WELL grapple me grapenuts. The noble art of wrestling is alive and well.
You might have thought the quaint British tradition of Saturday afternoon TV bouts had been consigned to history and replaced by garish star-spangled interlopers from across the pond fighting in cages with chains and metal tea trays.
But Medway promoter Stephen Barker, 54, of Rumble Wrestling is keeping the craft alive.
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He set up a ring at Kemsley Village Hall to find Britain's champion grunt and groaner. It turned out to be fresh-faced Syd Manelli, 22, from Maidstone.
By day, Syd is a school caretaker but by night he dons a sparkling jacket and blue tights to take on whatever is thrown at him.
At Kemsley it was two masked monsters in the shape of the Skull, who he dismissed in the quarter-finals, and the cheating Mr USA who was sent by President Trump to "take care" of the British.
Syd is no stranger to the ring and is following in the footsteps of his dad Steve Manelli, a favourite with Kent audiences especially on the holiday camps, and his late grandad Brian Manelli who for years was the mystery man behind mask of The Phantom and introduced Sheppey to wrestling at Leysdown's Rose and Crown in 1964.
Mr Barker, who ran the popular Zarbez under-18s discos at Sittingbourne's Swallows Leisure Centre and has stepped into the ring himself as a ref, said: "Wrestling is having a big boom. It’s good family entertainment.”
The former milkman who now works for Bestways cash and carry in Rochester, still remembers being taken to watch his first wrestling bout for his 10th birthday by his dad at Chatham’s Central Hall Theatre.
He said: “After that, I would go every month to see stars like Mick McManus and Les Kellett.
"One day the promoters Dale Martin were short and asked for a volunteer to act as one of the wrestler’s seconds. My hand went up like a shot and they picked me.
“I made friends with the wrestlers and would arrive early to help put the ring up and take it down. At the end of the 1980s I was a second at the All Star Wrestling TV shows and even ended up refereeing bouts between Giant Haystacks, Big Daddy and Nagasaki.”
Recently, he has returned to wrestling and has staged shows at Sittingbourne, Lordswood and Whitstable.
The crowd at Kemsley certainly lapped it up.
In the shadows was Mal Mason, 78, who for 16 years was the man in the middle during World of Sport battles between the likes of Giant Haystacks, Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo and Dangerous Danny Lynch.
He is now “taking it easy” at his home in Hawkhurst after suffering heart failure in the ring at Skegness on New Year’ Day 2017.
He said: “Even now, I can’t remember anything about that match.”
In his heyday he travelled the world.
He refereed in 84 countries and even needed bodyguards in Saudi after he disqualified a local lad and the audience went wild – firing Kalashnikov assault rifles.
But his worst injury was at Norwich when he was thrown out of the ring and landed badly, breaking his ribs and puncturing his lung. As he lay on the floor gasping for breath a furious taxi driver kicked him in the head.
Mal mused: “It could be quite violent in those days.”
It has always been tough for referees, many of which tend to suffer a blinding attack of, er, blindness just at the wrong time.
As one grandmother, in the front row, remarked: “If that referee had another eye, he would be a Cyclops.”
New champ Syd will be back to defend his title along with Lewis Howley, who appeared on on the TV show First Dates, at the Appleyard Hall, formerly UKP Leisure, Sittingbourne, on Sunday, February 10 at 4pm. There will also be a blindfold match.
Get ready to rumble...
* Watch Syd Manelli's winning fall by clicking the link below.