A wonder in the ring: Welsh wrestling legend ‘El Bandito’
Tonight the biggest wrestling show in three decades – the titanic ‘Clash at the Castle’ – will attract thousands of fans to the Principality Stadium in Cardiff to watch the likes of Roman Reigns grapple with Drew McIntyre.
They’re usually a very noisy bunch and such baying crowds love nothing better than a good suplex, dropkick or slam – one is tempted to write “grand slam” given the location.
And to coincide with this major occasion a new children’s book is being published to remind the world about the “fearless life” of a bone fide Welsh wrestling legend, namely Orig Williams a.k.a El Bandito.
Its author Ioan Morris isn’t just a wrestling fan, he’s actually tried his hand at the sport. When he was eighteen he spotted an advert in a newspaper which asked simply ‘Do you want to be a wrestler?’
The ad had been placed by a promoter called Texas Joe, who staged fights in such places as the Haven Holiday Camp in Prestatyn and in similar locations in the North West of England.
It was a gruelling and testing experience as Morris recalls: ‘I only stuck it out for the duration of one Easter Holiday period and then the summer holidays because it hurt so much. It hurt everywhere!
For me the main problem was caused my my knees landing on the ring which was made of plywood covered with a bit of foam on top. Landing repeatedly on it meant my bruised knees would swell up. It wasn’t fun.’
It sounds as if writing the book was much more fun, however, not least because Morris bonded with the illustrator Josh Hicks over their shared love of wrestling. As a young boy Morris had been entranced by the antics of the likes of Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
Meanwhile Josh’s love of the sport is expressed by his having created a whole series of comic books about an invented wrestling federation, the Glorious Wrestling Alliance. So not so much author and illustrator then as a sort of creative tag team.
And what a colourful subject they had to grapple with. The son of a quarryman in Ysbyty Ifan, Orig was a born scrapper as he threw himself into street fights in Snowdonia.
One might have expected Williams to punch his way into a boxing career but instead his talent as a footballer took him into the professional game.
He played for Bangor City, Shrewsbury Town, Oldham Athletic and Pwllheli and was player-manager for Nantlle Vale.
Throughout his soccer career he developed a reputation for being red-carded, gaining a bad guy reputation he would later develop and, indeed do his best to enhance, when he changed sport.
For Orig is best known as a wrestler. He started off in halls and faigrounds where his distinctive bushy moustache, looking the spit of a pantomime Mexican bandit, soon gave rise to the moniker ‘El Bandito.’
As the sport flourished, and as his reputation grew, he found himself taking on such colourfully named opponents as Fit Finlay, Lord Bertie Topham, Crusher Mason and Giant Haystacks.
Big in Pakistan
He travelled the world as a professional wrestler and Orig Williams was particularly big in India and Pakistan. Here he took on the likes of the Bholu Brothers, presumably as part of a tag team, although it would make a better story if he took them on all by himself.
This South Asian connection was underlined when Orig was invited to join the Gorsedd of Bards at the National Eisteddfod where he took as his bardic name “Pehalwan,” being the Hindi word for wrestler or strongman.
But while some wrestlers fast-tracked their way to being household names via the popular televised Saturday afternoon bouts on ITV’s The World of Sport Orig concentrated on the Welsh language programme Reslo where he commanded a loyal following.
He even made a guest appearance as himself in Pobol y Cwm where he fought Giant Haystacks in the unlikely setting of Cwm-Deri.
Orig Williams was also a very active promoter within the sport and also trained a great many wrestlers in his “garage” training facility, where he developed the skills of wrestlers such as Tina Starr, Rusty Blair and Bella Ogunlana.
But he will mainly be remembered for his passionate, larger-than-life personality, his wrestling showmanship and, of course, that trademark bushy black moustache.
Orig: The Fearless Life of Orig Williams by Ioan Morris and Josh Hicks is published in both Welsh and English editions by Broga Books. You can buy a copy here or in good bookshops.
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