Close to Perfection
Judo Al Hayes
Few wrestlers are deemed worthy of an obituary in the national press, in this case The Guardian. Even fewer, a unique written by a Wrestling Heritage member, James Morton.
The ever youthful Judo Al Hayes was one wrestler who enjoyed a textbook career made up of a series of successful phases.
He was the nation’s youngest ever judo black belt who learned to wrestler under the tutelage of Atholl Oakeley, working for Oakeley until 1953 when his early success against the likes of Frank Mantovitch and Rudy Redvern was rewarded with a signing by the newly formed Joint Promotions at the beginning of 1953. Oakeley even rewarded him with a shortly held British heavyweight title.
Within six months he was billed as Southern Heavyweight Champion, and was occupying main event spots on a regular basis from the start. One of those early Joint Promotion opponents was a young Australian named Paul Lincoln, a man with whom his career became entwined for more than a decade. By the end of 1953 he had appeared at the Royal Albert Hall on no fewer than eight occasions.
Regular Royal Albert Hall appearances were to remain part of his wrestling pattern for the rest of the decade, often in the role of opponent to international visitors. In May 1959 Al defeated Alex Wenzl and Tibor Szakacs in one night before losing later in the evening to John Da Silva to finish runner-up of the Royal Albert Hall Heavyweight Tournament. The following year it was Tibor that turned the tables and eliminated Al in the Royal Albert Hall Tournament on his way to winning the event.
In the Spring of 1961, with more than a decade of success behind him the name Judo Al Hayes suddenly disappeared from Joint Promotion rings and televised wrestling. Al, of course, hadn't gone anywhere, other than to work for his old friend, Paul Lincoln, who had by then started promoting his own shows in opposition to Joint Promotions. Al was a welcome addition to Lincoln's small roster, playing the blue-eyed lead against Lincoln’s colourful stable of international villains.
Al had a fun run as the English version of the famed Spaniard, the White Angel, culminating in a famous 1962 unmasking at the Granada Tooting at the hands of Doctor Death. During his Lincoln years, Hayes wrestled with great regularity in France, both with and without the mask. He also partnered Lincoln in the management side of the business, and quite a few wrestlers have told us of how much they looked forward to their Sunday night phone calls from their boss they fondly called Alfie.
When the two promotions finally merged at the start of 1966 it was Judo Al who led the Lincoln wrestlers’ televised ring invasion and took the mike in an open challenge to their Dale Martin counterparts. Immediately embraced back into the Joint Promotions fold, Hayes featured in the victorious London team in the Capital Cities Trophy series against Paris at the Royal Albert Hall the following year.
Billed now as the wrestling councillor (Con.) from Westminster, Hayes won an open tournament to become the Southern England Heavyweight Champion, defeating Wayne Bridges and Bruno Elrington along the way.
In time-honoured fashion he relinquished his sash to Elrington just prior to his departure for the USA in 1971. In the States, now elevated to a Lord, Al continued his wrestling career, before moving into television commentating. Alfred George James Hayes died in 2005, aged 77.