K:  Prince Kumali

Prince Kumali

In the 1960s it seemed that every time we opened a wrestling journal there was a report of Prince Kumali having returned from an overseas tour or just about to embark on one. Not only that, we read of his near invincibility overseas, including a defeat of India’s Dara Singh, while in Britain he was a well known and successful heavyweight who not infrequently went down to the likes of Steve Veidor and Tibor Szakacs.

We don’t acknowledge those losses to discredit Kumali. He was a powerful heavyweight and in one match against Ian Campbell we witnessed the two men repeatedly corner posting each other and the ring visibly moving when they did so. The description of statuesque was appropriate enough for this 6 feet 4 inch heavyweight, as was powerful, strong and gigantic.

When Gordon Stanford Petrie died on 5th January, 2015 the death documents stated a year of birth of 1925 (we have seen other years reported elsewhere) and gives no indication of a place birth. That place of birth was usually said to be Georgetown, Guyana, which is in the north east of South America. That may well be true, but is a far cry, an entire continent no less, from the alternative Zulu warrior billing.

Kumali was a man of contradictions – an outstanding overseas wrestler who was good but not outstanding in Britain, a Zulu warrior from South America, a powerful force who was quietly spoken and spent his leisure time photographing the places he visited. Another contradiction. Possibly a Heritage scoop. Read the magazines of the day and it was widely reported that he had made his professional debut in 1956 against Bert Assirati. That was only partially true. He told us he did wrestle Assirati, but had already had a trial run at this wrestling the previous year in Germany. Whether that’s one for the Heritage scoop column or the other bit of wrestling fiction column you can decide. During that same interview he told us he mostly enjoyed working in the Lebanon and would like to visit China and the Soviet Union, but as there were no opportunities to do so as a professional wrestler this was unlikely.

Gordon told us he had started wrestling with amateur champion Ken Richmond. Further input would be required for an entry to the professional ranks and this was usually said to have come from Bert Assirati, but we can’t confirm that. Just how Gordon Petrie became Prince Kumali we don’t know (we were only young and didn’t ask sensible questions at the time). From the outset he was Kumali, the Prince bit came a few years later. The first five years were spent working for independent promoters. They promoted him as the African Zulu warrior as he clashed with their heavyweight stars Charlie Scott, Charlie Green, Haystacks Ed Bright, Jules Kiki, Shirley Crabtree and, of course, Bert Assirati. Assirati was a frequent opponent, though Kumali told us he was never awarded a win.

Kumali became a Prince in 1960, but was still African and had to wait until 1962 until he was signed by Joint Promotions, still African. We’ve often been critical of Joint Promotions under valuing their new recruits, but not in this case. They recognised Prince Kumali for the star he was and gave immediate top billing against Dazzler Joe Cornelius, Jack Pye, The Mask, John DaSilva, Tibor Szakacs; the Prince had made it and was working throughout the country for all the Joint Promotions members. A few months after the signing Kumali was given his first Royal Albert Hall booking. In the opposite corner was Josef Zaranoff. Kumali went down and established himself as one of our best and favourite heavyweights.

Television exposure came in May, 1964, when he wrestled John DaSilva at Wolverhampton. He was still an African negro. One week later he was back on the box from Wembley, opponent Gordon Nelson. What a difference a week makes. He was now from British Guiana, which was to gain independence two years later and become Guyana.

In the televised contests that followed, he managed to fit in around twenty-five between all his travels there were no easy pay days – opponents included Kendo Nagasaki, Joe Cornelius, Gordon Nelson, Paul Vachon, Albert Wall, Wayne Bridges, Gwyn Davies, Tibor Szakacs, Steve Veidor.

Wrestling in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and America Kumali was a truly international star. James Morton told us; “Kumali told me that on the boat to America he met a man who went to see him wrestle in New York. Kumali was taking a hiding and the man got in the ring to try to help him.”

There was no slow decline for Prince Kumali. He retired in the late 1970s, we last spotted him in 1978, and he was still top of the bill. He was landlord of the George Canning public house in Efra Road , Brixton.

Kumali had the skill 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.