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Author Topic: Pro Wrestling in South Africa - Piecing Together Information and Looking for More
Tom Burke
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I checked my South African file and came up with some interesting notes for wrestling in that country. However, before I get into that an understanding of the social make up of the country prior to the break down of apartheid is important.

The control population of SA was comprised of whites with ties to Holland and England. SA was part of the British Empire/Commonwealth - I think it is still considered a Commowealth nation.

There was a heavy inflex of East Indian folks after World War Two - Indians, Pakistanis, Malays
and the like. They were not on the same level as
the white and were 2nd class citizens.

Native population - Zulu's and other tribal people. Not integrated in SA society till the end of apartheid.

Now on to wrestling history of SA from my notes
and file.

Pro wrestling was being promoted in SA in the 1920's, but it did not gain full success till
an Austrian born wrestler took over the task of promoting the sport in the 1930's. He was a former wrestler who had wrestled all over the world and even was a claimant to the World Middleweight championship in 1917. He was Henry (sometimes billed as Harry) Irslinger. Having wrestled in the US, Canada and all over Europe he had made contacts and networked with promoters and wrestlers bringing in top talent to SA. Jack Sherry was brought in in 1935 who was billed as the World Champion.

Irslinger continued to promote till his death in 1955. His associated and ex wrestler Bull Hefer took over and continued to promote in a European Round system.

Hefer also having contacts with promoters and wrestlers world wide brought in names from North America and Europe. He did this without the avenue of a local tv show till sometime in 1973/4 when
Montreal based pro wrestler, Gilles "The Fish" Poisson appeared on the SA TV screen.

Two years later on October 30th, 1976 the first ever 'mixed race" match took place. Jan Wilkens the SA recognized, World Champion faced Seiji Sakaguchi. The New Japan star became the new champion.

As the "colored" populace became more affluent several Indian business men in association with Tiger Dalbar Singh started to promote their own shows which was billed with wrestlers with a East Indian heritage. This was in 1978/79.

When Bull Hefer passed away Sam Kohen took over and promoted.

Several other East Indian groups started up and
ran shows. One of the most interesting guys to
try his hand was a fellow named Japail Singh. He brought in a group of Brits - Dave Taylor among them. First thing he did was take their passports on the pretence of something or other.

When the boys refused to work a show for not seeing any payoffs they were locked up.

The ironic part is that some 10 years later the promoter was also behind bars convicted of murder.

During the aparthied days seating at the matches
were designated by race. (Some years back I saw a ticket for a wrestling card in Nashville from 1954 with a 'surchage for Negro patrons - they too had their own seating area.)

I have not been on top of the SA scene in years but I don't ever recall any blacks wrestling on cards or any local efforts to promote. I did
correspond with a young wrestler from Zimbabwe who was part of a local promotion there that was in 1985/86 comprised of other young black men.

A side note ... When Tony Olivas aka The Elephant Boy wrestled in SA in the late 50's
he had a very deep tan and being of Mexican heritage he had issues with the SA boxing/wrestling commission as to his being white. It was settled with Promoter Irslinger convinced the commission that Tony was not a Negro from the States - probably a payoff to the
commission.

Hope that this helps ....

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Tom Burke
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Messed up on a name .. the promoter who put Dave Taylor and the other Brits in jail was named - Shane Jaipal.

Also Sam Cohen .. his parter was Willie Kohen ..
Sam moved to Texas his son wreslted as Steve Simpson along with a brother (having a senior moment and can't recall his name).

There were special areas in South Africa that were tourist areas that had some semi-independence one was Sun City where Hulk Hogan
was on the top of the bill in the early 80's .. I think his opponent was Terry Funk, but not 100% sure.

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Crimson Mask from FL
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Tom, reread the thread. Simpson is the real name and Cohen was the ring name, and Steve's brother was Shaun, and there was a third brother, Stuart, who also wrestled.

The match in Sun City was indeed Hogan vs. Funk, been discussed quite a bit including in Terry (Funk)'s book. Short version the deal was Terry would do the honors and nobody was suppsed to talk about the match in Japan, because Hogan worked for Inoki and Terry worked for Baba, and Hogan when he returned to Japan lost no time in running his mouth about it.

[ 07-08-2010, 04:38 PM: Message edited by: Crimson Mask from FL ]

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Ken Viewer
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Found one of 'em; courtesy and by permission of British Pathe, including footage of "Willie Kohne" apparently filmed in Rhodesia:

Their caption reads; "Various shots of wrestling match between wrestlers Piet van der Merwe and Vic Smythe. Various shots wrestling match between Willie Kohne and Fred Coates. Fred Coates (leopard skin pants) attacks the referee - whole match dissolves into massive scrap with the wrestlers' handlers and the ref joining in."

Please note that I did not write that poetry the narrator spews. You have the option of turning off the sound. RTT in Britain in August of 1959.

British Pathe's new embeds will not pass muster with the Wrestling Classics software, so click here. Some footage also starts with 15-second commercials.

Ken

[ 07-08-2010, 05:53 PM: Message edited by: Ken Viewer ]

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tamalie from MN
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quote:
Originally posted by Tom Burke:
There were special areas in South Africa that were tourist areas that had some semi-independence one was Sun City where Hulk Hogan
was on the top of the bill in the early 80's .. I think his opponent was Terry Funk, but not 100% sure.

Sun City was located in Bophuthatswana which was considered by South Africa, and no other nations, as an independent nation. This was a sham perpetrated by the South African government. The deal was that each tribe was given a so called homeland which would be an independent nation for that particular group. The trade off was the black people whose tribe was granted a so called homeland were no longer considered by the South African government to be citizens of that nation. Thus the South African government would steadily reduce the number of blacks who were citizens of the nation until eventually arriving at a point when whites were the majority and somehow justify Apartheid. Of course the rest of the world recognized this as the baloney it was and never afforded recognition to the homelands.

At any rate, by locating itself within the homeland of Bophuthatswana, Sun City could portray itself as being located in an independent black nation and not in Apartheid ruled South Africa. On that basis, it hoped to attract foreign visitors and foreign entertainers who would otherwise not have performed in South Africa, but were ignorant of where Sun City really was or knew but hoped others didn't know so they could get away without criticism.

By technically being located outside South Africa, Sun City could offer gambling, alcohol, and other entertainment to South African citizens access to which was restricted within that country's official borders. After Apartheid ended, the homelands were brought back into South Africa.

[ 07-08-2010, 08:31 PM: Message edited by: tamalie from MN ]

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mr. disco
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quote:
Originally posted by Tom Burke:
The control population of SA was comprised of whites with ties to Holland and England. SA was part of the British Empire/Commonwealth - I think it is still considered a Commowealth nation.

They left (or were booted out of) the Commonwealth in the early 1960's over the issue of apartheid. I believe they rejoined after the fall of apartheid.

This has really been a fascinating thread - thanks guys!

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"Just because you ain't paranoid don't mean they ain't out to get you." - Steve Earle

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Martin Tori
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quote:
Originally posted by tamalie from MN:
quote:
Originally posted by Martin Tori:
quote:
Originally posted by Crimson Mask from FL:
But even at that, how did he get over? There's like NO Jewish population there, never was.

Tellin' ya, it's like the early 70's Carolina hillbillies cheerin' for the big scary black guy with the hippie peace sign on his boots (Sonny King) all over.
I also erroneously figured his name was Sammy Cohen, but he changed it to Alec Simpson out of fear that a Jew wouldn't get over with the fans. The Jewish population of South Africa was only about 70,000 to 75,000 at its 1970s peak at a time when the total population was about 26,250,000 with about 18,500,000 blacks, 4,500,000 whites, 2,500,000 "coloureds" of mix race, and 750,000 Asians.
Did Sammy always work as a babyface in South Africa? Occurred to me that, given the institutionalized bigotry there, he might've been booked as a heel (ala Fritz) and evolved into the local babyface while keeping elements of his original gimmick.

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"16 day debreidden is hopspital and did gp crazt. Check. Peached are godd, check."

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tamalie from MN
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Good point. I figured he was a babyface just because it's so much more common for a promoter/wrestler to book himself as a babyface. He very well could have been a heel. I don't know enough info to tell one way or the other.
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Travlr
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quote:
Originally posted by mr. disco:
quote:
Originally posted by Tom Burke:
The control population of SA was comprised of whites with ties to Holland and England. SA was part of the British Empire/Commonwealth - I think it is still considered a Commowealth nation.

They left (or were booted out of) the Commonwealth in the early 1960's over the issue of apartheid. I believe they rejoined after the fall of apartheid.
Pretty close, but as with most such things, a bit more complecated than that.

Basically, in the late 50s, the London Declaration of 1949 was made public, and that was what laid down the foundation of the Commonwealth as we know it today. Many nations had to re-apply for inclusion due to some of hte politics of the time. One of those nations was South Africa, and one of those points was a respect for racial equality becoming a requisite of membership. As a result, South Africa withdrew it's application in 1961.

Now, keep in mind, I am REALLY nutshelling the whole process, and South Africa was not the only country that ended up with membership re-application problems.

South Africa was re-admitted to the Commonwealth of Nations (as it's now called) in 1994.


More on the subject, it would be interesting to see what sorts of changes occured before, during and after South Africa's period outside of the Commonwealth.

And antoher point to consider is that during the mid-1970s and into the 1980s, South Africa an Israel were very chummy, diplomatically speaking. Due to their being, for the most part, "on the outs" with most of the nations of the world, they did a lot of work together. How this realtionship may have played to Simpson/Cohen being a 'face or a heel during his time there coudl be interesting in and of itself (in pro wrestling, NOTHING happens in a vaccuum, right?)

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a fan since '68....

"Reputation is what others think about you. Honor is what you know about yourself. The friction tends to arise when the two are not the same.... Guard your honor; let your reputation fall where it may."

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codystarbuck
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Israel was involved with several governments in Africa and Latin America, at that time (and later), including Uganda. They provided military training and technical support. In fact, part of the success of the Entebbe raid was that the airport terminal had been built by Israeli engineers and the raiding forces were able to study complete blueprints and rehearse with a mock up put together by the same engineers.

Sun City became a major focus of criticism in the music industry by the 1980's. Queen took a lot of flack for playing there and a group of artists put together a record and video (post Band-Aid and USA For AFRICA) attacking the South African policies, titled (if I remember correctly) "I Ain't Gonna Play Sun City." I don't remember everyone involved but I believe it was organized by Miami Steve Van Zandt. Manfred Mann's "Somehwere in Africa" album had multiple songs adressing the problems of South Africa, including the "tribal homelands," like Kwazulu and Bophuthatswana.

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"The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it’s as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues." —Terry Pratchett

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Travlr
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quote:
Originally posted by codystarbuck:
Sun City became a major focus of criticism in the music industry by the 1980's. Queen took a lot of flack for playing there and a group of artists put together a record and video (post Band-Aid and USA For AFRICA) attacking the South African policies, titled (if I remember correctly) "I Ain't Gonna Play Sun City." I don't remember everyone involved but I believe it was organized by Miami Steve Van Zandt.

Sliding to the side of the main topic...

Yeah, Miami Steve was the brains behind the Artists United Against Apartheid song, Sun City. The song was recorded with and the video included artists like Bono -- all of U2 in fact -- Springsteen, Ringo Star, Dylan, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Loue Reed, Afrika Bambaataa, Pat Benatar and nearly two dozen others.

It was really the first time the whole Sun City situation had been addressed in the growing pop culture media. And defeintiely helped ratchet up the internatinal pressure on South Africa on the issues of apartheid a couple more notches.



Bringing this back to the issue at hand, how did this growing outside pressure affect the promotion of wrestling within South Africa and in the "tribal homelands"?

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The Traveller
a fan since '68....

"Reputation is what others think about you. Honor is what you know about yourself. The friction tends to arise when the two are not the same.... Guard your honor; let your reputation fall where it may."

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dw
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Sun City and the other Sun Resorts that were located in the homelands were the best draws for Paul.

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It may be my sole purpose in life is, quite simply, to serve as a bad example to others.

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NJRob65
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quote:
Originally posted by codystarbuck:
Israel was involved with several governments in Africa and Latin America, at that time (and later), including Uganda. They provided military training and technical support. In fact, part of the success of the Entebbe raid was that the airport terminal had been built by Israeli engineers and the raiding forces were able to study complete blueprints and rehearse with a mock up put together by the same engineers.

Sun City became a major focus of criticism in the music industry by the 1980's. Queen took a lot of flack for playing there and a group of artists put together a record and video (post Band-Aid and USA For AFRICA) attacking the South African policies, titled (if I remember correctly) "I Ain't Gonna Play Sun City." I don't remember everyone involved but I believe it was organized by Miami Steve Van Zandt. Manfred Mann's "Somehwere in Africa" album had multiple songs adressing the problems of South Africa, including the "tribal homelands," like Kwazulu and Bophuthatswana.

Manfred Mann-real name Manfred Lubowitz-was born in South Africa in 1940. He emigrated to England in 1961, to further his music career.
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tamalie from MN
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quote:
Originally posted by dw:
Sun City and the other Sun Resorts that were located in the homelands were the best draws for Paul.

Sun City has a 6,500 seat arena that the WWF/WWE later used on its tours.
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Madison Carter from TX
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...and sometimes an absolutely remarkable and noteworthy thread still comes along.

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Twitter: @madisoncarter76

Freakin' Awesome Network

"What the hell's worth doing in this world if it doesn't have a price to pay?" - Bob Morgan

quote:
Originally posted by brawler2711:
Virgil has worked with all the greats



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dw
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Shane tried exactly the same stunt on a crew of mine in '91. We were sued over loses incurred by Shane, due to our lies, ect. On the list of expenses were our wages that we had never been paid.
The sheriff that arrived with his riot squad saw what was happening. We were placed under house arrest, with our passports confiscated, AFTER I signed an agreement we would work in South Africa another 6 weeks at an outrageously low price.
The next day, the sheriff and his deputy son took me to a magistrate. Everything was dropped when all documents were revealed.
THEN, Shane cancelled all tickets that he had paid for on a line of credit. WE paid our own way home, after being stuck another 4 days. Paul Lloyd was in Russia during all this.
Nice to hear that rat ba**** is in the pen.

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It may be my sole purpose in life is, quite simply, to serve as a bad example to others.

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tamalie from MN
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Retreating from 1980s and 1990s tours, who was wrestling in South Africa during the 1960s and 1970s? I assume the talent was mostly homegrown or from the UK. Does anyone know?

Regardless of the era, was booking done along the lines of a North American territory or was it more akin to that of the UK or even Japan where there were few if any angles as we know them here?

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dw
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What I saw, the foreign talent was Canadian, British, and a few rare times, American.
Most were big like Blackjack Mulligan. Wilkens was a fairly big man that used the giant killer type booking theory.
As far as angles? What I saw was almost primative. Media buildup to a big match. If they had a return, a simple return that allowed Wilkens to be king of South Africa until the next monster arrived.

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It may be my sole purpose in life is, quite simply, to serve as a bad example to others.

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Matt Farmer from WA
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Dusty- How was Jan Wilkens as a worker? I've only seen brief clips of him here and there. How many tours did you make? That was one of the trips I always wanted to make, and almost did when Jerry Morrow was helping Gama book some guys.

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Pier 6er from NY
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When I started following pro wrestling in early 1974, some of the non-Apter magazines (Wrestling Monthly, Wrestling Revue, and The Ring Wrestling) used to cover South Africa, as I remember them mentioning that Jan Wilkens was their top star/promoter. I remember that Don Leo Jonathan had wrestled a few tours of South Africa back then, and I remember reading about Sakaguchi defeating Wilkens to win that area's world title.

In the early 1980's, Nikolai Volkoff did a tour of South Africa with Mario Milano and Jewish indy wrestler Scott Schwartz (who later wrestled in Herb Abrams' UWF as Joshua Ben-Gurian):

http://www.ultimatebadguy.com/SA2.jpg

I also remember World Class mentioning about Eric Embry defeating (and crippling) Peter Vander Gralen to win the World's Light Heavyweight Title, and I had no doubt from the beginning that this was a total work (right up there with the WWWF's Rio de Janeiro title tournaments).

IWCCW television in the early 1990's used to show some matches from South Africa and/or Sun City, as I recall seeing Lance Von Erich wrestling Dusty Wolfe (and a big thanks to DW for his input on this great thread).

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MMA is the new pro wrestling (and has been for quite awhile).

"A woman's place is where I put 'em"
- The Latin Heartthrob, Al Perez in World Class Championship Wrestling (approx. 6:10 mark):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXOg4eKN79E

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dw
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Wilkens was a stiff crowbar that treated the business as a shoot.
I made 10 tours from 88-96.

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It may be my sole purpose in life is, quite simply, to serve as a bad example to others.

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fivefatcatsguy from the Twin Cities
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Sailor White/Moondog King and Randy Culley wrestled there as Big John and Little John Strongbo.
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dw
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They had a 3rd partner I haven't seen before or since. All three were over in the mid 80's

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It may be my sole purpose in life is, quite simply, to serve as a bad example to others.

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Martin Tori
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quote:
Originally posted by Travlr:
Yeah, Miami Steve was the brains behind the Artists United Against Apartheid song

NITPICK POLICE! NITPICK POLICE!

He'd already changed his gimmick from "Miami Steve" to "Little Steven" by that point.

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"16 day debreidden is hopspital and did gp crazt. Check. Peached are godd, check."

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Travlr
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quote:
Originally posted by Martin Tori:
quote:
Originally posted by Travlr:
Yeah, Miami Steve was the brains behind the Artists United Against Apartheid song

NITPICK POLICE! NITPICK POLICE!

He'd already changed his gimmick from "Miami Steve" to "Little Steven" by that point.

To some of us, he'll always be Miami Steve.... [Wink]

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The Traveller
a fan since '68....

"Reputation is what others think about you. Honor is what you know about yourself. The friction tends to arise when the two are not the same.... Guard your honor; let your reputation fall where it may."

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Martin Tori
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quote:
Originally posted by Travlr:
quote:
Originally posted by Martin Tori:
quote:
Originally posted by Travlr:
Yeah, Miami Steve was the brains behind the Artists United Against Apartheid song

NITPICK POLICE! NITPICK POLICE!

He'd already changed his gimmick from "Miami Steve" to "Little Steven" by that point.

To some of us, he'll always be Miami Steve.... [Wink]
I never got that. He's from JERSEY!!!

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"16 day debreidden is hopspital and did gp crazt. Check. Peached are godd, check."

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Travlr
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quote:
Originally posted by Martin Tori:
He's from JOISEY!!!

...corrected for proper dialect....

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The Traveller
a fan since '68....

"Reputation is what others think about you. Honor is what you know about yourself. The friction tends to arise when the two are not the same.... Guard your honor; let your reputation fall where it may."

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Crimson Mask from FL
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quote:
Originally posted by Crimson Mask from FL:
The match in Sun City was indeed Hogan vs. Funk, been discussed quite a bit including in Terry (Funk)'s book. Short version the deal was Terry would do the honors and nobody was suppsed to talk about the match in Japan, because Hogan worked for Inoki and Terry worked for Baba, and Hogan when he returned to Japan lost no time in running his mouth about it.



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If you lames are the master race, my money's on the mud people.---Andrew Vachss

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The Mississippi Mauler mark II
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awesome and compelling read thanks!

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"The best fine producer in our tournament was a guy from Tennessee named Moondog Randy Colley. He'd spent a few years in the WWF as part of the Moondogs tag team and claimed to have invented the leather-clad face-painted gimmick of Demolition, which Vince then stole from him. I liked Demolition better when they were called the Road Warriors anyway.", Chris Jericho from A Lion's Tale

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BERT from NJ
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quote:
Originally posted by Travlr:
quote:
Originally posted by Martin Tori:
He's from JOISEY!!!

...corrected for proper dialect....
What's written there is a BROOKLYN (NY) Accent.
Yet I always get that "OI" substitution for "ER" whenever someone from elsewhere decides they know what "Jersey" sounds like.
We pronounce our "R"s. If anything, we say it as "JURSEY"
It's already bad enough those Staten Island poseurs are thought of as Jerseyites because of that stupid TV Show, don't add to it.

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General Zod

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PCmor
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I didn't notice Tarzan Jacobs mentioned in this thread, but, in my random searches for information about wrestlers of the past, his name came up as one of the big homegrown stars in the history of South African wrestling.

The information I've found is sketchy so far, but from what I've gleaned he was a contemporary or maybe came on the scene a few years before Wilkens, a bodybuilder revered for his great strength, particularly his forearm power.

I found a result for him during a 1973 tour of Japan where he recorded a submission of Antonio Inoki in the second fall of a best-of-three six-man tag bout before returning the favor in the final fall.

I haven't found anything about him ever touring the U.S., but I'd be interested in any other info someone might have pertaining to him.

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Matt Farmer from WA
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Jacobs was listed in a few body builder magazines for having 16" forearms.

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JWLPromoter from FL
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Blackjack Mulligan, Big John Studd and Hercules Ayala all held the EWU World Super Heavyweight Title.

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bunkhouse
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Tom Burke would quite often have some really nice South Africa box ad clippings in his Global Wrestling publication. Awesome stuff.
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Happ Hazzard
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South Africa didn't have any kind of television service until 1976, which I imagine greatly affected the wrestling scene over there.
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Matt Farmer from WA
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Wanted to bump this up, but also another question. Does anyone know a listing of African promoters in say like the 70's or something?

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habsfan87 from NL
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Read Sailor White's book. It talks about his time there as Big John Strongbo.
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RockyRacoon War Damn Eagle from GA
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quote:
Originally posted by Martin Tori:
Interesting that he would change his name to sound more Jewish (in fact, as Jewish as humanly possible)

I dunno. I know a guy named Gilman Hackel. I think he takes the cake.
Naturally, out of all the great people in the Columbus Jewish community, HE... with that name... has to be the guy who happens to live up to the most negative of Jewish stereotypes. He has, single-handedly, been reinforcing the ignorant views about Jewish people of many folks around Columbus for many years.

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Blind Guy
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Gama Singh (Calgary) has been mentioned as working SA, I am guessing there was some connection with Vancouver too. Following link has a 1984 tour reference, crew booked through Moose Morowski. "Wojo the BC Hulk" played basketball against me (well, my team, I was benchwarming) in HS. Recent thread about Big John Quinn had him working SA too, but that was likely earlier than 1980's.

http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingBiosXYZ/yawrenko-can.html

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Michael Moriarty as Henry Wiggen in, "Bang the Drum Slowly" (1973)

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Blind Guy
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BUMP

As Madison pointed out, a great thread.

A great OP, first-hand stuff from dw and others, tidbits from expersts like Mr. Burke & Mr. Viewer. Matt with good anecdotes, Trav with political background, and CM keeping things straight. I, too, was one with the Cohen=Simpson backwards.

There are references to the established promoters Wilkens/Cohen/Lloyd/Irslinger andPower Mike in Nigeria. A little on the recent shady promoting. Has there not been some stories of other African (maybe not SA itself) tours that were disasters for guys like Lance Storm?

Had earlier missed the Butch Masters/Giant Warrior reference, he married a SA worker IIRC.

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Michael Moriarty as Henry Wiggen in, "Bang the Drum Slowly" (1973)

"From here on in, I rag nobody"

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