This is hopefully the first in a series of interviews with some of the greats from yesteryear. First up, is Eddie Hamill.
‘The Amazing Kung Fu’ Eddie Hamill was a wrestling star in the golden age of UK wrestling. Starting his career in the 60’s, he eventually became ‘The Amazing Kung Fu’. He grappled with many on the UK scene and also wrestled in Canada for Stu Harts Stampede Wrestling.
For those not old enough to remember you, could you describe yourself?
I first entered the ring as ‘Kung Fu’ wearing a mask and a karate suit adorned with dragons and Chinese writing, although a masked man was always a villain! I changed that by being a clean, clever wrestler, although it took a while, it soon became clear that I stuck to the rules and was a clean wrestler.
You started out you wrestling training at Milo’s gym in Belfast alongside the legendary Dave Finlay Snr, what are your memories of that time?
I started to learn wrestling in the 60’s, the gym was the pits; no running water, no heating, just a ring and some weights above an old garage. It was hard to start with but I had two good teachers. Winter was the worst time with no heating; you had to keep wrestling just to keep warm! I was knocked about a lot, it was a test to see if you had it in you to be a wrestler, although I was used to getting hard knocks at judo, so it was nothing new to me.
Judo also formed part of your base; do you think that helped out in your wrestling career?
As I said, I had practised judo for years, so it helped me greatly in wrestling. For a start, I knew how to fall without hurting myself and I could hold my own against seasoned wrestlers, especially in ground work. I took to the wrestling a lot quicker than the other students and was one of the first to be offered a paid bout.
In your debut match you faced The Kydd Brothers in a tag match, looking back, how do you think it went?
My first match against the Kydd Brothers was a wash out, the brothers were in the wrestling for years and were also body builders and the bout was terrible. The brothers would not give us an inch, it was a tag match, so it was not just me they were giving nothing to, it takes two to make a good bout, everything was them, them, them, if the brothers had been around today, no promoter would give them the time of day.
Why did you decide to wear a mask?
I had been wrestling as Mike ‘Judo’ Hamill for years but was just a run of the mill wrestler with no gimmick that was, until I saw an advert for a book in a newspaper. There was this guy stood there with a mask on wearing a judo suit, he was advertising a new martial art from China called Kung Fu and because this art was so secret he wore a mask to hide his identity, in case the masters of Kung Fu would punish him for revealing their secret art! Of course, it was a gimmick to sell the book but I thought what a great gimmick; I already had the suit, so made a mask and the mystery man Kung Fu was born.
After that, you went on a tour of Turkey with famed promoter Orig Williams. How did you find that experience?
It was a seven week tour of Turkey, I had never been abroad before so it was a great adventure, four of us went by car, it took us three days to get to Turkey! I fought two Turkish lads, which was very hard, their national sport is oil wrestling, where they cover each other in oil and then wrestle, so it was hard for them to adapt to our style of wrestling but I learnt a lot on that tour and met some great wrestlers.
Whilst on the trip, you met up with a Korean martial arts expert who at the time, was there teaching Turkish soldiers. What techniques did you pick up that benefitted your career?
A Korean soldier came to one of our shows in Turkey and because I was into martial arts he started talking to me, he was teaching the Turkish army a form of martial arts called Kung Fu, as I said I had never heard about it, he invited me to come along the next day to have a look which I did. I was amazed at what I saw, Judo for me was a sport with rules, what I was seeing had no rules; it was how to break bones and gouge out eyes and knocking people unconscious. I picked up a few things which I thought I could use, but it was too violent for me but I think it has calmed down a lot today.
In 1974 you made your televised debut against Clive Meyers in Worksop, a bout which you won. What was it like performing in front of the cameras for the first time?
The first time I appeared in front of the TV cameras was a bit daunting, plus I was wrestling Clive Meyers, who was a top wrestler. Clive went to kick me but I blocked it but the kick caught me on the thumb dislocating it, so the rest of the match slowed down because of the pain I was going through, the lads in the dressing room pulled it back for me at which I passed out and hit the floor, so not a first good TV start.
After that, you faced such opponents such as ‘Cyanide’ Sid Cooper, Mick McManus, Bert Royal, Mark Rocco, Frank Cullen and Dave ‘Fit’ Finlay. What are your memories of that time and some of the matches?
Rocco, Finlay, McManus, Cooper and Kendo were all top wrestlers and I enjoyed working with every one of them, each were different; Mick McManus could get a crowd going just by looking at them, Rocco and Finlay would just go, go, go right from the bell, Sid Cooper could do comedy or be a right villain and Kendo and George could wind the punters up before a match had started, they were all true professionals.
Kendo Nagasaki was your opponent in March 1976, who you fought at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a bout which you lost and as it was a ‘loser to unmask’ contest, you had no choice but to reveal yourself. What are your memories of that match?
Wrestling Kendo at the Royal Albert Hall was just another bout, there was nothing special about it, I remember the hall was packed which made the atmosphere electric and of course Kendo beat me with his famous kamikaze roll at which I had to unmask.
You were also part of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. You starred in a televised bout with tag partner Pete Roberts where you competed against Mick McManus and Tally Ho Kaye. What was it like being a part of the Silver Jubilee celebrations?
It was a great honour to work at the Silver Jubilee at the Albert hall, everyone on the show that night received a nice letter of thanks and an engraved plaque to hang on the wall.
In 1981 you signed a contract with Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling; whilst you were there Stampede was home to the Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy Smith etc. What was it like being surrounded by such talent?
Working for Stu Hart in Calgary was a great experience, I wrestled with some of the greatest wrestlers in the world and top man at the time was the Dynamite Kid who I wrestled twice at the Stampede. I knew Tommy from back in England so we got on great, was sorry to hear that he is now in a wheel chair, one of the greatest wrestlers in the world.
You were part of the ‘golden age’ of British wrestling, did it feel like that at the time?
The golden age of wrestling was about in the 60’s and 70’s with TV World Of Sport on every Saturday and Wednesday night, wrestling was so popular at the time, I would be wrestling seven nights a week. At the time, we never saw it as the golden years, we thought it would go on forever, sadly after the TV company axed wrestling, things started to go downhill; there were no new stars being made and punters started to forget about wrestling, although it did pick up a bit years later.
Do you watch any wrestling these days?
I don’t watch wrestling on TV now but I do go to my local shows in the summer to have a chat with some of the young stars, it’s nice that they often ask me to watch their bout and give them any advice; it feels good to be still part of wrestling.
The UK is famed for being the home of the Catch As Catch Can Style along with the infamous Snake Pit, do you think we could ever go back our roots?
UK wrestling was known throughout the world as the best, even today I have been shown great respect from American wrestlers, wrestling is still going very strong today and there is some great talent out there I have seen some of the best wrestling I have ever seen but I don’t think we will ever get back to the golden years without TV, it has gone but never forgotten, I feel very proud that I was part of it.
Is there anything else you’d like to say, add or plug?
On a last note, I would ask all you fans out there to go along to your local show and scream and boo your heads off, you are the ones who will keep British wrestling alive. For loads of stories about wrestling go to www.theamazingkungfu.co.uk.
Many thanks to Eddie for taking the time out to answer the questions.