We are heartbroken to report that Joe D’Orazio, the world’s oldest living wrestler has passed away. He was 99.
D’Orazio has been a key figure in preserving and honoring British wrestling history. His own life story is one that deserves to be remembered and revered also. There is little that D’Orazio has not done with his adventurous life.
He was born Guiseppe Scala in 1922. His parents were Italian immigrants who had resettled in the industrial district of Bermondsey in London, England. They were well respected within the working classes from all backgrounds. They ran a traditional British takeaway on the famous Old Kent Road. The young Scala was a typical young lad.
Joe D’Orazio- His Life and Times
He would rather spend his days and evenings off school playing with his friends, and not working in his family’s shop. He saw no future for himself in the family business. After he finished school, he got a job with a demolition crew. He imagined that destroying buildings would be fun. As Bermondsey grew, there was no shortage of old factories and warehouses that needed to be torn down to make way for new homes.
“When I was about nine years old, I was a regular visitor to Joe’s fish and chip shop in the Old Kent Road. The chip shot had been started by Joe’s father and was just around the corner from where his grandfather, Old Joe, had owned a chip shop in Tower Bridge Road.”
– Tony Scarlo, a neighbor of the Scala family.
Then World War II broke out across Europe. Any man who was fit to serve was required to sign up, or be drafted into the army. Guiseppe went into the Royal Air Force willingly.
As bizarre as it may seem now, Guiseppe disliked wrestling. His best friend would become the wrestler known as Steve Logan. He befriended Vic Coleman while serving with the RAF. It was during this time that he explored his interest in judo. The wrestling industry was non-existent during the conflict for obvious reasons. When it relaunched, his cousin Mike Marino convinced Guiseppe that it would be a good way to make quick money.Seeing how it worked out for Marino, he chose to give it a try. With his name giving him trouble throughout his life, he knew he had to change it. He adopted the ring name “Joe D’Orazio” to make it easier for promoters and fans alike. He portrayed an Italian ju-jitsu expert who competed barefoot.
The details of his first-ever match is disputed. The most commonly cited was against Russ Bishop from New Zealand in 1948. However, documented evidence suggests that Bishop didn’t have his first match in the United Kingdom until 1950.
“Best bout of the evening was the meeting between Len Britton and the Italian Joe D’Orazio, a ju-jitsu expert who wrestling in his bare feet. Both men were fast and exceeding clever, with many holds at their command.”
– Excerpt from Western Daily Press, October 1950.
Regardless of when D’Orazio made his debut, it was just before British wrestling entered into a boom period. It began to get much more television exposure. World of Sport became the highest-rated show during the years that it was broadcast. The main ratings draw was the exclusive wrestling matches hosted by Joint Promotions. It became so popular that even the Queen and politicians claimed to be fans.
The greater exposure meant bigger paydays for the wrestlers who appeared on the show. However, there were concerns that office politics determined which wrestlers were featured. Matsport was formed as a splinter company to rival Joint Promotions.
D’Orazio refined his character for the new organization. Now he played a Japanese warrior called “Kito Tani”. He wore high-heeled sandals and a kimono to the ring. He portrayed the character for three years until MaxSport closed down.
D’Orazio then began working as both a wrestler and a referee for Dale Martin Promotions. As a referee, he stood out for his soft-spoken yet firm manner. He did not shout warnings at the competitors like others did. Instead, he would physically get in between them and kindly remind the violator of the rules. He also insisted on wearing plain black t-shirt instead of traditional referee attire.
Although he made the point of dressing formally for more prestigious venues. He would become the resident referee for events and tournaments held in the Royal Albert Hall. He officiated matches across Europe and even Jordan.
Wrestling would not be enough for D’Orazio. He became famous for his other pastimes too. He would be featured in non-wrestling shows and publications, showcasing his talents for painting and creative writing. D’Orazio published multiple books featuring his own handwritten poetry and pen drawings. He also shared these passions by teaching his skills to adults with learning difficulties. D’Orazio has also had a few acting credits on his resume.
During the ‘90s, he surprised the world by unveiling yet another persona, “Bob Scala”. “Bob” had been a highly respected name in wrestling journalism for over twenty years. He composed insider articles for ‘The Wrestler’ magazine. He was also the man behind the highly respected ‘Who’s Who of Wrestling’, published in 1971.
It was also around this time that D’Orazio focused on protecting the legacies of his colleagues. In 1991, he co-founded the British Wrestlers Reunion. It is currently one of the largest societies of its kind with over five thousand members internationally. He became the first and only BWR President. He formally stepped down from the role earlier this year. Out of respect for everything Joe D’Orazio had built, BWR changed how they were run so that no one could pretend to be a replacement for D’Orazio.
“Joe was the last of the great legends of wrestling and was ever-present through its golden years. Joe was very instrumental in the careers of many wrestlers and was one of the great referees ever to step into the ring once his own wrestling career had ended.
Until January Joe was the one and only President of the British Wrestling Reunion and it was his final wish that the Reunion in its known form end when it left The Bridges earlier this year when Joe decided to retire from the role.”
– Ken Sowden of British Wrestling Reunion
Joe D’Orazio reportedly passed away peacefully in his sleep. He leaves behind a legacy that may never be matched. Thanks to D’Orazio, many others will not have their careers lost to time. Our thoughts and prayers are with D’Orazio’s family, both biological and professional, during this difficult time.