C: Tony Charles
Wizardry in the Rhondda
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The Rhondda Valley town of Treorchy was famed for miners and singing, but not wrestling. Tony Charles did his best to change that, and as one of the top television stars of the sixties and seventies didn’t do a bad job.
Not a bad job! Well that's an understatement, and if you doubt us take a look at the You Tube footage of Tony matching the talent of the great Billy Robinson.
Having become the Welsh amateur welterweight champion and having represented Wales in the 1958 Empire Games Tony turned professional shortly afterwards. His technical prowess was evident from the beginning, and promoters acknowledged Tony's skill from the outset, matching him against the new stars of television Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo, Jack Dempsey, and Cliff Beaumont
Starting out as a welterweight he moved through the weights up to mid heavyweight and challenged, albeit unsuccessfully, for a British title all the way, against Jack Dempsey (welterweight), Tommy Mann (middleweight) Billy Joyce (light heavyweight) and Mike Marino (mid heavyweight). We witnessed him the night he faced Billy Joyce for the Light Heavyweight championship in Blackburn. A great night for Lancastrians but a sad night for wrestling, as Tony would have been an active champion who would have taken the light heavyweight championship into a limelight that failed to materialise with Joyce.
Here was a wrestler who simply oozed class. "Beautiful wrestling," mused John Shelvey, at the mere thought of a contest between Tony and middleweight champion Clayton Thomson.
Another fan of the aptly named Welsh Wizard was another wizard of the valleys, Adrian Street. Exotic Adrian told us:
"One of my proudest moments as a pro wrestler was the time I was on the same card as a British middleweight Championship match, held at the Colston Hall, Bristol between Champion Tommy Mann and Tony Charles. Every second of the match was fought to a 15 round draw. I am aware of the old saying - 'Nostalgia is a seductive liar'. - nevertheless I will always maintain that if that was not the best wrestling match I ever saw in my life, it was pretty damn close."
It was Manchester's Tommy Mann in the opposite corner when Tony had made his debut at the Royal Albert Hall less than two years after his professional debut, this time losing by a knock out to the experienced British champion.
In April 1960 Tony's skill was introduced to a wider audience when he made his television debut against Monty Swann.
It was to be the first of more than seventy televised appearances, that's more than Kendo Nagasaki, Giant Haystacks, Masambula, Albert Wall, Dave Finlay, Billy Robinson and a host of other household names.
In January, 1961 Tony won a knock out tournament at High Wycombe, defeating Pasquale Salvo and Mick McManus on the way to the final in which he defeated British champion Jack Dempsey. The boy must have gone to sleep with a satisfied smile on his face that night.
Tony's speciality moves, a spinning toe hold and a drop kick gained him a place at the very top of British wrestling. As he matured and gained more poundage Tony was more likely to find himself facing heavyweights of the highest calibre such as Tibor Szakacs, Geoff Portz, Mike Marino and Billy Joyce. One of the greatest matches we witnessed was that night Tony lost to Wigan's Billy Joyce Can you think of any other wrestler who challenged for the British title from welterweight to mid heavyweight?
Fifteen years after making his debut Tony crossed the Atlantic, along with British wrestlers Les Thornton, Geoff Portz, Bill Robinson, and others, where he continued to make an impression as one of the top Junior Heavyweights. He was a huge loss to the British wrestling scene, overnight our sport lost a touch more of it's credibility at a time when audiences were already on the decline.
Tony eventually settled in the USA where he continued wrestling, and is well remembered for cracking bouts with Les Thornton and Billy Robinson, and much of the local top talent. He clinched a trio of tag team titles and the North American Junior Heavyweight Championship.
In Florida Tony and Adrian were near neighbours (by American standards anyway), "Tony lived about 20 miles from me in Gulf Breeze, Florida - less than 10 if I was a strong swimmer." Adrian and his wife Linda kept in regular contact with Tony, enjoying good times together and remaining friends during the sad years in which Tony's health declined due to dementia.
Tony Charles died on 13th February, 2015.
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