WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

J: Strangler Johnson


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Strangler Johnson


Irrespective of any of professional wrestling’s smoke and mirrors it is almost universally acknowledged that it is a hard and dangerous business. Fortunately it has been only on rare occasions that a wrestler has paid the ultimate price, but that was the fate of  George Johnson one night in 1933.

Wrestling was in it’s infancy, it was only just over two years earlier that the All In style had been introduced to Britain. Few holds were barred and some matches ended in chaos with little regard to anyone’s health and well being.  Yet the last match of the evening that took place at the Attercliffe Skating Rink in Sheffield on 3rd March seemed nothing out of the ordinary. Strangler Johnson and Carl Romsky  had wrestled each other many times before and it must have been a routine they both knew very well. Romsky later said the two of them were on friendly terms and had wrestled each other about a dozen times. Fans in the hall told newspaper reporters the match was not unduly rough. In contrast police officers who were present described it as savage and brutal.

The contest ended with a knock out win for Romsky in the fifth round, one report stating this resulted from a rabbit punch to the back of the neck. The fans showed their appreciation and both men left the ring. Johnson seemed well enough but before he reached the dressing room he collapsed and fell to the floor. After a short time he seemingly recovered and was taken back to the dressing room where he once again collapsed.

A doctor was called and following an examination it was declared George Johnson was fit to travel home. He made his way to the London, Midland and Scottish Railway station for the twenty minute journey home to Sheffield. Accounts differ as to whether George Johnson collapsed for a third time in a taxi en-route to the railways station or whilst waiting in the station waiting room. An ambulance was summoned but George Johnson was dead before it arrived. He was twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old, again there are discrepancies.

Three days later an inquest was opened in Sheffield. A police constable who was present gave evidence and testified that the two men had behaved more like animals than humans with Johnson using his teeth to pull out Romsky’s hair, spitting in his eyes and twisting his ears.

The jury returned a verdict that Johnson had died of heart failure due to over-strain from the all-in wrestling match. The Coroner, Mr J.Kenyon, said that wrestling ought not to be allowed.

The proceedings did nothing for the reputation of professional wrestling, it being stated that results were pre-planned and questions about it’s future raised in the House of Commons. Promoter  Joe Sheppard (wrestler Johanfesson)  claims that World Wrestling Promotions were the governing body of all-in wrestling were dismissed as bogus and that the sport was a pure hoax.

George Johnson was a  collier who in early 1931 had turned to wrestling as a means of escaping from the pits. His reputation was as one of the roughest wrestlers in the business, described as a bearcat wrestler. 

George Johnson was a working class man from humble origins. He was doing no more than to escape from the drudgery of the pits and seek what seemed a better life. He could have paid no heavier price.

Page added 28/02/2021