The Manchester lad who came into our homes every Saturday teatime… and spawned an entertainment monster


Family, friends and stars have paid tribute to Mark ‘Rollerball’ Rocco, the hard-working north Manchester lad who became a world-famous wrestling legend and a Saturday TV star – the baddie grapple fans loved to hate.

He is credited with paving the way for the the mega-bucks entertainment behemoth that is WWE.

Real name Mark Hussey, he died at a care home in Warrington. He had been suffering with vascular dementia for the last three years of his life. He was 69.

Today’s younger wrestling fans will not remember Rollerball Rocco – but their modern-day WWE heroes certainly do, and they have paid tribute to a man they regard as a wrestling pioneer.

Raised on a farm in Simister, Prestwich, he defied his wrestler dad (Jumping Jim Hussey) to become a wrestler himself, learning his craft from the age of 12 while his father wasn’t watching in the ring at the farm gym.



Mark defied his wrestler father to become a wrestler himself

Not many know he was also talented show-jumper and rode for Great Britain, but his real passion was in the ring.

He turned professional in 1969 and became a huge star in Japan, the first to adopt the Black Tiger character whose ring feud with Tiger Mask made him a household name in the Far East.

He would wear the mask every time he went out in public and would be mobbed by fans.

Hussey went on to become a household name here in the UK too, fighting as Mark ‘Rollerball’ Rocco every Saturday lunchtime on ITV’s World of Sport hosted by Dickie Davies. His ring nemeses were Oldham wrestler Marty Jones and Wgan fighter, Dynamite Kid – and their TV duels made him a star.

Long before WWE in the US made world stars of wrestlers like Dwayne Johnson and Mark’s good friend Hulk Hogan, he helped bring wrestling to the masses. Without Mark, WWE could not have happened.

The US giant reported record revenue of $960m last year (£731m).



Mark ‘Rollerball’ Rocco retired aged 39

Wearing just a pair of trunks and boots, he understood that fans wanted to be told a story, not just watch two men throwing each other around the ring.

So he became the wrestler grapple fans loved to hate although in fighting circles he was considered a pioneer and skilled operator.

In a revealing and articulate 2013 interview published on YouTube, he lamented how the Brits had let things ‘drift away’ while the the Yanks had taken wrestling to a new level and knew how to turn entertainment into big bucks.

He said: “You’ve got to remember that British wrestling was the start of all this. The Americans came a lot later than the British. The British were wrestling professionally in the 30s and 20s and the American thing didn’t really kick off until the 50s really, properly.”



Mark made his name as ‘Black Tiger’ in Japan

ITV’s World Of Sport had brought the sport to a national audience for the first time while in the US it remained at first in high school gyms and on local TV which left the yanks ‘in awe’, he said, of the huge audience British wrestlers were getting in the UK.

He said: “We had fantastic stars and great wrestling characters and we had the upper-hand by a long way. America followed us and followed our styles. It wasn’t America that put wrestling on the map.

“Unfortunately we let it drift away because the promoters in America were very interested in re-investing the profits they made back into the business which in England the promoters were a group of different people and they took the money and ran with it.

“They bought islands off the shore and bought Rolls Royce and Bentleys and that’s what killed the wrestling business and the talented people moved away from here. We lost some of the talent and it was replaced by the Big Daddy type characters which were a great show but didn’t hold people’s attention for very long.



Mark was mobbed when he wrestled in Japan

“Now-a-days, the American style – and I’m not knocking it, it’s fantastic and it’s spectacular and they make millions and they are paid much better paid than the English guys were at the time – it’s lost something.

“In our day, I’m not saying we were the best but we were pretty close world-wide with our TV wrestling shows. The wrestlers got into the ring with a pair of trunks and a pair of boots.



Mark early in his career

“And they told an amazing story which would keep people transfixed for weeks. The Americans now on the other hand, they get into the ring with a microphone and they speak for 20 minutes.

“Then they all run about and slap each other and run up and down. There’s no story. They don’t care if he wins, he loses. In our day, people used to cry on the ringside if their hero got beaten or the bad guy took a liberty with them. They were so involved because they understood it.”




He was a friend of United legend George Best, meeting his future wife Ann, a croupier, at Best’s Manchester nightclub Slack Alice.

Perhaps his greatest achievement in the ring was winning the WWF junior heavyweight title at Madison Square Garden in New York 1982, fighting as Black Tiger against The Cobra.

Rollerball Rocco won a string of world and British wrestling titles until he retired in 1990 at the age of 39. He was taken to hospital after what turned out to be his final bout. Doctors found an abnormal heart-beat and they urged him to stop. He had a pace-maker fitted.



Mark Hussey (right) with his sons Jono (middle) and Rich

He and Ann raised their two sons Rich and Jono at their home in Timperley where wrestlers like Giant Haystacks would be regular baby-sitters.

The family moved to Tenerife where Mark became a pillar of the community – he ran a number of businesses and was president of Lions Club International on the island, raising thousands for charitable causes.

The couple returned to Manchester five years ago but Mark’s last three years were blighted by ill-health. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.



He moved to Tenerife after retiring as a wrestler

Ann, 66, recalled their life together: “It was exciting and an unusual life. We travelled a lot and we met a lot of unusual people.”

Their son Rich, who gave his mum and dad their first grandchild, Albie, in 2018, said: “Giant Haystacks was just under 7ft tall. Me and my brother used to hang off his beard when he came to babysit us! He took a real shine to us. We were Rocco’s little boys. My dad was so proud of his two lads.



Hulk Hogan with Mark Hussey’s sons Rich (right) and Jono when they were boys

“He was a great dad and me and my brother were always really proud of him growing up. Once we went to Disneyland in America and there was a wrestling show. My dad said we’d just sit in the crowd. He got up to go to the toilet and he gets grabbed and we were all taken back to Hulk Hogan’s dressing room.

“And there was Macho Man too just before their match. I remember it clear as day. We had photos with them. I couldn’t believe it. I thought my dad had been telling porkie pies, saying that he knew Hulk Hogan. Me and my brother were looking at each other in amazement. That’s a memory I’ll never forget, meeting my favourite wrestler and him acknowledging my dad for being a really good wrestler as well.”



Wrestler Macho Man with Mark Hussey’s sons Jono and Rich (right)

Jono, 37, who had a successful pro boxing career fighting as Jonny Rocco, explained how his father was revered by wrestling fans in Japan.

“My dad could not really walk down the street in Japan without getting mobbed. He had to wear the Black Tiger mask everywhere he went. He could not be seen as any other person apart from Black Tiger which is a crazy hearing about it now. He had tours of three or four months out there,” said Jono.



Mark wth Giant Haystacks, who would babysit his sons

It was ITV’s World Of Sport that made Mark ‘Rollerball’ Rocco a household name in the UK.

Jono said: “We only had three channels back then. He was on the TV every Saturday and he became a big household name.”

His dad played a pantomime villain who wrestling fans loved to hate.

“He would get booed into the ring and booed out of the ring. He used to tell me some amazing stories,” said Jono, among them that his dad was attacked by an old lady with a pair of scissors.



Mark ‘Rollerball’ Rocco

“When wrestling at the side of the ring they used to get belted over the heads with handbags and umbrellas, especially by the old ladies. They used to properly get into it. He got stabbed by someone with a pair of scissors once but security took her away. I think he had to strap his hand up but he was OK after a couple of days I think,” he said.

Wrestling took a terrible toll on Mark over the years.

Jono said: “He had so many injuries. I think he broke every single bone in his body. He broke his back three times. He had numerous problems with his arms and knees. It was crazy. People saying wrestling his fake and it is to an extent these days but back in them days they took a lot of bumps.



He was said to have broken every bone in his body during his career

“My dad took wrestling to another level. He was quite a good Olympic wrestler. He knew all the moves. People like Big Daddy were massive. They body-slammed people. That’s all they did. My dad knew what he was doing.”

Ann, though, baulks at the suggestion that his wrestling injuries caused his Vascular Dementia.

“I don’t think so for one minute. I think it didn’t help but it was hereditary for him. He started getting quite forgetful in his 60s and in the last three years it really got bad. We had our first grandchild and he got to see him but he didn’t really know who he was which was a terrible shame,” said Ann.

The world of wrestling mourned news of his death.



Mark ‘Rollerball’ Rocco (right) shakes hands with his friend and fellow wrestler Hulk Hogan at Wembley Arena

US wrestling legend Hulk Hogan tweeted a picture of the pair and wrote: “RIP ROLLERBALL ROCCO, what a good man, our last handshake and laugh was at Wembley, we both rocked that place many times, I always loved going out at night to find the old school fish houses after the matches with Rocco, we would laugh, drink Ichiban beer for hours me, him,and Andre HH.”

Another WWE star, Welsh fighter Flash Morgan Webster, tweeted: “Just heard about the passing of Mark Rocco. Rollerball was without a doubt one of the very best to lace up a pair of boots. He was a pioneer and an innovator and its safe the junior heavyweight style wouldn’t be what it is today without his contribution.”



Mark Hussey helped put wrestling on the map

Another, William Regal, wrote: “I’ve woken to the terrible news that my friend and colleague Mark “Rollerball” Rocco has passed away.

“Becoming a friend and getting to wrestle Mark at 18 was a dream come true. Mark had an unbelievable work ethic in and out of the ring and my life was better for knowing him.

“There aren’t enough words for me to explain how much it means to me to be fortunate enough to have known him, wrestled him and explain how much he meant.”



Mark ‘Rollerball’ Rocco with wife Ann and their two sons Rich and Jono

Mark’s funeral, for close friends and family, is due to take place at Overdale Crematorium in Bolton on August 20.

The Hussey family are planning a memorial service on May 11, 2021, which would have been Mark’s 70th birthday, to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

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