WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

R: Mark Rollerball Rocco

Rollerball

Mark Rocco
Wrestling history is peppered with landmark moments; events or people that seemed to change things forever. The emergence of Rollerball Mark Rocco was one such landmark. We had seeen nothing like him before. Here was a man who was to challenge the accepted norms, crash through barriers and wrestle like we had seen no one wrestle before. A pioneer, an innovator, he learned from Britain’s best and took that knowledge to a new level. Enthusiast Main Mask commented, “Not merely just a fantastic wrestler with a superb array of Wrestling Moves - Rocco pretty much single-handedly revolutionised wrestling in the 1970's/1980's in this country; bringing high energy and excitement to our rings coupled with a new aggressive and hard hitting style Rocco transformed wrestling and turbo-charged a fading and waning sport.”  Frank Leonard agreed, “Greatest wrestler ever. Years ahead of his time, could work a crowd like no other and lets no forget he could actually wrestle too.”

Mark Rocco was born in May, 1951, Jonathan Mark Hussey, son of heavyweight wrestler Jim Hussey and his wife Lilian. We discover Hussey Junior making the press in 1961, aged just ten years old. Nothing to do with wrestling, The Cheshire Observer reported Mark coming second as a Best Rider in an equestrian competition at Norley Fete. Equestrian success continued as a senior until shortly before Mark embarked on a wrestling career.

Surprisingly Jim himself was not directly responsible for son Mark entering the professional ranks, in fact he was set against the idea. Long time friend Colin Joynson has told us that Jim was unaware that Mark was secretly being coached  as a professional by a few of the Manchester lads, himself included.

Around 1970 Mark turned professional. We first come across Mark Rocco on 25th February, 1970 in Yardley, Birmingham, losing by two straight falls to his mentor Colin Joynson. As his first match was at Yardley, against Joynson, and with his dad on the bill this may well have been his professional debut.  We didn’t see that match but later in the year did see him losing by the odd fall to Johnny Saint at Preston.  Saint was the experienced wrestler, a rapidly rising star and we admit to seeing Rocco as nothing more than another aspiring youngster, albeit one with a touch of the arrogance of youth.

Initial impressions were quickly to change. Our next sighting, again Saint was in the opposite corner, was a very different affair. Any arrogance of youth was now backed up by what seemed like a decade of learning packed into little more than a year. The star quality was beginning to show as he went on to draw with the now well established Saint.
In the mid 1970s, shortly after the release of the film Rollerball plain old Mark Rocco was transformed into Rollerball Rocco. With half a dozen year’s experience in Britain and on the Continent he began to carve out the unique niche for which he is remembered.

Former wrestler Andy Bloomfield was also a fan, "Every bout was full of drama, absolute realism (no doubters ever in the crowd when Rocco was on). I think becoming involved even at the low level I achieved made you appreciate how talented performers and genuinely tough these characters were.  Rocco was a great technical wrestler, a brawler second to none and someone who never showed a hint of unreliability or unbelievedness.  I saw Finlay and Rocco battle it out at Norwich too, which again I think Finlay won....I will cherish those moments of wrestling at King's Lynn and Norwich for ever - the heat was unbelievable as were the crowds. If I go to a show these days, it is very much that - a show. Thinking back to Rocco, Murphy, Quinn, etc it never seemed anything but a real fight whilst the technical wrestlers were first class wrestlers who we all totally believed without any sense of doubt of the realism. Because so much of it was!"

Rollerball had it all. Wrestling skill, creativity, hard as nails and the killer instinct. A punishing forearm, a quick follow-up, a few dubious tactics, a minor explosion and Rollerball was on his way to his next success.

Even following the Rollerball transformation Mark was still paying his dues with a mixed bag of results. His reward came on 11th June 1977, when he defeated Bert Royal at Belle Vue, Manchester, to win the British Heavy Middleweight Championship. He held the title for fifteen months before losing it to Marty Jones, and re-gaining it again three months later. But as all pro wrestling fans understand success is not about winning belts, even though Mark went on to acclaim as world champion. His success transcended championship belts and trophies.
International success beyond Europe came with a visit to the United States in 1980 and, more memorably, to Japan in 1981. In Japan he is remembered as the masked Black Tiger and his feud with Tiger Mask, who wrestled in Britain as Sammy Lee. Mark Rocco made more visits to Japan in the 1980s.

In Britain during the 1980s he left Joint Promotions to work for independent promoters, most notably Orig Williams and All Star Promotions. On wrestling forums fans of the 1980s still recall his feuds with  Dynamite Kid, Dave Finlay and Kendo Nagasaki. Heritage member Frank Leonard recalled, “Nagasaki throwing him out of the ring only for Mark to return armed with the timekeepers bell as a weapon, which Kendo took from him and hit him over the head with it, the result was nasty head wound which poured blood.”   Rasit Huseyin told us: “Bouts between Rocco and Finlay probably would never have been televised, the violence in it was X-certificate!”

A heart condition forced Mark Rocco into retirement in 1991, following which he set up home in Tenerife.

Mark Rocco, born  11th May, 1951, died 31st July, 2020.

Page added 31/07/2020