Earlier this week, the professional wrestling community lost British wrestling icon Billy Robinson. Starting his career in 1958 and wrapping up around the mid-1980s, Robinson is regarded by longtime historians and experts as one of the greatest in-ring performers in history. To show how well respected he was amongst his peers the late Lou Thesz, one of the true legends of the game, ranked Robinson as one the 25 greatest of all time. Of all the tremendous talent that began their careers in the U.K., none achieved the level of international stardom Robinson did.
After getting his initial break in the U.K., Robinson traveled overseas to become a key player in the formative years of the Japanese wrestling industry. He debuted in Japan in 1968 and won a tournament to become the first Japan Pro Wrestling world champion. In 1975, he went to a 60 minute time limit draw against Antonio Inoki in what is considered as one of the legendary matches in Japanese wrestling history.
He made his name in North America as one of the biggest stars in Stampede Wrestling and the American Wrestling Association. He was the longtime rival of perennial AWA world champion Verne Gagne.
Robinson was noted for being one of the most physically toughest wrestlers of his day and had a reputation as a bully inside and outside of the ring. His incredible technical prowess and knowledge of submissions made him one of the most legitimately feared wrestlers of his era. His scuffles against Peter Maivia (grandfather of Dwayne “Rock” Johnson) and Jack Brisco are the stuff of wrestling folklore.
Ironically, his in-ring career ended around the same time as the expansion of Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation empire. Maybe it was apropos that his career ended just as the cartoonish WWF style took control of the industry. To the very end, Robinson was a believer in pure catch-as-catch-can wrestling. It was a style he helped popularize around the world during his career as an active wrestler and successful trainer.
“I’m a real wrestler. I believe in real wrestling. I believe in catch-as-catch-can wrestling. The show wrestling now has become pathetic. It’s a complete show, and I just won’t have anything to do with it,” Robinson told Slam! Wrestling.
In addition to helping train some of the biggest names in wrestling (Ric Flair, Curt Hennig and Ricky Steamboat) and MMA (Josh Barnett and Kazushi Sakuraba), Robinson was a big influence on current WWE star Daniel Bryan.
Bryan, who attended Robinson’s catch wrestling seminars, mentioned him as being one of the most underrated performers in history in a 2012 WWE.com article.