Australian Professional Wrestling

Australian Professional Wrestling: A Short History
(Credit: World Wrestling Alliance)

The popularity of wrestling in Australia fluctuated over the years from packed audiences in stadiums to virtual extinction throughout the country.

The popularity of wrestling has almost certainly been dependant upon the arrival on the scene of outstanding athletes who were capable of gaining both the confidence and support of the spectators.

During the 1900’s there was little wrestling promoted in Australia and contests were few and far in between. Some of the earlier wrestlers who competed were; the Australian Champion, Clarence Weber, Professor William Miller, Jack Carkeek, Clarence Whistler and World Champion, George Hackenschmidt.

However, as time went by, the frequency of promotions increased until a peak was reached in 1925. In 1928, Stadiums Limited staged a tournament for the World Lightheavyweight Title. This was won by Clarence Ecklund who defeated Ad Santel and then Ted Thye in the final. Attendances reached an all time high during 1930’s with many small stadiums catering for people who were seeking some relief from the rigours of The Depression. Several wrestlers of note who appeared during this period were Earl McCready, Ed Strangler Lewis, Joe Stecher, Jim Browning, John Pesek, Dean Detton, Ray Steele, Gus Sonnenberg and Chief Little Wolf.

After the cessation of World War II, a fresh boom was experienced with overseas wrestlers being imported. Amongst these were Jim Londos, Sandor Szabo, Lofty Blomfield, Seelie Samara and Ray Gunkel. The standard was high and a faster and more exciting style was introduced, resulting in generally higher attendances. Local wrestlers who were making a name for themselves were George Pencheff, Tom Lurich, Fred Atkins, Tom Nilan, Eddie Scarf and Leo Jenson.

The Fifties ushered in a new era with wrestlers like Gorgeous George and Dr Jerry Graham. Both featured a more extravagant type of competitor replete with exotic apparel and hair styles. Wrestling audiences immediately took to the variety provided by the new – type wrestlers and the tactics which they employed, with the result being climbing attendances. Some of the wrestlers who appeared were; World Champion, Lou Thesz, Ricky Waldo, Ski Hi Lee, Chief Big Heart, King Kong ( Emile Czaja ), Great Zorro, Primo Carnera, Danny McShain, Len Holt, Frank Hurley, Alan Pinfold, Roy Heffernan, Jon Morro, Frank Potter and Snowy Dowton.

The sixties introduced a new approach by utilising television as a medium to advertise forthcoming programmes. US promoters, Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle brought World Championship Wrestling to our shores along with the innovation of the presentation of all wrestling cards, replacing the previous custom of wrestling main events being supported by boxing preliminaries. Not only did this meet with the approval of the spectators but it also provided the opportunity for young local wrestlers to gain experience and further their careers. Australia had many imported stars such as; Killer Kowalski, Ray Stevens, Dominic Denucci, Mark Lewin, Mario Milano, Spiros Arion, Karl Gotch, Bruno Sammartino, Pepper Gomez, Gorilla Monsoon and many others. Several local stars were; George Barnes, Ron Miller, Larry O’Dea, Con Tolios, Johnny Boyd, Con Dandos and Braka Cortez.

During the Seventies, the World Championship Wrestling promotion was bought by Tony Kolonie and still continued to draw large crowds with the likes of World Champion, Jack Brisco, Bobby Shane, Andre the Giant, Killer Karl Kox, Tex McKenzie, Les Thornton, Abdullah the Butcher, Waldo von Erich and Don Fargo to name a few.

However, in 1978, with rising production costs and the invention of World Series Cricket, Channel 9 cancelled the TV show and wrestling in Australia came to a sudden halt.



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