A familiar face to many in Kahnawake graces the cover of Van Morrison’s new album. (Courtesy vanmorrison.com)
It may have been more than 40 years since Billy Two Rivers last stepped into a wrestling ring for a professional bout, but that doesn’t mean he’s willing to give up everything he accomplished in his career.
The world famous wrestler from Kahnawake made a name for himself by wrestling professionally in the United Kingdom in the 1950s and 60s. It’s an image from that time in his life that has now popped back up on the world stage, but not in any ring.
By chance a friend of his daughter Kasennine discovered that rock star Van Morrison was coming out with a new album this coming fall titled: Roll With The Punches. The artwork for the album cover is already done and being shown on Van Morrison’s website. It’s a picture that shows Billy in the ring, with a Mohawk haircut, tossing his opponent to the mat.
“It is pretty cool but it doesn’t surprise me,” Kasennine said. “There’s been so many people who have recognized my dad all over the world through the years. Nothing surprises me.”
Two Rivers is certain the photo is of him. He’s also certain that he never signed away the promotional rights for anyone to use his image for anything besides promoting his fights in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
Two Rivers says he signed up with a promoter in 1959, whose name he can’t recall, to go and fight in Great Britain for three months. That turned into more than six years, with summers back in Kahnawake, where he played lacrosse.
Two Rivers acted as his own agent. “I never signed anything,” he said. “The only thing I insisted on was a return plane ticket in my back pocket so that I could leave at any time if my feathers got ruffled.”
From the early 1960s the money was pretty good. “I got $100 a match,” Two Rivers said. “But I never got a dollar from advertisers or anything like that.”
Two Rivers caught on with the promoter in London because he was wrestling in North Carolina against a guy named Tinker Todd, who happened to be from the UK. And after a word from Tinker Todd, Two Rivers hooked up with that promoter.
It was originally for 60 fights over three months. Through that one promoter he was handled by four other regional promoters across the UK.
“They booked me and I followed,” Two Rivers said.
He says the image of him that resurfaced over 50 years later was probably on a promotional poster.
“I suspect it was coming from the promotions in Leeds that was promoting our events in Ireland,” Billy said.
He says he agreed with his picture being used in promotions for his matches in those days.
“People call from all over the world for my dad,” Kasinnine said. “It’s cool that it’s Van Morrison.”
The Eastern Door reached out to Van Morrison, but there has been no response so far from his representatives.