Spirit of the North
Whilst older wrestling enthusiasts fondly recall the great days of British wrestling and the names they cheered there are inevitably many first rate wrestlers who slip under the radar and are often overlooked. Without any disrespect we would include Eric Leiderman in this category. A spirited and talented exponent for many years Eric is remembered with great respect by all those who witnessed him in the ring.
Eric was one of those wrestlers who really looked the part. Nothing swanky, mind, just a well proportioned, muscular body and the ability to wrestle. With Eric in the ring there was no doubting the legitimacy of our favourite sport. There was no mistake, here was a professional in every sense of the word.
Eric was a good friend of body builder Ron Oakeley, and the two worked out together developing their impressive physiques. For both of them it seemed a natural move into amateur wrestling and then seizing the opportunities presented by the burgeoning professional side of the sport. Television had begun to bring the sport to the attention of a growing television audience and the abolition of the entertainments tax opened opportunities for wrestling promoters like Max Crabtree.
When Max started promoting in the he was quick to recognise the potential of the muscular youngster from Hull with a background in judo. From judo and physical culture Eric learned the rudiments of professional wrestling at Hull YMCA and quickly demonstrated an aptitude for the sport, dropping his family name of Wood in favour of Leiderman. Well, even the best wrestlers wanted a bit of colour! Max encouraged Eric to wrestle for him and matched him against his brother Shirley and other independent stars.
Eric performed well against these established wrestlers on the independent circuit and the fans took to him. He was soon working regularly for various independent promoters around the north and midlands. It didn't last too long because within a couple of years Eric had been signed up by Joint Promotions and was facing a new calibre of opponents that included Eric Taylor, Tibor Szakacs and Francis Sullivan. The youngster held his own and was soon rated one of the country's top wrestlers.
In November 1959 promoter Norman Morrell gave Eric his first televised exposure in a match against Steve Logan at Lime Grove Baths. He returned to the small screen shortly afterwards against even stronger opposition, the great heavyweight Dave Armstrong. In the first half of the 1960s Eric made regular appearances on the weekly televised wrestling shows, in 1963 an especially rough match when he was knocked out by Jack Pye being long remembered by fans. Other memorable occasions were the nights he knocked out German Horst Hoffman and the time he defeated the great Canadian Gordon Nelson (albeit by a disqualification). The match wasn't just memorable for the result but because it took place in Billy Smart's Circus Big Top in Sheffield!
There is no doubt that Eric was one of the fittest and most powerful wrestlers in the business. A daily fitness routine, working on his small holding where he kept pigs, a love of cycling and wrestling most nights of the week ensured he was always in the peak of physical condition with a physique to match. Eric enjoyed all sorts of physical activity and even built himself a swimming pool at his home near Hull. He loved to train with weights and long after retiring from wrestling he continued to train at home in the gymnasium in his garage.
Although we are told Eric didn't love the travelling he was one of those who was always prepared to travel the length and breadth of the country. Not just in Britain Eric was known around the world and wrestled in Europe and the Middle East, where British wrestlers were very popular in the 1960s. In view of this willingness to travel, his considerable skill and popularity with fans we remain perplexed why Eric Leiderman was not given an even bigger push by the promoters of the day.
Eric Leiderman died from prostate cancer on March 13th, 2011, just short of his 80th birthday.