Mike Donlevy, R.I.P.
Mike and British champion Jack Dempsey
Mickey Dunleavy, Mike Donlevy to us wrestling fans, died on Sunday, aged 88. A resident of Charlestown, on the border of Counties Mayo and Sligo, Mickey was always known around town by his nickname, The Wrestler. "A true gentleman and a legend inside and outside the ring, kind and generous and a good word for everyone he met," commented one neighbour, with another adding " Michael was an absolute gentleman who was always welcoming with the broadest of smiles ." Younger brother Seamus described him as a brother in a million and his best friend.
Michael Dunleavy was born in Barrack Street, Charlestown, in 1932, the fifth of nine children born to Michael and Mary Kate. Life must have been hard for a large family in 1930s Ireland, with father Michael sometimes having to travel away from home, as far as Liverpool, to find work as a carpenter. The path from Ireland to England was well trodden, and when young Mickey made the journey in late 1952 or early 1953 he was following in the footsteps of his father and brother Tom, who had by then returned to Ireland, sister Mai and and brothers Louie and Seamus, who had settled.
Having joined Seamus in Liverpool the brothers took up amateur wrestling at the Pegasus club. They were later to move to Birmingham, where it was hoped work opportunities would be more plentiful. Mike turned professional in 1960, three years after Seamus. He was a couple of stones lighter than his brother, weighing in just under13 stones.
In November, 1961, he was introduced to wrestling fans nationwide when he made his television debut from Beckenham Baths, promoters Dale Martin. The full seven round match with another promising middleweight of the time, Roy St Clair, was a thrilling affair with both men as fast and fresh in the seventh round when St Clair won the contest by two falls to one. Another young prospect, Tony Charles, was in the opposite corner the following month, "wrestling at it's fastest and finest." Mike was leading the contest at the start of round five only to fall victim to a lethal Tony Charles dropkick which put him down for the count. Future televised opponents included Memo Diaz, Mick McManus, Jack Dempsey, Bob Steele and Jack Dempsey. The promoters certainly didn't make life easy for Mike.
Both established as formidable singles wrestlers the brothers also made a formidable tag team in opposition to the Fishers, Joyce Brothers, Black Diamonds and Cadmans.
When compared to big brother Seamus it seemed that Mike was made up of the calmer set of Donlevy genes. He was known for his technique and skill whilst Seamus was more of an all guns blazing bruiser.
From 1960 until 1965 Mike wrestled most nights of the week, working for all the Joint Promotion members. His opponents included all the top men from the lower divisions, with the highlight most likely being the night in October, 1961, when he wrestled Mick McManus at the Royal Albert Hall. McManus and Dempsey were frequent opponents, though a championship match with Dempsey ended in defeat. One highlight, and a record of distinction was a four second fall over Ken Cadman.
Throughout the sixties both Donlevy brothers maintained extensive business interests. From 1966 onwards Mike decided he had had enough of extensive travelling and reduced his wrestling commitments and travelling. Our last recorded match, in April, 1970 was in his hometown of Birmingham. The opponent? Jack Dempsey.
Following retirement Mike Donlevy returned to Charlestown, and Barrack Street where he was born. The Wrestler was home.
Mickey Dunleavy died on 17th January, 2021.