Y:  Johnny Yearsley

Wrestling Heritage A- Z

Johnny Yearsley

As we look back over the years we sometimes astound ourselves when we consider the sheer breadth and depth of quality in the heavyweight division. Take the Cardiff born mat man Johnny Yearsley as an example. John Henry Yearsley was born on 24th October in 1929, and moved to south east London whilst a child.

Few would equate his wrestling skill with the likes of Robinson and Joyce, his colour with Cornelius or Hayes, or his girth with Elrington. Stop and think again. Here was a man with considerable wrestling ability, tremendous strength and a style of villainy that would upset the mildest of maiden aunts. 

Johnny Yearsley was one of the post war greats overshadowed only by the proliferation of so many other post war greats. He was no colourful figure but could rouse the ire of the fans with a scowl, more than a hint of arrogance and a few deftly delivered blindside moves.  Whilst others required masks, colourful costumes or outrageous antics to infuriate the fans Johnny Yearsley could do it just by pretending to be the man he wanted us to believe he was. 

A prolific bad man but an affectionately remembered popular villain who was  appreciated by fans for his exaggerated selling of opponents' moves.  Yearsley could wreak even greater havoc when in heavyweight tag alongside fellow villains Alan Garfield,  Frank Hurley, Danny Lycnh or Bruno Elrington.  On one occasion  five policemen protected Johnny from an angry crowd at the Royal Albert Hall.

As was so often the case with wrestling villains Johnny’s  character outside of the ring was very different. Johnny Yearsley was a devoutly religious man, brought up by strict Christian parents and lifelong member of the Christadelphian church.

For many that remember him their first recollection is of his enormous chest. A lifetime of weight training and farm work in Kent during his twenties  developed a 60 inch plus chest. 

It was around the time he was working on the farm that Johnny turned professional wrestler, the earliest we have found him is 1954, with an unverified report of a 1953 debut. From the outset he was a regular worker for Dale Martin Promotions, an association that continued for most of his career. He was a villain from the outset and quickly established himself as a very rugged wrestler. In April, 1956 the Reading Standard reported a match between Yearsley and another tough guy, Doug Joyce. Joyce went on the offensive with three dropkicks in quick succession. He attempted a fourth countered by Johnny who punched him, just once, but enough to put him out for the count in under 30 seconds of the first round.

The 1950s and first half of the 1960s were the most successful for Johnny in terms of results, which admittedly don’t count for a great deal in wrestling. He was up there wrestling the best and enjoying his share of wins.  During the years we watched him, the late 1960s and early 1970s the taste of victory was rare, often against lighter men and  invariably disqualified or knocked out by men he had dominated a few years earlier, Les Kellett being an example. Unknown to fans Johnny had been diagnosed with a heart problem and he began to take life a little more easily. In 1977 he moved to the independent promoters, sharing his reduced wrestling commitments with management of The Fountain and Kings Head public houses in Deptford. 

We find his last recorded contest in December, 1979, by which time he was a very sick man. Wrestling fans were shocked by the death of Johnny on 2nd February, 1980. Unknown to most fans he had suffered from cancer for some time and died just fifty years old. More than 250 mourners attended his funeral including Mick McManus, Wayne Bridges, Steve Veidor and Bob Kirkwood.

Page added 24/10/2021