WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

T: Clayton Thomson


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Clayton Thomson

Born in Glasgow on 27th December, 1931, Clayton Howard Thomson spent most of his working life living in England, initially in Yorkshire and later Essex. A dedicated amateur who we are told wrestled in the World Youth Games in Moscow and was trained for the professional ranks by Norman Morrell. His professional debut is reported as at Blackburn against Don Branch in 1959, though our earliest documented record is in Portsmouth wrestling Harry Kendall in September of that year.

Star quality was evident from the beginning. In April, 1961, the Evening Express reported a two falls to nil win over Eric Taylor, the British Heavy Middleweight Champion. Clay quickly claimed the Scottish Light-heavyweight championship and within two years had twice failed to defeat Ernie Riley in British championship bouts. He did, though have a short reign as holder of the Heavy Middleweight belt, defeating the champion at Aberdeen in July 1961, and there was little surprise when he  later went on to take  the British Middleweight Championship.

In a decade in which wrestlers became more colourful and flamboyant, and aerial manoevres took over from canvas holds Clay found it difficult to find his niche and ignite enhusiasm amongst the fans. That’s not to say he wasn’t a great wrestler; he was. His technical knowledge was outstanding. That was the problem, as he concentrated on the wrestling whilst the fans had their heads turned by Pallo, Street, Faulkner Logan and the likes. Pro wrestling was highly competitive, maybe not in terms of winning, but standing out in the crowd was another matter.

The British middleweight championship brought some recognition of his wrestling ability. That was in November, 1966, when a win over champion Bert Royal at Nottingham brought well deserved recognition. Promoters just couldn’t let be, though, and the following November he dropped the title for a short time to Mick McManus before relinquishing it for good to Brian Maxine in June, 1971. With the re-naming of Maxine to Goldbelt Clay’s fate was sealed. On television Kent Walton would never fail to tell us of his outstanding ability and that he had not been pinned for six months. Yes, that was as exciting as it got. Clay made around sixty television appearances between 1960 and 1972, with opponents that included Jackie Pallo, Josef Molnar, Les Kellett and Bert Royal.

The match against Kellett was particularly explosive and witnessed by two Heritage members. David Franklin told us, “It was a very rare violent bloody TV match that looked incredibly ‘real’ to me at the time.”  Matey Dave was convinced the altercation was genuine, “The amount of blood flying about was real. Something clicked during match and it looked like there was a problem. With the amount of damage done to Les it had to stop. The look on Les’s face was mad and it took a lot to get him out of the ring. It was interesting that once Clay saw how bad it was he did not try to make it worse and kept backing off.”

Clay’s weight variation was something of a talking point amongst fans, resulting in a range of opponents from Zoltan Bocik to Don Mendoza, and just about everyone in between. On one occasion it was reported his weight had dropped from 15 stones 4 pounds to 11 stones 8 pounds.

He surprised everyone by his heel turn when donning a mask in the early 1970s. Despite extensive Dale Martin publicity, a clearly identifiable personae and his outstanding ability the masked Clay, whose identity was never revealed at the time, failed to catch the imagination of the paying public.

When the masked man disappeared from our rings the maskless Clay reappeared, his absence of a couple of years explained by Kent Walton as the result of a serious back injury. 

Be left in no doubt. Clayton Thomson was an outstanding technical wrestler. His nickname of “Houdini of the Mat” was well deserved. In pro wrestling that was not enough. It can be a cruel world. In retrospect we celebrate Clayton Thomson for what he was.

Clay disappeared without ceremony in 1977. That seemed to be it, with few having contact with him. He died on 28th November, 2008, but it was two years later that his death was announced at the British Wrestlers Reunion.

Page added 27/12/2021