S: Sands - Saulnier
Wrestling Heritage A-Z
Neil Sands (Sky Churchill)
Neil Sands did what many Heritage readers just dreamed of. From a tv fan to an autograph collector at West Ham and Ilford Baths Neil made the transformation, via the Redbridge Club in Ilford, to the other side of the wrestling ropes.
The 6’3” heavyweight from Halstead in Essex career within the Joint Promotions network started in 1974 following five years training as an amateur and formative years wrestling for independent promoters, initially billed as Sky Churchill. One of his final independent bouts has the distinction of being the final career bout of his opponent, the great Alan Garfield. Neil’s 1975 television début against Steve Viedor was a highly entertaining encounter from unpromising Gravesend which had commentator Kent Walton cooing in admiration. It would be fully 12 years before Sands would appear on the small screen once again, and then it was alongside Tony St Clair in tag.
In 1976 he appeared in an international tournament in Munster, Germany, gaining experience alongside fellow big-name entrants Horst Hofmann and Otto Wanz, and facing old pros Micha Nador and Josef Molnar. Neil Sands made a notable Royal Albert Hall début on the infamously decimated bill and defeated Mal Kirk.
Londoner Rik Sands led a full life away from the wrestling ring. He grew up in Isleworth and established a keen interest in a wide range of sports whilst at Spring Grove Central School: javelin, water polo, cricket and swimming. He was also an accomplished judo expert, a second degree black belt, before turning to professional wrestling. Influential in that decision were Steve Viedor and Earl Maynard who he met whilst serving in the R.A.F. If that’s not enough Rik was also a professional snooker referee. He qualified as a snooker referee in 1975, touring the country with stars such as Jimmy White and John Virgo, until 2002.
Rik was a respected wrestler, mostly in the south of England, who went on to promote his own shows, which featured star names that included Viedor, John Kowalski, Bob kirkwood and Johnny Kincaid. His involvement in judo continued and Rik ran a number of judo clubs in London.
Following his wrestling career Rik started his own business selling fabrics at his shops in Southampton, Feltham, Ashford and Bognor Regis. He moved to Cyprus, where he lived for seven years continuing to run his own business, Rik also devoted a great deal of time to charity work, organising functions and events such as dinners, variety shows, wrestling tournaments, football matches and celebrity golf events.
Rik was a keen supporter of, and generous contributor to, the British Wrestlers Reunion.
Rik Sands died in March, 2019.
The stylish, fast and clever Spanish born and French based lightweight was a popular visitor to the United Kingdom in 1967, 1969 and again in 1970. He wrestled all the top men of the lighter weights – Saint, Breaks, McManus, Kidd et al. A number of high profile matches included a loss to Vic Faulkner at the Royal Albert Hall, an unsuccessful challenge to George Kidd for his World Lightweight, Championship at Ayr, another loss to Jim Breaks at Nottingham for the European Championship, and televised victories over Alan Sargeant and Dick Conlon. Most of his 1970 matches were tag contests in partnership with Kadar Hassouini.
Jack Santos (Young Santos)
Maybe it was the coal dust, or just the atmosphere in the Stoke On Trent air. Who knows, but it did the trick. The name was unauthentic but did sound more colourful than Jack Sambrook of Hanley. During the day Jack's trade was that of a bricklayer, but by night he assumed an entirely new personality, that of Spaniard Jack Santos. Jack turned professional in 1941, he was Young Santos in those days. He travelled around the country with Bill Ogden, George Goldie, and John Hall, collectively known as the Hanley Lads. Jack Santos worked throughout the country until the early 1960s, our last sighting of him being in 1965.
The nature of the wrestling business means that confusion abounds. Adrian Street: “Even I have had bogus Brothers and Cousins by the score since I first began wrestling 56 years and 15,000 matches ago.” Miguel Santos was a Greek wrestler who worked for Dale Martin Promotions in the early 1960s, and not Jack Santos (above) as mistakenly believed by some fans. , Adrian Street told us,”The Miguel Santos that I refer to in 'So many ways to hurt you.' was not from Stoke on Trent. I can't remember his real name but he was a Greek - and according to him, emigrated with his family from Greece to Argentina - hence his Hispanic gimmick. I once had the misfortune to travel by car, from London all the way to one of Ted Beresford's TV shows with him, El Greco and Billy Torontos, and the three of them spoke nothing but Greek all the way there. I travelled back to London on my own, by train.”
We believe that in the 1980s the Miguel Santos name was revived by Micky West.
The technical German heavyweight made a short visit to Britain in December of 1956. Amongst his half dozen British matches was a one fall each draw with Mike Marino at the Royal Albert Hall. Rudi Saturski was the father of the 1960s visitor Wolfgang Stark. Rudi Saturski died on 8 August, 1975.
The diminutive French wrestler stood barely over five feet tall, but his lack of stature was more than made up for by skill and agility. Skill, agility and speed. Michel Saulnier was fast, very fast. The foundation of that pro skill was an outstanding amateur career in both Greco-Roman and freestyle disciplines. Amateur success was carried through to the professional ring, where Michel was a very popular wrestler, initially in his native France, and subsequently throughout Europe.
Michel was born in Paris in 1933, making him thirty years old when he made his British debut in 1963, The young Frenchman was matched with many of the top lighter men of the time: Mel Riss, Jackie Pallo, Jack Dempsey, Cliff Beaumont amongst them. Michel wrestled around the south of England for much of the winter of 1963-4.
It was a visit that was to be followed up with frequent sailings across the channel in the years that followed. During later visits Michel Saulnier eventually made his way north and worked for all the Joint Promotion members and faced just about everybody who was anybody. Wherever he went he pleased the fans, but results certainly didn't go all his own way, not surprising with the quality of opponents. British promoters did the talented Frenchman no favours. David Franklin remembers Michel as "A top class wrestler, and considering all the lightweight talent that came over from France at that time he must have been very highly rated because he was the one regularly billed as Lightweight Champion of France".
In France Michel was for many years one of the top wrestling promoters. We met him in 2009 at the Kent reunion when he came over with a group of his French colleagues. At the time he was in good health, but in the years that followed his health deteriorated and we are told he suffered a number of strokes before his death in January 2017, aged 83.
Page revised 15/3/19: Revision of Rik Sands entry.