WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

H: Hackenschmidt - Hall

 

Wrestling Heritage A-Z


Little Hackenschmidt

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. 


Jim Hady

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

 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

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.


Harry Hall
Harry Litherland was the birth name of middleweight Harry Hall. He wasn’t a big man, but he was very strong, and a tough wrestler from Riley’s gymnasium. Born in Aspull  Harry worked in the rings of northern England during the 1950s. A part time wrestler Harry worked at the Locomotive Works at Horwich in Lancashire. Away from work Harry played fiddle in a quartet known as the Foggy Mountail Five and busked around southern Lancashire playing the concertina.

John Hall (Stoke on Trent)
At a time when the nation was going to war a youngster from Tunstall in Stoke on Trent had another sort of fighting on his mind. John was just sixteen years old when he first stepped into the professional wrestling ring in 1941. It was the start of a long career for this popular and handy wrestler who was also a skilled engineer. John was one of a group of wrestlers from Stoke turning professinal around that time: Jack Santos, George Goldie, Bill Ogden and Brian Aherne (later to become Jim Mellor). For the first few years most of John's matches were against these local wrestlers with whom he trained and travelled. Following the war he began travelling further afield and meeting a wider range of opponents that included Danny Flynn, Tommy Mann and Jack Beaumont. John was signed up by Joint Promotions when they formed in 1952 and continued working for them until 1957 when he moved across to the independents. The move to the independents didn't mean any lessening of the workload and when the boom years of the independents began in the late 1950s John Hall was in the tick of it, travelling up and down the country working for the major opposition promoters Cape Promotions, Jack Taylor and Paul Lincoln. John finally hung up his boots in 1969, some 27 years after first stepping into the professional ring. 

John Hall died on 4th January, 2014. At the time Manchester wrestler  Eddie Rose said:
“John was one of the stalwarts of wrestling and had a long career during which he produced some great bouts. That group of Potteries lads were good company and good workers. Sorry to see the numbers fade away.”

The name lived on with an unrelated Londoner....

John Hall (Croydon)
Low-key value-for-money Croydon welterweight of the late sixties and early seventies who surfaced to achieve a new 2007 peak of fame when the featured interviewee in a BBC News outside broadcast showing current-day training of professional wrestlers.

John is the father of twenty-first century heavyweight champion John Ritchie. 

Brought up with an interest in boxing John turned to a sporting ring of a different sort  and took up amateur wrestling when he was nineteen.  A former amateur champion, from the Forest Hill Club in London, who turned pro late in life at 29. Made his professional debut in 1969; we remember him training on-the-job in-the ring, with protegés the likes of a young Clive Myers. Throughout his career John was always involved in training youngsters, and has continued this involvement in training to this very day.

Len Hall
Nebraska's Dr Len Hall visited Britain  in 1935, 1937 and 1938 when he was in his early thirties, born in 1905. His career spanned twenty years, mostly working in the United States of America. His work in Britain seemed to be mostly in the south, working against the likes of Bert Assirati, Clem Lawrence, and George Clark. Out of the ring Len Hall was a dentist, which might have proved useful after some matches. 

Willem Hall
Willem Hall was a powerful and skilful wrestler a a  popular South African heavyweight champion who made a lengthy tour of the UK in the early 1960s. In a world of giants, colourful costumes and intriguing names Hall relied  on an alrmingly simple gimmick, hold and counter-hold wrestling.  What he lacked in showmanship was made up for with wrestling skill and brute force  backed up by  6 feet 1 inch height and a body weight that varied between 16 and 19 stones.  Unlike most overseas visitors Hall was a good technician who wrestled strictly by the book, making him a popular addition to British rings during his 1960s tours of the country.A former rugby player he narrowly missed selection for South Africa.  Hall turned to professional wrestling in 1952 and opponents included world class heavyweights such as Bert Assirati, Earl McCready, and George Pencheff. In South Africa he was known as Percy Hall, except for the period he was the masked man, Mr X. After defeating Willie Leibenberg he laid claim to a disputed South African heavyweight title.

Page revised 2/4/19: Gustaaf Haens entry updated.