M: Al Miquet & Don Mendoza
M & M
Speed, athleticism, skill and really bushy eyebrows are our memories of Al Miquet. Always billed from Huddersfield Al was actually born in Southport. Everyone loved this star of the 1960s and 1970s, and there was nothing to not like. Al was one of the new breed of 1960s lighter men who could flash around the ring in a way that had not been seen before. Along with the likes of the Cortez brothers, the Borg twins and Johnny Saint he brought, for many, a welcome relief to the slower, more mat based style of established stars Jack Dempsey, Alan Colbeck and Fred Woolley.
Miquet was a teenager when he turned professional, making his debut at Govan Town Hall on 29th November, 1957, father Don Mendoza was on the same bill. Al’s opponent was the veteran Tony Lawrence. Lawrence was a formidable opponent for any wrestler, let alone a novice. Five years earlier he had been British welterweight champion until he had lost the belt to Jack Dempsey. Promoter of the match was George DeRelwyskow, and most of Al’s early matches were for the Yorkshire promoter, as were many throughout his career. Opponents in the first few weeks included Bernard Murray, Pat Kloke and Dicky Swales.
It was the start of a long and illustrious career. In the months that followed Al’s debut he worked for Relwyskow & Green, Morrell-Beresford and Wryton Promotions. In March, 1959 Al made his way south and spent a week working for Dale Martin Promotions. Another milestone came in January, 1960, when Dale Martin Promotions booked Al for his first match at the Royal Albert Hall, opponent Jackie Pallo. Unsurprisingly the far more experienced Pallo overcame the youngster and won by a knock-out. The following month, another step on the way to stardom with a television debut against Ted Hannon. The youngster was making a good impression, now beyond his northern roots not just to the south of England but across the Chanel to France and Belgium.
It was another televised contest that secured Al’s place in the hearts of the nation’s wrestling fans. Saturday May 26th, 1962 and the opponent was again Jackie Pallo at Wembley Town Hall. Incidentally this was the first time Jackie was introduced on television as “Mr TV.” Experience showed with Pallo dominating the opening rounds and taking the opening fall in the second round. By round four Al was bleeding profusely from a cut eye, but despite the handicap he came back to take an equalising fall. The fans’ elation was short lived. Before the match re-commenced referee Lou Marco went over to Al’s corner to inspect the damaged eye and waved his hand to beckon the Master of Ceremonies into the ring to announce Pallo the winner due to injury.
In 1964, now a veteran of ten tv appearances (with McManus, Pallo and Kidd amongst his opponents) Al was selected to appear on the annual pre FA Cup Final spectacular. His opponent was the British champion Jim Breaks, and Al lost by the only fall of the match. On the same bill McManus and Logan drew with the Royal brothers.
By the mid 1960s Al Miquet was one of the top lightweights in the country. The first taste of championship success came on 30th January, 1967, with a victory over Bobby Barnes at Catford to take the vacant Southern England lightweight championship. Just two weeks later, on the 15th February, five thousand spectators cheered Al to victory over Jim Breaks to add the British lightweight championship. It took Al eight rounds for Al to take the title by the best of three falls.
Al was an eager defender of his championship, putting the belt on the line almost monthly in the months to follow; succeeding against challengers Jim Breaks three times), Peter Cortez, Jon Cortez, Leon Fortuna (twice), Adrian Street and Zoltan Boscik. The end came on 17th December, 1968, when Breaks overcame Al in Leeds to regain the title.
Breaks, Kidd, Ross, Saint, Boscik, Cortez, Miquet … the talent in the 1970 lightweight division was immense. Al Miquet could hold his own with all of them. Until, disaster. One late summer evening in 1970 he was involved in a serious car crash. For some time it seemed that Al’s wrestling days were over. Sheer determination and hard work led to a return to the ring some months later, but return he did. It took a while for Al to get back to his old form, but eventually he made it.
He resumed his tag partnership with Jon Cortez, collectively known as The Jet Set. This exhilarating pair excited fans up and down the country, their thrilling matches against the Royal brothers remembered to this day.
By 1974 the wrestling scene was changing. It wasn’t just the fans who were becoming disenchanted with some of the trends. Adrian Street had already made the move to the independent circuit. In April 1974 Al joined the independents and the two of them were to have some cracking matches. Jackie Pallo was again a frequent opponent when he too left Joint Promotions. Towards the end of 1977 Al was tempted back to the Joint Promotions fold, even getting a crack at Johnny Saint’s World Lightweight title.
Al did end his days on the independent circuit. He seemed as busy as ever right up to the time we lost track of him in 1982.
In retirement Al and his father moved to Spain.
He wasn't from Venezuela. Neither was he from Spain. He wasn't even a Mendoza.
Don Mendoza was a post war heavyweight wrestler for at least twenty years, possibly quite a few more. The reason for the ambiguity is that although we have discovered the name Don Mendoza on the posters from 1947 onwards we have found a wrestler using his family name during the 1930s. What we don't know is whether he was the same man.
Our own recollections of Don Mendoza come from the end of his career in the second half of the 1960s. Apart from his formidable stature the one thing that stood out for us was his hairy chest. The hairiest chest in wrestledom? Maybe, maybe not, but certainly hairy enough to gain him the nickname Gorilla and make a lasting impression on us as young fans in the 1960s. There were also the tattooed arms, apparently a legacy of wartime service in India.
We remember him always billed from Huddersfield but he was from Southport, naming his profession as a confectioner in 1939 and remembered as owner of a sweet shop in Duke Street.
A serious injury almost ended his career prematurely but he come back and went on to become a popular post war heavyweight until the late 1960s, our last sighting being in 1968. By then he had handed the family laurels to his son, Al Miquet.
He was big, tough, a welcome addition to any bill, and was missed when he retired from the ring.