The Casino Kid
There's a saying about not being able to choose our family which for Tony Bates turned out to be rather fortunate. Without his father's choice of work the popular light heavyweight of the southern circuit throughout the 1960s may well have never made it into the wrestling ring.
Born in Wolverhampton in 1945 Tony's father emerged from the war years by finding himself a new job. For a family man the sea air of north Wales must have held many attractions over the industrial west midlands town, and it was to Rhyl that three year old Tony's parents told him they would be moving, where dad took charge of the skating rink. After a couple of years the family moved along the coast to Llandudno, before a stay in Cardiff and finally arrived in the Kent town of Rochester, when young Tony was just twelve.
It was in Rochester that Tony became aware of the attractions of professional wrestling. Father was now manager of the casino in Rochester, and on Friday nights Dale Martin Promotions put on a wrestling show with all their usual big names. Tony loved the noise, the lights and the excitement of those weekly shows and like thousands of others around the country became fixed to his weekly wrestling session.
On leaving school at fifteen Tony began an electrical apprenticeship with the regional electricity board, and at about the same time joined a newly opened wrestling club in nearby Gillingham run by the old professional Bill Warner. Warner had a lot to teach the teenager and Tony was a fast learner, not just in the amateur style but also the professional style which he still watched every Friday night. Tony is seen in the photo on the right on the receiving end from Al Kitto with Bill Warner looking on.
By now Tony was also a regular second at the Rochester Casino wrestling shows, giving him a splendid vantage point to pick up a few ideas from the leading professionals. He learned enough to challenge and injure the resident professional at one of the fairground wrestling booths visiting Kent. Luckily for the booth's owner Tony was on hand to step in and take the place of his no longer quite so invincible professional.
Increasingly aware of this promising youngster who seemed to be popping up everywhere Jack Dale approached Tony and asked him if he was interested in training for a professional career. Without hesitation Tony accepted the invitation to learn the professional trade at the Dale Martin gym, where he was put under the wing of Mike Demitre.
It wasn't very long before Tony was considered ready to make his professional debut, at The Oval, Cliftonville, Margate, against another youngster, Dave Morgan (right). Tony defeated the young Welsh wrestler, but it was not a night of celebration without pain. The injury that he sustained during that first contest was to cause problems throughout his wrestling career, ultimately resulting in a knee replacement.
For the remainder of the decade Tony became known to all those who watched wrestling throughout the south of England. As he was pursuing his electrical apprenticeship during this time, followed by training as an electrical engineer, Tony's appearances were usually limited to south of Birmingham. Nevertheless his opponents included the likes of Steve Logan, Clayton Thomson, Johnny Czeslaw Johnny Kwango, Ivan Penzekoff (left), Arthur Fisher, Ken Joyce, Tug Holton and many other lesser known names. It was quite a juggling act at times managing to fit in the wrestling, the day job, and evening classes.
The pursuit of those things we love is often not easy, and Tony certainly loved every minute of his time in the ring. He told Wrestling Heritage
"I was getting paid to take part in a sport I would have done for nothing, and I loved the fans too. I felt I'd made it when The Wrestler did a feature on me, and I began getting recognised in the street"
Less enjoyable was the travelling, Leaving work or college and driving 200 miles to get to a venue by 07-30pm and maybe then finding you were on last, then the long drive home and up early the next day for work
Regrets? The only regret is that I didn't duck when Jean Morandi hit me in the mouth with a forearm smash and knocked my 3 front teeth out, but no regrets, I had a great time, and would do it all again.
Tony retired in 1998 and since then has spent time with his five grandchildren, fishing, playing golf and clay pigeon shooting. He is seen in the photos above holidaying in Kenya in 2005 having just finished his last two fights, against an 80lb Sail Fish (the fish was tagged and released) and a Barracuda: "He was a dirty fighter. I had to grip him round the throat to stop him biting a lump out of me."