The Maniac, Rollerball, Black Tiger, Mark Rocco was a man of many names but not his own. When he told his father he wanted to wrestle, his father told him, “Then you don’t wrestle as a Hussey.” Imploring him to be up to the name before taking it. His father, Gentleman Jim Hussey, was a legendary British Heavyweight who pushed the boundaries of athleticism and showmanship. He would wrestle Andre the Giant one night and mercurial World Lightweight Champion George Kidd the next and make both look incredible in the process. While Mark may not have taken the name, Hussey aura was in him and wanted to come out. Mark Hussey, The Maniac, Rollerball, Black Tiger, one of the most innovative Junior Heavyweight wrestlers of all time, a fourth-generation grappler who changed the game, has passed away aged 69.
Later in his career, his theme song would be TNT by AC/DC. No theme song was more appropriate, “I’m Dynamite, and I will win that fight, I’m a power load, watch me explode.” The word for Rocco was incendiary. And he lit a fire in every Junior Heavyweight wrestler that has come since. He began his wrestling life in secret. Banned from his father’s gym in Manchester, he took lessons from veteran grapplers whilst his father was on tour. He would start as an amateur wrestler in the late sixties and never turned down an opportunity to learn. He would join Wigan’s Snakepit in his never-ending thirst for knowledge, just as he would study Sumo when working in Japan. Anything to improve his skills, his balance and his poise.
In the early seventies, he was a rising star of joint promotions circuit. Alongside a generation of British Wrestlers like Marty Jones, Steve Wright, The Dynamite Kid, Dave “Fit” Finlay and Davey Boy Smith, they would rebuild Junior Heavyweight wrestling in their own mould, but Rocco’s first feud of significance was with the old guard. Bert Royal was king of the Middleweight hill at the time. Tagging with his brother Vic Faulkner, they were bigger than the Beatles. Rocco would take his first major title from Royal, The British Heavy Middleweight championship, seven years into his career. It was a huge step for the young Mancunian, but it pathed the way for a televised feud that would change the way TV wrestling was presented in the UK.
There had always been rivalries in British Wrestling, but it had never been run quite like this. Mark Rocco and Marty Jones had been having killer matches before 1978, and some had been held on TV. They pushed the boundaries step by step, and when they were ready the trigger was pulled. In a none title fight, Rocco would face Jones British Lightheavyweight titleholder in a Champion vs Champion televised main event. Rocco squeezed out a victory, with Jones slapping the mat in frustration. Over the house mic, he vowed his revenge. The next few months saw Jones lose weight and drop down to Heavy Middleweight. He worked his way through the division’s contenders and then took the title from Rocco in a masterful display of storytelling. When the match was over, he dropped the title. Just to prove he could beat Rocco anytime he wanted. Rocco then went through the qualifiers. The feud made both men, and the heated intensity of the matches changed the way Junior Heavyweights could deliver. It was strong style tough before the phrase had really been thought up. People were taking notice, including the bastion of Strong Style himself Antonio Inoki.
Rocco had made sporadic Japanese appearances in the seventies for IWE, but he would finally call New Japan his home. He would be reborn as Black Tiger, the anime nemesis of Tiger Mask, and as NJPW had the rights to the Comic Book characters, it made a natural fit for Satoru Sayma’s initial version of Tiger Mask in what was perhaps the most loaded Junior heavyweight division in history. While the feud with Dynamite and Tiger the headline grabber and quite rightly, Rocco would be the stable point of the division. Unfailingly loyal to the New Japan system, then ran by another Snakepit stalwart, Karl Gotch. He would stay put as Dynamite left for All Japan and Sayama moved on to form the first UWF. He would wrestle for New Japan from the early eighties until the end of his in-ring career, bridging the gap between the WWF and IWGP eras, as New Japan shed its links with the New York office to go it alone, but not before Black Tiger challenged for the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship at Madison Square Garden. He would have a hand in developing Keciihi Yamada, who in turn would become Jushin Thunder Liger both in Japan and back home, but not for Joint Promotions.
In the early eighties, there were signs of movement in the monopolistic world view of Joint. As the old local prompters had retired, the business had been bought by, of all people, William Hill. The promotional heavy lifting had been taken over by the founder of the first BWF Max Crabtree. Moving the focus on to the superheavyweights, Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks. All Star promotions was a young outfit building a following in the North West. It featured innovative cards often featuring women, something Joint would never stand for, and episodic storytelling. With the promise of greater creative freedom, Rocco jumped ship and took the World Mid-heavyweight title with him. He split his time between All Star and Orig Williams Welsh BWF. Wrestling a hotbed of talents such as Chic Cullen and The Dynamite Kid for both companies in all kinds of non-traditional formats such as ladder matches, brought back from Stampede via Dynamite, and Iron Man Matches. It was something new that matched Rocco’s take no prisoners style. It was the antidote to Joint promotions children’s entertainment shows, with relatively foul-mouthed promos, the emphasis began to fall on gripping stories and athleticism.
His career would end in 1991 after being diagnosed with a heart condition, but his last few years as TV star helped set up All Star well into the future. His feud with Kendo Nagasaki was a key point, as was his tag team with Wayne Bridges. He even got to wrestle Jones, for old times sake, which ended up with them both bleeding and disqualified and with Jones asking for two more rounds with no referee because “If I don’t split you here, I’ll do it in the bloody car park.” They blundered out of the fire exit and off out TV screens together one final time. In real life, they were close friends, Jones commenting over Twitter that Rocco was wrestling’s Ali; the greatest. Their professional pride had pushed professional wrestling forward.
As did Mark Rocco. Every day. Every match and at every moment. Technically gifted, a bump machine, so incredibly tough, a master seller and storyteller. it is telling that the only person deemed good enough to replace him as Black Tiger was Eddie Guerrero. Tearing his thigh on a turnbuckle one night, he got it stitched up and wrestled the next day. Making sure on his next TV performance, he pulled down his knee pad to show off the scar to the camera. Always thinking of the whole package, he wished Kent Walton wouldn’t reveal wrestlers’ real-life jobs. He wanted things to be otherworldly, for characters to be larger than life, not the drudging reality of being a Green Grocer from Bolton. Walton was highly susceptible to Rocco’s ire, in the middle of a Heavy-middleweight title match he yanked on a hold and screamed out to the commentary table “It’s Grovit Kent!” to make sure he got the move name right.
There will never be another Mark Rocco, many will try and all will fail. He was unique and there is a little bit of Rocco in every wrestler that has come since. Light years ahead of his time. All Hail The Rollerball.
In my opinion. None of us would wrestle the way we do if it wasn't for people like Mark Rocco.
Thankyou for everything RIP pic.twitter.com/C0cHXP3zUJ
— 'Capt. Wristlock'Matt Fox 🦊🖖 (@FoxyMattFox) July 31, 2020
Feature image courtesy of RPW – Video courtesy of WWE and Wrestle Talk TV