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Giant Haystacks dies from cancer

GIANT HAYSTACKS, one of the greatest stars of British wrestling - and certainly its largest - has died of cancer.

The showman, who stood almost seven foot, with a fighting weight of about 50 stone, was a symbol of an age when wrestling on ITV would attract millions of viewers on a Saturday afternoon before the football results.

In the good guy/bad guy theatre of wrestling he played an angry mountain of a man against his long-time opponent, Big Daddy, the kiddies' and grannies' favourite, who died last year.

Haystacks, 52, who said he never lost, would often be disqualified as his fights dissolved in uproar, while Kent Walton, the commentator, shouted hysterically. He dominated the ring from the moment of his slow entry, squeezing his bulk between the ropes.

But he was no great technician: the intricacies of the half-nelson, Boston crab and the flying headscissors were never the hallmark of a wrestler who relied on his bulk. Mick McManus, his one-time tag partner, said: "He preferred to pick a fella up, body-slam him on to the canvas and then dive on top of him. The chances of someone getting up were remote."

McManus, who retired in 1981, said Haystacks, real name Martin Ruane, was different in private. "He was quiet-spoken and he did not get perturbed outside the ring." A devout Roman Catholic from a Manchester Irish family, he refused to fight on Sundays.

Simon Garfield, author of The Wrestling, said he had a sense of humour. "He appreciated the ludicrousness of his size and in his occasional grudge tag matches with Big Daddy he would be paired with a tiny man and his opponent would also be tiny, adding to the comic effect as a man would run through Haystacks' legs and he would look dumbfounded. "However," Garfield added, "Haystacks had his aggressive side. He said that wrestling was the only way he could get out all his pent-up anger without being arrested."

Haystacks was aggrieved when his sport was killed off by ITV's decision to take it off the air in 1988 because it was considered too downmarket for advertisers. So upset was Haystacks that he said, but for the law, he would have killed Greg Dyke, the executive responsible for the decision.

He continued to fight but the pay was sometimes just pounds 60 an appearance. Two years ago he was stricken with cancer just after signing a contract to revive his career in the US with his Hollywood friend Hulk Hogan.

Giant Haystacks was at his Manchester home with his wife and childhood sweetheart, Rita, when he died on Sunday. He leaves three sons.