W: Willis - Wilson
Wrestling Heritage A - Z
Barry Willis: the son of Johnny Willis and was one of the youngest professionals at the time aged just sixteen after a championship winning schoolboy amateur career: Marty Jones was a contemporary He had a baptism of fire when he was matched against Keith (Blood Boots) Martinelli. Barry survived and went on to a successful career with both Joint Promotions and on the Independents.
Barry had his own hairdressing business up the road from his dad's pub which meant that wrestling bouts had to be fairly local because of the business.
He remembers bouts with Ian "Mad Dog" Wilson, Sugar Ray Francis, Pete Lindberg, Alec Burton and Eddie Rose. Barry still misses the wrestling life and wishes he could do it all over again (except the Martinelli bit)!
Johnny Willis: a popular middleweight of the 50s and 60s who was from Sale in Manchester. Johnny had bouts against the likes of Tommy Mann, Danny Flynn, Fred Woolley and Alf Cadman. In fact Alf broke Johnny's leg in one hard fought bout. Johnny became a well-known referee on the Independent circuit in the later stages of his career as well as being landlord of the Charlestown pub just up the road from Booth Hall Children's Hospital and Bogart Hole Clough in North Manchester. Johnny fathered another good wrestler, Barry Willis. The father and son teamed up as the Willis Boys for tag matches in the late 60s and early 80s and Johnny's last bout was a tag with Barry versus Sugar Ray Francis and Johnny Jordan , a venue for which Barry still has the poster.
Dick Wills had the reputation of being a very hard man, one of the very few who seemed to know no fear according to Athol Oakeley.
He was from Nothumberland but moved to south Lancashire to work as a coal miner. Consequently he was one of the hardest of the lighter wrestlers, but could also wrestle, and it was claimed by Oakeley that Dick was "the finest wrestler produced by England," whose standing work was superior to that of his good friend and world champion, American Benny Sherman. Wrestling historian Charles Mascall was also an admirer, naming Dick Wills one of the world's top middleweight wrestlers of all time. He rated Finland's Waino Ketonen number 1, Billy Riley number 2, and Dick Wills number eight, just behind Jack Dale, "Not many wrestlers of any weight could have beaten Wills in his prime."
Wills learnt to wrestle in the fields around his Lancashire pit, catch-as-catch-can style. Although often said to be amateur matches there was more organisation to Lancashire catch wrestling in the 1920s than is often given credit. Admittedly the majority of matches were in fields by working men having a pull around to earn a bit of extra money, but there were also scheduled matches with paying customers and the wrestlers receiving a percentage of the gate money. So, not amateur in the way most of us would understand.
In "Bue Blood on the Mat" Oakeley recounts the time that four gangsters entered the dressing room and threatened him. All other wrestlers apart from Dick Wills scarpered, but Wills physically stood between the men and Oakeley until they backed down and left the room. Not that he was brave, but he was a man who just didn't have any sense of fear, according to Oakeley.
Although mostly associated with the pre-war all-in days Dick did continue wrestling for a couple of years following the outbreak of peace, He was British light heavyweight champion from 1932, possibly claiming the title during the unregulated years until as late as 1947, but titles are unclear and we cannot find any championship contest linking Wills to Bill McDonald who claimed the title in 1947.
Undoubtedly a hard and skilled wrestler who was British light heavyweight champion for a time, Dick Wills had neither the weight or charisma to rank alongside the famous names mostly remembered. Nonetheless, a great pioneer and top wrestler of the 1930s.
Bill (Bull) Wilson started wrestling seriously when in his mid twenties and was a heavyweight all his wrestling career. His love for good and wholesome food saw to that. He comes from the Govan area of Glasgow and his daytime employment was in the Hackney Cab Maintenance Industry. He ran a servicing and repair department in the city centre. Always a quiet family man he would bring the wife and kids down to the Sea Shore in Ayrshire, to enjoy the sun, if it shone that is, whilst he attended Sunday afternoon training sessions at Dale Storm's Gym in the sleepy mining village of Mossblown, a stones throw for the town of Ayr. He was not the quickest around the ring but when he clasped on a hold, he was like a Rottweiler dog, and it was almost impossible to to break free when this very,very powerful individual had a hold of you. He was always great to be with and had a wonderful laugh and a friendly smile. He is well respected among the Scottish fraternity. Although his career, like other younger entrants, was cut short by the loss of ITV'S World of Sport and the subsequent demise of the long established halls, He had however, established himself, in a very short time as the man to beat, after Andy Robin in his weight division. His speciality was the Backbreaker, at which he was very successful. He was tough but never dirty! He worked almost entirely for the Independents and featured regularly for Spartan Promotions.
Eric "Tug" Wilson
The name wasn't original, there was a Tug Wilson wrestling in the 1930s and a bare knuckle heavyweight boxer of the same name in the 19th century. Nevertheless, Eric Tug Wilson was one of those that brought a breath of fresh air and reassurance to older fans at a time when the rings seemed dominated by oversized heavyweights of limited skill. Not that Tug was in any way dull; just look at the costume. Yet another of those judo black belts of which our rings seemed full, and dressed accordingly, Tug Wilson always provided value for money. He could wrestle, he could move, he could elicit sympathy and anger from the fans. Not just in singles matches, but in tag contests also he proved a fitting and worthwhile partner for Rollerball Mark Rocco. Tug was landlord of the Clarence Hotel on the Wilmslow Road, Manchester.
Ian "Mad Dog" Wilson
We remember a chubby, cherub like middleweight dashing around the independent rings of the 1960s. We didn’t know he was going to turn into Mad Dog. From Stockport, Cheshire Ian had amateur grounding at Hollywood Amateur Wrestling Club in the early sixties. He was also a contemporary of Eddie Rose at Grant Foderingham's gym in Openshaw, Manchester. Debuted professionally in 1966 and well into the 21st century was still wrestling occasionally – making him an active wrestler for well over 40 years!
Ian Wilson wrestled mainly on Independent shows all over the country. He was one of the mysterious Les Diables Rouges in Joint promotions rings in 1972, and then developed this guise in single and tag as a more pronouncable Red Devil. He was given the monicker “Mad Dog” Wilson after a particularly memorable bout in the Midlands against Skull Murphy.
"Tarzan" Johnny Wilson
Footballer Johnny joined Dale Martins at the end of 1974. From the hunky-dory Portsmouth/Southsea/Fareham hub of south coast wrestling, his career highlight was, no surprises, a Royal Albert Hall defeat of his trainer, Big Bruno Elrington. Why on earth the promoters didn't bill him form the African jungle and have done with it we shall never know, it would have been far more interesting. A popular and skilled wrestler with fans throughout the south and further afield thanks to his television appearances.
Related article in Armchair Corner: Wrestling Leads the Way on www.wrestlingheritage.com
Pre and post war classy middleweight from Southampton whose career extended into the 1950s. Worked mainly across southern England against top class opposition that included Mick McManus, Bob Archer O'Brien, Jack Queseck and Eddie Capelli. Encouraged a good friend of his to have a go at wrestling. The friend? Mick McManus.
After a couple of years with independent promoters, goalkeeper Peter joined his elder brother Johnny within the Joint Promotions network in 1975. They tagged successfully against heavyweight pairings and even against lighter weighted opposition such as McManus and Logan. Pete also had singles matches but never struck any chord of identity or originality.
See the reference to Doug Joyce
Read our extended tribute in Personality Parade: The Boston Stump
See the reference to Ezra Francis