W: Willis - Wiracocha

Wrestling Heritage A - Z

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Barry Willis 

Barry Williamson shortened his surname to Willis, as had his dad, Johnny  Willis.  He was one of the youngest professionals at the time aged just sixteen after a championship winning schoolboy amateur career. Marty Jones was a contemporary. He had a baptism of fire when he was matched against Keith (Blood Boots) Martinelli. Barry survived and went on to a successful career with both Joint Promotions and on the Independents.  


Barry had his own hairdressing business up the road from his dad's pub which meant that wrestling bouts had to be fairly local because of the business. 


He remembers bouts with Ian "Mad Dog" Wilson, Sugar Ray Francis, Pete Lindberg, Alec Burton and Eddie Rose. Barry still misses the wrestling life and wishes he could do it all over again (except the Martinelli bit)!


Johnny  Willis

Johnny Willis: a popular middleweight of the 50s and 60s who was from Sale in Manchester. Johnny had bouts against the likes of Tommy Mann, Danny Flynn, Fred Woolley and Alf Cadman. In fact Alf broke Johnny's leg in one hard fought bout. Johnny became a well-known referee on the Independent circuit in the later stages of his career as well as being landlord of the Charlestown pub just up the road from Booth Hall Children's Hospital and Bogart Hole Clough in North Manchester. Johnny fathered another good wrestler, Barry Willis. The father and son teamed up as the Willis Boys for tag matches in the late 60s and early 80s and Johnny's last bout was a tag with Barry versus Sugar Ray Francis and Johnny Jordan , a venue for which Barry still has the poster.

Dick Wills

Dick Wills had the reputation of being a very hard man, one of the very few who seemed to know no fear according to Athol Oakeley.

He was from Nothumberland but moved to south Lancashire to work as a coal miner. Consequently he was one of the hardest of the lighter wrestlers, but could also wrestle, and it was claimed by Oakeley that Dick was "the finest wrestler produced by England," whose standing work was superior to that of his good friend and world champion, American Benny Sherman. Wrestling historian Charles Mascall was also an admirer, naming Dick Wills one of the world's top middleweight wrestlers of all time. He rated Finland's Waino Ketonen number 1, Billy Riley number 2, and Dick Wills number eight, just behind Jack Dale, "Not many wrestlers of any weight could have beaten Wills in his prime." 

Wills learnt to wrestle in the fields around his Lancashire pit, catch-as-catch-can style. Although often said to be amateur matches there was more organisation to Lancashire catch wrestling in the 1920s than is often given credit. Admittedly the majority of matches were in fields by working men having a pull around to earn a bit of extra money, but there were also scheduled matches with paying customers and the wrestlers receiving a percentage of the gate money. So, not amateur in the way most of us would understand.

 In "Bue Blood on the Mat" Oakeley recounts the time that four gangsters entered the dressing room and threatened him. All other wrestlers apart from Dick Wills scarpered, but Wills physically stood between the men and Oakeley until they backed down and left the room. Not that he was brave, but he was a man who just didn't have any sense of fear, according to Oakeley.

Although mostly associated with the pre-war all-in days Dick did continue wrestling for a couple of years following the outbreak of peace, He was British light heavyweight champion from 1932, possibly claiming the title during the unregulated years until as late as 1947,  but titles are unclear and we cannot find any championship contest linking Wills to Bill McDonald who claimed the title in 1947.  

Undoubtedly a hard and skilled wrestler who was British light heavyweight champion for a time, Dick Wills had neither the weight or charisma to rank alongside the famous names mostly remembered. Nonetheless, a great pioneer and top wrestler of the 1930s. 

Bull Wilson

Bill (Bull) Wilson started wrestling seriously when in his mid twenties and was a heavyweight all his wrestling career. His love for good and wholesome food saw to that. He comes from the Govan area of Glasgow and his daytime employment was in the Hackney Cab Maintenance Industry. He ran a servicing and repair department in the city centre. Always a quiet family man he would bring the wife and kids down to the Sea Shore in Ayrshire, to enjoy the sun, if it shone that is, whilst he attended Sunday afternoon training sessions at Dale Storm's Gym in the sleepy mining village of Mossblown, a stones throw for the town of Ayr. He was not the quickest around the ring but when he clasped on a hold, he was like a Rottweiler dog, and it was almost impossible to to break free when this very,very powerful individual had a hold of you. He was always great to be with and had a wonderful laugh and a friendly smile. He is well respected among the Scottish fraternity. Although his career, like other younger entrants, was cut short by the loss of ITV'S World of Sport and the subsequent demise of the long established halls, He had however, established himself, in a very short time as the man to beat, after Andy Robin in his weight division. His speciality was the Backbreaker, at which he was very successful. He was tough but never dirty! He worked almost entirely for the Independents and featured regularly for Spartan Promotions. 

Eric "Tug" Wilson

The name wasn't original, there was a Tug Wilson wrestling in the 1930s and a bare knuckle heavyweight boxer of the same name in the 19th century. Nevertheless, Eric Tug Wilson was one of those that brought a breath of fresh air and reassurance to older fans at a time when the rings seemed dominated by oversized heavyweights of limited skill.  Not that Tug was in any way dull; just look at the costume. Yet another of those judo black belts of which our rings seemed full, and dressed accordingly,  Tug Wilson always provided value for money. He could wrestle, he could move, he could elicit sympathy and anger from the fans. Not just in singles matches, but in tag contests also he proved a fitting and worthwhile partner for  Rollerball Mark Rocco. Tug was landlord of the Clarence Hotel on the Wilmslow Road, Manchester.

Ian "Mad Dog" Wilson

We remember a chubby, cherub like middleweight dashing around the independent rings of the 1960s. He hadn’t been a professional for  long, having joined the paid ranks on 2nd October, 1966, beating Vic Durham at Failsworth, Manchester. We would never have imagined our cherub was going to turn into Mad Dog, a name we have been told was given to him following a hard fought match with Skull Murphy.  Mad Dog was a world apart from the teenager we had watched in the early days.  Ian knew how to work a crowd and his Mad Dog persona made the most of those talents. 

Fellow wrestler and long time friend Eddie Rose said: “I wrestled Ian many times in a 20 year span and he was one of the very best wrestlers in the UK and would stand comparison with any middleweight.”

Ian and Eddie went back many years, back to their training days. They wrestled each other many times and tagged together as the villainous Les Diables Rouges, Pete Lindberg was a third member of the team. 

Ian became interested in wrestling whilst at school in Stockport. He regularly went along to watch the wrestling at Belle Vue, Manchester, where he especially enjoyed watching Jack Pye in action.

When he was thirteen years old Ian joined the Hollywood Amateur Wrestling Club, where he came under the guidance of Bob Francini.  He was later a contemporary of Eddie Rose at Grant Foderingham's gym in Openshaw, Manchester. 

In 1969 Ian joined Joint Promotions, working mostly for Wryton Promotions, though most of his career was spent working for the independents.  It was a long career. From that 1966 debut he worked regularly into the 1990s and sporadically until  well into the 21st century, as late as 2008 – making him an active wrestler for well over 40 years!

"Tarzan" Johnny Wilson

Footballer Johnny joined Dale Martins at the end of 1974.  From the hunky-dory Portsmouth/Southsea/Fareham hub of south coast wrestling. He had a long and successful career, the highlight was, no surprises, a Royal Albert Hall defeat of his trainer, Big Bruno Elrington.  Another memorable bout, at the same venue, was in September, 1977, when he partnered Roy St Clair against the Caribbean Sunshine Boys Johnny Kincaid and Soulman Dave Bond.

Why on earth the promoters didn't bill him form the African jungle and have done with it we shall never know, it would have been far more interesting. A popular and skilled wrestler with fans throughout the south and further afield thanks to his television appearances.

Ken Wilson

By the mid 1930s Ken Wilson was wrestling around the rings of Britain, we have found him for the first time in 1935 against a young Vic Coleman. He was by all accounts, a classy  middleweight with top class opponents that included Olympians Robert Cook and Norman Morrell in the 1930s and later Mick McManus, Bob Archer O'Brien, Jack Queseck and Eddie Capelli. Ken Wilson seems to disappear from our rings around 1952. He encouraged a good friend of his to have a go at wrestling. The friend?  Mick McManus. The source of the story, Mick himself, in a 1962 interview in the Liverpool Echo.

Pete Wilson

After a couple of years with independent promoters, goalkeeper Peter joined his elder brother Johnny within the Joint Promotions network in 1975.  They tagged successfully against heavyweight pairings and even against lighter weighted opposition such as McManus and Logan.  Pete also had singles matches but never remained overshadowed by  brother Johnny. 

Dennis Winn

Dennis Winn was a very strong , muscular man who was a part time wrestler and part time tailor. Dwight J Ingleburgh told Wrestling Heritage,  "He was a Leeds lad who worked mainly in the Yorkshire area, not travelling a lot because of his business. I worked with him on Cyril Knowles shows. If you upset him he could be a real handful.”  Dennis’s physique gained him the nickname “The Perfect Man.” He was born in Leeds in 1931,  As a physical culturist Dennis was a Mr Universe finalist in 1951, 1952 and 1953, highest ranking 2nd in 1952.His success in physical culture was followed by success as a wrestler when he turned professional in his early twenties.

Bernard Hughes told Heritage: “I saw Dennis Winn once at Newcastle. He was all right,had been taught some moves, but obviously a top bodybuilder. They always play on the posing. He asked me the way to Newcastle Central station, and as we walked he told me that he was going to America shortly after. What struck me most about him was that with his overcoat on, he looked as broad as he was tall."

Inca Wiracocha

Inca Wiracocha was  in Britain during the winter of 1963-4 billed from Peru,  the sun god of the Incas. He wrestled big names like Gordon Nelson and Bill Joyce, but seemed to go down frequently, including losses against lesser lights of the time like Roy St Clair and Bob Sweeney. Big pay day seems to have been losing to Billy Howes at the Royal Alberts Hall on 29th April, 1964. TV listings against Billy Howes, Seamus Donlevy. The Sun God  returned in  November , 1970, when he partnered Gita Gonzales at the Royal Albert Hall to succumb to McManus and Logan.

Page reviewed: 10/10/2019