W: Watson - Welford
Wrestling Heritage A-Z
Whipper Billy Watson
Many fans of the 1960s will remember reading of the exploits of Whipper Watson in those American magazines that arrived in our shops weeks after their publication. He was another of those larger than life characters that existed in the same distant world as other greats such as Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, Freddie Blassie and Gene Kiniski. Most of us were probably ignorant of the fact that this American superstar had spent his formative professional wrestling years learning his trade in the All-In rings of Great Britain.
Canadian by birth as William Potts, born in Toronto, he was brought to Britain in July 1936 by Harry Joyce (father of Doug and Ken), and during his first week faced Tony Baer, Tony Mancelli and Al Korman. His specialism Irish Whip move quickly led to Billy Watson becoming Whipper Watson. Billy wrestled his way around Britain for four years until shortly after war was declared in September, 1939. He returned to Canada to become one of North America's most popular wrestlers and National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Champion. Whipper Watson retired in 1971, and died at his home in Florida on 4th February, 1990.
Billy Watson Jr
Nearly forty years after his famous wrestling dad, Whipper Billy Watson, had toured Britain, twenty one year old Billy Watson Jr came to Britain during the winter of 1970-71. Billy Jr was born Phil Potts, but the family had long ago changed legally changed their name to Watson.
He was much lighter than his father, barely a middleweight, facing newcomers such as Steve Young and Tony St Clair as well as more experienced opponents that included Jackie Pallo and Colin Joynson. Tagged with fellow Canadian Red Pollard who visited Britain around the same time. His tour ended suddenly at the end of January, resulting in his planned main event contest against Mick McManus at the Royal Albert Hall being cancelled.
Here's another about whom we feel there is much more to discover. Digger Bill Watson was said to be Australian, which we doubt, and can find no reference to him in the Australian archives. It was said he stood 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 19 stones, so presumably a big lad. He can be found on British independent programmes from 1959 to 1964. Although he worked for various independent promoters we suspect there was a connection with promoter Jack Taylor. Opponents, all on independent shows, included Prince Kumali, Bruno Elrington, Don Mendoza, Shirley Crabtree and Black Butcher Johnson. We would like to learn more.
Leo Wax was an Australian boxer with around 130 professional fights to his credit, having boxed in Australia, New Zealand, USA, Denmark and Sweden before arriving in Britain as a boxer in 1929. It clearly suited him because he stayed here. With 67 boxing matches in Britain alone he was a well known name to British wrestling fans. As he neared his thirtieth birthday and wresting booming in Britain Leo became interested in the sport and by 1934 was mostly familiar to wrestling fans, with Jack Dale and Mario Magisti regular opponents. Along with more famous wrestling personalities Jack Pye, Bob Gregory, and King Curtis he appeared in the 1936 film "All In. After finishing with wrestling we have been told Leo managed a night club in London. In 1938, fourteen years after leaving his home in New South Wales, Leo returned for one last boxing match. One match too far as he was knocked out in the first round by Jack Wilson. Following the Second World War Leo settled in Sweden.
Present day fans simply could not believe what it was like back in the 1960s and 1970s. In Greater Manchester alone there could be as many as half a dozen shows taking place on the same night, wrestlers often jumping in a car to work on two or three shows a night.
Not all shows were in the big venues like Belle Vue, the Free Trades Hall and the Houldsworth Hall, but in just about every working man's club, social club, even school hall.
One of those busy, and popular wrestlers from those days was young Mark Wayne of Eccles, a trainee from the Hollywood AWC and contemporary of Eddie Rose,Pete Lindbergh, Ian Wilson and Bob Francini.
When the Hollywood Club closed down Mark's career almost came to a premature end, until he was taken on by Jack Atherton for training at the Wryton Stadium. The Sunday morning sessions at Wryton Stadium, with old timers like Alf Cadman showing him the ropes led a progression from the independent halls to Joint Promotions in the summer of 1969, and regular work from Jack Atherton and Best Wryton Promotions.
Mark was a very popular welterweight, nicknamed Prince Charming by his colleagues. He gained a lot of work in the early 1970,s but his promising career was cut short by injuries sustained in a road accident. He left wrestling to concentrate on a singing career on the club circuit.
Another of those skilful workers who were enjoyed in the independent rings of the 1960s and 1970s yet never hit the national limelight. Dave Webb was trained by Stockton’s Jimmy Devlin. Away from the ring he was a mechanic at his own garage in Sedgefield.
Arpi Weber (known elsewhere as Arpad Weber) made just the one visit to Britain, for four weeks in January and February, 1971. He accompanied the already familiar Josef Molnar as one half of the Hungarian Horsemen tag team, debuting and defeating the Black Diamonds at the Royal Albert Hall on 20th January. On television Weber drew with both Tony Charles and Barry Douglas, the latter result suggesting the promoters were willing to give little away to the Budapest born heavyweight. It was a pretty unspectacular tour, with Arpi not facing the highest rated wrestlers and losing to capable but much lighter men that included Ian Gilmoure and Ted Heath. Arpi wrestled in Europe, Mexico, the Unted States and Japan. Following his retirement he promoted in Germany and later, Hungary.
Born on 9th September, 1942, Arpi Weber died of a heart attack on 2nd August, 2010.
French wrestler Gil Wehrle visited the United Kingdom in April 1971 to face, and lose to, Tony Charles at the Royal Albert Hall.
Fast and clever 1970s Tyneside wrestler working for the independent promoters in his trademark white gown and trunks. Wrestled with Ken Williams as The Vulcans. tag team.
Page revised 26/10/2019: Addition of Dave Webb