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A case for George Kidd as a Wrestling Observer Hall of Famer


Editor's Note: The following was submitted by wrestling historian Bradley Craig.

Who is the greatest professional wrestler you ever saw perform?

It is one of the ageless questions which will always be relevant while pro wrestling exists in some form. Almost everyone from every era around the industry has asked it at some point. From those who have only spectated a handful of bouts, to ardent followers, to those who have reported on wrestling or competed in a match, everyone has their own opinion, regardless of their standing within the industry or outside of it. 

As the legendary commentator of the World of Sport era, Kent Walton was a credible candidate to give his own view on who the best really was. A sports broadcaster employed by ITV, and not by the cartel of promoters who actually produced what was happening within the ropes, he was as impartial a voice as you could get within the lexicon of professional wrestling.

For over thirty years, Walton would narrate the action within the most prominent national timeslot that wrestling would ever receive in the United Kingdom in a career which earned eventual recognition within the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame. Every week, he would be on the call, methodically describing the matches of everyone who mattered on the domestic scene in his trademark calm, whispery voice that suited an understated British style of grappling and escapology. 

It was a product which largely focused on hold and counterhold in which matches were fought in rounds and where two falls, two submissions or a knockout would declare a winner. There was some room for showbiz theatricality, but the solid fundamentals of matwork were key to any performer who was deemed ready for television exposure within British shores. 

And, although the traditional Lord Mountevans rules of British professional wrestling have since become largely defunct, the legacy of the British style remains alive. Indeed, its influence still exists: from the fluid submission sequences that have become a mainstream staple of the WWE women’s division to the Wigan influence that permeated puroresu thanks to the teachings of Snake Pit shoot veterans Karl Gotch and Billy Robinson. 

But, there was one revered master of escapology, dubbed "the Houdini of the mat", who earned the most respect from his peers of that era known for extracting chain wrestling elements, submission holds, and weaving them into highly intricate sequences. The result was an often-emulated, breathlessly entertaining art form in which the mat wrestling element of the match became the real focus of crowd fascination. 

Above all others, this innovator was the consummate professional whom Walton held in higher regard than all the rest.

Short in stature, but a genius in invention, his name was George Kidd. 

Some British experts have argued that the series of matches between Mark "Rollerball" Rocco and Marty Jones fused transatlantic influences to create the foundations of the modern junior heavyweight style. Others will claim this revolution took place when the Dynamite Kid and Tiger Mask had their series of matches on both sides of the Pacific in the early 1980s. But within the shores of the United Kingdom, the age of the smaller athlete was somewhat formalised prior to the 1946 establishment of official rules of professional wrestling, which included the recognition of seven different weight divisions as part of governmental reform of the business. Wrestling championships in various weight brackets had existed since the 1800s, and exploded in prominence during the interwar era. 

It was in the lightweight division where the 5’6” George Kidd established his niche, and found outstanding title glory in the aftermath of the second World War. Following his training under the tutelage of Norman Morrell, his first taste of championship success came when he ousted Tony Lawrence in the finals of a one-night tournament for the Scottish Lightweight Championship on December 16, 1947. He was rapidly elevated to the status of British Lightweight Champion in short order. On October 25th, 1949, the 24-year-old Kidd became the World Champion of the division with a win over Rudy Quarez at Caird Hall in his home town of Dundee. He would later defeat Mick Manus for the European lightweight crown before embarking on highly publicised travels to France in 1951 and a 1952 tour of Mexico (including EMLL) in a quest to unify further prominent versions of the strap from claimants such as Rene Ben Chemoul and Catarecha I. 

Solidifying his standing as a credible athlete, Kidd took his role as champion seriously, and worked to elevate the sport on an equal standing to other combat sports. He was known to arrive at the arenas in punctual fashion, dressed in business attire, with a brown leather briefcase which carried his silver-plated championship belts, glittery black robe, trunks and boots. Remaining an avid follower of boxing and how it was presented to the public, there are historic similarities in the build up to his title defences to how boxing is presented in the mainstream. 

One example can be studied in the lead-up to his July 17, 1956 world title defense against Bernard Murray. Set for a major show in Pittodrie Park (a soccer stadium which was home to major Scottish team Aberdeen Football Club), Kidd and Murray were engaged to a formal weigh-in at the famed Aberdeen Music Hall, which itself became a highly-publicized public event on the night before the match. Years later, the Scottish ITV franchisee Grampian would send sports reporter Frank Gilfeather (himself a local boxing great) along with a news crew to follow Kidd during his training regimes in preparation for a major title defense. His workouts, which showcased his flexibility and hatha yoga techniques, became a unique television spectacle. 

When wrestling became a regular television fixture in the late 1950s, the armchair audience had acquired a greater appreciation of smaller men such as McManus, Jackie Pallo, and Kidd, who all worked to redefine the parameters of a crowd draw. By presenting a more dynamic style that could not be replicated by the heavyweights, the doors had been truly opened for the smaller athlete to enter the industry. Although Kidd was personally hesitant about the potential overexposure of weekly television coverage of professional wrestling, he adapted well and remained a top draw. His sporadic appearances were impactful enough that he remained one of the few stars to have successfully transitioned from the music hall era to the small screen one. 

Beyond his skills as a television wrestling star, he made a name for himself as a presenter. As a location host of The Wednesday People, Kidd showcased his improvisational skills in live broadcasts. It earned him plaudits, and it was not long before he was given his own national talk programme, The George Kidd Show. Interviewing the likes of pop icon Lulu and other prominent celebrity personalities was effortless for Kidd. As a famous owner of two public bars, the skills of conversation came naturally to him. He would later front a third show, Ask George Kidd, and remain a favourite guest host from events as diverse as Miss Swimsuit 1964 to after-dinner speaking events such as The Policeman’s Ball. In 1965, his popularity and standing had grown to the point that he was voted the 1965 Grampian Television Personality of The Year by the station’s viewers. 

In addition to his crossover success on TV, Kidd would also receive Royal acclaim for his efforts in the ring. After being requested to perform at a major card at the Royal Albert Hall in London on May 22, 1963, he was presented with a commemorative medal by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. It was later reported that the Prince was a longstanding admirer of Kidd’s technical brilliance. 

Beyond his scientific skills, Kidd was a formidable draw. He was always provided prominent billing, and was responsible for sellout venues across the country. It mattered not whether he was at Nottingham Ice Rink facing a colourful star like Pallo or pitted in a human chessmatch versus Zoltan Boschik, the brand of Kidd proved reliable at the box office. 

Kidd retired on March 2nd, 1976, in a match against Steve Logan at The Caird Hall. Injured from an earlier match with Mark Rocco, he taped his ribs and wore a t-shirt to conceal the injury. He was adamant that the public has paid to see him at his best and competed against the wishes of his family. It was his 49th and final defence of the World Championship, and he retired undefeated. One final time, he pleased the crowd, and the audience cheered the name ‘Geordie’ long beyond the final bell. 

In the light of Kidd’s retirement, promoter Max Crabtree attempted to fill the void with a new breed of lightweights. Adopting a new style and utilising many of the tricks that Kidd employed, Johnny Saint was pushed as his successor. This elevation was further reinforced when Saint was elevated to World lightweight champion. In-ring, Saint’s homage style included spots such as rolling into a ball before arm-trapping a confused opponent (now known as the lady in the lake), the surfboard hold which Kidd popularised (some argue that La Tapatia was brought to Mexico by Kidd, not Romero), and other emulations of Kidd’s flawlessly choreographed tactics and sequences. Kent Walton noticed the similarities and would mention Kidd’s name in almost every televised Johnny Saint match that he called. 

21 years after the death of Kidd on January 5th, 1998, the George Kidd style still has an imprint in pro wrestling. From small joint manipulators like Zack Sabre Jr. to Marty Scurll to Pete Dunne, a class of new practitioners in the art of chain wrestling have ensured that the legacy Kidd built continues to flourish in modern times. 

When The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame for Scotland was established in 2015, there was little debate on who should be its first inductee. On August 7th, a civic ceremony was hosted at Caird Hall, Dundee to recognise his induction, at a reception hosted by Bob Duncan, the Provost of the city. As part of the induction, a commemorative plaque was installed in the venue which summarises the life and accomplishments of Scotland’s greatest wrestler. 

Across the globe, there are a small number of professional wrestlers who have solidified their legacy to be remembered as true cultural icons in their respective home countries from demigod characters such as El Santo in Mexico to Rikidozan and Antonio Inoki in Japan. In the U.S.,, this pattern can be traced to include enduring historic figures as Jim Londos and Lou Thesz right through to generational pop culture stars such as Gorgeous George, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and The Rock. 

In Scotland, there was one performer who transcended the industry to become a bonafide national hero and one of the most innovative contributors to the art form of matwork, and ushered in a new era for the industry. As an in-ring chain wrestler, he had no equal. His influence also created opportunities for the smaller, more talented athlete. He was an enduring draw with broad national appeal who performed at the top level of his industry for over 25 years.

People might debate the question on who the best wrestler of all time truly was. But there is no question that George Kidd belongs in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame.

Bradley Craig is a British wrestling historian and founder of The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame for Scotland. He is also the co-author of Through the Shattered Glass, the autobiography of Jeanie Clarke.