Wrestler Doug Williams honoured as Morecambe celebrates its grappling history

Doug Williams when he was Preston City Wrestling heavyweight champion.
Doug Williams when he was Preston City Wrestling heavyweight champion.

Morecambe is to get its own Hall of Fame for professional wrestling.

The first inductee into the Morecambe Wrestling Hall of Fame will be Doug Williams, former British Heavyweight Champion.

Williams, 42, will be honoured during an in-ring ceremony at next Saturday’s ‘War on the Shore’ wrestling show at the Winter Gardens.

Doug, from Maidstone, defended the British Title six times at the Morecambe Dome in 2003 and 2004, against opposition including top international stars Christopher Daniels and Juventud Guerrera.

Regarded as one of Britain’s best technical wrestlers of the modern era, Williams went on to star for TNA Wrestling in America, winning numerous titles, and also captured the Preston City Wrestling championship in 2013.

On April 18, Doug will also attempt to regain the British Championship in the main event of ‘War on the Shore’, more than a decade since he last held the belt. The veteran takes on the reigning PAID Promotions Champion, Craig Kollins from Barrow-in-Furness.

Kieran Engelke, promoter with PAID Promotions, said: “There has been pro wrestling in Morecambe since the 1930s and it’s always been a major attraction here with fans travelling from far and wide.

“Some of the top stars of the World of Sport era wrestled in Morecambe, including Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Mick McManus.

“Morecambe is a fervent wrestling town and this is why we felt it appropriate to create a Hall of Fame.”

The very first wrestling match in the resort took place in August 18 1932, with British Champion Atholl Oakley battling The Black Adonis to a half-hour draw.

Soon all-in wrestling, as it was known back then, was a regular attraction on Tuesday nights at the Central Pier and Thursdays in the Winter Gardens Ballroom on the seafront.

Big names of the day like the villainous Jack Pye and the legendary Wigan submission expert Billy Riley appeared on these bills.

During Morecambe’s peak years as a holiday destination of the 1950s and 1960s, the ITV ‘World of Sport’ cameras visited the Winter Gardens a couple of times a year. Legends of the ring such as Jackie Pallo, Les Kellett and ‘Crybaby’ Jim Breaks appeared in front of packed houses.

The TV cameras visited Morecambe for the first time on June 10 1961. A televised show from the Winter Gardens aired on July 27 1966, just days before England’s football team won the World Cup.

The Native American star Billy Two Rivers was also a top attraction at the venue during this time. While appearing in Morecambe, the Mohawk chief from Canada romanced a local girl and fathered a child. The young lad, Wayne Hemingway, grew up to become a top designer and TV personality, who recalls as one of his earliest memories being paraded around the Winter Gardens ring on the shoulders of his famous father.

A World of Sport broadcast taped in Morecambe on August 17 1977 saw Cyanide Sid Cooper, Mick McManus, Johnny Saint, the masked man Count Bartelli, a wild double disqualification between Marty Jones and Rollerball Rocco, and a match pitting future British Bulldog The Dynamite Kid against Jackie Robinson, the European Lightweight Champion and cousin of Billy Robinson. Jackie loved Morecambe so much, he would in later life settle in the town to run a go-kart track near the Morecambe Dome.

Another British wrestling legend, Steve Logan - former tag partner of Mick McManus - also moved to Morecambe and spent his final days living in the resort prior to his death in 2003.

The Winter Gardens closed in 1977 but bouts continued at the Central Pier until its closure and after its opening in 1980, The Morecambe Dome.

TV wrestling also carried on in the resort until 1981, with names such as Tony ‘Banger’ Walsh, Steve Grey, Alan Kilby and Mal ‘King Kong’ Kirk performing in front of the cameras on a September 1980 ITV card.

Auf Wiedersehn Pet and Raiders of the Lost Ark star ‘Bomber’ Pat Roach was part of the last ever Morecambe bill shown on ITV, taped on July 15 1981, when he knocked out Romany Riley on a show also featuring Rocco, Breaks and ‘Ironfist’ Clive Myers.

The 1980s also saw the biggest household names in British wrestling, the super heavyweights Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, pull huge crowds to the Central Pier.

Indeed, Daddy and Haystacks would headline bouts at The Dome in the years immediately after ITV cancelled pro wrestling in 1988.

In the early 1990s, the ageing Daddy was still the star attraction on Thursday evening summer shows at The Dome in 1991 and 1992. Names such as Marty Jones, the veteran ‘Burly’ Barry Douglas, ‘Kindhearted’ Keith Myatt and Dave ‘Fit Finlay’ (with Princess Paula) were regulars alongside up-and-comers like Johnny Angel, Tony Stuart and Steve Regal, who would later earn fame and fortune as William Regal in World Wrestling Entertainment.

It was also around this time that a fledgling wrestling magazine called Superstars of Wrestling was set up at an office in Morecambe, run by Lancaster journalist Findlay Martin.

This magazine would relaunch in 1994 under the name of Power Slam, and become Europe’s best-selling and most revered wrestling publication for the next 20 years.

Also in 1994, British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith visited The Dome during a UK summer tour before returning to the WWF.

Brian Dixon’s All-Star Wrestling also promoted shows in Morecambe featuring ex-WWF stars The Bushwhackers and in 2000, just days before he was found dead in a Liverpool motel, the giant former WWF World Champion, Yokozuna.

Then on April 21 2003, The Frontier Wrestling Alliance (FWA) began a successful four-year stint at The Dome, bringing a new, modern style of wrestling to Morecambe fans. Many of the FWA bouts from the Morecambe Dome aired on Sky TV’s The Wrestling Channel.

Two of the biggest FWA events in Morecambe were held in 2005. The first ever ‘War on the Shore, headlined by Alex Shane v American star Raven, sold out The Dome on March 26 and was featured in its entirety on The Wrestling Channel. Then on June 18, the first ever world tag team championship match of a Japanese promotion to be held on UK soil, was held in Morecambe. Naomichi Marufuji and Minoru Suzuki dethroned 2 Cold Scorpio and Doug Williams to win the Pro Wrestling NOAH GHC Tag Team Titles - a bout that saw Morecambe grace the pages of Japanese wrestling magazines.

In 2007, the FWA changed its name to the XWA and continued to promote regular Morecambe shows for the next five years, with names such as TNA star RockStar Spud and WWE’s Daniel Bryan and Paige.

The Morecambe Dome closed in 2010 and was demolished a year later but wrestling shows have continued at The Carleton, Lancaster and Morecambe College, the Globe Arena and now back at the Winter Gardens, run by PAID Promotions Wrestling.

The event at the Winter Gardens on April 18 will also see rematches between El Ligero and Chris Ridgeway, and Ricky J McKenzie and Bubblegum, tag team action, a women’s match, and a tribute to wrestling fan Rachel Andrew who passed away recently.

Doors 6pm, tickets available on the door or from HERE or Studio Bronze on Queen Street, Morecambe.