“This Is Staffordshire” feature article on the Legendary
Nagasaki / Bartelli Match – a true fan reminisces…

The legendary Nagasaki vs.Bartelli match continues to be a vivid memory for true wrestling fans.

Read the text of the article below…

HE WAS the legendary, Count Bartelli who was unmasked for 20-odd years. And then along came an upstart called Kendo Nagasaki.

Nineteen-year-old Peter Bettany was a big wrestling fan and Count Bartelli was the hero of his youth.

Saturday nights were spent with pals at the Victoria Hall watching blokes unceremoniously hurling each other around the ring before a few drinks and fish-and-chips on the way home.

Peter recalls: “Bartelli was my favourite wrestlers. And I was there on March 5, 1966, when Kendo Nagasaki met him in a challenge contest. They’d had a tag match a couple of weeks before with Kendo and Bartelli as partners and, of course, they fell out. Kendo wouldn’t go in the ring to help Bartelli and so the challenge was issued, with a £500 sidestake, which was a lot of money in those days.”

The emergence of a young pretender to Bartelli’s crown had got the rumour-mill working overtime. “There’d been a lot of rumours that Bartelli had trained Kendo,” says Peter, “even that he was his son. Whatever, it seemed that to make his name he had to beat the other masked man.”

Certainly it was a confrontation that fired the public imagination. “There was always a good crowd,” recalls Peter, now 63, of Cheddleton. “But the night of the Nagasaki and Bartelli fight they were queuing round the block to get in. Probably the biggest wrestling event they’d ever had.

“Kendo was the baddie. He used to wear red dye in his eyes and he had a finger missing on one hand. He lived the part. He used to drive around in a big Mercedes with the number plate ACE1 and he came to fights with the full regalia on.

“Kendo used to turn up in the ring with this sword and he’d race across to the other corner and bring it down within about an inch of his opponent’s head. It was pure showmanship.

“Bartelli used to turn up in his mask just the same. Even fellow wrestlers didn’t know who he was.”

The contest was a fight to the finish, no rounds, no time limit, to be decided by one fall, one submission, or a knockout. As it wore on, it wasn’t looking good for Bartelli.

“Kendo pounded the Count’s nose until his mask was soaked in blood,” says Peter, “although whether it was blood or not I don’t know. People say it was fixed but I’d seen Bartelli lift a man who must have been 30 stone and body slam him. So whether it was fixed or not they had to be incredibly fit.

“Bartelli used to have this manoeuvre where he threw people into the ropes three times and the fourth time he’d snatch them back and pull their arm out of the joint. And that was genuine. And then he used to put the arm back in again – you’d hear the crack – that was his speciality.

“But on this occasion he kept getting his nose pounded and eventually, after about 25 minutes, Kendo got him up on his shoulders, span him round and round, and then flung him over the top rope and he ended up among the grannies at the ringside. Bartelli struggled to get back into the ring but was counted out.”

Bartelli had to pay the ultimate price. “This was the first time he’d been beaten. So then of course there was the ceremonial unmasking. When it came to removing his mask, people at the ringside were saying ‘no, no, no, no”. They didn’t want to see.

“There’d been a lot of rumours that his name was Geoff Condliffe, who owned a garage in Crewe. And indeed they unmasked him and that was what he said. “I was very sad when he was unmasked because part of going to see him was the mystery. No two ways about it, he was a real hero of mine and I was really miffed that he’d got beat. But I’d still go back and see him every time he was on. Because he lived so near he was at the Victoria Hall at least once every three weeks.

“If anything, his following perhaps improved after his identity had been revealed because he was a local man and they liked him.”

Looking back, Peter feels fortunate to have witnessed wrestling’s peak. “Over the years its popularity dwindled,” he says. “The big fat men took over like Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks. I’m pleased to have seen the heyday of Kent Walton commentating on World Of Sport, all that kind of thing. They’re great memories.”

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