Here at the Central Library as part of our 1920s entertainment display, we've naturally included pro-wrestling because back in the day, like its boxing cousin, wrestling just exploded in popularity. By the thirties it had become a huge deal. Bouts filled halls all over the country – such as in the image below, taken in Masterton. Both promoters and wrestlers were out to make big money and the Dominion Wrestling Union was formed to promote the sport. Wrestlers – known as ‘matmen’ – came from all over the world looking for a match, and Monday nights at the Auckland Town Hall saw fans queuing early if they wanted to be sure of a seat.
Ref: J.H. McLachlan & H.W. Cross for the Auckland Weekly News, Striving for mastery, 3 July 1935, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19350703-54-4.
In the early years, the first popular wrestler was Ike Robin. Over six foot and seventeen stone, he'd been a competitive shearer and lay preacher, and in 1924 defeated the South Island title-holder to become New Zealand's first ever national champ. The sport's popularity was also boosted by radio commentaries; of note was 1YA’s Gordon Hutter who became a radio star in his own right. At one point, according to a fabulous audio archive on Radio New Zealand (check out The On-Air Game segment), he was getting several hundred fan letters a week.
|Ref: Wrestler, Mr Ike Robin. Crown Studios Ltd :Negativesand prints. Ref: 1/1-033333-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23103475.|
As the decade rolled over into the thirties, another champ grabbed the headlines – the impressive six-foot-two Maynell Strathmore Blomfield aka Lofty. He fought from 1932 to 1946 and wowed the fans with his signature submission move – the Octopus Clamp. In the book 70 Years At Ringside its reported how Lofty came up with famous clamp and tried it out on his brother, Val. "When I stood up and applied the pressure, Val's hollering left no doubt in my mind that I had found a hold that was worth developing." Lofty was the longest reigning heavyweight champion in the history of NZ professional wrestling, was married four times, but did a Taylor-Burton and re-married his third wife nine years after their divorce. He was heavily involved with IHC, had a special school named after him, and in 1990 was inducted into the NZ Sports Hall of Fame.
Finally – check out this marvelous Hellenistic-inspired shot from Heritage Images. It is said to feature a wrestler by the name of Jim McComish.
Ref: Herman John Schmidt, The Wrestlers, 1930s?, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 973-26.
Author: Joanne Graves, Central Auckland Research Centre