R: Jack Raymond
Back in Ireland in the 1950's my story would have been common knowledge to so many. But today in recovering British Wrestling History, I believe it will seem like a new story.
Battling J Raymond, the Belfast Bulldog
So before we had a Belfast Bruiser in Dave Finlay, we had Bulldog. Iam not going to beat about the bush, Jack Raymond was an alias and what is special about the earliest bill with Jack he was using his real name Jack McClelland. But he wasn't wrestling. He was Swimming.
The swim was from Burtonport, right in the North of Ireland, although it is in the south. That is to say that I am talking about county Donegal, which has a strange geography sitting alongside Northern Ireland. Of Course boundaries are only what the will of man want them to be.
And that is a very interesting swim from Arranmore Island to Burtonport Pier. The distance I believe is just three miles and of course it was August, but I doubt if it was an easy sea.
You have to wonder at this stage if I am just veering off into doing some grappling that is nowhere near the stuff that we had in England and Scotland at that time. But the thing with building an archive is that I managed to find Jack fighting on English soil below in 1949. What's more, quite rare, he was using his McClelland real name, and the opponent another Irish man Danny Flynn who went on to do promoting.
Searching back to 1946 I found in the North of Ireland at Ballymena. Jack was 22 years old here. But even earlier in 1944 I found a war time bill in Belfast. Age 20 here.
Jack McClelland was a natural sportsman and had a lot of balls in the air. He was a genuine champion swimmer for one thing. He also had been an International Schoolboy Footballer. To cap all this, by day Jack was an Engineering Draughtsman.
In 1954 whilst attempting to swim the English Channel he was thought lost for well over an hour. After 16 hours in the water he had to give up seven miles short and it turned out that the boat following him had no radio. Mrs McClelland waited for hours beside the phone for news.
In 1956 the race was called off after 11 hours and Jack won as Joint leader, the yearly race sponsored by Billy Butlin.
In 1959 the papers reported that Jack had to give up again in the channel after 12 miles and seven hours, twelve foot waves and cold water and swimming into a shoal of jellyfish and being stung on the tongue.
I think we can speculate that Jack McClelland was a man of toughness.
Even as late as 1969 Jack can be found taking up challenges that had never been done before, often swimming from an island back to the Irish mainland. It's all there if you google about on the web.
Swimming was not the only distraction from a long wrestling career. By 1950 Jack McClelland had become a young wrestling promoter. His territory could be described as the North West of Ireland, with no distinction between North and South. I have found him working in Ireland for Relwyskpw and for World Wide Promotions. In a short space of time Worldwide Promotions was in association with International Joint promotions. I can also confirm that Jack McClelland was in fact the promoter for The Derry Guildhall. Jack did it all there; he wrestled, was an MC, a referee and most of all he was the promoter, but was getting help in hiring some UK wrestlers to come over and add variety to the roster.
The ultimate success was Derry Guildhall which went on for years with once a month wrestling and a break for summer. The hall was often sold out and people turned away and heat must have been generated. Capacity may well have been upwards of 600.
In March 1952 on a McClelland show at Derry there was an Irish Middle Weight title fight between Frank O'Donnell and Danny Flynn over 12 rounds. In the 11th Flynn got a fall. The fight was declared a draw at 1-0 because nobody had got the best of two falls, two submissions or a knockout. So still a vacant championship. Irish Logic!!!!!!
In January 1953 there was a ring invasion and a melee inside the ring including audience members, Jack McClelland replied in the press to criticism, that only three members of the audience were involved and the rest officials of which he had sufficient to restore order. Also on one occasion he reported himself, an incident to the police where a bottle had been thrown. At no time had any damage ever been done to the Guildhall.The bills I found were very much an Irish roster bolstered with visitors to give it an international feel.
Recently I have extended the Irish galleries and in particular added a collection of Derry Guildhall Bills between 1950 and 1955, all Jack McClelland shows. They are there for you to look at to get an appreciation of which wrestlers were sent over to help.
Trust me on the fact that I found more than one newspaper report that it was Jack McClelland, famous distance swimmer and Wrestling promoter. Common knowledge that Belfast Bulldog Jack Raymond the wrestler was the same man.
At the end of the day, I think it is another extension of British wrestling and it's diversity. In the early 1950's I picked out some well known wrestlers that went over to work a night for Jack McClelland. Judge it for yourself, the Irish had some good wrestling to watch just like the rest of the UK. And North/South it did not matter that much.
Below are some of the visitors:
Hussey, Atherton, VanWurden, Kwango, Bill Benny, Ali Bey, The Pyes, Kidd, DeMitre, Purvey, Cashford, Garnon, Bert Royal, Terry Ricardo, Baldwin, Coverdale, Masambula, Norman Walsh, Fred Woolley, Shirley Crabtree, Proctor, Portz, Orford, Dempsey, Mitchell, Kellett, Ken Davies, Lew Roseby, Sanky Allen, Francis Sullivan, Wilson Sheppard, Red Callaghan, Stent, Harry Fields, Thunderbird, Ray Apollon, Adjit Singh, St Clair Gregory, Amedi Peters
By 1950 Jack Raymond was 14 stones and his genre was a blue eye. Often as a referee he got involved in the fights leading to challenge matches between himself and the Villain. As a promoter the jewels in the crown were Frank O'Donnell who had a great career in the UK, and the little known Cyclone Fulton, Tiger Robb and another well known to British rings Danny Flynn.
I wonder if to conclude that Jack McClelland of Holywood Belfast was in fact Worldwide Wrestling Promotions and that Joint Promotions had a finger in the pie via him in North West Ireland.
His alter ego Jack Raymond can now have this special place on Heritage.