H: Hackenschmidt - Hall
Wrestling Heritage A-Z
The Battling Bantamweight Champion of the World. In the first decade of the twentieth century wrestlers would appear in "music halls and issue challenges to members of the audience. This was how the great George Hackenschmidt had begun his career in Britain. One of these music hall "turns" was Little Hackenschmidt, so called due to his diminutive stature, and alleged Bantamweight Champion of the World. Neither Russian nor German as claimed, Little Hackesnschmidt was otherwise known by the more prosaic name Henry O'Brien. He was still working the music halls in 1930, when talk emerged in Britain of a new style of wrestling about to be imported from the United States. Despite being in his forties Little Hack was well placed to take advantage of the opportunities offered and enthusiastically adopted the all-in style wrestling in the halls. Henry also became involved in the management side of wrestling, being part of a promotional group called the Lincoln Syndicate of Athletes, disappearing from active participation in the mid 1930s.
Our memories of visiting Americans are too frequently of disappointment as another highly acclaimed superstar failed to live up to expectations. Jim Hady was not in this category; he was a class act who visited Britain in January, 1959, meeting top class opposition that included Mike Marino, Norman Walsh, Albert Wall, Dennis Mitchell, Dai Sullivan and Jim Hussey. Born in Pittsburgh most of Jim's early career was around Detroit, where he then lived, though he had made his professional debut in Hawaii in 1951. Following his visit to Europe Jim settled in Hawaii where he held the Hawaiian heavyweight title, and the tag team title with four different partners, two of them well known to ritish fans, Peter Maivia and Billy White Wolf. Jim died of a heart attack in Hawaii in January 1969, aged just 38. One of his last matches was challenging Gene Kiniski for the NWA World heavyweight championship.
Gustaaf Haens was a Belgian heavyweight, a diamond cutter by trade, who came to Britain, liked it and stayed. He was born on 1st July, 1924. We find him on the bills in 1949 with opponents that included Jack Atherton, Billy Joyce, Gerry Hoggarth and Mike Marino. In 1952 he wrestled at the Royal Albert Hall in London, opponents Mario Matassa and George McLean. He settled in Preston, Lancashire, where he married a local girl. We have found a Gustaaf Haens who married Mary Eastham at Preston in 1945, but have not established this was definitely our man. Here’s the interesting bit about Gustaaf’s career. In 1954 he retired from wrestling and took up professional boxing, trained by Dick Knowles, and made his boxing debut on Fred Bamber’s promotion at Preston on 17th January, 1955. His opponent was Dennis Lockton and Gustaaf lost the four round contest on points. It was a short career, just the one match according to boxrec.com. He returned to wrestling and was last seen in 1959. Gustaaf Haens died in 1996.
Jimmy Hagen could mix it as a villain or please the fans by staying within the rules. Middleweight Jimmy wrestled in Britain during the 1960s and 1970s, a frequent worker on the holiday camp circuit. He also owned Solent Promotions and many wrestlers paid tribute to Jimmy for the help he had given them as a trainer and promoter of wrestling shows on the east coast. Jimmy was the father of wrestler Robbie Hagen. The wrestling world was shocked when Jimmy Hagen suffered a heart attack and passed away in February 2010.
John L Haggar (Also known as Humphrey Mendoza, The Sheikh)
As soon as they set eyes on the Norwich light heavyweight John L Haggar the fans of the sixties and seventies knew what to expect. The goatee beard, cropped hair, black leotard and tights were enough to announce that John L Haggar was a villain. He played the role to perfection.
Emotions amongst fans ran high, exceeded only when Haggar was partnered by the equally infamous Bad Bill Pye in The Stompers tag team. Haggar, otherwise known as Humphrey Mendoza and sometimes The Sheikh, wrestled regularly throughout the midlands for the independent promoters, and was a particular favourite during the summer months working for Anglia Promotions in the holiday camps of East Anglia. The photo on the right shows John L Haggar on the receiving end from another East Anglian favourite, Hercules Ken Nicholls, with referee Brian Trevors looking on.
Out of the ring John combined his wrestling commitments with those of his daytime job as a lorry driver. He bestowed upon the wrestling world his son, Stephen, who wrestled under the name Stephen St John. John L Haggar passed away in September, 2007, aged 80, having previously been diagnosed with cancer.
Page revised 2/4/19: Gustaaf Haens entry updated.