25 March 2024

Riverina Rewind: When pro wrestling heavyweights went head to head in Wagga

| Chris Roe
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wrestler and hall

Heavyweight champion wrestler Al Costello visited Wagga in 1951. Photo: Chris Roe.

Earlier this month we looked back to legendary boxer Dave Sands’ Australian heavyweight title fight in Wagga in 1952. While it was the first time a major boxing event had been staged in the Riverina, a year earlier, two of the nation’s biggest professional wrestlers had put on a show to remember at the Kyeamba Smith Hall.

“Two of the most outstanding heavyweight wrestlers in Australia, Al Costello and Frank Hurley, will meet tonight at the Wagga Stadium for the heavyweight wrestling championship of Australia,” declared The Daily Advertiser on November 30, 1951.

“It is the first time in Wagga’s history that two such outstanding wrestlers have appeared here, and indications are that a very big crowd will be attracted to the fixture.”

READ ALSO Riverina Rewind: The heavyweight title fight in Wagga and the tragic tale of champion Dave Sands

Special care was taken to ensure the fighters had a “first-class ring in which to demonstrate their ability”, and Sydney Stadium referee Harold Norman was brought out to officiate.

There were to be a total of five boxing matches on the program, with the undercard featuring several locals and a number of soldiers from the Kapooka Army Base who would also perform a “display of commando tactics”.

professional wrestlers from the 1940s and '50s

Al Costello and Frank Hurley were well-known Australian professional wrestlers in the 1940s and ’50s. Photo: File.

“Costello and Hurley are wrestlers of the real he-man type that wrestling enthusiasts like to see, and it seems pretty safe to say that the display tonight will provide something that has never been seen in Wagga,” promised The Advertiser.

Al Costello was the ring name of 32-year-old Italian-born wrestler Giacomo Costa, who, in 1951, was the reigning Australian heavyweight champion.

READ ALSO Riverina Rewind: Constable slashed with a knife at Yerong Creek

In 1952, he moved to the United States, where he earned the nickname “The Man of a Thousand Holds” and founded the infamous tag team the Fabulous Kangaroos.

He and his partner leaned into their Aussie identities with slouch hats and boomerangs and were posthumously inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2003.

pro wrestler with slouch hat and boomerang

Al Costello was the Australian heavyweight champion and would later found the Fabulous Kangaroos tag team in the US. Photo: File.

His opponent for the Wagga event, Frank ”The Fightin’ Australian” Hurley, was a 35-year-old Sydneysider who had just returned from a “very successful world tour” and was in tip-top shape.

On the night, the Wagga Stadium was packed and the sellout crowd was treated to “a most colourful exhibition that provided excellent entertainment”.

Hurley gained the upper hand early and put Costello on his back through a “series of flying tackles followed by a crutch hold and then a back slam”.

Controversy erupted in the second round as the champion scrambled out of the ring, grabbing his fingers and indicating that he had been bitten by Hurley.

He got his revenge in the sixth as Hurley was entangled in the ropes and Costello applied an “Indian death lock” before his opponent was narrowly saved by the gong.

The champ thrilled the crowd with his “flying head scissors” and despite trailing on points in the final minutes, managed to equalise with seconds to go as he executed a “Boston crab”.

The bout was declared a draw and, by all reports, the big Wagga crowd got their money’s worth!

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