Let’s talk about lost tapes: as film reels are being discovered and going through the process of digitization, footage of hitherto hidden gems have been becoming unearthed at an increasingly rapid pace: Buddy Rogers vs. Ric Flair, Bret Hart vs. Tom Magee, The Last Battle of Atlanta, and now, the Kiwi Leg Roll.
Unfortunately, most professional wrestling events prior to the eighties were unfilmed. In order for businesses to cut costs, those territories that did produce televised content often had their reels taped over and reused after a given episode aired around the horn. Before the advent of the home video market, few saw the value in preserving footage they saw as mere advertisements for their live events. Other contemporary entertainment ventures, such as classic episodes of Dr. Who, experienced similar fates.
As such, there exists many a mat marvel whose in-ring career has been largely lost to time. That brings us to professional wrestling journeyman Abe Jacobs: a perennial babyface who was beloved by the fans and frequently featured in the main event in the first half of a career that spanned four decades, he often challenged for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Jacobs subsequently finished his run in a lower-to-midcard supporting role in the Carolinas, billed as a “tag team specialist.”
Standing 6’2″ and north of 240 pounds with the physique of a classic bodybuilder and rugged good looks (complete with a pencil-thin mustache) straight out of Golden Age Hollywood, the oft-billed “Jewish Heavyweight Champion” began his career in the late fifties in his native land of New Zealand. From there, he followed fellow Kiwi Pat O’Connor (Lou Thesz even rated Jacobs as having surpassed the abilities of the former NWA World Heavyweight Champion) to find success in the United States during the early television era. Initially starting in WWE precursor Capitol Sports, Jacobs would go on to work with NWA affiliates across the United States and Canada, later touring worldwide across Asia, Australia, Europe, South Africa, and South America.
Arm drags, dropkicks, shoulder tackles, and top wrist locks; much of Abe Jacobs’ repertoire was standard fare for his day, save for one hold: the quirky finishing maneuver that Jacobs personally innovated, the Kiwi Leg Roll. Crowds delighted as Jacobs put his shin in the back-bend of an opponent’s knee, grasped them by the ankle, and began a series of quarter rolls, flopping his hapless adversary around the ring and only relenting upon their submission.
Now, being as Jacobs had finished up his career by the mid-eighties and in the years prior to that was mostly relegated to the undercard, that meant there was less footage of him out there than many of his contemporaries. Thus, for years the Kiwi Leg Roll was considered a fondly remembered but sadly lost hold. Seemingly no footage of it existed and only the oldest of old school knew how to apply it.
Save for one Mike Bucci, that is. Best known as innovative ECW star and member of the bWo, “Hollywood” Nova, Bucci would go on to have a run in WWE in the mid-aughts as fitness guru Simon Dean and would later serve as the Head of Developmental Talent Relations.
Incredibly, Bucci credits a small part of this success to the Kiwi Leg Roll. He explains: “I was in developmental for a while and Dr. Tom Prichard was a huge advocate of mine. We got to talking one day and he told me how he was at a TV taping and he was having a talk with Gerald Brisco about maneuvers and what not. Somehow, the topic of older submission moves came up and Gerald Brisco was talking about something called the Kiwi Leg Roll. Dr. Tom told him on the spot that he knew one guy in developmental, me, who would know what that was and, if I didn’t, I would find out what it was and properly be able to execute it.”
Bucci continues: “So I took that as a challenge. I started scouring and doing my research and, eventually, I discovered Abe Jacobs. After a few weeks of looking for it on some tapes I was able to find the maneuver and began practicing it. About a month later, I was on the road doing some matches?I wasn’t Simon Dean yet but was still trying to get on the main roster out of Developmental.
“I was going out to the ring for a dark match and I looked at Gerald Brisco and said, ‘I got something for you tonight, wait till you see what I pull off.’ He instantly knew what I was talking about. Sure enough, I used the Leg Roll during my heat and, when I came to the back, he had a huge smile on his face. Gerald was always cool to me and he helped me every time he could. I had several folks who tried to do as much as they could for me up there. To them, I’ll always be grateful.”
Fascinated by the allure of discovering this lost hold, I searched high and low via the depths of the internet and remaining tape traders alike. Prior to YouTube’s current ubiquity, finding this needle in a haystack was equivalent to the search for the Holy Grail by the Knights of King Arthur’s Court.
And then one day, it happened. Unbeknownst to many, footage of the hold unexpectedly surfaced in 2015, though few realized its significance. I was able to confirm with Bucci its authenticity: three minutes in, take a gander at the newly rediscovered Kiwi Leg Roll.
A curious hold, even “The Master of a Thousand Holds” Mike Quackenbush was thrown for a loop upon viewing the footage: “I’ve never seen that before! Such a simple idea.”
Speaking to professional wrestler, promoter, and historian Beau James, I learned a bit more about the history and psychology of finishing moves: “Every top guy in a territory had a finisher. Buddy Rogers with the Figure Four, Pat O’Connor’s O’Connor Roll, Harley Race’s suplex, the Funks had the Spinning Toe Hold, Jackie Fargo with the Atomic Drop, Johnny Weaver with the sleeper. All of the top guys had a move or hold to build a match around.
“In the fifties and sixties when a guy was coming into a territory, the publicity would tell you what his hold or move was. They would get it over before he ever got there. All the preliminary guys had holds that they used regularly. In the eyes of the fans, they had not perfected them yet to be able to win with them. That’s why they were not top, main event stars yet. It was like a guy in the minors working on a curveball: once he perfected it he was going to be unhittable.”
Beau laments that he hadn’t seen the maneuver in several decades: “I wish somebody would use these holds. They are so old, they’re new again.”
In my eyes, the exciting question is not whether a modern-day mat maestro will introduce the hold into their moveset?surely, now, someone will?but what lost artifact is sitting in the back of a dusty closet, waiting to turn up next?
Kris Levin is a traveling storyteller, professional wrestling referee, contributor for Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, and everybody’s favorite nephew. He can be seen internationally on IMPACT Wrestling as their most junior official, #KidRef, and on social media at @RefKrisLevin.