Superstar wrestler from Northern Ireland who came too soon for UFC

Eddie 'Kung Fu' Hamill. Picture by Darren Ward
Eddie 'Kung Fu' Hamill. Picture by Darren Ward

Belfast man Eddie Hamill features in a new book on the biggest television wrestling stars of yesteryear.

‘Have A Good Week ... Till Next Week’ includes detailed biographies on wrestlers including Hamill – the son of a Harland and Wolff shipyard worker.

Eddie Hamill. Picture by Darren Ward

Eddie Hamill. Picture by Darren Ward

His memorable career included training in Sandy Row’s notorious gymnasium ‘The Pit’, dealing with other wrestlers copying his ‘Kung Fu’ character, losing his mask in a televised match with Mick McManus, fleeing a rioting crowd in Turkey, and appearing in a music video for Manhattan Transfer.

The book’s author John Lister, who has been writing for wrestling publications since 1990, said: “Many wrestlers I spoke to described Eddie as underrated and ahead of his time with his aggressive, fast-paced ring style.

“He was a pleasure to speak to and helped break down the barriers with other wrestlers who were wary about talking about the behind-the-scenes element of their careers.”

Mr Lister put together the book over the course of six years, interviewing the stars of ITV’s ‘World Of Sport’ wrestling.

Have A Good Week cover

Have A Good Week cover

Hamill – who made a name for himself as a masked performer – warned others against the same ‘gimmick’.

He said: “I’d tell any young wrestler starting out today not to wear a mask.

“Eventually, if you’re good enough, people will start to copy you. At one stage there were at least four imposters.

“Some of them were good wrestlers like Alan Miquet who was better than I was and I couldn’t understand why he felt he had to do it. But other guys weren’t so good and it really hurt me when people would go to see ‘Kung Fu’ and leave thinking ‘That fellow’s ******* rubbish!’”

As Mr Lister writes, Hamill wasn’t the only graduate of The Pit in Sandy Row to turn pro: “Eric ‘Tug’ Wilson was a contemporary, as was Dave Finlay Sr (father of the WWE wrestler and agent) who became one of Hamill’s closest friends.

Having learned legitimate grappling moves in his training, Hamill says he would have tried mixed martial arts if it existed at the time.

He said: “I’d have loved to have done UFC: it’s a marvellous sport.

“I only ever really used it in pubs when I’d take on guys who claimed what we did was all showmanship.

“I only ever had to go after another wrestler in the ring for real once. The promoter didn’t know we had such a dislike for each other when he booked the match.”

As a star of ITV’s World Of Sport, Hamill went on to increase his popularity in the tag team scene, first partnering Pete Roberts as the Kung Fu Fighters, then pairing with Clive Myers as the Martial Artists. This led to the strangest booking of his career when music group Manhattan Transfer contacted promoters and asked for two grapplers to appear in a promotional video.

He said: “Me and Clive turned up and wrestled on a bare mat for three minutes while the band played live behind us. There was also some weird storyline with a coffin that I didn’t understand. I’ve never seen the video, but as we did the whole thing in two takes. It was a damn good payoff for six minutes’ work.”

During his career Hamill wrestled with Stampede (a Canadian wrestling promoter) where he teamed with future WWF/WWE stars Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith (The British Bulldog).

Hamill finally hung up his boots in 1990 as injuries took their toll.

He returned to his full-time lifeguard role at Rhyl where he made national news with an impassioned plea for holidaymakers to avoid using inflatable dinghies at sea.

While Hamill does not miss the injuries, he does miss the backstage atmosphere: “I went to a show in Rhyl recently and couldn’t believe it when I went in the dressing room: all the wrestlers were sat there staring at the floor and there was no personality. When we were wrestling we were like a bunch of kids and there was always somebody up to something, whether it be playing pranks or telling jokes.”

The book also includes a dedicated section on wrestling in Northern Ireland including 1930s shows with a mixture of legitimate contest and professional ‘exhibitions’, the unusual way in which the area’s amateur scene stemmed from the professional business rather than vice versa, and the pros and cons of promoting at the height of the Troubles.

‘Have A Good Week ... Till Next Week’ is named after commentator Kent Walton’s signature sign-off phrase.

The 400-page book is available in print and Kindle edition at Amazon.