Spike Robson (Martin Robson)
In the late 1950s and first half of the 1960s Salford's Lionel “Spike” Robson worked the rings of the northern independent promoters. Mostly seems to have been billed as Spike, but we did see him a few times as Martin Robson. A good technical wrestler Spike was in the unfortunate position of being the man opposing Jack Beaumont the night Jack died of a heart attack.. Beaumont was leaving the ring following his victory when he collapsed and died at ringside. The Coroner returned a verdict of death by natural causes and said, “I am glad to make it known as publicly as possible that there is nothing to cause Robson any misgivings at all as to whether he had anything to do with his death.”
Prior to wrestling Spike had a sporting background as a rugby league player for Salford and Swinton. In 1965 Spike emigrated to Australia, where he carved out a successful career and we hear his technical ability was appreciated against usually larger, gimmicky Australian and American opponents.
Ed Lock saw Spike wrestle in Sydney and was impressed by his technical ability, sometimes seen in action with his friend, fellow Salfordian Arthur Openshaw, “I found both Openshaw and Robson to be very skilful, talented, technical wrestlers, who never put in a bad performance. While both wrestlers were cast as preliminary matmen I was always happy to see Arthur and Spike on Sydney Stadium events and on the World Championship Wrestling TV shows. I was just a boy in 1966 so I couldn’t attend the licensed club shows but I am aware that Openshaw and Robson achieved main event status on that circuit.”
We turn to Australian member Graeme Cameron to take up the story.
Spike Robson worked on the club circuit and for WCW from 1966 to 1974, with a brief comeback in 1977. He did his duty many times on TV against many big names from America.
He made his stadium debut in January, 1966 with a loss to the bigger Johnny Boyd (future tag team partner of Maurice LaRue in The Royal Kangaroos). He followed this in March with wins over Arthur Openshaw and Alan Pinfold in catchweight bouts . Because of his relatively small size he was often used in the opening match on stadium cards in catchweight matches against lighter men such as Ken Medlin and those named above which provided a fast-paced and entertaining opening to proceedings. He actually has a decent win record in these matches.
On the club circuit he was one of the top group of wrestlers. He was also one of the twelve wrestlers who broke away from Hal Morgan to form their own promotion when Morgan wouldn't increase their match payments.
I had the pleasure of meeting Spike at Libnan Ayoub's DVD launch. Despite being 84 years old at the time, he didn't look any older than the blow up photo of himself from 40 years ago. I still maintain he must have a portrait in the attic which ages while he remains the same.
Maybe we were just naive. No we weren't, we were wrestling fans, and the promoters of the day benefited from our generous nature by knowing that when we watched one of our home grown boys with a name similar to a famous American we might just think we were watching the real thing. Well, Paul Lincoln's Anglo-Italian Antonio Rocca had only a couple of letters difference from the American Antonino Rocca, but we were ready to believe. Deep down we knew it wasn't true. But our own Antonio Rocca was a very popular light heavyweight of the 1960s. We were told, and it may be true, that he was born in Foggia, Italy, that he came to the UK in 1956 and found his way into wrestling after working in promoter Paul Lincoln’s café. Okay, the last bit is definitely believable. Antonio Rocca turned professional in 1961 as one of the Lincoln boys, regularly tussling with other Lincoln youngsters Ray McGuire, Bob Anthony and the Cortez brothers. He transferred to Joint at the time of the 1966 merger with Dale Martin, quickly establishing himself as a force in the light heavyweight division.. His fast, skilful style made him popular with television fans throughout the country and particularly in the south where he mainly worked.
Rocca seemed to disappear from our rings towards the end of the 1960s. Ed Lock confirmed that he wrestled in Australia, along with Arthur Openshaw, in 1970, often partnering Prince Curtis Iaukea or Spiros Arion.
Paul Mitchell confirmed that the Antonio was injured on a show at Wryton Stadium and did little wrestling following that.
Rollerball Mark Rocco
One look at him and you knew this boy had the star quality. Trained by Manchester's Colin Joynson, without the knowledge of his dad and Colin's old pal, Jumping Jim Hussey. He started out as a Salford middleweight known simply as Mark Rocco, transformed himself into Rollerball (a 1970s film) and ended one of the UKs greatest contributions to world wrestling.
We first come across Mark Rocco in 1970, an eighteen year old losing to his mentor Colin Joynson. We didn’t see that match but later in the year did see him losing by the odd fall to Peter Szakacs on the same bill that his old man was gloriously disqualified in the main event against Prince Kumali.
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 and Rollerball was on his way to his next success.
Championship success came in 1977 with a win over the heavy middleweight champion Bert Royal. In the years that followed Mark brought vitality and excitement to a business that was in so many respects looking jaded, and we can't help but think that had there been a few more like him things may well have turned out differently.
Success in North America and Japan, where he used the name Black Tiger and embarked on a memorable feud with Tiger Mask, who had wrestled in Britain as Sammy Lee. In later years he was a mainstay of Brian Dixon's All Star Wrestling,
The violence of Mark Rocco matches proved controversial. Heritage member Frank remembers: “I once saw Mark pick up the timekeepers bell to hit Kendo with it but Kendo grabbed it and hit Mark over the head with some force, Mark's head split open and blood everywhere.” Rasit Huseyin told us: “Bouts between Rocco and Finlay probably would never have been televised, the violence in it was X-certificate! “
Mark Rocco retired in 1991.
See the entry for Dick the Dormouse
know very little about Chick Rolfe despite his presence in British
rings for twenty plus years. We came across him for the first time in
1933, fighting Phil Siki. Billed from America, "The tough guy
from Bowery, New York," this may well have been promoters hype,
and the later billing of Birmingham (that's Birmingham, UK) was
probably more accurate. Although there are reports that Chick could
wrestle, there are more frequent reports of a more rugged character,
on one occasion tearing the referees trousers to shreds! In his
twenty year career Chick met most of the big names, Black Butcher
Johnson, Dave Armstrong and Vic Hessle.
Mexican heavyweight Rito Romero was a good friend of World heavyweight champion Lou Thesz and travelled to Europe with Thesz during the winter of 1957-8. Whilst his early career was in his native Mexico Rito settled in the United States, winning the NWA Pacific Coast Heavyweight Championship, defeating Verne Gagne for the Texas Heavyweight Championship and twice holding the NWA World Tag Team Championship. In Britain Rito faced the likes of Jack Pye, Sandy Orford and Dennis Mitchell, going down to the Bradfordian at the Royal Albert Hall in February, 1958. Rito Romero died of a heart attack on 17th January, 2001.
Ex Russian Army Officer proclaimed the wrestling balderdash. Unlikely we feel as George Bawden, the alter ego of Romsky, was born in Sheffield on 29th January, 1987, and worked in one of the Sheffield Steel Works by day. He was one of the earliest entrants into the All-In rings following it’s emergence in December, 1930. Our earliest recorded match for Karl Romsky comes in February, 1931, wrestling Johanfesson at the Astoria, Morecambe. Johanfesson. Little Hackenschmidt and George Johnson were frequent opponents during Romsky’s short career that we can find no later than 1933.
It was a match against George Strangler Johnson, described by the press as “savage and brutal” that came to national attention when Johnson died following the contest at Romsky’s local Hall the Palais de Danse in Attercliffe, Sheffield. The inquest, recorded a verdict of death by heart failure, adding that wrestling ought to be barred. Questions about the death of Strangler Johnson and the need to regulate wrestling, were raised in Parliament.
Romsky retired shortly afterwards, our last recorded match being in September, 1939. George Bowden died in 1967
Now here’s a name. Guido Ronga, the man from the Ashdown Wrestling Club who trained Bert Assirati and prepared him for the professional wrestling ring.
A skilled amateur Guido himself turned to the professional style in the 1930s and we have found him on the bills from 1935. In 1952 we find Guido working for Atholl Oakeley and winning a World Middleweight Championship contest against Pat McGee. Following Oakeley’s demise Guido continued wrestling with our last reference in 1956. Surely a man about whom we should know much more.