Wrestling Heritage members have often discussed just what it took to become a star professional wrestler with fitness, courage, charisma, colour, hard work and that undefinable ability to capture the public's imagination being the qualities most often mentioned.
A champion required more. He needed skill and robustness to protect the integrity of the sport with credibility as a champion and the ability to defend the belt against opportunistic upstarts should the need arise. Jack Dempsey, Ernie Riley, Billy Joyce, George Kidd, Billy Robinson, Mike Marino and the other champions were all credible bearers who could genuinely defend ownership of the belt whenever required, a safe pair of hands in whom promoters could rely totally..
Jim Breaks combined the qualities of a champion with more charisma and colour than the aforementioned names. Put simply he was a champion that fans loved to watch. No one could ever say Jim Breaks was dour or unexciting.
Why do we introduce the significance of belts after all this time?
Simply because Jim Breaks most likely took part in more championship contests than any other wrestler. Okay, we haven't counted them up. But as a very active British lightweight champion, British welterweight champion, European lightweight champion and world lightweight champion we reckon Jim has a pretty good claim.
Even as fans booed, jeered and mocked him everyone knew that they just loved Jim Breaks. No doubt Jim knew it too. Not far behind the sham tears, the pointing finger and exaggerated tantrums surely we could detect the wry smile of a man who knew he was doing his job well?
An understatement, because Jimmy Breaks did his job exceedingly well. First and foremost he was an outstanding wrestler, a Yorkshire amateur champion, British championship runner-up and student of the great Bernard Murray. To that technical skill he added a unique persona of a man who was so hard done by that he was driven to protestations, tantrums and tears. The preliminaries would include an ooze of arrogance, a verbal assault on selected members of the audience, "What are you doing on bonfire night?" and censure of the Master of Ceremonies, "I'm champion and should be introduced first" or "You should call me Mr Jim Breaks."
As Jim remonstrated in response to his fanciful grievances the fans were only too willing to play their part by jeering his over-the-top antics and throwing babies' dummies into the ring. With the inevitable chants of "cry baby" Breaks' tantrum would become even more emphasised before the inevitable demonstration of wrestling ability and declaration as winner yet again.
It was a persona that proved both effective and believable. It was Jim's wrestling ability that made the complaints and mock tantrums credible; he could carry it off without any negative impact on his reputation because we all knew that Jim was most likely the better of the two men in the ring. His repertoire of wrestling manoeuvres was second to none. There was the much anticipated finishing move of the Jim Breaks Special, in which he would squeeze every moment of drama as he distorted his opponents wrist and elbow before lifting him into the air. The extraction of a submission was never in doubt.
Chris Newman remembers, "Breaks could play the nasty man, blind side, the lot, to great effect and was capable of not only wrestling very well but with reality suspended, making you hope he would take a licking or lose maybe a narrow verdict, to give him something to moan about."
Powerlock also recalls Jim Breaks, "Love him or hate him, Jim was a master when it came to working a crowd, I watched him countless times live and on TV and he always had the crowd baying for his blood."
We agree with their assessments and would go further.
We would place Jimmy Breaks in a calibre higher than George Kidd, Mick McManus and Jackie Pallo. How can we make such an outlandish claim? All will be made clear later. Let's begin at the beginning.
Jim's wrestling credentials began at the Windmill Club in Bradford alongside another famous British champion, Eric Sands. We wonder if Jim imagined wearing the belt that Eric had once worn, and add to that the European and World championships. At eighteen Jim was called up for National Service and served as a physical training instructor in the Duke of Wellington's Regiment. Following the army Jim returned to civilian life as a pin setter in a textile mill. For a while he considered re-joining the army but Bernard Murray suggested he go along for a chat with the local wrestling promoter, Norman Morrell. Morrell gave the twenty-one year old a trial, liked what he saw, and offered Jim a professional bout. It was December, 1958, and the man in the opposite corner, guiding him through that nervous debut, was his mentor Bernard Murray.
The weeks that followed were a challenging initiation. With Alan Dennison, Jack Dempsey, Eric Sands, Mel Riss, John Foley, Keith Martinelli in the opposite corner it was little wonder Jim had moments of self doubt and considered quitting the business. Until one night it all seemed to go right, Jim's confidence was boosted and he was on his way. The first five years were under the guidance of Norman Morrell, with practically all Jim's bookings being under the Morrell-Beresford banner. January 1962 was the start of the big adventure, and a sign of things to come, with Jim booked by Dale Martin Promotions to make an appearance at the Royal Albert Hall against the Greek wrestler Vassilios Mantopolous. Jim lost the match by the odd fall, but in every other respect it must have given him a taste of things to come.
In 1963, bookings by all Joint Promotion members, televised matches against Julien Morice, Alan Dennison, Cliff Beaumont and Eric Cutler and a relentless apprenticeship against most of the top lighter men led to the biggest night of Jim's life, 16th October, 1963 and a return to the Royal Albert Hall. Mel Riss had been British lightweight champion for almost five years. A veteran of Riley's gym his defence against Jim Breaks was a match to be remembered for many years to come. Riss started as clear favourite but in a hold and counter-hold contest it was Jim Breaks that was crowned the new champion after eight rounds of wrestling. The wrestler described in The Wrestler magazine as "a modest man," went on to become a great champion and craft a persona that did not immediately bring modesty to mind.
From the outset it was clear that Jim's success was no flash in the pan. He was established as one of the top British lightweights, with only World champion George Kidd seemingly in a class above. Whilst some champions were criticised for their inactivity that criticism could never be made against Jim with Alan Dennison, Jim McKenzie, Mick McMichael Jon Cortez and Michael Bennett amongst those early challengers. The British championship was to remain in Jim's possession for four years, eventually losing it at the same hall, to Al Miquet on 15th February, 1967.
We could go on and on about Jim's championship success at length; it would make impressive rather than gripping reading. A British title belt wrapped around his waist on and off at least over the next twenty years. Add to that a European belt even more times until as late as 1990 and the world championship usually associated with Johnny Saint. We will mention one championship success, that being the 30th November, 1977, the venue the Royal Albert Hall where he had gained many successes. The difference on this occasion being that Jim re-gained the British welterweight title by beating Vic Faulkner and won the William Hill Trophy which was presented by His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent in a tournament that raised an estimated £10,000 towards the Queens Silver Jubilee Appeal.
Jim's multi championship success was at a time when the lightweight division was brimming with talent. Defeated champion Mel Riss remained on the scene and eventually faded away, but the mid 1960s onwards were a time when a multitude of lightweight talents were coming to a peak: London brothers Jon and Peter Cortez, Al Miquet, Jim McKenzie, Bill Ross, Adrian Street, Johnny Williams, Zoltan Boscik, Johnny Saint, George Kidd and a few years later Bobby Ryan, Steve Grey, Dynamite Kid and Jackie Robinson.
But as we've said so many times before wrestling success was not just about championship belts, though Jim Breaks did use them effectively to enhance his status. Ability, charisma, drawing power, value for money, entertainment. Jim Breaks had it all. To establish himself as the most successful champion of them all was the icing on the cake.
Jim Breaks contests were of the sort that had the fans talking on their journey home, and remembering them for literally years to come. Ex Wrestler Mike Agusta, "The best bout that I ever saw was between George Kidd and Jim Breaks maybe 62-63." and Anglo Italian, "Jim Breaks v Mick McManus at the Royal Albert Hall. They started wrestling, went hammer and tongs, ignored the ref, ignored the bells ending round one and two. And then I think they both got disqualified."
It wasn't just the fans that remember Jim Breaks. Master of Ceremonies Lee Bamber, "I was announcing at a title bout in Milton Keynes and was holding the belt whilst making the introductions. 'You might as well give me that now son, that's mine' bawled Jimmy Breaks in that broad Yorkshire accent from the corner. 'There's a man on the other side of this ring who has very different ideas' I replied over the microphone..... 'I don't even know the second' - Jimmy shouted back instantly. It was hard to keep a straight face and not giggle. Jimmy was a genuinely quick witted & funny fellah who really knew the craft of putting over a wrestling match."
It was that craft that made Jim Breaks so special. Everyone remembers his rivalry with Johnny Saint, and Johnny has told us that Jim was a great wrestler he could work with to produce fantastic matches. It was true whoever the opponent that Jim could be relied upon for an enjoyable contest; maybe he benefited from the lack of villains amongst the top lightweight and welterweights of that time.
It was a style appreciated by fans and promoters around the country; Jim Breaks was as likely to appear in Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Leicester or Barrow. Few worked so hard over so many years. Fans enjoyed the performance whilst promoters benefited from a dependable worker whose real life personality was very different from his ring persona.
We first met Jim in 1969 and interviewed him three or four times in the early 1970s. Arrogant in the ring, in real life nothing was further from the truth. He was always generous with his time and privately appreciative of his fellow workers. Jim was an unselfish worker who was self depreciating and generous with the opportunities he gave to others.
Which brings us to our assertion that Breaks edged above McManus, Pallo and Kidd. They had one huge advantage over Jim Breaks. Invincibility. McManus, Pallo, Kidd could not have survived had they lost regularly. Their ring persona depended upon them winning, making it easier for fans to acknowledge them as stars.
Jim Breaks built his success without such and advantage. He was a star without the protection of invincibility, which to our mind puts him in a class above Kidd, Pallo and McManus. Logic dictates that winning a championship dozens of times requires losing the championship just as many times. Witnessing his comeuppance just added to his unique character. Remaining at the very top for decades without invincibility is a greater achievement than those who were allowed the protection of invincibility.
Whilst his position in wrestling hierarchy was enhanced by championship status it was by no means dependent upon it. Whilst the belt was an important part of the Jim Breaks persona there was much more.
But by no means Just Champion.