WRESTLING HERITAGE

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B: Wayne Bridges

Wayne Bridges

5th July, 1937 - 8th March, 2020

William Woodbridge was born in Islington on 5th  July, 1937.  From a difficult upbringing in 1930s London he was destined to become Wayne Bridges, one of the finest post war British heavyweight wrestlers, proudly proclaimed as World Heavyweight Champion on no fewer than three occasions.

Trained for the professional ranks by British and World Mid-Heavyweight champion Mike Marino  he made his debut in 1964 for wrestling promoter Paul Lincoln, facing the  whole breadth of international stars from the squat Wild Man of Borneo to Texan giant Ski Hi Lee, with every conceivable Lincoln character in between.

Six months later that same year, Kendo Nagasaki appeared on the scene and would continue to cross swords with Wayne Bridges for a further 20 years.  Indeed, when Nagasaki first appeared on television on Cup Final Day 1971 on a Joint Promotions St Albans bill, his opponent was none other than Wayne Bridges.
In January 1966 Wayne joined the ranks of Dale Martin Promotions, making his debut at Maidstone on New Years Day against Hungarian Tibor Szakacs. Less than two years following his professional debut he was a man to be reckoned with.  An instant success with all the attributes required for heavyweight success Wayne was in demand around the country for all the Joint Promotions members.  In August he made his television debut against Masambula in Bridlington, the first of more than seventy televised appearances.

Wayne would go on to face on the small screen some of the most notorious wrestlers around, possibly most notably the original evil American Outlaw.  He also feuded with Mr Universe John Lees and Pompey giant Bruno Elrington, and was invariably the first name home promoters put up to fly the flag in the face of threats from overseas stars such as Georges Gordienko, Crusher Verdu, Le Grande Vladimir, Aussie Mark Anthony and gridiron loudmouth Butts Logger Giraud.

From the outset Bridges proved to be a hard-hitting blockbuster, weighing in over 17 stones.  From a weight-training and bodybuilding background, He posed a formidable threat to all heavyweights from home and abroad, trading hold and counter hold with fellow stylists the likes of Tibor Szakacs and Steve Viedor, mixing it equally with the villainy of Johnny Yearsley and Wild Angus. 

By the late sixties, now resident in kent Wayne Bridges was a regular with Dale Martin Promotions, proudly billed at the Heavyweight Champion of Kent. Some of his most exciting encounters were, with fellow Man of Kent, Romany Riley, a spectacular high-flying grappler with a short fuse, especially with an eye on the county belt.

Occasional tag action saw him accompany Marino or Judo Al Hayes, but his most lasting partner was the Portsmouth adonis Bob Kirkwood.  So clean cut was their image that French promoters dubbed them “Les Incorruptables”.

When Joint Promotions decided to break the American stranglehold on the world heavyweight championship it was none other than Wayne Bridges who defeated he Iron Greek, Spiros Arion, in December 1979 at London’s Royal Albert Hall. His success at the time surprised many fans who had not realised just how much Wayne had matured and grown into the countryy’s finest. The promoters’ trust was to be rewarded a hundred times over.

Wayne Bridges had a tremendous record at the UK’s premier arena, the Royal Albert Hall.  Notable scalps included the Mighty John Quinn and Birmingham’s Pat Roach. His feud with the Canadian Quinn was the stuff of legends still talked about by fans almost half a century later.  Wayne lost his title to John Quinn before following him to rival All Star Promotions to re-gain it. A later loss to Kendo Nagasaki was also reversed for a third heavyweight championship spell in March, 1988.

Perhaps Wayne’s greatest victory at the Royal Albert Hall, however, was over erstwhile mentor, Mike Marino. The Anglo Italian only ever suffered a handful of defeats over more than twenty years of facing the world’s best at the Kensington venue.

By 1987 Kendo Nagasaki would repay the compliment of sixteen years earlier by becoming Wayne Bridges’ final Joint Promotions television opponent in Bradford.

In spite of the many titles and tributes we have listed here, perhaps the most long-lasting memory we retain of popular Wayne Bridges is paradoxically his ring-feud of the early eighties with Super Destroyer Pete Roberts.  Outweighed but unbowed, Roberts persuasively fought his way to become Number One world title challenger and wrestled Bridges with the title at stake on more than one occasion.  These earlier tag partners should have made for a classical match up of technical wrestling, but the guile and agility of the lighter man really needled Bridges who, to the disgust of his fans of nigh on twenty years, displayed the Mr Hyde side to his persona.  The pair feuded nationwide, and in one of their televised bouts, where Roberts had surprisingly won by two straight falls, an irate Bridges grabbed the mike to remonstrate angrily:  “Who have you ever beaten, Roberts?”.  To which the judo star replied with the now immortal riposte:  “I’ve just beaten you, Bridges!”

Wayne was joined in the 1970s by his teenage son, who wrestled as Dean Briscoe, and the pair were involved in a few memorable tag tussles.  Dean was starting to make an impression on the British scene when he contracted leukemia and died in January, 1986.

One time landlord of The Cock in Deptford ane the Prince of Orange in Greenwich Wayne  crossed the Medway to become landlord of The Bridges public house in Horton, near Dartford, with his award-winning body-building wife Sarah. The hostelry became  the long term home of the British Wrestlers Reunion, where hundreds of fans and wrestlers come together each year to celebrated British wrestling at its best.

Wayne Bridges died 8th March, 2020