WRESTLING HERITAGE

B; Con Balasis

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Con Balasis

(Also known as The Red Shadow)

Theodore Balasis was born in Greece in 1916, moving to Australia in his youth where he acquired Australian citizenship. Our earliest record of him wrestling professionally is in May, 1938, when he wrestled a draw against George O'Brien in Brisbane. He was said to weight 14 stones at the time and was using the name Con Balasis. One month later he was back at Brisbane's Bohemia Stadium to challenge Billy Bayne in a contest advertised as the Australian Heavyweight Championship. It was a rough bout by all accounts with  both men disregarding the referee and the police intervening to separate the men and stop the contest in the fifth round  to prevent public disorder. There are numerous reports of Con Balasis wrestling in 1938 and 1939, all of them in Brisbane, which we assume was his home at that time.

Most reports indicate a skilled and agile wrestler, who by November, 1939 we find touted as World Light Heavyweight champion. It was reported that he had won the title from John Pesek in Britain in 1938, which seems almost certainly a bit of wrestling codology. We can find no record of either Pesek or Balasis in Britain in 1938.

Graeme Cameron told us: "His only records in Australia are in 1938-39 and all of them bar a charity match in the New South Wales town of Grafton are in the one venue, Bohemia Stadium, Brisbane. His most notable opponent was Sam Burmister and the most frequent was local wrestler George O'Brien. Other opponents were British Empire Games gold medallist (twice), Jack Knight, Indian Hassan Singh, New Zealand title claimant Billy Bayne and Dutchman Ivan Zeebos, to name a few."

World War Two intervened and Con joined the Merchant Navy. In 1942 whilst sailing to India his ship, The Hauraki, docked in Singapore. Balasis was detained and spent the following three years interned in two Japanese prisoner of war camps, Sime Road and the notorious Changi. It was in the Changi internment camps that Con met a Burmese nurse, a fellow prisoner, Marguerite Eziekiel. Marguerite had worked in the Singapore General Hospital before being interned. At times Theo would steal rice for Marguerite.

Following the war Con returned to Australia, married Marguerite and for a short time was part owner of Ciro's Cafe at Double Bay, a suburb of Sydney. In 1947 he was named as a training partner for Jim Londos on his visit to the country.

On 20th February, 1947, at the time living in Stanley Street, Sydney, Balasis became an Australian citizen.

In the first week of August, 1947, Con Balasis flew  back to Singapore, this time under more favourable circumstances. His debut match was against the British wrestler Kid Callon, the Army champion in Malaya. In the fourth round Con threw Callon from the ring eight times in succession, picked him up, an aeroplane spin and slam followed by the first fall. Callon was unable to continue and Con was declared the winner.

Away from wrestling for a moment. In November, 1947, it was estimated that 1200 destitute  southern Europeans were stranded in Singapore, awaiting passage to Australia. Con said that some were living in conditions just as bad as the wartime internment camps. He offered his services and volunteered as an interpreter for stranded Greeks. It is also believed he helped some of the most needy with financial assistance.

Later in 1947, still in Singapore, Con Balasis  wrestled Jeff Conda for the "British Empire Zone Championship of the Far East." Jeff Conda, of course, went on to become masked man Count Bartelli on his return to Britain. Maybe it was mixing with the many British wrestlers who worked in Singapore following the end of the second world war that encouraged Balasis to try his luck in Britain. Con Balasis remained in Singapore until May, 1948.

In November, 1948 when promoter Atholl Oakeley promoted a wrestling spectacular at Earls Court with Bert Assirati and The Angel main eventing  Con Balasis wrestled on the supporting programme. With this being a promotion where Oakeley put on the biggest names  available it is a sign of the status of Con Balasis in the post war heavyweight scene. He remained a familiar figure in Britain for the remainder of the 1940s. Despite being a regular main eventer Balasis sometimes resorted to donning a mask and calling himself The Red Shadow until he  was ceremoniously unmasked by Mike Demitre in 1949.

With thanks to the friends and son of Con Balasis.

Page added 30/01/2022