O: Oakley - O'Reilly

Wrestling Heritage A - Z

Ron Oakley
When Middlesbrough’s Ron Oakley moved from physical culture and body building to wrestling he acquired thousands of new fans and admiration for a body that gained him the name the “Northern Adonis,”  and place on the cover of "Health and Strength" magazine in January, 1956.

This man had muscles where we didn’t know muscles existed. He turned professional in 1960, when he was twenty-four, and had already won around twenty body building titles. These included Mr Yorkshire, finalist in Mr Britain and British representative in Mr Universe.

Within a couple of years of turning professional he was in combat with the big names of the age, not just in his own middleweight division, but against much heavier men such as Billy Howes and Eric Taylor. 

Around a dozen television appearances included amongst his opponents Johnny Kwango, Eddie Capelli, Peter Szakacs, Pasquale Salvo and Bert Royal, the majority of them being for Dale Martin Promotions.

Throughout the 1960s Ron remained a popular middleweight around the country. He was also an influence on other young body builders and encouraged many of them into professional wrestling. He owned and operated his own gymnasium in the St Hilda's area of Middlesbrough, the home of many successful body builders and wrestlers.  

Barney O’Brien
Nearing 15 stones in weight and billed as Irish heavyweight champion. A challenger for British heavyweight honours held by Atholl Oakeley.  In August, 1932,  "The Elstree Adonis" Len Franklin defeated Barney O'Brien in an eliminator contest to face (and lose to) Oakeley for the British title on 29th August. Otherwise we have little information on Barney who we can find for just a few months in 1932. 1968, though we believe in 1971 he was to be seen in ring action again, coaxed back by independent promoters.
Jimmy Ocean
Twice holder of the British lightweight championship, for two weeks in 1991 and then from 1993 until 1998, Jimmy Ocean just edges his way  into the wrestling heritage years.  

A sole ITV appearance (against Ivan Trevors) and a few more on C4C and satellite channels brought him to national attention. His high flying, exciting style, and a penchant for skulduggery made him a huge favourite amongst British fans. Considered by many modern day fans to have been hugely under-rated at the time Jimmy Ocean could conceivably have been a star in the highly competitive 1960s and 1970s.

Ocean and Knight made up the Superflys tag team, generally considered one of the top tag teams of the 1980s. At one time Jimmy formed frequent tag team opposition to Big Daddy and his numerous partners.
Victorio Ochoa 
The Navaresse Lion,  Heavyweight champion of Spain and 1940s world title claimant, visited Britain in 1957, 1958, 1960 and 1962. He was the son of Javier Ochoa, a great Spanish wrestler who played a leading role in popularising professional wrestling to Mexico. Opponents included Ernie Riley, Black Butcher Johnson Norman Walsh, Geoff Portz and Count Bartelli.  A very technical wrestler he was at the peak of his career, just 40 years old, when he was killed at his home in Urdain during a family dispute on 4th July, 1960.

Frank O'Donnell 
Rough and tough middleweight Frank O’Donnell used the sort of tactics that made the crow love to see him lose. 

Frank started wrestling in 1946 and his bald dome and the flying fists were a familiar feature  of wrestling halls during the 1950s and 1960s. 

Born in Loughanoran, Donegal, Frank moved to Scotland in his late teens,  three years of farming  preparing  him for a planned boxing career. Life often takes unexpected turns, and having settled in Scotland, again as a farm worker, Frank was introduced to the wrestlers George and Harry Broadfield. 

Frank was encouraged to give up his boxing aspirations and take up wrestling by George and Harry,  who also persuaded him to move to Yorkshire, where he lived throughout his life. 

His working life was shared between his wrestling career and  roadbuilder with McAlpine. Following his retirement in 1972 frank was able to use his construction and landscaping skills to good effect when he designed the Bagden Hall golf course and managed its construction. Golf was Frank’s main love following his retirement.

Frank O'Donnell passed away in 2003. When he died, aged eighty, the flag was lowered to half mast at the Dewsbury Golf Club. 

Tuma Odooma (Also known as Jimmy Odooma, Juma Odooma) 
Another of those colourful characters who made professional wrestling such a unique sport. A muscular light heavyweight Manchester based  Odooma would enter the ring dresses in a leopardskin cloak and grass skirt. You don't get that in cricket.  

Known variously as Jimmy or Juma Odooma, and sometimes simply Odooma. Worked mainly in the north and midlands for Wryton Promotions between 1962 and 1965, a popular good guy in the ring. Billed randomly from Ghana or the West Indies we suspect Manchester might have been closer to the mark.

We have confirmation of his Manchester credentials but can neither confirm or deny the press publicity that he was a runner-up in the Mr Jamaica contest, came to Britin in the late 1950s and made his professional debut in 1961. Tooma worked across the rings of northern Britain in the early to mid 1960s and then disappeared from the British wrestling scene.
Bella Ogunlana
Bella Ogunlana, from Llandudno, trained by Orig Williams and part of his stable of female wrestlers appeared against most of the top women wrestlers of the time including Mitzi Mueller.   She lost a world title to Rusty Blair in Lagos, Nigeria which can be seen on You Tube via Google
Contributed by James Morton

Mad Mike O'Hagan

That was the word for Mad Mike O’Hagan. When he stepped into the ring no one was quite sure what would happen. The fans, the opponent, the promoter … we are not sure even Mad Mike himself knew what was going to happen next. Whatever it was the fans would love it and go home having enjoyed a good night out.

Michael O’Hagan was born  in Donegal, in the West of Ireland, and whatever his persona suggested there was nothing nonsensical about him. Michael and his family crossed the sea to Scotland and ended  up living in Ayshire. He befriended wrestler Dale Storm and became one of Dale's stable of fighters at the Mossblown Village Gym. The "Wee Leprechaun" was what Dale called him,  "A lovely fellah, and very funny too,"

Dale told us the story of a car that Mike had bought, a car that was the love of his life.

"I can't for the life of me remember the make, but it was green, and it was one of those classical European designs, with the big kind of Bug Eyed Head Lamps! Anyway, he was telling me he'd been home to visit his old dad in Donegal. He couldn't believe his son could afford such an expensive car! regards the big head lamps!.  'Be Jesus Michael, those lights are so big, you could see right out of sight and right over that hill, up the road there!...With the likes of one of them, and that’s for sure!...But you’re even luckier, because you've got two O’ them!' Whether that story is true or not, I don't know, but you've got to admit, it is funny! "

In fact when Dale opened the doors of his gym in the Ayshire village of Mossblown it was only made possible by the help of quite a few of his trainees and Michael donated many of his own sets of  weights to the club, supplementing those bought by Dale and his brothers.  

Mike was never going to be one of the big names in wrestling. He was a part timer whose day job restricted his work to the west of Scotland and the independent promoters. But he was none the less a successful and enjoyable for that.

As he entered the ring Mike would wear a black tailed morning coat and top hat. We told you this man was a bit on the unusual side. Once the bell sounded the fireworks started and Mad Mike lived up to his name.

Fellow wrestler Eddie Rose described Mike's sense of humour as "impish." We are unsure if this would be the first word that sprang to mind when he entered the ring at the height of the IRA troubles  carrying a large parcel with the letters IRA written on the side. We understand the management of the hall were none too pleased.

"I just loved his ring persona."  Eddie Rose told us.

A fervent republican, Mad Mike often teamed up with Teddy Bear Taylor, a strong loyalist, which demonstrates once again the boundaries broken by wrestling. Fans were prepared for the unexpected when Mike took to the ring against the likes of Dale Storm, Big Ian Miller and Farmer John.

Popular around Scottish independent rings in the 1960s and 1970s Mad Mike wrestled part time and consequently rarely ventured across the border into the country south, which was our loss and the Scottish fans gain.

Pat O’Keefe
Pat O'Keefe was a sturdy, strong heavyweight, weighing over 15 stones, who appeared regular on the wrestling shows of the midlands and south in the early post war years.  Reported to be a colourful character with long sideburns and the appearance of a Victorian prizefighter he was billed as the "John L Sullivan of wrestling." O'Keefe seems to have disappeared from the wrestling circuit in 1951.

Jose Olivera (Also known as Jim Olivera)
Jim Olivera was a rough, tough, bad tempered wrestler, and legend has it that on one occasion he knocked out the teeth of the referee. His mistreatment of referees is certainly well documented.  Hopefully he was a little more mild mannered when involved in his other business concerns, running a souvenir shop and ladies' hairdressers in Palma Nova. Following an amateur boxing career in which he represented Spain in the 1948 Olympics, and a short professional career, he turned to professional wrestling. He fared far better as a wrestler, despite being banned for a year in his home country, and took the European Mid heavyweight title in  1948.  In 1961 he lost the European heavyweight title to Billy Joyce at Belle Vue. However, we can find no record of him having won the belt and some might even suspect he was given the belt in order to lose it to the British champion. He wrestled throughout Europe, and  was a regular in the UK, until he retired in 1964.

Tony Olivera
Tony Olivera was the younger brother of Jose Olivera and one time Spanish welterweight champion. By the time he began accompanying brother to Britain in 1956 he had filled out and was matched against heavyweights in single matches as well as partnering big brother in tag matches. Tony's wrestling exploits took him around the world, travelling extensively throughout Europe and South America.
Arthur Openshaw
Arthur Openshaw came from Salford and played rugby league for Salford. Arthur lemigrated to Australia in 1965.  Our earliest Australian record for him is  on 10th December, 1965, defeating Germany’s Rheinhardt Molitor  at Sydney Stadium. He was often in the same ring as his long time friend from Salford, Spike Robson, either as opponents or tag partners. Ed Lock remembers them both: “I found both Openshaw and Robson to be very skilful, talented, technical wrestlers, who never put in a bad performance. While both wrestlers were cast as preliminary matmen I was always happy to see Arthur and Spike on Sydney Stadium events and on the World Championship Wrestling TV shows..” On television Arthur and Spike wrestled the Americans Larry Hennig and Harley Race.”

Graeme Cameron told us that he remembered Arthur when “He worked with the top light heavyweights either defeating or drawing with all of them.”  Arthur defeated Ken Medlin to take the Australian lightweight title in November, 1966. Arthur returned to Britain in the late 1960s.   He later appeared briefly in the UK during the early 1970s, working for independent promoters in the north, with Paul Mitchell remembering him working at the Houldsworth Hall, Manchester.

Pat O’Reilly (Also known as Bernard Coward)
Heavyweight villain and one time challenger for Bert Assirati's title Pat O'Reilley was busy around the country for the best part of two decades.  He was a giant of a man, standing 6' 3” tall and weighing in at over eighteen stones. His wrestling career began in 1947

O'Reilly met the best in the business, Bernard Assirati, Tony Mancelli, Ray St Bernard, George Gregory, Dave Armstrong, and the rest.  Best remembered for a series of bouts with Jack Pye and Bert Assirati in the 1950s. He was the last man to challenge Assirati for his British title before the champion left Britain for his world tour in 1952. Although billed from Ireland O'Reilly was actually Chelmsford's Bernard Coward, the name he used at his local hall.   He assumed the Irish persona when working for a northern promoter. An Irishman failed to appear and so Bernard substituted as the fictional Pat O'Reilly, the so-called Irish heavyweight champion. Bernard died in 2002, aged 80.

Sheamus O'Reilly
The second of our three O'Reilly wrestlers, and possibly the one with the most likely Irish credentials. Sheamus was a 1960s worker for the independent promoters. The man behind the name was Coventry's Mick Macalasky, so  it sounds like there may have been some Irish blood in him. He  was trained to wrestle by Coventry's Freddie Barnes' gym in St Peters School in Yardley Street, Hillfields. A regular worker for independent promoters Jack Taylor and Lew Phillips, often in tag matches with "brother" Sprike O'Reilly, who was neither his brother nor Irish.

Spike O’Reilly (Also known as Les Riley)
A green dressing gown and trunks were the hallmark of this popular light heavyweight of the 1960s, billed from Donegal, though we are unsure of the connection as he was  otherwise Les Riley, a plumber, from Langley Mill. Irish or not Spike was a formidable wrestler who learned the wrestling trade whilst he was in the Royal Navy. Serving in the  Royal Navy at Chatham Les enjoyed body building, running and wrestling, and was said to be  the Navy’s  Light heavyweight champion. 

We first came across Les in 1951, performing a muscle control demonstration at the Heanor Festival of Britain celebrations. He would doubtless already know another local man, Jack Taylor, who was to later promote many of his matches.  The local paper announced that Les had turned professional wrestler in July, 1955. Spike continued wrestling into the 1960s  and met the likes of Randolph Turpin, Shirley Crabtree and Cowboy Cassidy.  Wrestler Mick Collins remembers and admired Spike O'Reilly, "“He was one of life's characters,Spike, larger than life, arriving at the hall in his Mercedez and always keeping that dressing gown of his in immaculate shape.”

Spike O’Reilly died in February, 2009