Lancashire's World Class Lion
Read the forum of Wrestling Heritage and it won’t take long to learn that some of the fans from the 1950s and 1960s began to feel disillusioned with wrestling in the 1970s. Things were beginning to change as the post war promoters turned to count and spend their pension pots and the old guard of McManus, Pallo, Kellett and Logan were nearing the end of their shelf life.
Yet amongst this perceived demise some of the biggest and best wrestlers of the twentieth century were emerging and still to reach their peak, with Steve Wright, Dynamite Kid, Fit Finlay, Mark Rocco and our latest recipient of the Personality Parade treatment, Marty Jones, being amongst the first to come to mind.
Marty arrived on the wrestling scene in the early 1970s. It was a time when wrestling ability was beginning to give way to an excess of showmanship and gimmicks. It was a breath of fresh air to witness Marty entering the ring. No gimmicks, just wrestling skill. Not surprising, as Marty’s tutor was Britain’s best heavyweight, Billy Robinson. Billy lived close to Marty’s family, and was a friend of Marty’s father. Marty was enrolled at Billy’s gymnasium in Failsworth and began to learn the ins and outs of wrestling whilst at primary school. Not the showy stuff, but a thorough understanding of the technicalities that remained forever present during his professional days.
Marty was just thirteen years old when he first appeared on television, but not many of his future fans would have recognised him. He was one of the youngsters in the 1967 Granada television documentary, The Wrestlers, having a tussle under the watchful eyes and guidance of Billy Riley, Billy Robinson and Billy Joyce. It was the start of things to come, and those in the business knew that with the necessary determination Marty could make a success of a professional wrestling career.
Wryton Promotions gave Marty the opportunity to show his colours in the professional ring. He grabbed the opportunity with energy and determination; his reward being popularity amongst the fans and bookings throughout the north and midlands. Early opponents included another high flying youngster, Wonderboy Steve Wright, the experienced Tony Charles, strong man Pete Lindberg and a future long term rival, Mark Rocco. Before the year was out, and we are talking 1972, Marty had formed a tag partnership with another popular youngster Dane Curtis, and their matches against the masked Undertakers were the talk of fans through the north and midlands.
1972 was an important year for the ambitious youngster. On the 15th March Wryton Promotions matched him with another rising star, Bobby Ryan, at the Wryton Stadium, Bolton. The match was recorded for television broadcasting the following Saturday afternoon. Marty defeated the promising Bobby Ryan, something of a surprise for most fans, and the young lad from Oldham was on his way. Just a month later Marty was back on television, this time in a tag match with his regular partner, Dane Curtis against the much heavier and far more experienced team of The Dangermen, consisting of Colin Joynson and Steve Haggetty. Our report of the match can be be read in the Armchair Corner feature, Much Ado About Nothing, on www.wrestlingheritage.com
Another month and another televised bout for the rapidly progressing teenager; this time abruptly, and surprisingly, brought to a halt by another youngster he had met frequently, Jon Casanova. Four more televised matches were to follow before the year was out, opponents Dave Barrie, John Naylor, Colin Joynson and Caswell Martin. We haven’t checked the superb listings site of John Lister, www.itvwrestling.co.uk, but we can think of no other wrestler who has made such a rapid rise up the television wrestlers roster. We did, though, consult John Lister’s website to establish that of the hundreds of wrestlers to appear on British television only twelve wrestlers appeared more often than Marty. More of his matches were broadcast nationally on ITV than those of Johnny Saint, Brian Maxine, Kendo Nagasaki and even Mr TV himself, Jackie Pallo.
Marty had seemed something a bit special from his first few televised appearances in 1972, but it wasn’t until 1976 with wins over Mark Rocco, Alan Wood, and finally the snatching of the British light heavyweight title from Rocco at Wolverhampton in October, 1976, that we knew we were right. It was the start of an illustrious championship career, with Marty owning British, European and World Championship belts at heavy middleweight, light heavyweight and mid heavyweight over the following dozen or so years.
Inconsistent results remained a feature of his televised outings, but he did get it right when he defeated Bobby Gaetano in 1982 to take the World Mid Heavyweight title. It was a hard fought match that thrilled the match as the advantage swayed one way and then another. Marty remained a firm television favourite right up to the end, making his final appearance just two weeks before the sport was removed from our screens.
Of course it wasn’t just on television that Marty made a name for himself. It was around the halls, in front of hundreds of paying fans, that really mattered. Great rivalries developed with Rollerball Mark Rocco, Dynamite Kid and Dave Fit Finlay, all four of them being wrestlers that could have risen to the top at any time in wrestling’s history. Matches between Marty and these rivals packed halls around the country as they were always action packed affairs between wrestlers with the skill of the old timers. It takes more than the skill of one man to create a great match and Rocco, Finlay and Dynamite Kid were the perfect foils for Marty. SaxonWolf:
“Thinking back to those days, mid 70's to late 80's, whenever Jones faced Rocco or Finlay (or Dyanmite Kid), as the announcer said ‘seconds out, round one’ the hairs really did stand up on the back of your neck.”
“I remember a great match in Bolton between Marty Jones and Fit Finlay. Jones finished the match by twice hoisting Finlay high in the air and then just dropping him to the canvas, leading to Finlay injuring his knee and allowing Jones a single leg boston submission for the win. It was the sheer height from which Jones was able to lift up Finlay that was awesome. It was the best finish to a fight I can ever remember seeing”
Like so many of his generation Marty took the opportunity to travel and demonstrated his special brand of wrestling to the fans of Canada, the Far East and the rest of Europe. Unlike others, though, who forsake British wrestling and contributed to it’s 1980s demise, Marty Jones remained loyal and always returned home; he continued to give his best for British wrestling and the fans. If others had acted like Marty our sport may have been in a better place in the decades that followed.
We were surprised when younger fans told us that Marty turned into a great villain who could generate the wrath of fans through his deeds and microphone skills. Maybe so, but none of this should allow us to overlook the fact that Marty Jones was one of the last great real professional wrestlers whose matches that often ended in blood, sweat and maybe a few tears.
Marty’s career extended for more than a quarter of a century, cutting back his appearances from the mid 1990s. In 1996 he remained at the top, winning the British heavyweight championship when he defeated Dave Taylor at Croydon. Marty held the belt for only a short time before retiring with it still in his possession. Talk about going out on top. There were a few matches following that, with David Mantell telling us that in 2000 he was involved in a feud with Kendo Nagasaki, part of Kendo’s "Millenium Comeback" run.
We consider it appropriate to end our tribute with a few words from ex wrestler and Heritage member, Norfolk Snake,
“I always think it rather strange that more is not written on these pages about Marty Jones. For me he was one of the most believable and toughest wrestlers of latter day TV wrestling. We know from the clip of Riley's snake pit gym in the 60s he was in the thick of it from an early age and indeed he gained amateur titles. Not much is ever written about latter day 'shooters'. For me as a punter and during a brief spell as a jobber in Norfolk I still think not enough credit is given to the mid/light heavyweights of the 80s/90s, with men such as Jones, Cullen, Finlay, Roberts, Murphy, Rocco, Danny Collins, Dynamite etc - the class, calibre and believability of the wrestling game was in safe hands (or so we thought) and what they were doing was to me 'the golden age of wrestling'. But then I am a bit younger so can't recall the stars of the 60s in their prime. It saddens me when many say wrestling was in its demise then. Wrestlers such as Collins, Richie Brooks, Kid McCoy, Ian McGregor were all terrific young workers and we can only now imagine what might have become to TV wrestling had the scene carried on it that direction with that all important aid of the small screen !"