Wrestling to the Top
of the World
Trained for the professional ranks by British and World Mid-Heavyweight champion Mike Marino and débuting in April 1964 against Doctor Death’s tag partner, Gori Ed Mangotich, Wayne Bridges spent his early years in the Paul Lincoln stable and can claim to have faced a whole breadth of international stars from the squat Wild Man of Borneo to Texan giant Ski Hi Lee.
Six months later that same year, Kendo Nagasaki appeared on the scene and would continue to cross swords with Wayne Bridges for a further 20 years.
Indeed, when Nagasaki first appeared on television on Cup Final Day 1971 on a Joint Promotions St Albans bill, his opponent was none other than Wayne Bridges.
By the late sixties, Gillingham’s Wayne Bridges was a regular with Dale Martin Promotions, proudly billed at the Heavyweight Champion of Kent. He became a regular on ITV’s World of Sport after his first televised bout from Bridlington in 1966 where he faced the wily African Witchdoctor, Masambula.
Bridges would go on to face on the small screen some of the most notorious wrestlers around, possibly most notably the original evil American Outlaw. He also feuded with Mr Universe John Lees and Pompey giant Bruno Elrington, and was invariably the first name home promoters put up to fly the flag in the face of threats from overseas stars such as Georges Gordienko, Crusher Verdu, Le Grande Vladimir, Aussie Mark Anthony and gridiron loudmouth Butts Logger Giraud.
From the outset Bridges proved to be a hard-hitting blockbuster, weighing in over 17 stones. From a weight-training and bodybuilding background, Bridges posed a formidable threat to all heavyweights from home and abroad, trading hold and counter hold with fellow stylists the likes of Tibor Szakacs and Steve Viedor, mixing it equally with the villainy of Johnny Yearsley and Wild Angus. Some of his most exciting encounters were, however, with fellow Man of Kent, Romany Riley, a spectacular high-flying grappler with a short fuse – particularly when eyeing the country championship.
Occasional tag action saw him accompany Marino or Judo Al Hayes, but his most lasting partner was the Portsmouth adonis Bob Kirkwood. So clean cut was their image that French promoters dubbed them “Les Incorruptables”.
In June 1981 at Wembley Arena, Bridges won the World Heavyweight Championship from visiting American giant, The Mississippi Mauler. He was regaining a title he had first won in December 1979 at London’s Royal Albert Hall when he defeated the Iron Greek, Spiros Arion, thereby bringing the World Heavyweight title home to Britain for the first time for over sixty years.
Wayne Bridges had a tremendous record at the UK’s premier arena, too. Notable scalps included the Mighty John Quinn and Birmingham’s Pat Roach. Perhaps his greatest victory there, however, was over erstwhile mentor, Mike Marino. The Anglo Italian only ever suffered a handful of defeats over more than twenty years of facing the world’s best at the Kensington venue.
By 1987 Kendo Nagasaki would repay the compliment of sixteen years earlier by becoming Wayne Bridges’ final Joint Promotions television opponent in Bradford.
In spite of the many titles and tributes we have listed here, perhaps the most long-lasting memory we retain of popular Wayne Bridges is paradoxically his ring-feud of the early eighties with Super Destroyer Pete Roberts. Outweighed but unbowed, Roberts persuasively fought his way to become Number One world title challenger and wrestled Bridges with the title at stake on more than one occasion. These earlier tag partners should have made for a classical match up of technical wrestling, but the guile and agility of the lighter man really needled Bridges who, to the disgust of his fans of nigh on twenty years, displayed the Mr Hyde side to his persona. The pair feuded nationwide, and in one of their televised bouts, where Roberts had surprisingly won by two straight falls, an irate Bridges grabbed the mike to remonstrate angrily: “Who have you ever beaten, Roberts?”. To which the judo star replied with the now immortal riposte: “I’ve just beaten you, Bridges!”
Wayne had been joined in the seventies as a professional by his teenage son who wrestled as Dean Briscoe, and the pair were involved in a few memorable tag tussles. In recent years Wayne has crossed the Medway to become landlord of The Bridges public house in Horton, near Dartford, with his award-winning body-building wife Sarah, and the hostelry is preparing to host its 20th annual wrestlers' reunion in 2011.