W: The Wild Man of Borneo

No Bad Hair Days

The Wild Man of Borneo

Those of us old enough to remember where we were when Kennedy was assassinated are old enough, and will remember, where we were the first time we saw the Wild Man of Borneo live. Not just the venue, but the memories of the very moment a hush descended on the crowd,  immediately followed by a crescendo of boos and hisses. Necks strained to catch a glimpse of the mysterious moving object, the strange figure that appeared at the back of the hall, terrifying for children in the audience;  followed by a slow, ambling walk towards the ring. What were we witnessing? Who or what was this creature? Was this human?

Few wrestlers can claim to be unique, but there was no one quite like the Wild Man of Borneo. The fur anklets and the leopardskin cape  were enough to make him memorable, but it was the hair that did it. Hair that cascaded to fully conceal his face. The Wild Man claimed this was to prevent opponents detecting his next move. Probably not the best strategy as the hair must have restricted his own vision. Not that any of that mattered. What did matter was that the man who was the Wild Man created one of the most well known and memorable gimmicks of the 1960s. He was one of the few wrestlers, Doctor Death being the other one of note, that gained national recognition without the aid of television exposure.

The man behind the hair did not come from Borneo, of course. He was an Indian wrestler by the name of  Gungar Singh. A humorous and good-natured man according to those who knew him. The Wild Man of Borneo character was invented when he was introduced to an unsuspecting British public by wrestling promoter Paul Lincoln, though surprisingly it was one of Lincoln's musical artists, Screaming Lord Sutch, who claimed to have thought up the name.

Said to be an eighteen stone giant the reality was that the Wild Man probably didn't even make it into the fully fledged heavyweight division. Not that the lack of weight was of any great importance, he had a persona to match other pseudo heavyweights of the Paul Lincoln stable such as Doctor Death, Gori Ed Mangotich and   Dennis Dean.

It was in 1960 that promoter Paul Lincoln unleashed the Wild Man onto an unsuspecting British public. Within months he was a natonwide headliner on the independent circuit. Creative matchmaking enabled him to appear in attractive contests against the independents' golden-boys such as Mike Marino, Al Hayes, Bob Kirkwood, Dave Larsen and a young Wayne Bridges.

Even more appealing to fans were the not infrequent contests against other seemingly invincible villains such as Doctor Death, The Ghoul, and Ski Hi Lee. A  long running feud against the undefeated Doctor Death filled Paul Lincoln halls around the country. Two regular tag partners, Steve Haggetty and Society Boy saw the Wild Man oppose the popular heavyweight tag teams of the time such as Al Hayes and Ray Hunter. We reckon that our one and only sighting of the Wild Man partnering Lord Bertie Topham must have made one of the most incongruous of all teams.

We consider the first half of the 1960s to have been the golden years for the Wild Man of Borneo. In January, 1966 he joined Joint Promotions alongside a number of other ex independent men. Sadly no longer with us we will never know what the man himself thought of the way he was managed by his new bosses.

To our mind it was a case of mismanagement. Rather than gradually develop their new asset in their rings the Wild Man was immediately thrown in with some of the biggest names in the business – Joe Cornelius, Tibor Szakacs, Josef Zaranoff, Peter Maivia, Geoff Portz, Billy Joyce and Gwyn Davies were amongst his first opponents. Against such opposition it was impossible to develop the invincible half man, half creature persona. Over the next five years Joint Promotions consistenly demonstrated  a complete lack of imagination in developing their ready-made star. A succession of losses against top notch opposition reached a low point in December, 1967, with a straight falls loss in his only televised contest against the two stones lighter Peter Preston.

In 1971 the Wild Man of Borneo returned to the independent rings where he resumed his rightful place at the top of the bill. Rarely can anyone be rightly be described as unique. In the case of Gungar Singh, the Wild Man of Borneo  the description is probably accurate. He was a rare treasure; a treasure which mysteriously remained hidden to the management of Joint Promotions.