Years before the great Billy Robinson cut a swathe through British heavyweights there was another Robinson who for a time was one of the most talked about grapplers in town. Not to be confused with the great Catch wrestler from Wigan of that same name, Tiger Joe was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne on 31st May, 1927.His father and grandfather had been world champions in the Cumberland and Westmorland style and Joe also took the title to make it three generations in a row. Joe’s grandfather, John Robinson of Cockermouth, had won his last Cumberland style match at Grasmere when he was aged 53.
Joe's father, Professor Jack Robinson, was also an early judo and jujitsu exponent who claimed the jujitsu championship of the world having beaten Leopold McLaglen, brother of Hollywood film star Victor McLagen. Jack Robinson moved from Cockermouth to Newcastle and then emigrated to South Africa whilst Joe and his younger brother, Doug, were children.
After emigrating to South Africa Robinson Snr continued his career in wrestling and judo, where he wrestled Billy Riley for the Empire middleweight championship.
Twenty-one year old Joe visited Britain in 1948 to take part in the Grasmere Cumberland and Westmorland style championships. He was beaten in the final of the All Weights tournament by J.D. Dunglinson. Joe began wrestling professionally before returning to South Africa and we have a report of him defeating the masked Phantom in January 1949. The Phantom unmasked and was revealed to be Willem Bezidenhout. This was vengeance for the Robinson family as The Phantom had beaten Joe’s father the year before.
Complaining that he was being avoided by Willie Liebenberg and Manie Maritz Joe returned to Britain in 1951, this time with his younger brother Doug, to take part in Cumberland and Westmorland style tournaments before going on to France for judo competitions.
Joe settled in London, living at Belgrave Road, Pimlico. By the end of the year he had aspirations of an acting career and saw professional wrestling as a source of income. His muscular physique and looks made him an instant attraction. Atholl Oakeley matched him against Alex Cadier at the Royal Albert Hall in October, 1952 in a match billed as the European Heavyweight Championship. Tiger Joe won the bout to take the title, rendering Cadier unconscious with a nerve press on the neck in the fifth round. Another high profile Royal Albert Hall match came the following month against the giant Ski Hi Lee. Shortly afterwards Joe began to work for members of the recently formed Joint Promotions group. One match, a one fall draw against Ernest Baldwin, was reported as an exciting match with mat skill and phenomenal strength.
With a flourishing film and theatre career following parts in Wish You Were Here (1952) and A Kid for Two Farthings (1955) a short wrestling career was probably inevitable, though there are reports that an injury in Paris ended any wrestling aspirations. His biggest screen appearance was as Peter Franks, the smuggler that James Bond fights in 'Diamonds Are Forever'. He continued to teach judo throughout his life.
reader Ray Hulm
told us: "Joe was a boyhood hero who by a twist of fate I ended
up getting to know very well years after his wrestling and film
careers were over. I spent hours on the mat with Joe. Well, I spent
most of it airborn if truth be told. But we also spent a lot of time
talking about his family history and their place in the wider history
of wrestling and judo."
Tiger Joe Robinson died in Brighton on 3rd July, 2017.