In the second edition of interviews with some of the legends, we chat with Tony Scarlo, who is well regarded in the world of UK wrestling. He has been a wrestler, ref and promoter in his time.
You’re regarded within wrestling as something of a legend, how does it feel to be thought of as such?
I’ve been involved with wrestling all my life, I would like to think that my contribution to the wrestling business, i.e. as a wrestler, a ref, promoting, training futures wrestlers and my general defence against wrestlers who earned a living from wrestling, who then started to knock it. Whatever it is, I’m proud to be treated with respect by wrestlers and the public combined, personally, I prefer to be called a Leg-End.
Obviously in those days, there weren’t an abundance of wrestling schools like there is now. Where did you train to become a wrestler?
As an uncontrollable tearaway, two black belt Judo instructors took me under their wing and just as I was getting interested, they went to the USA to teach and never returned and this left me feeling empty. I tried various so-called wrestling schools but it was obvious they knew less than me about wrestling. Then I then found a church on the Old Kent Road who taught wrestling in the church hall, a well known MC and fef, John Harris was the teacher, I joined and became the youngest instructor ever at 14.
Do you have any memories of your first match and who it was with?
The first opponent at the age of 14 wrestling in public was with Bobby Barnes, apart from being a hard opponent; we got paid 10 shillings in old money, the equivalent of 50 pence in today’s money.
Back then, the style of wrestling was more mat-based, with submission holds as opposed to the more flashy style that is prevalent these days. What do you make of the change in styles?
There is no substitute for true freestyle wrestling as in World Of Sport. Today’s wrestling is more suitable in the circus than a wrestling ring.
Did you ever end up involved in a real life shoot?
When you wrestled in my era, there were a lot of wrestlers trying to prove a point, this always nearly ended in a semi shoot, so you had to know how to shoot because in those days, as there was always someone ready to jump the ring to impress their mates.
Out of the venues you wrestled in, is there on in particular that holds any special memories?
It’s got to be the title match against George Kidd at the Caird Hall in Dundee, or against George Kidd at the Kelvin Arena in Glasgow, or against Melwyn Riss and Julian Maurice at the Royal Albert Hall and my television bout against Leon Fortuna.
Are there any stories from your time travelling and competing you would like to tell us?
Whilst wrestling Peter Kelly on St Patricks Night at Gravesend in front of a hall packed with Irish Guardsmen, when one of their wives started hitting my leg with her stiletto heeled shoe, my leg looked like I had been shot with a machine gun! Or at Gravesend in a tag match with Peter Kelly, an old lady said “I remember when the two of you were blonde headed blue eyed young boys, now you’re fat gutted bald, headed old bastards!”
Why do you think the ‘Word Of Sport’ style is so fondly remembered, not just here but in America as well?
WOS style wrestling was the envy of the world. Because, not only was it rough and tough, you could still show the public how skilful wrestling was. It was popular in the USA until the promoters in the States decided to change the format and turn it into circus style wrestling.
The UK scene now is currently riding a wave of popularity, have you seen any of the current product?
The majority of new wrestlers on the scene today were my pupils, so yes, I do follow their progress whenever I can.
Do you wish the British scene would maybe go back to the Catch style and concentrate on actual wrestling?
Yes, I think it’s time for wrestling to return to the style of wrestling that captured large audience’s imagination with 16 million viewers on television, halls packed to capacity up and down the country.
In your career, you’ve been a wrestler, ref and trainer. Which was the most rewarding?
Each had a special place in my heart but I’ve got to say wrestling because it was my first love and it still is.
Your son Dino was involved with the FWA, did you actively encourage him to be involved in wrestling?
I taught Dino how to wrestle; Dino was the man that made the FWA a name in wrestling. If he had been treated fairly, he would still be involved and the FWA would be the biggest promotion around. If Dino wanted any help or advice, he knew I was always there.
Out of your many opponents, is there one that you most enjoyed competing against?
As I said earlier in this interview, it has to be George Kidd.
You performed as a villain (heel) and a blue eye (babyface), which did you prefer?
I preferred to wrestle as a blue eye because it gave me the chance to show my skills at applying and escaping from difficult holds. This meant being a showman until the end.
As well as wrestling, you’ve also been an actor, how did that come about?
I did a commercial for Wrexall Sweets in Monmouthshire in Glamorgan, I wrestled Mick McManus for a confectionary called Lovells Milky Lunch, I then opened my own film agency called The Butch Agency; Getting wrestlers like Pat ‘Bomber’ Roach, Sky Hi Lee, plus many other more wrestlers parts in films & TV. I got Terry Fraser, part of the tag team Cartel, his chance in films & TV, he took the chance and he is now a big star over here in the USA, as a model & actor.
Is there anything else you’d like to add or plug?
Yes, I think wrestlers should prove themselves as wrestlers like we had to do, once a wrestler earns the title of professional wrestler, he should be proud of his achievement and not decry the occupation that help make his name known. If he is disappointed with the wrestling profession, he should leave and not defame the business that I love.
Thanks to Tony for taking time out to answer the questions.