Malcolm "King Kong" Kirk
|Born||18 December 1936
Featherstone, West Yorkshire, England
|Died||24 August 1987 (aged 50)
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||King Kong Kirk
"Mucky" Mal Kirk
|Billed height||6 ft 1 in (185 cm)|
|Billed weight||309–353 lb (140–160 kg)|
|Billed from||West Yorkshire, England|
Malcolm Kirk (18 December 1936 – 24 August 1987) was an English professional wrestler who went by the ring name of "King Kong" Kirk as well as Kojak Kirk, Killer Kirk and "Mucky" Mal Kirk. He started as a rugby league player before becoming a professional wrestler. Kirk died of a heart attack on 24 August 1987 after collapsing in the ring during a tag team match at the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. The wrestling event was run by Joint Promotions with the main event being a tag team match between Kirk and King Kendo (Bill Clarke) against Big Daddy (Shirley Crabtree) and Greg Valentine (Steve Crabtree) in front of 1,500 people. Kirk's death and the aftermath led to the decline of professional wrestling in the United Kingdom.
Prior to professional wrestling, Kirk was a coal miner and professional rugby league footballer, he played 35 first team matches as a loose forward/lock (number 13) for Featherstone Rovers (Heritage № 360) making his début on 23 April 1955, playing from the 1954–55 season to the 1957–58 season, scoring one try, he played 3 matches for Wakefield Trinity (Heritage № 642) making his début during December 1957, playing during the 1957–58 season, he played 2 matches for Castleford during the 1960–1961 season, and he also played for Doncaster, where he was a teammate of another future professional wrestler, Ted Heath.
Kirk started wrestling as "Mucky" Mal Kirk after his rugby league career. After a period of time spend wrestling in Germany, where he tagged with Baron von Raschke, Kirk returned to the United Kingdom, now heavier and bald, wrestled as Kojak Kirk then Killer Kirk before changing his ring name to "King Kong" Kirk. Kirk always wrestled as a "heel" (bad guy) and often tagged with the superheavyweight Giant Haystacks in tag-team matches against blue-eyes (good guys). Kirk's work rose to its prominence in the 1970s, and 1980s due to the popularity of televised wrestling in the United Kingdom and he was recognised as a consistent heel. Unlike a number of wrestlers at the time, he didn't rely on a wrestling gimmick during his time in professional wrestling. Kirk instead used his physical size and bald head in a manner of appearance which was viewed as legitimately intimidating. However he was viewed by his peers as being a good worker. Canadian wrestler Bret Hart said about his first match with Kirk: "Kirk turned out to be a great worker and bump-taker, and when he collapsed on top of me, he was as light as if he'd covered me with a blanket." Despite being a heel, outside of the ring he was good with children and made himself approachable.
During this time, Kirk also worked as a bouncer simultaneously with being a professional wrestler. He predominantly wrestled in the United Kingdom however he also wrestled in Germany, where he wrestled the future WWE Hall of Famer André the Giant, and in Canada for Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling. He also wrestled future World Championship Wrestling and World Wrestling Federation wrestlers such as Bret "Hitman" Hart, Dave Finlay and William Regal. His reputation in professional wrestling had also spread to the United States, where he was featured in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter in 1986 as a result.
On 24 August 1987, Kirk died following a tag team match between Kirk and King Kendo against Big Daddy and Greg Valentine at the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth. The match took place as part of a storyline where Kirk was feuding with Big Daddy. He told his wife when he left his house the day he was due to wrestle the match: "I don't want to go, I hate this job". The match lasted for fifteen minutes. The finish of the match was Big Daddy performing his "Big Daddy Splashdown" finisher on Kirk, where he would jump up and land horizontally across his opponent's chest (which is commonly known as a splash), and hold Kirk down for the pinfall. After pinning Kirk to win the match, Big Daddy got up but Kirk remained on the canvass and started to turn purple. Big Daddy noticed there was something wrong and told his cornerman. The promoter Max Crabtree and a Slavic circus pole dancer got into the ring and attempted CPR. However, because of Kirk's size, they and the St John's Ambulance personnel present were unable to work Kirk's chest. The ring had to be dismantled, with eight men required to get Kirk on a stretcher and into the ambulance but he was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
Big Daddy went to a nearby police station accompanied by the promoter Max Crabtree for questioning by police but was not charged with any offence. During this time and subsequent media interviews later, Big Daddy maintained kayfabe and spoke of the match in terms of being a legitimate contest. Big Daddy later wrestled the next day claiming it was what Kirk would have wanted. However Big Daddy did say "as long as I live, I'll never forget seeing him laid down there on the canvas instead of on his feet raging and flying about and that will stay with me".
The Health and Safety Executive launched an investigation into Kirk's death. The subsequent autopsy and inquiry revealed that Kirk had a previous heart condition and could have had the heart attack at any time but was more likely to have triggered owing to the physical nature of professional wrestling and found for a verdict of death by natural causes. Pathologist Dr Norman Ball testified that Kirk had had six unnoticed minor heart attacks prior to the one that killed him and likely had the fatal attack while he was standing prior to receiving the splashdown, stating "It is likely he was already dead when he fell to the canvas", thus clearing Big Daddy of any responsibility for Kirk's death.
Kirk's death garnered worldwide media attention, with some newspapers initially breaking the news by claiming that Big Daddy's splash killed Kirk. The British Medical Association recommended a maximum age limit for professional wrestlers as Kirk was approaching 51 at the time and criticised Joint Promotions for not having a doctor at ringside. Kirk's widow claimed that Kirk only earned £25 for the match, with a bonus of £5 for wrestling Big Daddy while Joint Promotions' promoters were earning thousands while she was left widowed with two children. She criticised the sport for the way it treated Kirk and there has since been criticism of Big Daddy for continuing to treat the incident as a legitimate sporting accident. Later, Canadian wrestler Bret Hart, who wrestled Kirk for Joint Promotions, wrote in his book that few men could take Big Daddy's weight and said "all it took was for Max to wave a few extra quid in a wrestler's face and he'd put his life on the line."
Several sources, including his own obituaries, incorrectly claimed that Big Daddy was so distraught by Kirk's death that he retired from professional wrestling. However he actually wrestled for six more years until 1993, still using the Big Daddy Splashdown despite calling for it to be banned and saying he would stop using it. Kirk had reportedly told some of his friends "If I have to go, I hope it is in the ring".
The death of Kirk is cited as having contributed to the decline of professional wrestling in the United Kingdom as people started to look at it more critically. It started to be compared to American professional wrestling, specifically the World Wrestling Federation, which was viewed as a higher quality product as the wrestlers were more muscular than the British wrestlers. Professional wrestling's television spot on ITV was cancelled in December 1988. Joint Promotions dwindled and eventually went out of business in February 1995 although its chief rival at the time All Star Wrestling (for which Kirk also sporadically worked) remains active to the present day.
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