Legends Showdown 2.
“Them that like us, they can write what the hell they want. If they like wrestling, no explanation is needed. Those that don’t like us, any explanation about it, is not good enough.”
“They said we couldn’t do it, we couldn’t make it happen. Well we proved them wrong, and now we’ve done it again.” The words of Sanjay Bagga, the owner of LDN Wrestling, at the Civic Centre in Grays on Saturday 29th November.
He was of course talking about the resurrection of World of Sport wrestling at the Broxbourne Civic Hall a year earlier, which became known as Legends Showdown.
Anyone conversant with the sport will know exactly what Brian Crabtree was talking about when he made the comment above. For those of us who do love the sport, it doesn’t matter what the critics say about it, we still love it. And having attended an endless number of wrestling shows back in the 1980’s I know an enthusiastic crowd when I see one. And that’s what we had at Gray’s on Saturday night for the second in the Legend’s series.
Although not packed to capacity, the lack of numbers more than made up in atmosphere.
Keen to mix old and new, the team at LDN opened the show with two of the best of the new breed when the controversial Danny Garnell (winner of the best newcomer award at the reunion back in August) took on the athletic David DeVille. The match was set over 20mns with one fall, something more associated with the American freestyle scene at WWE. It was a contest full of action from start to finish with the in-ring antics of Danny Garnell’s rule bending style setting the crowd alight, creating the perfect ambience for what was to follow during the rest of the evening.
The next two men to grace the canvas would have been a top of the bill in anyone’s eyes, whether that was twenty years ago, or today. Danny Collins, holder of various titles in the past and looking extremely fit took on the might of the unbeaten ex-world lightweight champion, Johnny Saint, a veteran of the sport with more than forty years experience to his credit, and a man who still has the ability to shock and control a crowd with a versatility attributed to a man half his age, as Danny Collins would no doubt agree. As always with two men who love the sport it was a sheer pleasure to watch and a match where a referee could almost be made redundant. And talking of officials, the man in charge was none other than ex-world of Sport wrestler Bob Anthony, someone else who has also taken on Johnny Saint in his time.
Before the third match, LDN repeated the formula that worked for them in Broxbourne and honoured some of the most respected names in the history of the sport with a Legends Parade: stepping into the ring, amongst others, were the evergreen Steve Grey: Rasputin; Bobby Stafford, and a whole host of names: one time area South East Champion Frank Rimer was master of ceremonies. The highlight of the parade saw two well respected veterans receive lifetime achievement awards. Joe D’Orazio, the chairman of the Wrestler’s Reunion and himself one of the best referee’s the World of Sport had ever seen was one such recipient of the much-treasured awards. It was a very emotional moment for all concerned (not just Joe) because we all learned how much Joe had done with his life, and not simply the sport itself.
The award was presented to him by a man capable of manipulating a crowd better than any other wrestler alive, the arch villain himself, Mick McManus. Now in his eighties (like Joe) and taking life a little steadier, Mick was delighted to honour Joe but was then stunned into almost silence as Johnny Saint presented Mick himself with his own lifetime achievement award. As the Legends theme tune rang out over the sound system, the parade of wrestler’s drew the standing ovation they so deserved.
Perhaps the only disappointment of the night was the match before the interval. And not because it lacked anything that any other match gave us (more so in fact) but the legendary masked samurai warrior, Kendo Nagasaki, had refused to wrestle his opponent, LDN British Champion, Yorghos, in a match that was billed to incite any crowd to fever pitch: Mask v Title, with the Sword of Excellence thrown in.
Taking Nagasaki’s place was the controversial star from Sheffield (and Nagasaki’s tag partner) Blondie Barret. A lot was said before the match started, and when it finally did kick off, the crowd saw as much action outside the ring as they did inside, with Barret breaking every rule known to man, which included punching, kicking, using the time-keeper’s bell, and his second, and even one of Nagasaki’s trademarks of throwing salt into your opponents eye. How either man did not end up in hospital was a miracle. But the match did fire up the crowd into a near riot before most of them finally hit the best place to sooth one’s nerves ... the bar.
The first match following the interval saw the Caribbean Cruiser, Johnny Kincaid step back into the ring for the first time in eighteen years, taking on the notorious (although he now likes to think of himself as a gentleman) John Ritchie. Kincaid was in reasonable shape following his absence and had not lost the ability to consciously manipulate his opponent into thinking he had a real task ahead of him: something that was proved when Kincaid pinned Ritchie to the floor for a count of three very early in the first round. But things did not go all Kincaid’s way as an old injury flared up and made life pretty hard for him, although perhaps not as tough as it would have been on Sunday morning.
The final bout of the night saw one the finest technician’s the country has ever seen, Johnny Kidd, a man trained by the late, great Ken Joyce, and a wrestler who could hold his own in the ring with the other masters of the game, Johnny Saint & Steve Grey, and maybe even, dare we say it, Johnny’s namesake, George? Unfortunately, Kidd had decided that Legends Showdown 2 was to be his retirement bout. He took on Birmingham’s Keith Myers, which proved a tougher match than he’d probably expected as Myers managed to rank alongside Blondie Barret with his ability to bend the rules. One scary moment for Kidd was being trapped between top and middle rope by his neck, an incident that lost him a fall but not the bout.
Before he was allowed to leave the ring, Kidd was also presented by LDN owner, Sanjay Bagga with his own lifetime award for his services to the grappling game.
What more could anyone ask? An enthusiastic crowd, treat to first class performances by professional sportsmen who please people all over the country almost every night of the week with no thought of injury to themselves. But it seems that it wasn’t enough for Greg Dyke, controller of ITV’s World of Sport from 1988 onwards, who said “Wrestling was stuck in a timewarp – it personified the old English working class sitting round the telly, staring blankly.”
Perhaps he should have attended Legends Showdown 2 to see how wrong he was.
Sanjay Bagga proudly announced that Legends Showdown 3 would be coming to The Victoria Hall, Hanley in July 2009. Being as that is Kendo Nagasaki’s hunting ground, maybe the man of mystery will put in an appearance then. But whatever happens I wish Sanjay every success in his supreme efforts to bring British wrestling back to the TV, he deserves it.
So in the words of the ever-popular velvet voice of Kent Walton, “Have a good time, till next time.” I hope to see each and every one of you at Stoke in 2009.
Ray Clark 2008.