In my continued attempts to prove to the younger generation that there was wrestling before the Monday Night Wars I’m once again going to go back in time.
In fact we’re going so far back in time that what I’m about to look at is in black and white, and comes in the form of a compilation I purchased from British wrestling writer John Lister after he’d transferred his VHS collection to DVD. (Incidentally you can visit John’s site at http://www.johnlisterwriting.com/).
It was simply titled 1950’s Wrestling Volume 11, and that’s the kind of title that doesn’t really need any explanation.
It began with singles action as Japanese star the Great Togo faced Zack Malkov.
Our announcer informed us that this was being contested under no holds barred rules, but as that means no punching, eye gouging or biting it’s basically a normal match by today’s standards.
Scheduled to be a best of three falls affair Togo was fall of the stereotypical moves such as the pre-match sumo warm-up and the hands together bowing routine whenever apologising for a rules infraction. It was at these points when the commentator would come out with the “velly solly” line.
As for the match it’s okay, a little rough around the edges, and mainly contested on the ground. Togo bloodied Malkov’s cauliflower ear with a series of chops while the two exchanged various holds. Togo took the first fall with what would later become known as the cobra clutch after 25 minutes. Malkov tried to recover afterwards but couldn’t, giving Togo the default win.
Next up was New Zealander Pat O’Connor against Bob Orton. Yep, you read that right, it’s Randy’s grand-daddy.
This proved to be a very enjoyable match. Bob senior, here touted as the “baby face villain” brought out the punches early. He also used O’Connor’s hair to take him down several times.
But apart from these infringements this one was full of solid action, with both men putting on good performances as O’Connor got the one fall needed when he pinned Orton with a roll-up.
Then it was on to the ultimate showman of the time, the man who inspired many who came after him, the one and only Gorgeous George, taking on Cyclone Anaya.
The Human Orchid began this counter with his usual routine, throwing “Georgie pins” into the crowd before getting annoyed when the referee brushed the shoulder of his expensive robe.
When the match began George was all business, pulling out all the old heel tricks whenever he could, punching his man while on the referee’s blind side, as well as choking and hair pulling.
Anaya, for his part, looked pretty good, and gave as good as he got most of the time.
George took the first fall after a series of snap mares around the 25 minute mark. Anaya evened the score five minutes later with a cobra twist.
The match ended just a few minutes later. George threw Anaya out of the ring, with the Cyclone snapmaring the Gorgeous one when he got back onto the ring apron. They then stopped each other from getting back into the ring as the referee counted both of them out, the match being declared a draw.
Then it was on to the man from Argentina, Antonio Rocca, as he took on the man who gave Triple H his start, Killer Kowalski.
This was a really enjoyable match. Rocca frustrated Kowalski throughout with his acrobatic skills and his barefoot kicks to the head, so much so that he’d resort to underhanded tactics to get the upper hand.
It was these tactics that gave the first fall to Rocca as Kowalski connected with a knee drop after he’d released his grip as Rocca lay on the mat, earning an immediate disqualification.
Confused? Let me try to explain, because if it was like the old British rule then you couldn’t make contact with your opponent on the mat after you’d released your grip, you had to let him get up.
The second fall also went to Rocca, again by disqualification. Rocca had lifted Kowalski onto his shoulders, and when the killer hooked the top rope with his arm both men went tumbling out of the ring.
It was then that Kowalski began to attack Rocca, pushing him under the ring. The referee called a halt to the proceedings and disqualified Kowalski, giving Rocca the win, although it was a victory he was reluctant to receive given the circumstances.
The only tag team match of this collection saw Verne Gagne and Bobby Bruns taking on Rudy Kay and Al Williams.
The ring announcer obviously hadn’t done his homework here, because I’m pretty sure that Gagne doesn’t rhyme with Cagney.
There’s also different rules for these matches, these being that both members of a team have to be pinned or submitted for a “team fall”.
This was another very entertaining affair. Kay and Williams played the parts of the cowardly heels to perfection, always looking to dish out the illegal stuff, but complaining like hell when the roles were reversed.
However, their ways saw them getting the first team fall, with Kay submitting Gagne with a hammerlock and Williams pinning Bruns after a body slam.
The score was soon evened up though when Bruns pinned Wilson after a flying head scissors. The referee then disqualified Kay for coming into the ring to attack Bruns.
So with the match all square it went down to the final fall, which began when Gagne pinned Kay after a body slam. Once again the heel’s frustration led to their downfall, with the referee disqualifying Williams when he came into the ring and attacked Gagne, giving the baby faces the 2 falls to 1 victory.
It was back to singles action next as Bob Orton made his second appearance, taking on German star Hans Schmidt.
This battle of the heels was a highly charged and highly entertaining match.
Schmidt came forward as soon as the bell sounded, attacking Orton with a variety of blows before taking him down for the first fall with a body slam after just 35 seconds.
The action calmed down a little after that, with neither man backing down as the crowd started to cheer for Orton, mainly because they hated Schmidt more.
It was around the 15 minute mark where Orton equalised the scores, pinning Schmidt after a pile driver that looked more like a power bomb.
Just moments later it was all over as Schmidt connected with a knee to Orton’s face before taking him down with a body slam for the win.
Verne Gagne then made his second appearance, this time in singles action against Billy Gill in a one fall encounter. Thankfully the ring announcer knew how to pronounce his name this time.
This proved to be a very solid encounter filled with tons of mat wrestling. Gill began by working over Gagne’s arm with a hammerlock before Gagne came back with a head scissors.
We also saw some nice looking drop kicks, especially from Gagne. But sadly neither man could get the job done as the time limit expired, and a no decision result was rendered.
The final bout saw Art Nielson going up against Bobby Nelson.
This battle of heels was probably the nearest they got to an all out brawl back then. Nielson began by punching Nelson in the stomach, before choking his man under the pretence of a standing chin lock.
Nelson gave as good as he got, and from there there was plenty more choking and numerous punches mixed in with a few forearm smashes.
A wrestling match occasionally broke out before Nielson got the one fall needed after a body slam and knee drop.
In conclusion - so what have we got here then? About three and a half hours of mat wrestling, no high spots and hardly any running of the ropes. Production-wise there was only one camera, and the commentators, although they were knowledgeable and came out with some good lines were very dead pan.
An you know what? I loved every minute of it. It brought back fond memories of my youth, watching the old British wrestling shows on World of Sport every Saturday afternoon.
It was absolutely great to see the likes of Gorgeous George, Bob Orton, Killer Kowalski and Verne Gagne in their prime, mainly because I’ve heard and read so much about them over the years.
So in all this trip into the past definitely gets the thumbs up from me, and if you’re interested in getting hold of some footage from this time I can point y4ou in the direction of British tape trader The Bear, whose website can be found at http://www.freewebs.com/cbenee/.