D: Mike Demitre
All Gold, Not so Greek
For anyone who was interested in professional wrestling in the mid Twentieth century the name Mike Demitre is one that is known and respected. By the 1960s it was his role as an authoritative referee for which most people now remember him, yet the stories of one of the great wrestlers of previous decades have endured to this day. Few now have memories of watching one of the most skilled pre and post world war two wrestlers, but one fan who did see him in action was Bernard Hughes, who saw Mike wrestle at the St James Hall, Newcastle in the 1950s.
Bernard remembers Mike as "Trim, perhaps on the 15 stone mark ... a very capable wrestler, at the time able to hold his own with the heavyweights." Bernard recalled showing Mike the way to Newcastle Central Station after the show, "He talked well, and was very conscious of his physique." It was quite a physique, perfectly proportioned proclaimed the posters, fitting of a champion wrestler.
Another Wrestling Heritage member who knew Mike is Magnus. In the 1960s Magnus was in charge of the YMCA used by many wrestlers, including Gordon Nelson, Georges Gordienko, Ken Richmond and Mike Demitre He told us, "One I had a lot of respect for, as did the other pros, was Mike Demitre."
Bernard and Magnus weren't the only ones to speak highly of Mike Demitre . As it is more than half a century since Mike was active in the ring there are few living colleagues who worked with him. Two who do remember him well are Bob Kirkwood and Tony Bates, both young wrestlers setting out on their own successful careers as Mike's ended. Tony Bates was an experienced amateur when he met Mike. With aspirations of turning professional Tony turned to Mike for help and received training in the professional style, "Under Mike’s care I quickly progressed so that quite soon I had my first professional bout, which I won, against Dave Morgan at Margate. Mike was a great guy and he taught me a great deal, although I never actually saw him wrestle I understand from those that did that he was a real champion, and I always found him to be a true gentleman."
Wrestler Bob Kirkwood recalled his enjoyment as he listened to Mike's stories of the old days when they travelled to and from wrestling halls. Bob also spoke of his personal qualities: "Mike Demitre was a perfect gentleman, an articulate and intelligent man. He knew everything about wrestling and was keen to share his knowledge. A lovely man."
We seem to have something of a theme here, of a warm hearted , intelligent, proud, well spoken, well respected man who was also a highly skilled wrestler; one of the greatest shoot wrestlers of our time.
Step daughter Jeannie confirmed all that we had been told, "He was a humble man, never craved riches as long as he earned enough to support us."
The family came first but Mike did like the nice things in life and took great care in his appearance. Jeannie gave us an insight. “There were certain things which Dad insisted on. His clothes were tailor made in Saville Row. He preferred to wear sports jackets or a blazer and trousers. I never saw him in jeans. He liked brogue lace up shoes. He used Brylcreem on his hair. Although his hair remained jet black his moustache turned grey as he got older so he used to secretly tint it in the bathroom. I walked in on him doing this as a teenager and he swore me to secrecy. He wore gym pants when he was painting. The south London Press wrote an article with a photo about his art.”
So, another of wrestling's Golden Greeks?
Not quite. Golden certainly, but contrary to the publicity Mike Demitre was born not in Athens but in Montreal, Canada, on 31st August 1907, probably the first of the family to be born outside Greece. When teenager Mike developed an interest in professional wrestling and decided he was good enough for it to make him a living his family were none too impressed.
They envisaged a more respectable and safer for a career for a man who had studied architecture at McGill University in Montreal. Mike was undeterred. By 1931 he was making his way in the wrestling rings of eastern Canada and by 1934 had ventured into the United States. Yet there was a more distant land calling. Professional wrestling was flourishing in Britain and a shortage of wrestlers led to a number of young north Americans making the journey across the Atlantic.
Mike did combine both skills later in life when he drew architectural plans and interior designs for The Acapulco Coffee Bar and Moulin Rouge Club in Hanway Street, London, owned by his wrestler friends Tommy and Johnny Milo.
He travelled to Britain during the 1934-5 winter; we find him first of all in Birmingham on December, 11th, 1934, his opponent Charlie Green of Wigan, a very tough man indeed. From the outset Mike was in great demand wrestling nationwide against top wrestlers of the 1930s, including Stan Roberts, George Boganski , Maurice Letchford, and George Gregory. His litheness, technical skill and looks made him popular with fans. Promoters made capital of Mike's Greek heritage, even throwing in a Greek Heavyweight title for good measure. "A slippery customer," remarked wrestler friend Sam Rabin in his cartoon of Mike.
By the end of the decade Mike was billed as European Light Heavyweight Champion. We have been unable to locate the exact date of his championship win, but can discount the 1939 date often cited because a year earlier, in the March, 1938 issue of Ring Magazine Charles Mascall was already referring to Mike as the champion: "Mike Demitre, who won on a foul, took the European light heavy crown from Stan Karolyi at the L' Elysee Montmartre in Paris." A commendation for Mike indeed when in January, 1939 the small number of television set owners were treated to "A demonstration of Catch-As-Catch-Can Wrestling by M. Demitre of Canada and Paul Lortie of France."
Mike Demitre was firmly established as one of the top light heavyweights in Europe as war clouds gathered in 1939. War was declared by Britain in September, 1939 but Mike remained in the country for the first year of the war, returning to Canada in November, 1940. He defended his European title against Dick Wills at Newcastle on 2nd November, and departed Liverpool on the 19th, aboard the Axel Johnson and bound for Montreal. For the following seven years Mike wrestled in Canada and the USA, at one time joining former World Champion Ed Strangler Lewis on a tour of American forces bases. He told daughter Jeannie he was refused by the army because of his cauliflower ears!
Mike returned to Britain in 1947. In March we have found him working at Harringay in a supporting match of the World Heavyweight Championship Tournament that was won by Bert Assirati. He picked up on his previous success, an 87 minute endurance test when defending his European title against Jim Anderson at Dundee, and unmasking the Red Shadow to reveal Con Balasis, a 100 minute no rounds, no fall draw against Mike Marino (with just one three minute break after 60 minutes). Mike Demitre was by no means invincible. The likes of Mike Marino, Vic Hessle, and Jim Anderson could hold their own with him, but night after night he was entertaining the fans with his wrestling brilliance against the best in the business.
Success continued with a second championship belt soon fastened around his waist. By the end of 1949 the World Junior heavyweight championship was added to his European belt. A win over The Farmer (George Broadfield) at Morecambe is usually cited as the match which established Mike as World Champion. The website wrestling-titles.com provides the date of the match as 1st August, 1949, which we cannot confirm but may well be correct as we have found Mike listed as champion shortly afterwards . With twenty years experience Combat magazine was referring to him as "The Old Maestro." He was to show there was plenty of life left in the old dog. When Joint Promotions was formed in 1952 they recognised Mike as European and World Champion. He was a wrestler in great demand all around the country travelling to venues for Scotland to the West Country, and all without the use of a car.
Mike left Joint Promotions to work for the independent promoters in January, 1958. He was still very busy but began to travel less. Just as we would have expected him to be taking things easier Mike returned to Joint Promotions, working for Dale Martin Promotions at the beginning of 1961, with our last sighting in October, 1962. For Mike retirement from the ring was by no means the end. He went on to become a respected referee and trainer for Dale Martin Promotions.
A few more insights into the personal life of Mike from Jeannie, “He used Old Spice and Tabac aftershave. He smoked a pipe of Balkan Sobranie or cigars. Romeo & Juliet were his favourites which friends often gave him as gifts.”
When he finally retired Mike and his family returned to Montreal. He died on 4th June, 1989 and is buried in Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal.
We would like to thank Mike's step-daughter, Jeannie for keeping alive the memory of her father.
Page added: 05/11/2019
Page reviewed 25/05/2022