British wrestling history 

K: Kostas - Kwariani

Wrestling Heritage A-Z

Johnny  Kostas

American based Johnny Kostas stood over six feet tall and weighed 17 stones. He was known, as were others, as the “Golden Greek. He was born in Greece in 1929 and was interested in many sports as an amateur. He turned professional in the USA in 1950 and  visited our shores in 1963 and 1967. By that time he was already well-regarded in North America, boasting a drawn verdict with Lou Thesz in St Joseph, Missouri. He remained undefeated for more than three years in South Africa between 1957 and 1961, drawing 50,000 in Sao Paulo, Brazil for his bout against Riki Dozan. Kostas caused interest with his gimmick of wrestling barefoot. We were easily pleased in those days

Josef Kovacs (Jan Kovacs)  
The posters proclaimed him “The Butcher of Budapest,” and it was a fitting nickname for the shaven headed assassin. Enthusiast Johns Shelvey got it about right when he said Kovacs  "Looked every bit a bad dream."

Another fan, WilliamR,  told us, "I saw him wrestle at Blackpool and Preston a number of times in the 1960's.... His speciality K O move was a type of reverse aeroplane spin in which his opponent was lifted facing upwards, spun and then brought crashing to the floor on his back."   John Shelvey recalled "The sight of a wrestler, spinning across the ring like the blades of an injured helicopter, crash landing in a corner to be counted out."

Our mememories of this 20 stone villain of the ring are sadly limited to a couple of  his ten television appearances. Even  on our 1960s 17 inch black and white screen he made an impression.

Britain was the second home for Kovacs for ten years, moving backwards and forwards between the United Kingdom and the Continent, mostly Germany and Austria. In all he made sixteen visits,  each limited to the forty match labour restriction imposed on overseas visitors at that time. So lengthy and frequent were his visits that he must have become as accustomed to working with  his opponents as the local British wrestlers.

It was claimed that Kovacs was an Olympic Gold Medalist. We did find Jozsef Kovacs wrestling in the 1952 Olympics, albeit not a medalist, which could well have been him, but have no confirmation as yet.

Opponents from the beginning were of the highest calibre. During that first visit during October and November 1968 opponents included Alan Garfield,  Geoff Portz,Norman Walsh, Dennis Mitchell, Mike Marino, Ray Apoolon and Gordon Nelson.

Josef Kovacs was a visitor to Britain every year until 1968, with the exception of 1966. Opponents were always top notch and there were high profile matches at the Royal Albert Hall.  Wins over Kiwi Kingston and Ray Apollon in 1959 and 1961 were followed by losses to fellow Hungarian Tibor Szakacs,Georges Gordienko and Joe Cornelius. His final Royal Albert Hall outing was a draw with John DaSilva in April, 1964.

Kovacs final visit to Britain was in 1968. He died in August, 1990.

John Kowalski (Also known as Big K)

John Hayles managed to participate in the Helsinki Olympic(trial)s that had eluded Alan Garfield (q.v.), but on two wheels in 1956. A member of the Portsmouth Cycling Club the three times Hampshire cycling champion John took up wrestling whilst recovering from a cycling injury. Whilst stationary his front wheel was clipped, John was sent flying and broke his arm in two places, the result being a metal plate in his arm for the remainder of his life.

Building up his strength in the gym John became interested in wrestling. He then went on to be trained for the ring by Bruno Elrington at his gym in Sussex Street, Portsmouth, and was soon wrestling in some small hall shows of the independent promoters. The name Kowalski came about, as so often happened, when a promoter had billed an exotic sounding overseas star without having a wrestler that fitted the bill.

For most of the 1960s John worked for the independent promoters, up and down the country against top opposition men that included Cowboy Jack Cassidy, Jock Campbell and Don Stedman, with Coventry’s Adolf Dabrowski a frequent tag partner.

Signed up by Dale Martin Promotions on behalf of Joint Promotions John came to national attention with his television debut against one of the country’s top heavyweights, Steve Veidor. In the battle of the blondes John lost the match by the odd fall. It was the first of more than a dozen television appearances. Always a favourite of the fans the promoters just didn’t give John a break on television. There were no easy rides for this ex cyclist with television opponents that included Prince Kumali, Bruno Elrington, Kendo Nagasaki, Count Bartelli, Big Daddy, Mike Marino and Tibor Szakacs. The final television appearance came in 1987, almost thirty years after he had taken up wrestling. By then we sensed that John had just about had enough, and he retired from the ring three years later.

A frequent globetrotter John wrestled in just about every country in Europe and further afield to India and the Far East.

We have said many times on Heritage that John was one of our favourites that we always enjoyed watching. Although an imposing figure in the ring he never came over as threatening, and we were uncomfortable when promoters billed him as Killer Kowalski after an American of the same surname. Never a killer but always credible, that was John Kowalski.

Seldom outstanding but always in work thanks both to his size – well suited at 6’4” to pose a credible threat to even the most awesome opponents, such as Rocky Wall and  possessing the hallmark of many underrated pros, the ability to switch believably from hero to villain according to the opponent.

John Kowalski died in November, 2016.

Related article: Roman Trilogy in Armchair Corner at www.wrestlingheritage.com

Killer  Kowalski

Another name lifted from across the Atlantic. And no, he wasn't John Kowalski our loveable heavyweight. Here's the Killer Kowalski we watched in the 1960s independent rings.  We know nothing about him other than he certainly didn't look the part of a Killer, but did do a nice line in scowling. He scowled  from the edge of the ring, he scowled centre of ring,  and fans just knew what sort of wrester he was going to be, so booed and jeered accordingly. 

We saw Killer Karl just the once, a 1966 outing when he failed to live up to his name against a young Johnny Kincaid. Not that he was a bad wrestler. Just not very memorable, other than the name.  In 2010 we asked Johnny for his memories of Killer Karl. That's right, he couldn't remember him either.

Max Krauser

The barrel chested Max Krauser was listed by Wrestling Heritage in our top ten overseas visitors of the 1930s. He was a Jew born into a family of eleven children in Stanislawow, Poland. An expert skier, rugby player, swimmer and skater it was in wrestling that he gained fame, wrestling throughout Europe, Australia and the United States. 

A student at the University of Livov Max gained a Degree in Science.  A fan of the wrestling he is said to have jumped into the ring, aged 22, challenging a German champion and beginning an internationally renowned wrestling career.

Arriving in Britain in 1934, with little wrestling experience. he was soon swapping holds with the likes of King Curtis, Francis St Clair Gregory, Anaconda and George Clark. And he beat them all! Many matches ended with his favourite move, the aeroplane spin, leading to billing as European Heavyweight champion.

This Polish Jew was a hard man who knew how to wrestle. 

He wrestled in Britain intermittently between 1934 and 1938. Political developments in the 1930s made it unlikely that the Jewish heavyweight would return to Poland. Leaving Europe in 1938 he travelled to Australia, and whilst wrestling there the Second World War broke out. Max moved on to the United States where he enlisted in the army. Following retirement in the late 1940s Max and his wife set up their own business manufacturing luggage.

Prince Kumali

Billed as the statuesque negro giant from Georgetown, Guyana, his was a career full of contradictions.  

We were told of his near invincibility overseas, gaining victory over the great Dara Singh in India, yet in Britain he would more often than not go down against his regular adversaries Steve Viedor, and Tibor Szakacs. 

Trained as an amateur by the highly regarded Ken Richmond, adding to the skills he had already learned in Guyana. Tagged occasionally with Earl Maynard, and in Canada with Georges Gordienko.   

Avid photographer Gordon managed deftly to adapt his style strictly according to his opponent, and further analysis of this can be found in Armchair Corner under Crowd Control of the Purest Kind.

Related article:  Crowd Control of the Purest Kind in Armchair Corner at www.wrestlingheritage.com

Mihalyi Kuti (Also known as Micha Nador)
A powerful heavyweight from Hungary Mihalyi Kuti made his way to Britain in 1960 for Dale Martin Promotions. He was an impressive site, standing 6'3” tall and weighing 17 stones. In his mid twenties he proved a formidable opponent for the likes of Mike Marino, Alan Garfield and The Zebra Kid amongst other top heavyweights of the time. On television he knocked out Dennis Mitchell on 17th September, 1960, a sign of his power.  Four days later he benefited from the referees disqualification of Alan Garfield in a high profile match at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In subsequent televised matches he beat Johnny Yearsley and lost to Dazzler Joe Cornelius.

Mihalyi returned to Brtain in each year up to 1965, again mostly working in the south but again with occasional jaunts north.  In the 1970s he returned in 1971 and was last seen in Britain in 1972 when appearances seem to have been mostly in the north.

Throughout his career Mihalyi Kuti worked mostly in Germany and Austria,  as late as 1981 he was known outside of Britain as Micha Nador.

Mihalyi Kuti died in 2010.

Kola Kwariani

Born in Georgia, Tsarist Russia Kola Kwariani is reputed to have been a genuinely hard man who wrestled in Britain and around Europe in the 1930s before making a name for himself in the professional rings of North America. He played the part of the hired killer in the 1956 Stanley Kubrick film, The Killing. Born in 1903, died 1980.