The other week I had the tremendous honour of interviewing former British wrestling great Marty Jones when he spoke at a seminar in Glasgow to aspiring wrestlers.
In our chat we covered him getting into the sport, his thoughts on modern wrestling, if British wrestling will ever get on TV again and the sad passing of his mentor Billy Robinson.
THE next generation of Scottish wrestling talent were recently treated to a tutorial from two of the biggest names in the history of British wrestling when Johnny Saint and Marty Jones paid a visit to the Scottish Source Wrestling School in Pollockshaws.
The pair were big players in the ‘World of Sport’ heydey of British wrestling and Damian O’Connor, who runs the school, brought the pair up to part knowledge onto his students. A once in a lifetime opportunity presented to not only newcomers but also some of the established names and former British champion Marty Jones was quick to praise the Scottish wrestling scene.
“I was invited to come up here and pass my views on and have a look at some of the talent. And there’s a lot of talent in Scotland and across the UK and they are being taught the right way,” said Jones. “What I do now that I’m out of the business is pass on a bit of verbal information on to them and help these young people out.”
While wannabe grapplers now are able to learn the trade via a number of wrestling schools it was vastly different in Jones’ day. “Weren’t many schools when I was breaking in. I had to go through the amateur ranks and Olympic wrestling first,” reminisced Jones. “I think these schools are both good and bad. If it is done right then it will be like everything else and will be a success.”
‘World of Sport’ saw millions tune in every Saturday afternoon at four o’clock to see performers such as Giant Haystacks, Johnny Saint, Mick McManus, Kendo Nagasaki as well as talent from around the globe compete. At its very peak 18 million viewers tuned in to watch the 1981 match between Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks which was aired from Wembley Arena but despite being a long-running rival to BBC Grandstand it was scrapped in 1988 after more than 30 years on the air.
“When I was on television most Saturdays it was great,” said Jones. “But when British wrestling came off of the TV schedule our shop window was gone.”
“It’s so very difficult now. These guys could be the best wrestlers in the world but without television, they don’t have the exposure to make a name for themselves. That’s a hurdle that has to be crossed. It’s alright getting a ring and putting it in a town hall and putting on a wrestling show in front of a couple of hundred people but you need more than that.”
It’s now more than 25 years since British wrestling was removed from the TV schedule and despite rumours suggesting it was set for a comeback, any comeback now looks increasingly unlikely. That’s not to say there isn’t a buzz once again about British wrestling.
Glasgow, Scotland arguably has one of the hottest scenes and last week the characters of Insane Championship Wrestling were featured in a BBC documentary shown across the UK. It may not be the same as having matches broadcast to millions of homes every Saturday afternoon but Jones thinks it’s a start.
“You need that TV coverage. It’s what created household names and there are no household names now. There’s no Big Daddys, Haystacks, Roccos, Johnny Saints, or Finlays now,” stated Jones. “We made our name on the television. Unfortunately, with no TV it doesn’t allow people to get to see this new talent. A lot of promotions putting on the American style of wrestling but you cannot beat the British style of wrestling.”
“World of Sport was an institution. You’d get your coupon ready, watch football then it was always the wrestling before you even checked your coupon. I know it is missed. People still want professional wrestling back on television.”
Marty is unsurprisingly reflective when it comes to the many that got him into wrestling and played a huge role in his wrestling career. That man, Billy Robinson, died at the beginning of the month aged 75. As well as training Jones and Johnny Saint, Robinson’s name is synonymous with British wrestling and Jones is understandably distraught at the passing of a man he considers like family.
“I was six years of age and wore glasses and was getting bullied at school. I went down to Billy Robinson’s gym, he knew my father, to control my temper and the rest is history. He was family to me,” said Jones.
“Billy taught me from the age of six to the age of 17 when I became British amateur champion, Olympic wrestling then I decided to turn pro. I met him only last month when he was in Leeds. I can honestly say I’m gutted. Absolutely gutted.”