William Alfred Robinson
Born: September 18, 1938 (Manchester, England)
Died: March 3, 2014 (Little Rock, Arkansas)
Member: Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (2011)
Billy Robinson was known as a wrestler of refined deportment, a gentleman who delivered a double arm suplex with panache. To lose to Robinson was to lose in style.
The 5-foot-11, 242-pound grappler fought across Britain and then North America before conquering Japan, where he was properly venerated for his technical knowledge of the proper administration of classic holds. He remained a coach and teacher in the art of catch-as-catch-can wrestling until his death.
Born in England in 1938 to Frances Hester (née Exley) and William James Robinson, Billy Robinson learned the sport that would become his livelihood in the rough-and-tumble streets of his native Manchester. “Wrestling is my life,” he proclaimed in a 1979 interview. “When I was little all I did was wrestle.” As a boy, he thought he’d follow his father and his great-grandfather (Harry Robinson, a champion in the bare-knuckles era) in the boxing ring, but an eye injury meant he would never be licensed for prize fighting. At 15, he got a job hauling bags of produce on the docks in Wigan, where he made his way to the Snake Pit, a legendary training ground where he fell under the tutelage of Billy Riley for eight years. He launched his professional career in 1960 and did not leave the ring as a combatant until 1985.
Robinson held both the British and European heavyweight titles for three consecutive years before vacating the crowns to move to Canada. He arrived in 1969, fighting at the Calgary Stampede, the beginning of a Canadian career that would see him become a crowd favourite from coast to coast and in both official languages.
The Human Windmill, as he was known, battled the football player Angelo Mosca in Medicine Hat, Alta., bonked noggins with Nick Bockwinkel in Winnipeg, satisfied the bloodlust braying of fans at Paul Sauvé Arena in Montréal.
A frequent tag-team partner was the great Verne Gagne, a Minnesota farm boy who played football in the NFL before going on to a hall-of-fame career in the ring as chief grappler for — and owner of — the American Wrestling Association. Robinson and Gagne appeared in “The Wrestler,” a 1974 Hollywood movie in which Ed Asner portrayed a wrestling promoter who takes on the mob.
Robinson had a reputation for injuring wrestlers he felt were more showmen than athletes, a practice that did not endear him to most opponents.
“I’m a wrestler,” he once said. “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.”
In 2001, Robinson moved to Little Rock, Ark., where his son had made a home. Robinson lived in an apartment and it was there where he was found dead one morning. He was 75.