In the post-war era, a handful of wrestlers could justifiably claim to have become household names. Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo and The Wild Man of Borneo in the sixties, and two or three others in later years. To even the most passing of wrestling fans, plenty of other very big names developed or were developed within the business, the likes of Les Kellett, Steve Logan and Ricki Starr springing to mind.
Another much broader group includes wrestlers nationwide who appeared on bills on a full-time or part-time basis, generally appearing as what we have termed undercarders and occasionally facing a big name in a main event spot. Just to give a flavour of who we mean, let's cite Leon Fortuna, Colin Joynson and Larry Coulton. But we could name many hundreds of others. These wrestlers were the backbone of the profession, working reliably and entertainingly, each with his own niche, and seemingly content to fulfil a supporting role, in many cases throughout an entire career.
It is tempting for us here to focus on the gold star names. They had the poster inches, the press coverage, the sensational television bouts, in short, the talking points. However, if we are to achieve our aim of providing real insight into the wrestling business in its heyday, we must not be seduced by fame as it was served up to the fans. We must look deeper.
The very epitome of an unsung hero that we describe and applaud is Two-Ton Tony Walsh from Leamington Spa.
Our earliest sightings are occasional 1974 appearances in his home town. The results, even though they tell us little about ability, do provide us with further evidence of the pecking order in place in Joint Promotions rings at that time, with the likes of Tornado Torontos and Tug Holton scoring victories over the local novice. Such were the beginnings of most careers. Regular work ensued over the coming years and the rugby-shirted rough-house developed his own style and travelled the land. He had the versatility to wrestle as an out-and-out villain or to wrestle cleanly, sportingly and above all extremely capably as has been evidenced by television re-runs thirty years later.
All fans, however, will forever associate the name of Banger Walsh with Big Daddy, and their very apparent and regular association perhaps gives us the clearest and most obvious insight into the role of the undercarder.
Big Daddy was a big name, but national fame had arrived late in life and his ring mobility was limited, and deteriorated in parallel with the demise of the sport as a whole. Coarse but effective promotion meant that he could fill halls by his very presence, and it cannot be denied that he travelled extensively and reliably to allow the fans to see him live, at an age when he should really have been relaxing on a Blackpool beach. His immobility was the snag.
A format evolved which was based on Big Daddy appearing almost exclusively in tag matches. In this way he could strut and point and shout, whilst limiting his actual wrestling contact time to a few minutes, and often seconds. For the format to work, as well as the referee, three suitable co-workers were required: a super heavyweight villain to share the headlining with the Halifax giant; a popular young athlete to partner Big Daddy, to be the victim of dubious tactics, to be cruelly victimised, but ultimately to share the glory in final victory; and a fourth, a villain, who did not need to be well known, but who could be involved for much of the bout, taking punishment from both his opponents, tagging in his equally immobile partner for a few choice moments, and ultimately being on the receiving end of one of Big Daddy's so-called special finishing moves, the body splash or the double elbows.
Tony Walsh comfortably assumed this fourth key role, and made it all his own. He had the stature and aggression to appear a credible opponent to Big Daddy, and had the wrestling ability to sell the whole bout through his interactions with his smaller opponent. He had the nerve and resilience to be on the receiving end of Big Daddy's finishers, at a time when the aging star could easily have mistimed his landings and caused serious harm. He probably had many other attributes that made Big Daddy and the promoters comfortable in allowing him his share of the main event on an almost nightly basis, but we should also note the characteristics he patently did not have.
Tony Walsh showed no sign through his career of envy or jealousy of the stars he made shine even more brightly. On the contrary, he humbly assumed the action role which lies at the core of all professional wrestling, or, at least, should, and saw to it that the Big Daddy show, in spite of highly questionable substance, was delivered and received as well as it possibly could have been.
He was also on hand to let other gimmicks glow, and in this shot takes a fall in the time-honoured wrestler v. boxer match.
30 years on, we could still see Banger Walsh in action, nimbly side-stepping awkward manoeuvres, generously giving the fans what they want, and reliably placed to be available seemingly at all times. This professionalism does not manifest itself in the squared circle, however, for Banger became the most forthcoming of internet participants in the lively on-line professional wrestling debate, which, well into the twenty-first century, continues to keep alive the golden years gone by. His willingness to answer fans' questions directly is well-known. He skillfully provides useful answers without ever denigrating his erstwhile colleagues or this sport of dubious repute, and he is a lone voice coming now paradoxically out of the opposing corner to defend Big Daddy at a time when many hold the Crabtree family responsible in no small measure for the downfall of professional wrestling.
This respect towards his colleagues and fans is reciprocated here as we salute in Tony Walsh the very embodiment of what made wrestling tick.
Tony Walsh was inducted into the Hall of Fame in August 2017.