WRESTLING HERITAGE

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Bobo Matu


A few wrestlers had the charisma to charm the fans as soon as they entered the hall. Such was the case when we watched the barefooted Bobo Matu bounce energetically into the ring to wrestle Casey Pye. That was in the mid 1960s and by then he had  more than half a dozen years experience under his belt, having turned professional in 1958, and learned his craft in northern clubs and halls.  Our earliest find of Bobo Matu was at Preston Baths in December, 1958, wrestling Tiger Freddie Woods  for promoter Max Crabtree. We did, though, find him three months earlier, 13th September, wrestling Young Hackenschmidt in Bolton under his birth name. Or was it his birth name?

As to his family heritage of the pacific islands we cannot confirm. He certainly looked the part but we can say that his known name suggests greater links to friendly Lancashire than the Friendly Isles! The name on that earliest poster was Dave Shirland. Yet ace Heritage ancestry expert Ron Historyo can find no birth records of a David Shirland in Britain. So maybe that too was an assumed name. We live in hope that one day someone will get in touch to solve another of wrestling's little mysteries.

Whatever his ancestry here was a man with an effervescent character who would bob,  weave and smile his way around the ring;  and the fans took to him. For a man of his size, not particularly tall but weighing around 15 stones, he was remarkably agile and could move around the ring like a much lighter man. The professional career followed a grounding in the amateur sport at the Bolton Harriers Amateur Wrestling Club, training alongside the Royal brothers, Bob Sherry and Jim Foy.  A popular wrestler but a man who could look after himself, according to those who crossed him in the ring.

In January, 1962, having worked for the main independent promoters Bobo was signed up to work for Joint Promotions, where he found himself with a new class of opponent that included Billy Howes, Gerry de Jaegar, Les Kellett and Billy Joyce. 

The highlight came on 11th April, 1962, when he appeared at the Royal Albert Hall for the first time and lost by a knock out to Bradford's Eric Taylor. This was a relatively rare venture south, most of Bobo’s career being spent working in the north and midlands for Wryton  and Morrell-Beresford Promotions.  1962 was also the year, in March, when Bobo made his television debut against Bert Royal. 

All of this was a few years before we came across Bobo in our local independent promoters ring. A return to the independent promoters at the end of 1962, with a sporadic Joint Promotion booking, meant that Bobo was absent from television for six years. With a return to Joint Promotions on a regular basis in 1967 Bobo was soon back on the television,  a little bit heavier when he faced Honey Boy Zimba. Bobo and Zimba were to go on to form a regular tag team partnership. Jim Moser and Masambula also featured as tag partners. In all Bobo Matu appeared on television a dozen times, with opponents that included Billy Joyce, Kendo Nagasaki, Couunt Bartelli and  Andy Robin. A return to the Royal Albert Hall with Bobo sacrificed to a Dale Martin stalwart, Tony Charles.

When we first wrote about Bobo, way back in 1971, we said, "Whatever the type of opponent he's facing Bobo always keeps a tremendous smile on his face ......Bobo rarely gets on the wrong side of the referee, and when he does it is only as a means of retaliation"  That's how we remember him to this day, which made us all the more surprised when Frank Thomas, who watched him many times at Liverpool Stadium recalled Bobo "veered between heel and blue eye, depending on the opponent. " 

Bobo Matu remained a busy worker throughout British rings until the mid 1980s, but by then  wrestling commitments were competing for his time with television and film parts, as well as running a scrap metal business in Bolton, and he gradually slipped away.
Page added: 21/09/2021