Whatever Happened To, Andre The Giant? Part 1

New Zealand wrestling fans did indeed see some huge men during the history of the sport here. In the 1930's Rolland Kirchmeyer was by far the biggest man we saw at a height of six feet, eight and a half inches, and it wasn't until 1959 when the giant Texan Sky Hi Lee appeared in Auckland, that we saw another sky scraper. Sky was around the six foot eight mark, although in latter years when he got ill he actually shrunk a few inches. I knew Sky well and used to visit him regularly in Britain.

Ski Hi Lee

However, it wasn't until 1972 that all previous records were broken when Andre The Giant set foot in New Zealand. In those early days he was known as Jean Ferre or Jean the Giant. I first came across this giant of a man doing the rounds of the English wrestling halls in 1969. He was a big man, but rather skinny, and he could move around the ring. I immediately wrote and told Steve Rickard, the New Zealand wrestler and promoter, about this giant from Grenoble in France, and sent his picture also.

Andre the Giant

At that time Steve was co promoting with giant Hungarian wrestler King Kong. Steve wrote back from Singapore and said; “Get this man’s address and ask him if he will come to New Zealand and Singapore”. Anyway I was unable to contact the French giant as he was only on a two week visit, and besides, his English at the time was very limited. I did speak with him at London's Shoreditch Town Hall in the heart of London's East End, the night he wrestled Jim Hussey – father of “Rollerball” Rocco. Jim Hussey was only short, but had an impressive body built up from being a swimming champion in his youth. The giant looked all of his seven foot four inches billing, standing alongside Hussey.

We in New Zealand were very lucky to see the giant before he hit New York and was snapped up by the W.W.F. In fact I wrote the first story on the giant for a Canadian magazine “Wrestling Monthly”. The following is from the August issue of 1972.titled MONSIEUR EIFFEL TOWER. “The following report from Dave Cameron is our first, but certainly not our last, feature story on the biggest star in professional wrestling today”.

In the Bible it was the tiny David who slew the mighty Goliath. But out in New Zealand recently it has been a different story. The mighty Frenchman Jean Ferre has been downing three and sometimes four diminutive “Davids” all in one night.

Flown in from Montreal Canada, the Giant has shattered all box office records in this country. The sight of thousands of people unable to gain admittance to our large stadiums is something that won't be forgotten for a long time to come.

The famous French wrestler, otherwise known as “Monsieur Eiffel Tower”, struck some trouble here with referees owing to the fact that he speaks only French. However, he soon got into fine style and won most matches with his favourite manoeuvre, the “Eiffel drop.”

The size and strength of this man has to be seen to be believed “Hercules” Bruno Bekkar probably summed it all up when he said, “thank goodness he leaves the country soon. If he stays much longer there will be no professional wrestlers left.”

In his first contest in this country at Auckland's huge Y.M.C.A., patrons turned out in full force, and an hour before the match was due to start the “full house” sign was out. This incredibly large and incredibly strong young man, who weighed in at nearly 490 pounds, partnered “Kiwi” Johnny Frazer against the three-man team of Frank Lipanovich, Onno Boelee, and Bronco Barnes.

The smiling, massive Frenchman dwarfed his 238 pounds opponents and they had no answer to his size or power. He hoisted two men with apparent ease on many occasions, and broke wristlocks by the simple expedient of lifting his two opponents high in the air and flinging them across the ring. “Hercules” Bekkar and his tag partner were simply stunned when I met them in the dressing room.. “It was like running into a brick wall”, said Bekkar. “He never even flinched and when he picked me up above his head I felt like a baby.”

Bruno Bekkar scaled eighteen stone, but the Giant at one stage lifted him clean off the ground, carried him across the ring on arms extended straight over his head, and sat him on top of a ring post. Then, much to the delight of the crowd, the Giant simply patted Bekkar on the face as one would a naughty boy, and walked away.

During his New Zealand stay the Giant faced top opposition from Brutal Bob Miller, Ricky Wallace, Teddy Williams, Mo Sakata, Bruno Bekkar, Bronco Barnes, Steve Rickard, The Assassin, Farmer Andrews, Frank Lipanovich and Onno Boelee.

Andre the Giant

The giant Frenchman struck some trouble with referees in New Zealand. During one match in Auckland referee Ernie Pinches and the huge giant shouted at each other in different languages neither understanding what the other was saying. He remonstrated with the referee over some decisions that pleased neither him nor the capacity crowd. Finally he skittled all his opponents, and the referee, and promptly got himself disqualified.

Twenty five year old Jean, who is the current Heavyweight Champion of France, had a wonderful time in New Zealand and plans to return again next year. The “Kiwis” loved him and soon made him feel at home. He boarded a plane for his second tour of Japan, looking somewhat sad at leaving our country. His opponents breathed sighs of relief as the Giant bade New Zealand farewell.

It was not until 1980 that we were to see Andre again. This time, he was only here for one week, as by then he was a tremendous attraction around the world, and was commanding huge money. On this visit, he faced up to the English giant, Goliath, also known in his own country as “Giant Haystacks.” {He also did a short American tour as “The Loch Ness Monster.” Rings around the country had to be strengthened to accommodate the two big men. Sell-out crowds were commonplace when the 31 stone Goliath faced up to the 35 stone Andre.

The late John Mancer had the following to say in his sport's column.

The Magnificent Zulu arrives here next week, but at 6ft. 6in. and weighing 22 stone he'll be the smallest of three big men wrestling promoter Steve Rickard will have here this year. Rickard said he will he bringing Mighty Goliath at 35stone and 7ft. tall, from England in mid April.

“Opponents for that much muscle are not easy to come by, but I'll have Andre The Giant here at the same time, or just afterwards,”

Andre, who weighs in around the 35 to 36 stone mark, will have a height advantage over the mighty Goliath, who stands at over 7ft. With so much flesh in action, Rickard is hard at work strengthening his rings around the country.

The New Zealand Herald were there to see the Giant's clash at their Auckland appearance. They saw the match this way. Eyeball to eyeball at more than seven feet up, The Mighty Goliath, 35 stone, from England, and Andre The Giant, from France, at 36 stone, and 7ft. 4ins.size each other up before last night's tag bout at the Y.M.C.A. stadium in Auckland.

The referee, Mr. Jack Kendall (5ft. 9ins.) fights a losing battle as he attempts to separate them and get the bout underway. Andre last fought in New Zealand eight years ago and local officials expressed amazement at how much bigger he is now compared with his earlier visit.

Andre and The Magnificent Zulu last night beat Goliath and Ripper Collins in a tag match.

Article written by Dave Cameron

Dave has been hanging around the dressing rooms for 60 years.

Dave was an amateur wrestler and part time pro in U.K. He boxed in New Zealand Services Champ's 1954, Hobsonville, Auckland. He started writing for Magazines 1949.