WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

D: Jack Doyle

Wrestling Heritage A - Z

From the onset of modern day wrestling in 1930 it was presented as a sport of equals with professional boxing. The first wrestling matches  in December, 1930 and many that followed in the next two or three years were combined boxing and wrestling programmes. By 1935 professional wrestling was booming and numerous professional boxers turned to wrestling, heavyweight champion  Reggie Meen amongst them.

It was unsurprising, therefore, for wrestling promoter Atholl Oakeley to turn to boxer Jack Doyle when seeking news talent to re-vitalise his post war wrestling business. Oakeley had laid the foundations of 1930s wrestling and could claim credit for much of it's success. He could also stand accused of introducing aspects that brought the sport into disrepute, such as mud wrestling. Consequently when the post war promoters that included Norman Morrell, George DeRelwyskow and Dale Martin claimed to have reinvented the sport in the post war years there was no place for Oakeley. Oakeley's response was to do what he had always done, and done very well. In opposition to the new promoters he staged high profile, big name events in large halls such as Harringay Stadium and the Royal Albert Hall.  

The problem for Oakeley was that the new promoters increasingly tightened up their exclusive right to use many of the post war wrestlers. Oakeley filled his bills with his own big names, mostly a collection of imported stars that included Gaston Gheveart, Kurt Zehe, Alex Cadier, Tiger Joe Robinson, and Ski Hi Lee.

It was hardly surprising, therefore, that Oakeley turned to the charismatic Irish boxer, the man known as the Gorgeous Gael,  Jack Doyle. Doyle, birth name of Joseph Alphonsus,, had been born on 31st August, 1913, and challenged British heavyweight boxing champion Jack Petersen for his title in 1933. Legend has it that Doyle warmed up for the title bout in a nearby pub and opted for a disqualification rather than a more ignominious defeat. 

Irrespective of whether that is true, and we wouldn't know, it certainly suggests that Doyle was just the sort of man for Oakeley. It wasn't just a colourful boxing career in both Britain and America that added to Doyle's charismatic character. He was also a talented tenor who appeared at the London Palladium, recorded for Decca records and appeared in a number of films on both sides of the Atlantic. Boxing, singing, acting and marriage to the actress Movita Castaneda made Doyle one of the most famous people on the planet.   The trouble was that all this success brought easy access to Doyle's other interests – drinking, gambling and women.

Doyle's boxing swansong came in June 1943, battered in under three minutes by Irishman Chris Cole. A couple of jail sentences followed, a spell of homelesness and Doyle turned his faith to wrestling.

Oakeley was ready to make the most of this opportunity as Jack Doyle was still a name with huge drawing power. And so it came to pass that on 7th February, 1950, Doyle met Estonian veteran Martin Bucht in front of 9,500 fans at London's Harringay Stadium. 

A fanfare of trumpets sounded, and was repeated again and again before Doyle made a belated entrance, resplendent in a white and green satin dressing gown, white shorts embroidered with his initials. The entrance of Bucht may well have disappointed many fans. Here was a man said to be “The Human Gorilla” despite being reportedly shorter and lighter than Doyle, and not only that but he turned out to be a familiar figure to fans of the 1930s, having wrestled in Britain extensively under the name Padvo Peltonin. 

The match did little for the credentials of professional wrestling. Doyle was mostly occupied through the first round being thrown around the ring and stretched by Bucht. It seemed to be going the same way in the second until a sudden flurry of activity gave hope for the Gorgeous Gael, only to be extinguished by Bucht pinning him to take a fall. 

Could the Gorgeous Gael survive against the Human Gorilla? This is wrestling, of course he could. Round three began and Doyle rushed from his corner, and felled Bucht with a forearm smash. He followed it with a second as Bucht rose from the mat. And a third to finish off the Gorilla. Who would have believed it? The count of the referee was the signal for the pipers to return.

Doyle’s presence in the ring did alarm rival promoters. George DeRelwyskow, Norman Morrell, Ted Beresford, Dale Martin and Wryton Promotions, were amongst more than a dozen promoters who issued a statement:  "Doyle, glamour boy of boxing has, at the time of writing, not been granted a licence by the Wrestling Federation. Such being the case no licenced wrestler will be allowed to appear on the same programme at Harringay as Doyle. If he does, the wrestler will be automatically suspended, and the question of his licence being automatically suspended will be considered by the Federation."  True to their word the Federation rescinded the licences of three wrestlers.

Jack returned to the ring at Harringay the following month to dispose of another pre war assassin with little wrestling finesse, Aussie the Butcher.  Oakeley went on to feature Doyle in more high profile matches at the Harringay Stadium. Next to be wheeled in was  Frenchman Al Cabrol, followed by another Frenchman, Gaston Gheveart and another former boxer, Eddie Philips. The national press had been losing interest in Jack’s latest sporting career, and certainly had nothing positive to say. That is until Oakely matched Jack with another former boxer, and KO vanquisher of Jack, Eddie Phillips. Jack disposed of Eddie, who was making his wrestling debut, via a disqualification route.

Next came the most anticipated match so far. Two Ton Tony Galento was a colourful bruiser of a heavyweight who had floored Joe Louis after training on beer and hot dogs. The match received a great deal of pre fight publicity, Doyle made his usual long winded, colourful entrance, and then suffered his first defeat with Galento breaking two of his ribs.

In May, 1951, Oakeley brought to Britain the German heavyweight, Kurt Zehe, to face  Doyle. A huge amount of national publicity preceded the contest. When the German arrived in London photos of Zehe lifting Doreen Oakeley, wife of Atholl, were published not just in Britain but in newspapers around the world. Zehe was known as Gargantua, due to his enormous stature, which was claimed to be 8’4” tall and a weight of some 50 stones. That may have been something of an exaggeration, Oakeley wasn’t known for accuracy,  but the boy was certainly big. and reputed to have stood at 7 feet 2 inches.  After all the advanced publicity the bout inevitably proved  a huge anti climax. Another win for Jack that  did nothing for the reputation of  Oakeley.

On 27th November, 1951 Doyle returned to Harringay to face the erstwhile Alex Cadier in a match advertised as for the European Heavyweight Championship . We have been unable to unearth any reports of this match. 

In February, 1952 Jack’s attempt to regain his boxing license was rejected by the British Boxing Board of Control. Consequently, the Gorgeous Gael stuck to wrestling.

In May, 1952 Primo Carnera was advertised in the opposing Harringay corner. By then Carnera must have created more interest than Jack Doyle and the national press seem to have foresaken Jack and his wrestling ambitions. So had Jack on this occasion as the match didn’t take place and Carnera wrestled a virtually unknown Tiger Moss, who may well have been Pete Moss who wrestled Al Hayes at the Royal Albert Hall around that time.

Despite his ring presence, personality, and high profile launch as a wrestler, the magic had gone, the skill was missing and  the wrestling career fizzled out around the autumn of 1953. In March, 1953, he wrestled Heritage friend the "Iron Man of the Lakes" Gerry Hogarth, at the Royal Albert Hall, and we have an unconfirmed report of Hoggarth winning by a knock out. This was a fortunate evening for  for Gerry as he was brought in as a last minute substitute for  Tiger Joe Robinson.That was the end of the high profile events for Jack Doyle. His wrestling career ended shortly afterwards following a few routine matches around the country, a far cry from the time he had drawn 90,000 for one of his boxing matches at White City, London, in 1933. 

Doyle's ability to earn a fortune during his life was matched with an ability to spend it. When he was declared bankrupt in 1953 Doyle claimed he was still the highest paid wrestler in Britain, although his pay had dropped from the £987 he had received for his debut match in 1950, to £25 a match. Jack Doyle died penniless on 13th December, 1978.

Page added 29/08/2021