B; Ernest Baldwin
With more than sixty years passing since he last wrestled professionally most memories of Ernest Baldwin are of later roles as referee and Master of Ceremonies. To be honest when we watched him as one of the ring's officials it was hard to believe that we were witnessing a former heavyweight champion. It wasn't just his portly stature but a manner that seemed unassuming and gentle. As a referee he moved around the ring with a speed that belied his stature, and as an MC he had a "lived in" look of a man we knew we could trust. We rather liked Ernest.
Ernest Baldwin was born in Morley, Yorkshire on 4th December, 1917. Ernest was just three years old when another Morley resident, Henry Inman, represented Britain in the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp. A few years later Ernest turned up at Henry Inman's gym and started to learn how to wrestle.
Four years amateur wrestling under Inman's tutelage led to a professional debut. The earliest documented match we have found was in November, 1940, though we understand he had turned pro the previous year. At the time Ernest was working as a glass blower, a reserved occupation, which meant he was able to continue wrestling part time during the Second World War. In January, 1944, Norman Morrell staged a British Heavyweight Championship tournament in Blackburn. Ernest lost out to Bert Assirati in the tournament's final. By the end of 1945 Ernest was receiving regular bookings and soon after the end of the war gave up his day job and wrestled full time.
Championship success came on 3rd November, 1951 when Ernest beat Dave Armstrong in Middlesbrough to be crowned the first Admiral Lord Mount Evans heavyweight champion. He made his first defence just seven days later, disposing of George Clark in Newcastle. Armstrong had his first opportunity to take the belt from Ernest on 26th January, 1952, when Norman Morrell matched the two men in Armstrong's local St James Hall, Newcastle. Some sources incorrectly cite this as the night Baldwin won the belt, but he was actually making a defence, and knocked out the challenger. For two years Ernest frequently defended his championship against challengers The Farmer, Robert McDonald, Vic Hessle, Sandy Orford, Pat O'Reilly, Norman Walsh, Derek Oldham and finally dropping the belt to Alf Rawlings at Newcastle on 18th July, 1953. The belt was back around Ernest's waist on 22nd August when he defeated Dai Sullivan, who had taken the title from Rawlings.
The belt was passed around the top heavyweights during the 1950s but seemingly always found its way back to Ernest who was champion on no fewer than five occasions. He won the title for the last time on 6th November, 1959 by defeating Billy Joyce, and lost to Joyce again the following month.
Ernest Baldwin was certainly one of the finest heavyweights of the 1950s. It goes without saying that he beat all the other top British heavyweights and also wrestled top overseas stars that included Dara Singh and Lou Thesz.
The end came all too suddenly and abruptly. On 6th May, 1961, he was wrestling Billy Joyce in Newcastle. When Joyce threw Ernest at the ropes he slipped and fell awkwardly through the ropes, resulting in a broken leg. Although he planned to return to the ring that was the end of Ernest's wrestling career, other than a 1963 challenge match against Leon Arras.
It wasn't of course, Ernest's retirement from wrestling as he continued into the 1970s as one of the country's best referees and Master of Ceremonies.
Ernest Baldwin died in 1988.