fortune came Joe's way. Joe was soon back at work, four minutes work a night in a sketch at the London Palladium with Harry Secombe. Those four minutes led to a lifetime of film and television work, including parts in The Avengers, Trog and Carry On Loving.
Skill, charisma and reliability made Joe popular with promoters and for more than a decade he was a regular main eventer. Not just in singles matches, but as one half of a hugely popular tag team with Drop-kick Johnny Peters. On one occasion police were called to the Wimbledon Palais to protect opponents Charlie Fisher and Danny Lynch. Cornelius and Peters being declared the winners was insufficient justice for the fans who threw cartons, food and other objects at the losers.
A stalwart of London based Dale Martin Promotions Joe's popularity spread around the country. He was brought to national attention through appearances on television. The first television appearance we have uncovered (there may have been earlier ones as records are incomplete) was in March, 1960, one Saturday night against fellow Londoner Al Hayes. Later in the year Joe delighted television fans with appearances against oversea stars Billy Two Rivers and Jose Olivera. It all helped to establish Dazzler Joe Cornelius as one of the most loved of British wrestlers. In the following seven years we can find no fewer than twenty-five television appearances, the last being a match against Pat Barrett at Watford in April, 1967.
Dazzler Joe was called into service on wrestling's night of nights, May 22nd, 1963, with HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh in attendance at the Royal Albert Hall. The selection of Joe was perfectly understandable as the Bermondsey wrestler was not only one of the most popular in the country he was particularly popular at the Albert Hall. More mystifying was the decision to match Cornelius with an overseas (albeit fine) heavyweight, Hermann Iffland, rather than use the occasion as a showcase of domestic talent. The Dazzler took the contest by the odd fall. On being introduced to His Highness Dazzler Joe was reported to have cheekily asked if he was issuing any challenges, with the Duke replying there was little chance of that.
In 1961 Joe appeared in the very first Cup Final Day wrestling extraveganza hen he beat Farmer John Allan by two falls to one.
One of the most charismatic characters in wrestling Adrian Street commented: "Adrian Street said " He had it all, a personality as big as the Royal Albert Hall and ring savvy second to none, he was like a puppet master with strings fastened to the hearts of every member of the audience, if he laughed they laughed, if he cried they cried, if he suffered they suffered and when he triumphed, – Whoops! There goes another arena roof!"
Fans were surprised and disappointed when, in 1967, Dazzler Joe hung up the sequined crown for the last time, whilst still Southern England Heavyweight Champion.
More than fifty years after his retirement from wrestling fans still have fond memories of Joe. Wrestling Heritage member Ballymoss told us,
"It's amazing to note that Joe Cornelius retired as far back as 1967, still the Southern Area Heavyweight champion. Few could match the "Dazzler" for the charisma and excitement which so enthralled wrestling enthusiasts, as there was never a dull moment when he was in the ring. I can fondly remember his ‘feud’ with Roy Bull Davis and other contests against the Zebra Kid (George Bollas), Joseph Kovacs, and other notable 'heels" such as Johnny Yearsley and Dangerous Danny Lynch, with Joe such a popular "blue eye". A promoters dream was when Joe clashed with Alan Garfield which was a guarantee to see sparks really fly. On one occasion I recall Alan adopting his public school persona, and much to the delight of the audience, was disqualified, despite calling Joe a cad and a bounder. Such happy days with Joe Cornelius fondly remembered- a real classy wrestler."
Following retirement Joe went into pub management, at the Albion Pub in Pimlico and the Turners Arms, a place that will go down in history as the venue of the inaugural British Wrestlers Reunion. It was when Joe emigrated to Spain that the Reunion moved to Bridges public house.
We still remember him and miss him. It may be half half a century ago but the wrestling fans of Great Britain still remember the one and only Dazzler, Joe Cornelius.