7 Apr 2015

Wrestling pioneer was 'straight-shooter'

9:49 am on 7 April 2015

Steve Rickard, who revolutionised New Zealand's wrestling scene, is remembered by family and fans as a man who loved, lived and breathed his sport.

King Curtis, Steve Rickard and Mark Lewin

King Curtis, Steve Rickard and Mark Lewin Photo: SUPPLIED / Dave Cameron

The wrestling great - who died on Sunday in Australia at the age of 85 - was born Sydney Mervin Batt in Napier in 1929.

He brought the sport into living rooms with the popular entertainment show, On the Mat.

To most New Zealanders, Rickard is best known for his role as the co-host of that show, which ran for nearly a decade from 1975.

As well as fronting the programme with Ernie Leonard, Rickard was a commentator and an occasional wrestler - all the while running businesses of his own.

Wrestling historian Dave Cameron said the sport in New Zealand would not be the same without Rickard.

"He just loved the sport, he'd be up all night 'round the world making phone calls in the middle of the night. Yeah, he just loved the sport. He was dedicated to wrestling, even as an amateur," Mr Cameron said.

Mr Cameron said Rickard was a straight-shooter.

Steve Rickard

Steve Rickard Photo: SUPPLIED / Kiwi Wrestling

He started as a policeman - a detective - but, by the 1960s, he was a full-time wrestler and promoter.

He got his whole family into the sport, and his sons regularly featured in the show.

Tony Batt often refereed on the show, and he said his dad put everything into the sport.

"When he found that wrestling was actually something he was very passionate about, it was like a drug with him. It was something that he just couldn't let go of," Mr Batt said.

"He loved the sport, and breathed it and lived it."

Rickard took the sport to southeast Asia and sold the television show around the world.

He brought big wrestling names to New Zealand and took New Zealand's stars overseas.

Adam Simpson, who made a documentary about wrestling in New Zealand, said Rickard wanted to be remembered as an honest man.

In an interview in 2009, he said, "We asked him towards the end, how would you like to be remembered, and he said: 'I would like to be remembered as an honest promoter who lived up to people's wishes.'

"I think in general, that is how he is remembered. He's remembered very fondly by audiences throughout New Zealand."

Rickard always said his philosophy was to give everything in life his all, particularly wrestling.