by Bradley Craig
A native of Auchterarder, the energetic William James Ross developed a keen interest in the competition of athletics from an early age. In his youth, he was highly active in the Highland Games circuit, competing in events such as the high jump, pole vault and hill running, before learning his trade as a joiner.
By 1959, Bill had started his grappling training in Stirling alongside local wrestlers Willie Bell and Andy Robin, with an aim to compete in grappling contests held at the Games. But it was during a trip to watch Bell wrestle in Inverness that would jump-start his own path towards a life as a professional wrestler in 1961.
Immediately prior to the show, one of the other wrestlers had suffered an injury and there was a vacancy that needed to be filled. Aware of the physical talents and endurance that Ross possessed, Bell quickly recommended the young athlete to promoter Max Crabtree, who agreed to use him on the card. Impressed by the potential that the novice displayed in the ring, Crabtree offered Ross further bookings in the following weeks, beginning with an official debut bout against Duncan Fechnie at the Eldorado Stadium in Edinburgh.
As Ross continued to gain experience in the ring, he remained active in Highland Games competition. Competing with success in Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling, he captured the Thornton Cup in 1964 and won the Scottish Middleweight Championship at Balloch in August 1969. By November that year, he had secured a professional title by defeating Jim McKenzie for his first of two reigns as Scottish Lightweight Champion. The same month, he would obtain further national visibility by appearing on television screens when his match with Dave Barrie from Brierley Hill was broadcast as part of ITV’s World of Sport programming.
The following spring, Bill had earned a position in contention for the European Lightweight Championship, and he defeated Jim Breaks for the belt on 27th March 1970 at The Albert Halls in Stirling. Ross and Breaks would continue to trade victories for the title in a memorable feud that continued for four years, including a legendary bout at Nottingham Ice Rink that lasted a gruelling duration of one hour and seven minutes.
In addition to his dominance in the Scottish and European lightweight divisions, Ross would amass three reigns with the British Commonwealth Lightweight Championship. Amongst these wins was a famous title victory against Terry Jowett at Perth City Hall which truly positioned Ross as one of the premier singles talents in the sport. Teaming with Tom Dowie, he had also experienced tag team triumph at a one-night tournament held on 19th January 1971 at The Music Hall in Aberdeen with a victory over Barry Douglas and Red Pollard in the final.
Encouraged by his initial success in the doubles division, Ross formed a successful partnership with former rival Jim McKenzie as they pursued glory in the tag team ranks. Dubbed ‘The Flying Scots’, the pair provided formidable competition against the most famous duos of their era, and received particular acclaim for their fast-paced offence.
While working as a gamekeeper in Drumoak, Bill had made a vow to secure a World Championship. Furthermore, he had also decided to make the transition to the middleweight division. Modifying his diet and exercise regime to meet the challenge of larger opponents, his dedication proved successful, and he was eventually awarded a match against the reigning titlist, Adrian Street.
Ross was successful in beating Street in their first meeting on 25th April 1978, but the celebration was short-lived. Due to the champion arriving four pounds over the division weight limit, it was ruled that the match would be a non-title challenge. Undeterred by the disappointment, Ross would continue to rigorously train in preparation for a return title bout that promoter George de Relwyskow had promised to deliver.
On 11th December 1979, Bill Ross emerged victorious in his highly-anticipated rematch with Street to capture the title. Held in front of a capacity crowd at The Music Hall, Aberdeen, the win was the pinnacle of his career and solidified his legacy in professional wrestling. He would retire as the undefeated World Middleweight Champion in 1980.
In the years following his retirement, Bill Ross has remained an active figure in the organisation of Highland Games events, through which he first discovered his interest in competitive athletics and professional wrestling.
On 26th May 2018, ‘The Flying Scot’ Bill Ross was inducted as the fourth member of The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame for Scotland. His induction which was presented by Dennis Melloy, Provost of Perth and Kinross, at a civic ceremony held as part of the 149th Gathering of the Blackford Highland Games.