Friday, November 21, 2008

Young Kong

Steve Rickard is the guy you should blame... He's the one who got me into wrestling.

Steve was a wrestler for over 30 years, the promoter for NZ and South Pacific, and a long-standing member of the NWA Board of Directors. He was also the first wrestler I ever met, and more importantly from an historical point of view, the man behind the "On The Mat" television show in New Zealand. The show that "hooked" me into wrestling. I owe Steve Rickard a lot...The man who Steve Rickard credits for his start, or at least the man who was his mentor, and brought him to a new level in this sport, was the "uncrowned Champion of the World", King Kong ( Emile Czaja ), who took his ring name ( and in fact his in-ring personality as well ) from playing the character in an Indian movie. During a tour of Malaysia in 1969, Czaja was in a serious car accident, and told Rickard he knew it was his time "to give up the belt". As a favour to his dying friend, Steve agreed to take his tour through India, adopting the name Young Kong, and portraying himself as the elder Kong's son. For 30 days, Rickard fought in contests the length and breadth of India, but in doing so, became seriously ill - dropping more than 30 lbs in weight while there. At the end of his campaign, in a weakened state and still very ill, he returned to Singapore, where Kong was now hospitalized. He brought with him newspaper cuttings of the tour, and the well wishes of all those who knew and loved the old gentleman. "I went straight to his bedside when I got off the plane" said Rickard in his 1979 book "Life On The Mat"."He gave me thanks while wanting to know every detail of the tour. He was content, but seemed as if he had only been awaiting my return, as he died some 36 hours later." Rickard would perform his last duty for his fallen friend on May 17th of that year, as he served as a pallbearer at the big man's funeral and helped bear his body to it's final resting place.

Steve too has had a number of health issues in recent years, but looks to be making good inroads to his recovery, including appearing at a recent Kiwi Pro-Wrestling event with other NZ legends. (L-R Steve Rickard, Bruno Becker, Cowboy Billy Wright, Bob 'the Hog' Crozier, Juno Huia 'The Maori Warrior' and Kurt Hobman ).

With thanks and respect to Rickard and his mentor, I present the cartoon I drew soon after meeting with him in 2002.

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