Manchester to Minnesota
Billy Robinson v Lee Bronson
St Albans, 26th July, 1978
In the 1960s, Billy Robinson was the golden boy amongst northern heavyweights and eventually claimed the British Championship, if not undisputed superiority over his peers, Geoff Portz, Georges Gordienko and Billy Joyce. Being a Lancastrian, Robinson was well positioned to be champion, as so many contemporary Wiganites seemed to claim the same privilege at lower weights. Quite what hierarchy ensured this honour remains hard to say as we seek to piece back together the carving up of turf and titles that proved to be the success of Joint Promotions. Robinson may even have been the best, or the best of the best. But he departed at the end of the decade, his decade, to pursue a career overseas and left the way clear for Albert Wall to consolidate his own reign as British Champion, a more fulfilling reign for fans nationwide and one still looked back upon today as a centrepiece of the golden days.
Only a quick return to grab the remnants of his belongings, and perhaps even family, allowed a one-off 1971 televised showing, and Robinson was bundled off to Minneapolis on the back of a knockout loss to the rising television star that was Kendo Nagasaki.
So this 1978 re-emergence was an opportunity to consider once again these misgivings and reservations about that sixties status, and the aura which grew even greater in his seventies absence.
Gold Star Lee Bronson had been hyped up over the previous three years as a golden boy in his own right. The former amateur champion was of suitable height and build and ability to play a central role in the latter day Dale Martin empire. Kent Walton had waxed lyrical since his début on tv as to how this was a sure-fire professional champion in the making, an amateur champion of the highest calibre.
In opposition to Robinson, however, the well established hierarchy kicked in and the extent of Bronson’s build up today was that he was “from Balham”, scarcely a glowing reference. We wondered at the choice of opponent for this showcase bout that would end in a rare televised 0-2 defeat for the man from Balham. Why was Robinson not facing a Champion, or one of the belly-butt brigade if their status really was so justified? In the end a choice seems to have been made for a classically trained southerner, which was immediately limiting, and one who could trade blows with an undoubted expert of the genre, but who would sacrifice all ego for such a loss, humiliating not so much for the two-fall difference per se but more for its rarity.
The interest could not fail but make the bout a mouth-watering prospect and, in all fairness, Robinson did deliver with a barrage of hard-hitting moves, great aerial manoeuvres for a 17 stoner, and even a little flurry of rather unusual and vaguely menacing karate chops nestling in the middle. Bronson adapted supremely well to the challenge against an unknown opponent about whom he would have already heard so much. His series of false finishes in the third round was beautifully executed as the two heavyweights used every inch of ring space to entertain admirably. Nevertheless, we noticed the pair on several occasions not on the same wavelength at all, just underscoring how handy familiarity between opponents was in the quest to deliver a believable sporting spectacle.
The 31-pound difference in weight served to allow Robinson show off variations on his speciality suplex, a side throw sent Bronson spinning high, and the reverse nelson suplex which led to the winning score was wince-inducing stuff. Never was the word pin-fall so appropriately demonstrated as Bronson was subsequently clamped for the count. All the while, however, we wondered how a Roach or a Bridges might have fared.
Kent Walton was present in all his glory throughout the bout, positively adulating Robinson in glowing terms hitherto reserved for Mike Marino and Ken Joyce. He outshone the caption that billed Bill from Lancashire, pinpointing Manchester as home, and displayed his habitual loose grip on time by assuring us that fans would remember Bronson’s father, Norman the Butcher (Ansell, final bout 1948, eight years before the advent of regular ITV wrestling), whilst bemoaning the fact that many fans were too young to recall Robinson’s sixties heyday. This fleeting glimpse of the reigning Empire champion, no less, was most enjoyable and served to supply just about as many answers to our questions as it did to throw up completely new imponderables that disappeared back on the plane to Minnesota