Professional wrestling is an incredibly popular sport, but also a dangerous one. While it is a collaboration between two athletes trying to put on the best performance they can, accidents always happen and can lead to injuries and, in dire circumstances, death.
Deaths have happened in the ring before. Owen Hart infamously fell to the ring and died as his harness broke during a failed stunt that cost him his life, as he plummeted down to the ring and hit the corner of the ring.
Rey Mysterio also accidentally killed a man in the ring. He hit Perry Aguayo Jr with a common dropkick and launched him into the middle rope, ready to hit his patented 619. However, he collapsed on the rape and died instantly, suffering three broken vertebrae during the course of the match.
Another man who suffered a death in the ring is British Wrestling Legend Big Daddy. Real name Shirley Crabtree, he was an icon on TV during the 1970s and 1980s, leading a cast of incredibly talented wrestlers like Mick McManus, Kendo Nagasaki and Johnny Saint. He was the most popular wrestler in the country, with over 20 million people tuning in to watch him face arch-rival Giant Haystacks on a Saturday afternoon on ITV’s World of Sport.
(NOTE: Contrary to common belief in recent times, World of Sport was not the name of the wrestling promotion, but the TV show showing many sports, including pro-wrestling. This is not to be confused with the new wrestling promotion named World of Sport, aimed at continuing the legacy of Big Daddy et al in a new, modern day format.)
Big Daddy And The Death Of King Kong Kirk
While Big Daddy was the fan favourite wrestler who everyone and their Grandma in the UK loved, he had his fair share of dark moments in the ring.
During a match in 1987 against King Kong Kirk and King Kendo alongside his nephew Steve Valentine, Big Daddy performed his patented Splashdown, Kirk didn’t sell the move at all. Instead, he turned an “unhealthy colour” according to reports, and was immediately rushed to hospital. It took eight men to lift Kirk’s stretcher into the ambulance, with Kirk weighting around 350lbs at the time of his death (around 25 stone).
King Kong Kirk was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. Emergency medical workers tried to revive the 350-pound Kirk at the Hippodrome Circus in Great Yarmouth after the accident, but he was already gone by the time he arrived at the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston..
Big Daddy was devastated that he had caused the death of a man inside the ring, given that wrestling as a sport was meant to be a collaboration between two wrestlers to keep each other safe. Superstars like Bret Hart took pride in never injuring anyone inside a ring, which made the death even more harrowing.
It was later determined by doctors that the death was not Shirley Crabtree’s fault. The inquest into Kirk’s death found that he had a serious heart condition and cleared Crabtree of any responsibility. However, he still blamed himself for the death until the day he died, a decade later.
When asked about the death during the match, Shirley “Big Daddy” Crabtree said;
I had wrestle him I mean it was as strong as three men.
He was 25 stone. He was known as the Pittman’s Hercules and as long as I’ll live I’ll never forget seeing him laid down there on the canvas instead of on his feet, raging and and, you know, and flying about and that will stay with meBig Daddy on the death of King Kong Kirk
The death was reported as national news, which you can watch below.
Great Yarmouth police issued a statement on the Monday after the match, saying: ″Big Daddy and King Kong Kirk were in the ring wrestling and during the bout King Kong Kirk was held to the floor by Big Daddy for the statutory count of three. Big Daddy got to his feet but after a few moments it was realized that King Kong Kirk was not moving.″
Big Daddy would wrestle the next night, which was not a great look for the sport as a whole. However, fans of the UK wrestling scene of the 1980s fondly remember watching Kirk wrestle in the ring and have honoured his legacy since his death.
Big Daddy continued to wrestle until 1993, when he retired from the sport entirely, aged 63. However, he suffered a stroke just four years later and died just two months due to his illness. He was aged 67 at the time of his death and left a huge legacy behind him as one of the greatest professional wrestlers the United Kingdom had ever seen.