WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

B: Burgess - Byrnes

Wrestling Heritage A-Z


George Burgess (Also known as Jamaica kid, Jamaica George, Coolcat Jackson, Samson Negro, Coolcat Virgil, Zulu Warrior, Black Salem)
A man of many names who we first came across in the late 1960s on the Blackpool summer shows staged by Dominic Pye. His career was to last a quarter of a century. 

George Burgess was a popular Jamaican born heavyweight, based in Leeds,  coming to national attention in the 1970s , later to gain greater fame as the Jamaica Kid. Although a muscular  heavyweight George was a very nimble mover, and his speciality drop kick always impressed. George travelled the world and was popular in Indian rings. 

Surely a contender in any competition for the wrestler who used most names?

Brian Burke (Also known as Dave Newman)
Not many tough nuts make the transition from playing cornet in a brass band to knocking seven bells out of an opponent in the wrestling ring. A hard man and a skilful wrestler, taught by the master himself, Billy Riley in Wigan. 

Born on 28th December, 1932 Brian  was  24 years old, with seven years amateur experience, when he made his professional debut in 1956. 

Within a couple of years, November of 1958, he was making his debut at the Royal Albert Hall against the British welterweight champion, Jack Dempsey. As both were members of the Riley gymnasium back in Lancashire it was a two hundred mile journey for the two friends to make, no doubt travelling together, along with Billy Joyce and Mel Riss on the same bill. By 1958 Brian was a busy worker who could hold his own with the likes of Jack Dempsey, Mel Riss and Jim Mellor, all frequent opponents. He was one of those gritty, tenacious wrestlers as would be expected with his Wigan heritage. Clashes with Dempsey, Foley and Mellor were known for their hard-hitting action.

Following the Royal Albert Hall match bookings by Dale Martin Promotions in the south of England became more  frequent. Brian went full time professional  for a while and could be seen all nights of the week travelling from Penzance to Aberdeen and working for all the Joint Promotion members. 

In 1962 we came across a new name on the posters. Dave Newman was a regular on the independent circuit for a dozen years or so. The identity of Dave Newman, according to Stephen Greenfield in Billy Riley – the Man, the Legacy," was none other than Brian Burke. Brian and fellow Wigan wrestler, Tony Zale, had both moved to the independent promoters and were promoting their own shows. Cutting back on his wrestling commitments he opened a carpet shop known as Newman's carpets.

Our last sighting of Brian (as Dave Newman) was an independent show in January, 1975.

Brian Burke died on 27th August, 2011

Ginger Burke
Ginger Burke from Tyldesley near Wigan has been a forgotten man. At the start of modern wrestling in 1930 the first lightweight champion was Harold Angus who through the decade moved up the weights.  Ginger had reputedly been a pro footballer and so may not have started wrestling until 1934. He should not be confused with 12 year old Boy Burke from Tyldesley who wrestled as a schoolboy at Preston in 1935 By 1935 Ginger Burke was being billed as the lightweight champion of Britain, a trail blazed ready for George Kidd and Johnny Saint later. During the war he still wrestled but was also a Sergeant in the Royal Engineers , if advertisements can be believed. Last sighted in 1949.

Jock Burke
Dave Sutherland brought up the subject of Jock Burke: "At St James, Newcastle, back in April 1964; The main bout was Arthur Ricardo against Jock Burke who either wrestled in his kilt or certainly arrived in the ring wearing one. I don't remember him ever appearing at Newcastle again."

That got everyone thinking, but with little success. All we came up with were matches for the independent promoters between 1959 and 1963, then a flurry of activity for Joint Promotions in 1964 before returning to the independents the following year.

Sam Burmister
At the start of 1949 world class heavyweight Sam Burmister arrived in Britain to tackle the likes of Man Mountain Bill Benny, Sandy Orford and Bomber Bates.  Sam claimed to be Jewish wrestling champion, but seemed to be equally famous for his rich baritone voice. Sam's wrestling ability took him far from his home country of Estonia, wrestling around the world in Europe, Australia and the Far East during the 1930s and 1940s.

Jim Burnett
Vancouver's Klondike Jim Burnett was the Canadian Heavyweight, and one time gold miner in South Africa, who made his way across the Atlantic in 1934. His earlier professional contests seem to have been in Britain between 1934 and 1938,  wrestling top British heavyweights such as Bert Mansfield and Bulldog Bill Garnon.  He disappeared from our rings in 1938, presumably pursuing his career back home as the prospect pf war began to loom on the horizon. Jim was back in Britain for a short time following the end of hostilities, and spent much of the following seven or eight years  here in clashes with top men Jack Pye and Dave Armstrong.  Post war, though, we shared him with the rest of the world, with Jim wrestling in South Africa, the United States and his native Canada.

Rocky Burnett
We would like more information on Rocky Burnett, for whom we have recorded matches in the early 1960s for the independent promoters against quality opposition Doctor Death, Randy Turpin, Bobo Matu, Terry O'Neill and The Mighty Chang.

Joe Burns
Killer Joe Burns was an Irish born middleweight, and one time British middleweight champion, for the independent promoters in the 1960s and 1970s. One time tag partner of Sabu the Indian, collectively known as The Karate Killers.
Alec Burton
Middleweight wrestler from Miles Platting in Manchester. Another graduate of the Black Panther Gym in Manchester via Judo. Alec started as one of Lord Bertie Topham’s valets before embarking upon a solo career in his own right. He was a solid craftsman in the ring and, occasionally, resorted to Martial Arts skills when the situation warranted it.

Wrestled almost exclusively for Independent promoters in the North and Midlands and appeared in Scotland periodically. Memorable bouts included those against Alf Marquette, Jim Moser, Peter Lindberg, Ian St John, Brendan Moriarty and Ian ‘Mad Dog’ Wilson. 

Formed a tag team in the late 60s with Eddie Rose, appearing as the Masked Barons and, for several months had the services of a masked valet (shades of Lord Bertie) who was none other than Jack Mawdesley, the referee and secretary of the A-Z Fan Club.

Alec’s ring career finished after sustaining a badly broken fibula and tibia at Orrell Rugby Club versus Jimmy Rice. (This was the occasion when the referee looked at the injury and then asked “Are you sure you can’t do another round?” as the bones stuck out of the wrestling boot).

He then purchased a couple of rings and became a regular provider of good, reliable rings at both boxing and wrestling shows. It was always a treat to travel to shows with Alec as every journey began at his house where his mum, Edie, always provided bacon sandwiches for the lads. He was a man with a good sense of fun and always with a laugh and a ‘story’ to entertain. 

Tragically, Alec was killed by his own ring van when the jack collapsed on him at the M62 Birch Services near Rochdale. His funeral at Southern Cemetery was attended by hundreds of boxers, wrestlers and fans who paid their respects in the pouring rain to a good professional.

Bill Burton 
Quite a few servicemen popped up to wrestle during the Second World War and disappeared following the end of hostilities. One of them was Bill Burton, a sergeant in the Army. We presume he was based in or around Newcastle as we have over a dozen records of him appearing at the New St James Hall, Newcastle, between January 1942 and December 1945. Opponents included Cyril Knowles, Jim Lewis, Jack Harris and James Blears.

Ted Burton
Like Bill Burton (above) we suspect a wartime activities connection for Staff Sergeant Ted Burton, a low key wrestler who worked frequently at Belle Vue, Manchester, between 1942 and 1945. Opponents included Carlton Smith, Jack Harris, Hec Trudeau and Jack Beaumont.

Henri Bury
The muscular and powerful Belgian heavyweight champion from Liege visited Britain on numerous occasions in the 1950s. Our earliest recording is a 1952 match against Dominic Pye, and the last against Tony Zale in 1959. Between times opponents included Bert Assirati, Alan Garfield, Gordon Nelson and Jack Pye.

Mohammed Butt
Mohammed Butt was one of the strongest 1980s heavyweight wrestlers. He would often give a demonstration of power lifting prior to his contests.  Appeared on television against Len Hurst, John Elijah and Barry Douglas.

Alan Butts
We head back to the summer of 1960, Rome and the Olympic Games. Britain deployed a contingent of six wrestling representatives. Veteran Ken Richmond was making his fourth Olympic Games outing whilst amongst the other five, all making their Olympic debut, was a young Birmingham lad called Alan Butts. 

Born on 11th April, 1940, Butts had already won the British middleweight championship in 1960 before travelling to Rome. Having just turned twenty he was  the youngest member of the British  team.  Alan lost both his Olympic  matches, against  Madho Singh of India and Viljo Punkari of Finland. Disappointing, maybe, but quite an achievement, especially for someone who reckoned he weighed a far from athletic 15 stones when he was sixteen years old. That's when he joined the Birmingham Athletic Institute and took up amateur wrestling. 

Four years of dedication, training three nights a week led to Saturday 30th April, 1960, when he travelled to London to beat Scotland's George Farquhar to win the British middleweight championship.  By the summer of 1961 Alan had made his professional debut and was working for Joint Promotions against the likes of Bob Anthony, Jackie Pallo, Arthur Fisher and Cliff Beaumont. Maybe the professional style just didn't appeal to the twenty-one year old amateur champion as he disappeared from our sights in February, 1962. We believe Alan still lives in Birmingham, so if he'd like to get in touch and tell us more we'd be pleased to hear from him.

Mike Byrnes
We know precious little about heavyweight Mike Byrnes, other than he was a busy worker over a short period and was featured in the wrestling holds book "Wrestling - The Admiral Lord Mountevans Style," photographed demonsrating holds with Dave Armstrong. Mike appeared in British rings between 1940 and 1943, mostly in northern England, though we have one recorded match at Harringay against Tiger Joe Robinson. He reappeared in 1949, and was around for a couple of years, again mostly in Northern England and Scotland.
07/04/2021 Revision of Alan Butts
21/04/2020: Revision of George Busfield entry
9/5/2019: Addition of Bill Burton and Ted Burton