Chick ‘Cocky’ Knight – The Heroic Life of a British Wrestling Pioneer

Chick ‘Cocky’ Knight lived life to the full. Along with a storied career in the wrestling ring, he was a soldier (he lied about his age to get into the forces early), amateur and professional boxer, doorman, film star, and stuntman. He was also a triple-lifesaver!

"London's Loveable Villain" Chick 'Cocky' Knight.
“London’s Loveable Villain” Chick ‘Cocky’ Knight.

The Extraordinary Heroics of Chick ‘Cocky’ Knight

Chick ‘Cocky’ Knight was born Arthur Richard George Knight on February 17th, 1903, in West London. Having seven siblings, losing his mother at the tender age of nine, and living on the streets for a spell during his teenage years toughened up the young man. His life would take a turn once joining the army.

Knight served in India, Singapore, Malaysia, and Gibraltar. During his time in the armed forces, he illustrated his competitive prowess and excelled in multiple military sporting competitions. Amateur boxing was his first combat sport of choice, and he won the Middleweight Championship of India.

While on tour in Gibraltar, fellow soldier Private Edward Durrant had some difficulty swimming and was pulled away from land in Catalan Bay. Durrant and Knight were serving together in the 1 Battalion Suffolk Regiment. Upon witnessing his mate struggling at sea, Chick swam 300 meters, pulled him to safety, and performed CPR, ultimately saving his life.

This was an extraordinary feat he would repeat later in life.

On June 15th, 1930, his heroic exploits were on display once more, this time on the River Thames back home in London after a young girl had fallen into the water. Another gentleman jumped in to save her but was unsuccessful in his attempt. Upon seeing their struggle, Chick lept off Hammersmith Bridge and pulled the young girl and her initial rescuer to safety.

Chick received certificates from the Royal Humane Society for his heroic efforts. His great-nephew Andy Scott has also established an online petition for a plaque to be placed on Hammersmith Bridge to commemorate the heroic actions his great-uncle took there almost a century before. The petition can be signed here.

While speaking to the children of those his great-uncle had saved, Scott admits, “It was a truly emotional moment. It left me with a lump in my throat knowing I was speaking to someone who was truly appreciative of Chick’s heroics.”

Chick’s Journey into the World of Professional Wrestling

In 1933, Chick’s journey into the world of professional wrestling began, and it was an unequivocal success over the subsequent quarter of a decade.

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Billed during his career as anywhere between fifteen and twenty-stone (210 to 280lbs), Knight was a large man with an imposing demeanor, yet gentle and loving away from the ring. He’d famously drive his large frame around on a scooter, a maybe slightly comical look, but it was doubtful anyone would dare tease him for it!

He prided himself on being a tough man. Beers and cigars were a core part of his training regimen.

Chick 'Cocky' Knight after the matches.
Chick ‘Cocky’ Knight after the matches. [Photo: Andy Scott on Twitter]
In his matches, he wasn’t afraid to get disqualified and fight not only his opponent but the referee too! One incident involved Chick being disqualified and fighting referee Leo Lightbody for five minutes before decking him with an enamel sawdust bowl!

 

He’d spend many weeks and months on tour across the UK, wrestling in pretty much every town and city’s stadium, hall, pavilion, or ice-rink that wrestling was staged at. He wrestled thousands of matches with legends like Jack Pye, Douglas Clark, George Gregory, and he had a legendary rivalry with former British World Heavyweight Champion Bert Assirati.

All Star Wrestling promotional poster from July 3rd, 1945, featuring the headlining match of British Heavyweight Champion Bert Assirati vs. Chick 'Cocky' Knight.
All Star Wrestling promotional poster from July 3rd, 1945, featuring the headlining match of British Heavyweight Champion Bert Assirati vs. Chick ‘Cocky’ Knight.

On occasion, Knight would perform as Sergei Orloff and would sometimes be billed as hailing from the United States — an early form of the current-day method of changing a wrestler’s backstory to help tell a story. Back then, matches consisted of timed rounds and would often be best-of-three contests.

Knight would wrestle throughout World War 2, often competing in front of service personnel at the American Red Cross Club in London. A sign of the times appears when ‘Cocky’ battles a wrestler known as the ‘Coloured Champion’ in 1937. The next year, he makes history becoming one of the first-ever British wrestlers to perform on television.

London’s Loveable Villain – Chick ‘Cocky’ Knight

Fifty-three years after his passing, the great-nephew of Chick ‘Cocky’ Knight Andy Scott unearths and explores many of the mythical tales involving his great uncle in a book entitled London’s Loveable Villain – Chick ‘Cocky’ Knight. The result is a fascinating read and a deep dive into a British wrestling pioneer’s career and unique life.

A story that stands out in the 150-page publication was the bizarre moment “a live mouse was reported to have been thrown into the ring during the contest, which proceeded to wander around the ring before being removed by the referee.”

A two-year tour of Singapore, Malaysia, Ceylon, India, Pakistan, and South Africa in 1952 draws regular crowds of 40,000 to witness Chick in action.

Post-wrestling, he would garner newspaper headlines reading, ‘The Gang-Buster is back!’ This was in reference to his abilities to successfully see off knife-wielding hooligans at nightclubs run by organized crime families.

Chick 'Cocky' Knight at home in Barnes leaning against sideboard which has his wrestling and boxing trophies on it.Knight passed away on June 5th, 1967, at the age of sixty-four. He left behind a legacy that warrants a prominent place in the annals of British wrestling. During the book’s writing, Knight was also inducted into the British Wrestler’s Reunion Hall-of-Fame. His and his opponent’s passion for the game paved the way for British wrestling’s glory days in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.

“Without Chick, there would surely not have been a Mick McManus, Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, or even Hulk Hogan. Chick’s fame and notoriety spread globally. Chick was like Marmite. You either loved him or loathed him,” Scott explains in the book.

Wrestler vs. Boxer

The first third of ‘London’s Loveable Villain’ documents Chick’s entire life story, and the rest is a historian’s dream of pages and pages of Chick’s comprehensive fight history. Far from a historian myself, I found this fascinating. Also, a wonderful array of black and white pictures from his life adorns the book.

One notable contest was his ‘wrestler vs. boxer’ battle with former British & Commonwealth boxing champion, Billy Wells. Hybrid rules meant Knight could only grapple and Wells could only punch. This was somewhat of a precursor to the infamous Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki bout in 1976. I urge you to watch the short clip on Youtube of this match:

Scott’s goal was to have people talking about a wrestling legend who seemed to have little written about him. His painstaking efforts to retrieve information and write this book are a remarkable testament to Knight’s life.

Wrestling was such a big part of his life, yet it was only a small part of his story. He lived life to the full, and reading about his journey was an absolute joy.

The book “London’s Loveable Villain – Chick ‘Cocky’ Knight” by Andy Scott can be purchased here.

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Ian Aldous
Ian Aldous is a boxing writer and contributor to Pro Wrestling Stories. He has covered boxing for BoxingNews24.com since 2011 and represents the International Boxing Organization as a publicist. He briefly covered pro wrestling in the late 2000s for WrestlingNewsWorld.com and the PWB Podcast. He can be reached on Twitter: @boxing_writer and by e-mail at ian_aldous@yahoo.co.uk.