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Kendo Nagasaki

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Peter Thornley (October 16, 1946) is a British Wrestler from Stoke-on-Trent better known by his ringname Kendo Nagasaki and is arguably the most famous masked man to ever wrestle in Britain.

Kendo Nagasaki made his debut in 1964 when he defeated "Jumping" Jim Hussey but would reach early fame as the Tag Team Partner of Count Bartelli. Count Bartelli was an established face wrestler who had been undefeated for 18 years when Nagasaki first joined forces with him and between them they would form one of the most formidable tag teams in Britain for the next two years but this was not to last. During a match with Tibor Szakacs and Henri Pierlot he sensationally turned on Bartelli and broke their partnership.

Bartelli sought retribution and after much negotiation a match was arraged between the two mysterious masked men in which the loser would face the greatest indignity of all for masked wrestlers, he would be unmasked. The match took place in Victoria Hall in Hanley in March 1966 and Nagasaki emerged victorious.

This feud was to catapauly him to superstardom in British wrestling. Bartelli had not been defeated for 20 years when he lost to Nagasaki so the victory alone brought recognition but the interest the feud generated was immense and the bout was highly publicised. This was to be the biggest and arguably more successful feud of his entire career.

Partly as a result of that feud with Bartelli, Nagasaki's star rose quickly and he was soon wrestling at the top of the card everywhere he went but it was not all success for him. He was never invited to perform in the prestigious Royal Albert Hall Heavyweight Trophy Tournament - an international tournament which had been won by Hungarian Tibor Szakacs and Canadian Gordon Nelson in the past - and despite being one of the major star around the coutnry he was refused TV time.

This may have been a result of his gimmick. The Kando Nagasaki Gimmick was that of a menacing and mysterious Japanese Warrior, clad in traditional Samurai garb, weiding an intmidating Samurai sword and with a carefully sculpted public image of a cultered though cold and calculating gentleman from the mystic east may have been thought too risky to be seen on British television in the 1960s.

But nevertheless his star rose as a combination of his feud with Bartelli, his unique and original gimmick and his defeat of many of the top heavyweights of the day (including a victory over Jean Ferre before he became Andre the Giant).

In 1971 the authorities finally relented and allowed Nagasaki his first television appearance in what turned out to be a drab affair of a Cup Final Day match against Wayne Bridges and a quite victory for him. His opening Sword ceremony was edited out of the programme as it was deemed to frightening to TV at the time. Despite the less than stellar TV debut enough interest was generated in the mysterious wrestler to ensure his return to the screens in quick order.

Perhaps unwittingly an event occurred that raised more interest in Nagasaki amongst the fans. In a match in Britsol he at at least partially unmasked and this was caught on camera and clips were aired of it which showed his shaven, tattooed head. This event would be the final moment that made Nagasaki one of the single biggest names in British wrestling and he wound wrestle only in the mainevent from then on - for a while at least - but it was not the final piece of the puzzle. That would take the form of George Gillette.

"Gorgeous" George Gillette was a slightly built, effeminant man who possessed the talent on the microphone that Nagasaki had never shown and possessing a sadistic and arrogant demeanor that would prove and instant hit with the fans and for much of Nagasaki's career Gillette would serve as the mouthpiece that completed the gimmick and would share in the great success he enjoyed.

In 1972 Nagasaki and Gillette left Britain for Canada and Stampede wrestling to take part in the North American Open Championship where Nagasaki learnt and adopted many of his trademark moves (the Kamikaze Roll/Crash for one). While in Stampede he rose to the very top of that promotion and on September 23, 1972 in Calgary he defeated Geof Portz to gain the Stampede North American Havyweight Title. He would hold the title only until December 23, 1962 when he would lose the title to Portz again in Calgary.

Upon his return to Britain his career continued to soar and his success was underscored with his sensational victory over the hiterto undefeated and seemingly invincible "Battling Guardsman" Shirley Crabtree in a televisioned match and an epic 40 minutes draw with highly rated big man Bruno Elrington in the Royal Albert Hall. But then the his success began to wain.

A fall out with Joint Promotions lead to his separation with them followed by nationwide disqualification from any and all Joint Promotions events and alliance with Jackie Pallo's confederation of indepent promotions. His 1974 victory over Johnny Kincaid in Hastings allowed him to win the WWA World Heavyweight Title (British Version) nut this was the high point of a long succession of low points Pallo's independent circuit failed to live up to early expectations and Nagasaki fleetingly retired.

He would rebuild his burnt bridges with Joint Promotions however and was back on TV screens and out of retirement before too long but now he was considerable lower in the pecking order and found himself having to make Shirley Crabtree look good, for now Crabtree was "Big Daddy" and Big Daddy could never lose, but to add insult to the whole affair he was illegaly unmasked in public, on television by Crabtree.

To add to this the gimmick was somewhat rubbished as Gillette's antics became more effeminant and he and Nagasaki resorted to openly kissing and cuddling in the ring. The in 1977 it appeared that both had finally had enough as they announced an official unmasking ceremony would take place in Wolverhampton. The event was one of the most memorable and iconic moments in British Wrestling history. Whatever their plans had been the interest in the unmadking ceemony soon resulted in Nagasaki's retrn to the ring without a mask, bald headed save for a high ponytail, tattooed head and readeyed.

But this stage in his career was unforfilling and ended with little fanfare. Within a year of his return he appeared in a national paper exposing the business and all the tricks of the trade and, one would assume, destroying the gimmick forever but it was not so. Even after this public expose the Nagasaki gimmick retained its pulling power and he remained a star.

Following Gillette's death in 1990 Nagasaki hired a new manager in Llyod Ryan and he continued to wrestle sporadically into the 1990s before he retired in 1993. In May 2000 return to wrestling to accept his Wrestler of the Milennium award and he returned for oe night only in 2001 to partner Vic Powers in a charity match against Jams Mason and Darren Walsh. At that time he was known to be looking for a protoge to train as his replacement in the gimmick. In 2007 he returned to wrestling again with LDN Wrestling and has continued to work with them since.

Outside of wrestling he had appeared as Kendo Nagasaki in television programmes, appeared in Art programmes, had a walk-on part in comedy sports gameshow "They Think It's All Over" and other games shows and documentories.

If Big Daddy was the Hulk Hogan of British Wrestling and Giant Haystack was the Andre the Giant of British Wrestling then Kendo Nagasaki was the Undertaker of British Wrestling. Not only for his longevity and abilities to addapt with the times but also for his gimmick which despite the occasional tarnish has never gone stale and retained its interest throughout his long career as Nagasaki from the 1960s through to the current day.

In wrestling

  • Finishing Moves
    • Kamikaze Crash (Rolling Freman's Carry Slam)
  • Notable Feuds
    • Count Bartelli
  • Managed by
    • "Gorgeous" George Gillette
    • Lloyd Ryan

Championships and Accomplishments

  • Stampede North American Heavyweight Title - defeating Geoff Portz (September 23, 1972)
  • WWA World Heavyweitht Title (British Version) - defeating Johnny Kincaid (1974)
  • All Star Promotion British Heavyweight Title - defeating Wayne Bridge (1987)
  • Joint Promotions British Heavyweight Title - defeating Tony St. Clair (April ?, 1988)
  • British Wrestler of the Milennium
  • LDN British Tag Team Title - with Blondie Barratt (October ?, 2008)

External links

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