W: Wilko - Williamson
Wrestling Heritage A - Z
Jan Wilko (Wilkens)
The Johnnesburg Giant was 22-year-old Jan Wilkens from South Africa who caused quite a stir when he arrived in Britain late in 1965. At 6'5" and 20 stones, this ex-policeman demolished French Canadian giant Paul Vachon in 8 minutes on his Royal Albert Hall début. Charles Mascall, the doyen of British wrestling journalists wrote in The Wrestler:
"Jan Wilko, a handsome young Boer of 22 who is certainly one of the most perfectly proportioned mammoth men ever to take up the sport of wrestling. In about 4 minutes of the first round Wilko snatched a Boston crab hold and won the first submission. In the following round he smashed the giant French-Canadian to the mat with four successive pile-driving body slams. The bout was over in under eight minutes - one of the quickest contests on record at the Royal Albert Hall."
Unusually invited back to the next bill, he was even quicker proving it had been no fluke, disposing of Big John Cox in just six minutes.
Back home in South Africa he welcomed and wrestled visiting British wrestlers down the years including Rocky Wall, Mal Kirk and, as late as 1981, Tiger Singh, in front of a national record crowd in excess of 20 thousand. We are told his final match was in Cape Town in 1987.
Definitely an international star we would have liked to have seen much more of.
Bearded Yorkshireman Brett Williams worked for Cyril Knowles and Ace Promotions in the 1960s and 1970s. When not wrestling he could be found on his floating barge restaurant.
Ike Williams was a rough, tough heavyweight on the independent circuit in the 1960s, and a regular worker for Jack Taylor around the country. A former RAF man Ike (or Trevor as he was in those days) was an amateur boxer, and one time sparring partner of Brian London, who became friends with Dwight J Ingleburgh when they were both working as security men at Butlins in the late 1950s.. Dwight encouraged Ike to give wrestling a try, and trained him for the professional ring. Trevor doubtless borrowed the name of Ike from his boxing hero, learned the trade and grew into the sport in more ways than one, tipping the scales around the 18 stones mark and standing just under six feet tall. At the time of writing (May 2013) Ike is a healthy eighty plus year old living in Birmingham.
Many young wrestlers have claimed to be the youngest in Britain (you can read about quite a few of them elsewhere in Wrestling Heritage) and when fifteen year old John Williams stepped through the ropes for the first time in 1971 he was said to be the youngest at that time. Quite possibly he was, but most definitely he looked the part, and fans at the cavernous Granby Hall, his local hall, and throughout the north and midlands took him to heart. His young appearance couldn't disguise his wrestling skill, the result of many hours of knocking about with his famous father from an early age. That famous father was wrestler and promoter Jack Taylor. Jack had coached his son for many years before giving him his chance in the professional ring whilst still a schoolboy. Not that wrestling consumed all of the youngster's energy because he was also a keen rugby player, swimmer and cyclist. John favoured training with weights which enabled him to progress swiftly through the weight divisions. John Williams died suddenly in 2009, aged just 53 years.
Johnny Williams (Birmingham)
Our records indicate a light to middleweight Johnny Williams active mainly between 1948 and 1955, for whom we have little information. He appears to have worked mainly in the south and was taken on by Joint Promotions following their formation in 1952.Opponents included Mick McManus, Bob Archer O'Brien, Vic Coleman, Eddie Capelli, Jack Dempsey and Jack Queseck. Our final record of activity is a tag match in Manchester in 1959, partnering Tiger Woods.
Johnny Williams (Cardiff)
Welsh lightweight Johnny Williams was a regular worker for Paul Lincoln Promotions in the early 1960s alongside other Lincoln proteges the Cortez brothers and Zoltan Boscik. With amateur experience from the United Amateur Wrestling Club in London he turned professional in 1961.
He was a fast, skilful wrestler, popular with the fans as he always stayed within the rules.
One time lightweight champion until he passed the belt on to Adrian Street.
Appeared in the 1962 recording of The Wrestling Game (recorded 6th October 1962) when he faced Jon Cortez.
As a full time Lincoln worker Johnny successfully made the transition to Joint Promotions in January 1966 where he became a popular figure in Dale Martin rings and nationwide through the exposure of television. He travelled extensively throughout Europe with visits to France, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland and even Libya.
Keith Williams/Keith Williamson/Keith Martinelli
Whenever old time wrestlers gather together to exchange stories of old times it doesn't seem to take long before they recall one of the hardest men in the professional wrestling ring, Bolton's Keith Williamson, sometimes billed Keith Martinelli or Keith Williams. “They didn't call him Blood-boots for nothing”,is a comment often heard, and Eddie Rose named him as one of those who "loved a scrap at any price." It seems that everyone has a tale or two to tell of the time they got in the ring with Keith and came out bruised and sore. Another colleague, Paul Mitchell, said of Keith, ”A fine wrestler and one of the hardest in the game, Keith was always witty and interesting and his hard wrestling always admired if usually by booing.”
For the fans it was a less painful experience. We just remember a very skilful and acrobatic middleweight of the sixties and seventies who was a relentless opponent for anyone he faced. Action was assured and we enjoyed it, but we weren't the ones taking the knocks. David Franklin recalled, “I was always impressed by how "real" his matches seemed at the time. “
Keith was encouraged to make his way in the professional ring by another genuinely hard man, Bob Sherry, and learned to wrestle at Bolton Harriers Amateur Wrestling Club. Bob was a man who didn't suffer fools gladly, and he made sure that Keith was no fool. Keith tagged with Wrexham's Jack Martin in the, to our mind, rather unlikely Martinis tag team.
Keith Williamson was one of the top men in the category of those who legitimised the sport, demonstrated by another Eddie Rose story, “I travelled down with him and Carl Dane to a Butlins show in Wales. We chatted away and he told me of his daily training routine: 500 press ups, 500 abdominals etc. At the end of the drive he turned to me and casually said: "You're on with me Eddie." The bout was 100 miles an hour with nothing easy. His monkey climbs were unbelievably high. At the end of 6 rounds I rushed out to the chalet in which we changed and stood behind the door with a chair just ready for him. I heard a tapping on the window. It was Keith with a big grin on his face! All good friends !! “
Whenever we acknowledge the legitimate and hard-hitting men of the ring the name Blood-boots Keith Williamson is up there at the top. Keith Williamson died in January,2017.
Brian Walker assumed the persona of Ken Williams in the northern rings of the late 1960s and 1970s. A fast and clever wrestler he often teamed with Colin Welford as one half of The Vulcans tag team. Trained by the great mid heavyweight champion Norman Walsh he did all sorts of things his mentor would never dream of. For instance Ken would run up the ropes and somersault backwards onto his opponent. His career, and life, was brought to an abrupt and tragic end from kidney failure, aged just 36.
Read our extended tribute in Personality Parade: Defender of the Dragon
Here was a man with spirit, never one to shirk a good scrap. An often forgotten but worthy mid heavyweight of the sixties was Birmingham's Reg Williams. Although usually associated with Birmingham Reg was based in Manchester for most of his wrestling career. A rough, tough grappler, it didn't take a great deal for Reg to lose his temper. Made almost twenty television appearances in the first half of the 1960s, including unceremonious losses to both Rick Starr and Billy Two Rivers. Dave Sutherland told us that Reg Williams was "one of the most understated and underrated hard men of whom I never tired of watching."
Fellow wrestler Eddie Rose remembered: ” I knew Reg well from long hours spent at the YMCA in Manchester. He was a wonderful ‘Fives’ player (its like squash but without the racquet). We usually had a cup of tea and a chat after training and he was a lovely, interesting but understated man and an excellent wrestler.”
Back in the 1960s there were quite a few young wrestlers who the fans always enjoyed, seemed destined for the very top, but never quite made it to the big league. Sometimes the reason for the lack of push they received from promoters was hard to understand, and Rotherham's Colin Williamson is an example of this untapped talent. He was young, good looking, had bags of skill, was very strong, and was liked by the fans. Colin also had a determination to succeed, and faced up to any challenges that might come his way.
He was one of the handful of wrestlers whose deafness prevented him from hearing the cheers of the crowd. The crowd did cheer him enthusiastically as they appreciated the sportsmanship and skill displayed in each contest. Standing a shade over six feet tall Colin was a very powerful man. A long held interest in weight lifting ensured his 17 stone frame consisted almost entirely of muscle. Born in 1940 Colin's childhood was in the austere post war years when times were hard.
Deaf from childhood Colin learned the skill of lip reading before going to school. Whilst a teenager he became interested in wrestling and soon after leaving school began making regular journeys from his home in Rotherham to an amateur wrestling club in Bradford. It was here that he met the Welsh rugby player and pro wrestler Sandy Orford, and Sandy's son, Tony.
Fortunately Sandy spotted potential in the teenager, and when Colin had completed a thorough amateur schooling Sandy went on to teach him the very different ways of the professional ring. Colin was a good pupil and made his professional debut, against Gorilla Don Mendoza, early in 1960. It was something of a whirlwind start for the young Yorkshireman. Within that first year promoters matched him with rough and tough Bill Rawlings, American Texas Bill Cody, the great Bob McDonald, Iron Man Steve Logan, British champion Billy Joyce, and he even made a short visit to Hamburg. He fared well against the established stars and in the years that followed Colin wrestled most of the big names in wrestling.
Most of his contests were in the north of England, but he made fairly regular visits to Scotland and ventured to the deep south on occasions. In the mid 1960s he transferred to the independents and worked for Paul Lincoln amongst others.There are many mysteries in wrestling, and one of them for us is why Colin was not propelled to a greater status in the mid sixties. Sadly our story ends tragically as Colin passed away in 1971, aged just 31 years of age. We thank Colin's niece, Heritage member Mandy, for her help in celebrating the career of Colin Williamson.