S: Bob Sherry
(Also known as Killer James)
The Man of Granite
First impressions don’t always count, as many have learned to their cost.
Many was the young wrestler who made the mistake of taking a look at Bob Sherry as he entered the dressing room and thought that an easy night might be in the offing. His physical appearance disguised the strength that he had built up over the years by working in a quarry, training every day at Riley’s Snakepit, and fell running at a national level. It was soon obvious to all those who saw him in action that his wrestling prowess was not based solely on his immense strength but just as much on fitness, speed, stamina and wrestling skill.
We have to admit that the first time we saw the Bolton wrestler in action we too were unaware of what to expect. It was the mid 1960s, and born in 1922 Bob Sherry’s craggy features did nothing to offer a clue as to what we were to witness. He was no television star, his name was not in large colourful letters, but we were about to watch a great technical wrestler. Our suspicions should have been aroused by the references made to him by fellow professionals, who always spoke of him with utmost respect. Even the great Jack Dempsey, who was dismissive of many younger professionals, spoke of Sherry in the same breath as himself.
The cauliflower ears and broken nose were signs that Sherry could absorb punishment as easily as he could dish it out. His nickname, “The Man of Granite” was another indicator that Bob Sherry, a professional wrestler for over twenty years was a very hard man indeed.
Jimmy Niblett, that was his birth name, was an inspiration to all those who came into contact with him. That included professional wrestlers, who knew that Jimmy was not a man to mess around with, fellow amateur footballers who would receive a firm rebuke whenever they tried to take liberties with the defender they all feared, or fell runners, amongst whom Jimmy gained national acclaim. Jimmy continued to run up hills until he was in his eighties, and was a regular figure dashing up Winter Hill, near his Lancashire home every Sunday morning until near the time of his death.
As with so many Wigan taught wrestlers the sport was a serious business, and whatever the antics of some opponents, for Jimmy it was just a matter of getting on with the job, giving the fans value for money, but always protecting the integrity of the sport. He had a northern sense of humour, able to provoke a smile in the grimmest of situations, and entertain friends and family with his many stories. He was a great companion on those long car trips we were told by fellow wrestler Eddie Rose. “He was an old fashioned, tough as teak wrestlers who could hold his own against anyone, anywhere and probably any size.”
Although he never reached “star” status in the professional wrestling world Jimmy was a wrestler of the highest calibre. The likes of Jack Dempsey, Ernie Riley and Billy Joyce rated Jimmy as one of their own. Billy Riley himself was so impressed with Niblett that he invited him to come and train with him, learning the Lancashire submission style. Before moving to the Wigan gym Niblett had learned the business at the Bolton United Harriers AWC. Training with the Wigan wrestlers gave Jimmy a harder, more aggressive edge.
Born in Halliwell, a suburb of Bolton, Jimmy and his two sisters were brought up by their mother following the death of their father in the first world war. He left school, St Thomas’s, when he was fourteen and took up work down the pit in Horwich, like so many in south Lancashire at the time. By the outbreak of war the seventeen year old was working as a tub pusher, that’s heavy work, in the quarry.
In 1942 Jimmy joined the royal marines, and was amongst the first wave of troops in the Normandy landings. The discipline and rigour learned in the forces was to influence him for the rest of his life.
After demob Jimmy returned to the pits and in his spare time played football and wrestled. At one time he had hopes of being signed up as a professional footballer. He joined many of his workmates wrestling in fields on Sunday afternoons, and found that he had a talent for the sport with the ability to defeat men much heavier than his eleven stones.
Jimmy was picked for the 1948 Olympic trials, but as he was preparing to travel to London he was struck down with illness, a cruel twist of fate that put paid to his Olympic ambitions. He continued to find success in the amateur ranks, winning the 1952 Lancashire middleweight championship despite being a welterweight at the time and wrestling with an injured rib.
Following his Olympic disappointment Jimmy’s thoughts had turned to professional wrestling. He realised that if he was to make a living in the wrestling business he would need some professional guidance, and accepted an offer of training by Bolton wrestler Johnny Nelson. It was around this time that Riley invited Jimmy to join the Wigan wrestlers to hone his submission style and professional skills. Later in 1952 Jimmy turned professional, using the ring names Bob Sherry or Killer James.
Two years later Jimmy took up fell running because he found road training so boring. He loved the hills from that first time he ran up Winter Hill, although he did admit to needing three attempts before reaching the top without stopping!
The Lancashire summit with its array of television and radio masts was only the start. Ben Nevis and Snowdon followed, and then Jimmy conquered summits in Switzerland, France, Germany, Holland, Yugoslavia and Norway. Eddie Rose witnessed him complete the Holcombe Tower Fell Race when nearing his eightieth birthday!
When he finally decided to stop running, around 1999, Jimmy took up walking, not just close to his Lancashire home, with Sunday walks up Winter Hill until a couple of years ago, but also around Europe.
Few lived life to the full like Jimmy Niblett. A life that Wrestling Heritage reported reached an end in November, 2008. A remarkable man and the sad loss of someone who was, said Eddie Rose, “A true wrestling legend amongst the wrestlers. He was held in great affection by all the local wrestlers and will be greatly missed.”
Bob Sherry (Jimmy Niblett) Born 4th April 1922, Died 25th November, 2008.