A Judoka and A Gentleman
In a sporting world where many are different but few, if any, are unique, Judo Al Marquette came just about as close to unique as is possible. We became immediate fans the first time we saw him in action, on an independent bill opposing Pete Lindberg long before he became famous. Al Marquette was the judo suited, barefooted wizard that literally tied his opponents in knots. The Stockport judo teacher was a mainstay of the independent circuit, using the name Amazing Mitsimoto, until being tempted to Joint Promotions and the television exposure that brought national fame and popularity.
When Judo Al Marquette joined Joint Promotion ranks in 1979 he not only brought a breath of fresh air for fans but also resolved a long-standing predicament for the promoters. Joint Promotions was always faced with the dilemma of how to introduce increasingly colourful and entertaining wrestlers to their rings without jeopardising a carefully crafted image of professional wrestling as a legitimate sport. Some of the more colourful characters were guilty of crossing that line from wrestler to entertainer, but such an accusation could never be levelled at Al.
The first sighting of Al Marquette needed to be at a live event to fully appreciate the initial impact of seeing him in action. There really was no one to compare and it is no exaggeration to say that his style was unique.
Seen climbing into the ring for the first time he looked more like the next door neighbour. Well, if the next door neighbour had the habit of walking around barefoot in a judo outfit that is. The physique, hidden beneath the jacket, did little to inspire confidence in Al’s prospects.
Anyone worried about his welfare on entry to the ring was usually reassured within minutes of the opening round. This was no more true than during Al’s Royal Albert hall debut against Iron Man Steve Logan in May, 1969. This match really was the stuff of legends and firmly established Al as one of wrestling's stars. Within seconds of the opening round the ringsiders need of reassurance was quickly followed with delight as Al went on the offensive against the London hard man. In the end Logan’s experience, weight and skulduggery led to an odd fall victory. Russell Plummer, at ringside, reported , “Virtually unknown outside his native north, quiet, unassuming Al stepped into the limelight before six thousand of the country’s discerning fans and left to the sort of ovation usually reserved for visiting international stars and then only those of the highest merit.”
Expert use of leverage and a combination of wrestling and judo skills were enough to overcome most opponents. That and a sizeable dollop of humour. Humour from head to toes, literally. No one had toes like Al. Toes which would tickle an opponents neck, the armpits, and venture seemingly everywhere. When Al tired of mocking his opponents in this way the more villainous ones would be subject to the ultimate humiliation. Al’s speciality was an arm hold in which he literally tangled his opponents in a knot from which only he knew the secret of release.
Al’s unique style resulted from an unorthodox entry into the profession. His fist love was judo, in which he was admirably trained by the 8th Dan Japanese Samurai, Kenshiro Abbe. Al was a judo tutor for Stockport Education Department. A judo exhibition at a Manchester night club led to Al being tempted to join the professional wrestling ranks, combining his judo skills with a bit of wrestling knowledge picked up whilst serving in the RAF. Whether or not the promoter, ex wrestler Bill Benny, recognised Al’s real potential, or just thought a judoka would provide a short term gimmick to draw in a few punters, we will never know. It is Man Mountain Benny we have to thank for unleashing Al on an unsuspecting, but appreciative, public.
Throughout the 1960s Al gained an army of fans as he travelled the country working for the independent promoters. In those days wrestlers on the independent scene were no pushover. Competition equalled that of the Joint Promotion circuit and Al found himself in frequent opposition to experienced wrestlers of the highest calibre. In the North alone these included men such as Johnny Saint, Fred Woolley, Jim Lewis, Jack Taylor, Danny Flynn, Pete Lindberg, Kevin Conneally, Ken Else, and Romeo Joe Critchley.
For the most part Al’s antics were all in good humour, for here was a gentleman both inside and outside the ring. Wherever he wrestled Al gained more followers, often wrestling under the name Mitsimoto. In the late sixties Joint Promotions moved in to offer contracts to a number of independent wrestlers. It was only a matter of time before Al Marquette was signed up. Within weeks he had made his first televised appearance and made that momentous Royal Albert Hall debut. Over night success came Al Marquette’s way just short of his tenth anniversary as a professional wrestler.
Eddie Rose told us: "I've never heard a bad word spoken against Alf by other professionals. Alan Dennison called him the "Pyjama Man" but it was meant in a kindly way rather than as a put down. He was always courteous and compassionate. Whenever he appeared at Manchester's Belle Vue he used to pay for a coach to bring in a large group of friends, many of whom were people with handicapped conditions who probably would not have been able to attend at such a venue otherwise."
In the 1970s Al’s fame and success spread throughout the country. A dozen or so televised outings brought widespread acclaim, both in solo matches and as part of the popular tag team with Pete Roberts. The Judokas tag team rivalled the Saints and the Royals in popularity.
Al continued wrestling until 1977 when fans were shocked to hear that he was hanging up his boots. Although a professional for almost twenty years Al Marquette still seemed so fresh that it was almost as though he was still a youngster. For those of us that love wrestling we knew it was a good time to say goodbye, and served to add even greater respect for the man who was the Amazing Mitsimoto.
Alfred Margetts was born in 1923 and died in February, 2012