M: Tony Mancelli

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Tony Mancelli

(Also known as Tony Bailey)

Most readers recall Tony Mancelli as one of the finest referees of the sixties, a man who helped bring credibility and respect to the sport. Yet he was a teenage wrestling prodigy before the war who developed in to  of the country’s most popular heavyweights, universally known as the Blackfriars Thunderbolt, a name which accurately reflected his all-action style.  Born in South London, where he lived for most of his life, Tony was a friend of Tony Scarlo's father and Tony told us that his father and friend Tony began taking him to the wrestling when he was about five years old.

Tony turned professional in the 1930s All-In days, and was a regular at Lanes Club, a historically signifcant venue in the history of British professional wrestling.  As early as 1932 Tony could be seen regularly working  against the likes of Jack Pye, Bert Mansfield, Bob Gregory and Tony Baer. In fact Tony faced just about every heavyweight of note, not just in London and the south but extensively throughout the country. When Whipper Watson came to Britain in 1937 Tony featured in a series of exciting contests with the Canadian around the country.

During the war years Tony served in the Royal Air Force but continued to wrestle whenever possible, and during the years of hostility won "The Ring" allied service championship.   When wrestling emerged from the war years and re-invented itself Mancelli’s style fulfilled the requirements of the new Mountevans rules and he was soon established as one of the country’s most popular and successful heavyweights. A long time holder of the Southern Area Heavyweight title  Mancelli met all the national and visiting international stars in a career that lasted from before the Second World war until the 1960s, a career span of thirty-four years.  He was the man who never seemed to age.

Through the early sixties he gradually phased out of a wrestling role and became a full-time referee, one of the resident third men at the Royal Albert Hall. Of the many important occasions in his career Tony was one of three referees chosen (the others being Lou Marco and Max Ward) to officiate at the Royal Albert Hall on June 8th, 1966 when wrestling was transmitted via a closed circuit to eleven cinemas around Britain.

Unknown to many wrestling fans Tony did have a second sporting interest and in the 1950s could also be found stock car racing.

Page added 25/04/2021

Reviewed 27/04/2022