Sunday, October 25, 2020

Open Air Wrestling in Toronto

 Maple Leaf Stadium is one of the forgotten wrestling venues in the city. First opened in April 1926 at the foot of  Bathurst St. it was built for the baseball Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Record Attendance for baseball in 1945- 20,000+

Touted for it's accessibility and convenience, as well as 'the tremendous seating capacity' of over 20,000. For contact sports Boxing was first, in June, with the Shamrock AC (who later promoted wrestling) in charge. 

'The only thing disappointing about last night's open air bouts at the Maple Leaf Stadium was the crowd. The new stadium is an ideal place for an open air show, and the layout of the ring over home plate and the lighting and ringside seating arrangements were well planned. The night was a trifle chilly, but it takes more than that to account for the smallness of the crowd.'
Star 1926

The promoters lost $2,000 on that first try and the negatives of open air events was evident. The weather was always a factor but there also the fact the the Stadium was a bit out of the way compared to venues in the core of the city. 

When Ivan Mickailoff first brought weekly cards to Toronto in 1929 they ran at Arena Gardens aka Mutual St Arena. Maple Leaf Gardens opened in 1931 and right from the start was the premier spot to hold wrestling in the city. Despite having the huge stadium by the lake which would later see its fair share of pro wrestling, the first outdoor card was held in 1959 at the East York Stadium


In July 1949 Frank Tunney, now in charge, would run his first outdoor show at the East York Collegiate Memorial Stadium. Whipper & Pat Flanagan took on Fred Atkins & Sky Hi Lee and the bout ended in a riot after Lee was attacked by the fans. The Stadium could be considered to be in Whipper's backyard, and the East York fans would break through walls to save their hero. They did, using chairs and anything else they could handle. Lee and Atkins finally make a run for it (over 300ft) to the dressing rooms to escape the crowd. Tunney said he was satisfied with the attendance and layout but would have more ticket booths as several hundred fans went home when they couldn't get tickets before the the first bout. They would also tie the ringside seats together (as was mandated as a permanent measure later after another incident) to prevent fans from tossing chairs into the ring. 

It did well enough that they ran again a week later. 

The peace and quiet of the neighborhood adjacent to East York Collegiate stadium looks to be a inch to be rudely shattered Thursday night when Frank Tunney unleashes his transplanted wrestling program. If the four-bout preliminary card doesn't smash windows form blocks around, the main event where Whipper Watson will fly at Sky Hi Lee, the mountainous character who created so much havoc here last week, will. 

They managed 5,000 fans at that one, and roughly the same over the five cards that summer. The fans around the area also caught on, watching from their porches or bedroom windows, or like a few young fans, up on the roof of their houses. 


In Aug 1959 a Russian festival took over at MLG and Tunney had to find a temporary home for the regular Thursday night card. He was able to book Maple Leaf Stadium which hadn't seen a ring set up over home plate since an Archie Moore-Jams J Parker  heavyweight boxing bout in July 1956. The seating would remains basically the same as MLG but the fans will be able to 'cool off considerably, an escape from the Garden's heat.' 

This was the first time wrestling was set for the Stadium and Frank had a great night lined up. Whip vs Don Leo Jonathon in the main along with an all-star card. Much like the East York shows, the chairs would be an issue. With 6,000 in attendance Whipper was disqualified after using a piledriver which had been banned since the Longson days. Whip went for the pin, appearing to win the bout but ref Joe Gollob raised Jonathon's arm. To further infuriate the fans number one villain Gene Kiniski came to the ring to congratulate Jonathon all hell broke loose. Gene took off for the fans but two police officers held him back while the chairs started flying. When it was over Jonathon had suffered a bruised foot and lower leg, while the tough Gollob had taken a direct chair head shot from an overzealous fan and required stitches. 

Beyond that it was a night of firsts. First wrestling card at the stadium. First time Yukon Eric had appeared wearing shorts and shoes; he had previously wrestled with workpants (rope belt) and barefoot. And it was the first time that rain had fallen during the bouts. It started in the semi and continued through the main. By the time Jonathon lay prone in the ring it was a 'rain-soaked canvas,'

With the comfortable -and indoors- Maple Leaf Gardens as his wrestling home Tunney wouldn't venture outside again for a while. They had been using East York Arena (indoors) on those occasions when MLG was booked, even in the summer months. 

We could assume that cautious and calm Tunney was soured on the outdoors idea, with the risk of weather hurting attendances. With the talent here and some of the big matchups that were in the air.  Thesz vs Rogers, Bruno vs Thesz, Bruno vs Rogers etc. You would think they could have filled up the stadium a la Comiskey Park and set our own attendance records. As it was they ran those bouts at MLG (in the winter months) with 9,000-14,000 in the seats. You couldn't blame Frank, with all that risk and MLG filling out anyways. He also had an unique arrangement in running wrestling at the Gardens, paying much less than he would at another venue. It was also well situated, the Stadium still a bit out of the way at that time. 


In July 1965 Tunney would try it again. This time with a series of shows at the Stadium. They would hedge their bets on the opening show with World champ Lou Thesz in to face Professor Hiro. It wasn't a great success. Only 2,500. It didn't help that rain had been forecast that day, though it didn't rain during the card. The second with Thesz in again to face Watson did 4,000. It should be noted that the scene was in a bit of a downturn with similar numbers being generated at MLG. However with the summer months it would have been expected to do better. They ran one more at the end of August which did 3,000 for a Whip-Kiniski main. 

The following summer of 1966, Maple leaf Gardens was undergoing renovations so Tunney moved the show to the Stadium. They would run nine card from July through the beginning of September. This time they did a bit better averaging 4-5,000 a card form what was reported. A recent hot angle had the Masked Yankees putting up their masks against Whipper and partner Bulldog Brower. 

"Whipper and Bulldog Brower were feuding with a masked team the Masked Yankees and the bout was a Survivor match with no countouts or dq's and falls count anywhere. Added stipulation was that if Whip and Brower lost Whipper would retire. If the Yankees lost they would unmask. The good guys prevailed and unmasked after Whip had pinned one of the Yankees and he didn't get back up after the one minute count afforded between falls. The card was held at the outdoor Maple Leaf Stadium with the ring over home plate where they said 'the baseball catchers regularly unmask.' Bob Stanlee and Moose Evans were under the masks. Stanlee had been here as 'Big Bob Stanlee', he was a 'wrestling brother' to 'Mr America' Steve Stanlee who was a popular star here in the 1950's and early 1960's. Moose Evans had never wrestled here before coming in as a Yankee. The two teams would have a re-match and the team now dubbed 'Unmasked Yankees' was to leave the area if they lost. They did and disappeared from the scene.'

 The still only managed about 5,000 fans in the seats. Even a WWWF title defense by Bruno couldn't elevate it past that. 

As was now becoming a tradition, Tunney would set up at the Stadium again in July 1967. Tiger Jeet Singh with his partner and manager Fred Atkins were now the top names in the action and much of the summer would revolve around them. The first card with Singh vs Edouard Carpentier did 5,000. Kiniski brought his NWA title in to face Brower with 5,300 on hand. A defense vs Singh about the same. At the end of July Singh was matched up with Johnny Valentine with a 90 minute time limit. The bout would go to an 89:27 curfew draw. The re-match a week later with 2 referees was set for a 2 hour limit to start at 9pm. Singh would be disqualified to set up a return bout. They would meet in a third match with the same stipulations as well as Tiger Jeet to lose his title if he was to lose by dq. This time they went the full 2 hours to a draw. And of course it did rain this summer, quite a bit. You can see in Roger's photo below the hard rain coming down, the policemen in rain coats and the field a bed of mud. 

Outside in the rain 1967

They would finish the summer off with two visits from Kiniski, both vs Valentine with about 4500-5000 in the seats. Maple Leaf Stadium would close down not long after and was demolished in 1968.

In June 1971 Tunney ran a card at Varsity Stadium with a main of NWA champ Dory Funk Jr vs The Sheik. With 11 other bouts on the card it was a resounding success with 17,000 in attendance despite rain in the forecast. They figured another 10,000 if it had been a nice night, which could have set a new record for the city (18,000 by that point). Varsity could hold 20-30,000 depending on the configuration and was where they would regularly hold the Grey Cup in the earlier days. 

They didn't return that summer, it could be expected that since business was hot again (30-40,000+ a month a MLG) that it wasn't worth the risk. Though it had been built in 1959, Exhibition Stadium (later locally called 'the mistake by the lake' - I loved it!) would host wrestling for the first time in June 1977. Frank's son Eddie worked for the Stadium in a financial capacity so may have been the catalyst to move over from Carlton St. Times were once again quite tough. The Sheik era, with years of sellouts and SRO, was almost done, this may have been a last grasp to bring the fans back. 


The first one that summer was to feature Tiger Jeet vs Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes didn't make it in and was replaced by Sheik. No attendance reported but it was sparse. The following card was set for July 10 1977 and would feature both the WWWF and NWA Titles on the same card, a first here. It was an all star card even by Toronto standards. Harley Race vs The Sheik along with Superstar Graham vs Chief Jay Strongbow, and a semi of Andre the Giant vs Ken Patera. They went all out with a nice glossy professional program (done by MLG publicity guy Stan Obodiac) and lots of advertising leading up to the shows. Attendance wasn't officially reported but anywhere from 5-10,000 from fan reports and the video that's available. Jack Tunney did the commentating from ringside but looked to be out in no-mans land. There were no seats on the field and when Race and Sheik started their inevitable brawl onto the field it carried over to the stands for a better view.  

The next one was scheduled to have Superstar Graham vs Stan Stasiak, Andre vs Patera in a cage, and Sheik vs Haystack Calhoun. Unfortunately there was an air traffic controllers strike in the U.S. and  Graham, Patera, and The Sheik were all stranded in other towns. Andre made the drive in from Montreal. They repackaged the card to have a (big) tag bout on top; Andre & Haystack vs Bulldog Don Kent, Chris Tolos, and a TV guy Frank Stanley. The fans weren't happy, all 7,000 of them when they announced the substitutions. That may have been the final nail in the ground for the Sheik era as he would never appear for Tunney again. 

The next time they would return to Exhibition Stadium was in July 1983. Frank Tunney had passed on a few months previously and nephew Jack was now in full control. Jack was no stranger to the office, having worked alongside Frank since the 50s and mostly running things since the 1970s. On top of the tragedy of losing Frank the town was heading fast in to another downturn. The Starrcade extravaganza was still months away when Jack announced 'Night of the Champions' to feature no less than six title bouts. 

Only through dedicated dieting has Jack Tunney been able to lose 70 pounds since last September. It hasn't been easy. But no the avoirdupois is slipping away as if by magic. Tunney's secret: Worry. 
He took over as Toronto's foremost wrestling promoter after his Uncle, Frank Tunney died in May. There were two shows shortly afterward at MLG, unspectacular productions with modest results. But the new man's next effort is going to be  colossal in comparison. 
-Jim Proudfoot Star

They doubled ticket prices and Jack was quoted with 'Realistically we're looking at possibly a quarter of a million from more than 20,000 people. I'd be disappointed with less, after all we've done. And that would be a record for Toronto. ' 

It was a huge success with 20,000 announced, other sources placed it at less but more than enough to go into the follow up 'Return of the Champions' two weeks later. This one almost as big with a main of Race vs Flair did 14,000 officially. Other sources put it at 11,000. When they returned to MLG 'Return to the Gardens' it was mostly empty. As much as the big shows looked to have revitalized the scene it didn't last long. 

The next big show was a Big Show when the WWF ran the Stadium in 1986. We look at that here - The Big Event 1986. There were other ballparks around Southern Ontario that would host wrestling, Hamilton & Oshawa notably, we may look at all those another time. 

Photos & items collection 
Thanks to Roger Baker , and his pic of a rainy MLS

Slaughter and that US title July 1982


 Our pal Griff and his partner in crime Barry Hatchet have tracked down some great MLW photos over the years. Fan collections, pro shots, one offs. George Wilkinson was a fan who shot some great photos that appeared in Terry Robert Justice's terrific bulletins of the late 70s early 80s. Classics including Backlund vs Flair, and our hometown hero Dewey Robertson challenging Harley Race for the world title. 

  A few of George's pics from the July 11 1982 card have been rescued and shared on the MLW Archives Facebook page. Always great to see some photos from shows I was at and didn't take photos. These three really caught my eye. Sgt. Slaughter, the then U.S. champ was to face Wahoo McDaniel after a non-title bout on the previous card (Wahoo had pinned Sarge). 

'Their last match here was to have been a United States Title match, but the ever shrewd Slaughter pointed out that the contract called for McDaniel to defend the title against him and as Slaughter had already regained the title he was not obligated to defend the title. 

Promoter Frank Tunney was powerless to have Slaughter defend on the last card, which was most unfortunate as McDaniel went on to pin Slaughter in the non-title clash. 

Seeing that McDaniel was most deserving of a rematch Promoter Tunney and the National Wrestling Alliance forced Slaughter to give McDaniel a rematch right here in Toronto, but this time the title will indeed be at stake.'
Stranglehold Program July 11 1982
Pic at left MLG Jul 1982

   As you can see in the photos Slaughter is wearing the 'other' U.S. title belt.  

   I didn't know too much about this belt, I barely remembered it though I am sitting just a few rows from the edge of the ring and had been at the previous non-title bout (did Sarge have the belt with him?). The U.S. shaped belts were the most prominent, on a red or black strap. I learned more about this 'Southern Style' belt in Dick Bourne's excellent 'Jim Crockett Promotions United States Championship.'  This belt would be in use from Mar 1982 to Mar 1983 and would also be held by Wahoo and Greg Valentine. 

'The belt's flange design was used in many regional belts in the Southern territories during the era, hence it's nickname.'  Dick Bourne; The United States Championship, published 2015

  The bout as expected was a tough battle with Slaughter coming out on top this time and retaining the title. He was worse for wear however and required some aid after the bout. Other bouts that evening included WWF Champ Bob Backlund returning to face Greg Valentine again and the two put on another great bout. The other big matchup was Jack Brisco vs Roddy Piper billed with Brisco as Mid-Atlantic champ. Piper was actually the champ - his title win in the U.S. a few days prior wasn't acknowledged here - and Brisco got the win to 'keep the title.' 

  Slaughter returned as US champ in Aug 82 and then the title would be absent until Summer 1983. Valentine now the champ again with the new designed 'ten pounds of silver' belt. 
On the ramp 1978

  The Sarge had a pretty good history in Toronto. He had initially appeared here during the AWA affiliation 1977-1978 as Super Destroyer (in the AWA he was SD Mark II) managed by Lord Alfred Hayes. Slaughter cut an imposing figure as SD with the spooky Scream style mask and long black cape. 

  When he returned in 1981 he was now the evil boot camp Sgt. and making life miserable for the good guys. In his first bouts after he returned he took out his wrath on area favorite Jay Youngblood and looked like he could remain un-beaten. 

  A big feud with our Canadian champ Angelo Mosca would follow as well as tag bouts with partner Don Kernodle against Steamboat & Youngblood. After the big tag program, Slaughter would take the Canadian title from Mosca at the Night of Champions card in July 1983 and hold it through Jan 1984 before losing it back to Mosca.

  Some years later (2010) Slaughter met up with the keeper of the Canadian title belt Chris Kovachis and they snapped this great pic below. Chris is holding a cast custom replica of the NWA Tag Title, which Sarge also held. The original Canadian Title belt is over Slaughter's shoulder. Chris makes incredible cast replicas of these and other Mulkovitch belts from the original plates. 

  Slaughter was not done with Toronto once the NWA days ended in June 1984. He returned as a WWF star on the first card held after we became a WWF town. This time it was different, the now fan-favorite Sgt. was facing Valentine (another former Canadian champ) from the other side of the ring. He would soon match up with the Iron Sheik, yet another former Canadian title holder and with Mosca vs Iron Sheik & Nicolai Volkoff. 

  He would appear at Mosca's Moscamania (NWA) in Hamilton in Feb 1986 facing Danny Bullwhip Johnson and would return again with the WWF in the early 1990's, again a hated heel.  

  Slaughter is on Twitter @_SgtSlaughter and is very friendly interacting with the fans. 
'Thanks for bringing back that memory. Loved performing At MLG & coming To Toronto!!'


Oshawa Feb 1991

You can order the US Title book at the
You can find Chris on Facebook at  'Mulka Championship Belts'
Photos courtesy MLW Archives collection except as noted

Friday, October 9, 2020

Update on new book 'Crown Jewel'

From our friends at the Mid-Atlantic Gateway... 

Our new book "Crown Jewel: The NWA World Championship 1959-1973" is now available on Amazon ( and via the Mid-Atlantic Gateway Book Store. (

I was fortunate to preview this fine addition to Dick Bourne's Championship Title series and WOW! This book is packed with tons of history, great photos, and nostalgia from one of the most exciting eras of pro wrestling. Nobody presents books that look -and read- as good as these do. This one goes straight to the favorites shelf!

Canadians can get it here


Read more about this exciting new book 

And a great pre-review! at

Visit the Mid Atlantic Gateway 

The Big Event 1986

It re-wrote the record books in what became known as The Big Event, the WWF Exhibition Stadium card on Aug 28 1986. Originally announced as part of that summer's Grandstand Series during the annual CNE activities, the show would thrust Toronto into the world's spotlight.. 

A world-title wrestling bout featuring World Wrestling Federation champion Hulk Hogan and truck-and-motorcycle daredevil spectacular. starring Spanky Spangler, Danny "Fireball" Reed and Robbie Knievel will fill the remaining two dates of this summer's CNE's grandstand lineup. The concert season also includes comedian Bill Cosby, and rock stars Van Halen, Elton John, Psychedelic Furs, Stevie Nicks and Whitney Houston (*also Genesis, AC/DC, Judas Priest). The Aug. 28 Hulkamania show pits Hogan against an un-named opponent for the world title. Tickets will go on sale soon.
Jul 15 1986 Star

By this time Toronto was deep into it's Hulkamania era. It was only a few years removed from Flair soaking in the fans cheers on the ramp, or Jimmy Valiant (the Mid-Atlantic era's Hogan) raising the roof as he hit the ring. As many of the old-time fans started to move away there were thousands of new ones. Kids were now a big part of the equation and were filling up MLG (along with their parents and family) again. 

You want Ticket Traumas!! I'll give you traumas!! Thursday's Hulkamania show al Exhibition Stadium is gonna be the bloodiest, baddest, bone-crunchingest and BIGGEST wrestling event in North American history. Bigger than Van Halen. Bigger than ,Judas Priest. Bigger than Elton John, The BIGGEST event in this year's CNW Grandstand series!! Don't take my word for it. The World Wrestling Federation says this show will make the record books. Already 42,000 tickets have been sold. They're going for 65,000. Toronto's a wrestling town. WWF president Jack Tunney lives here. He's been running successful matches in Maple Leaf Gardens since 1956. (*Not sure how they came up with that number, Jack in the office as early as 1951-52 and took over officially in 1983)
Aug 20 1986 Star

The papers too were now filled with stories on Hogan, the Rougeaus, Randy Savage, and the rest of the WWF cast. In the M-A era we were lucky to get the ad and the results and an occasional article. Now they were devoting multi page spreads in the dailies  and crossing over into the Entertainment sections. Even the Star entertainment guy Peter Goddard got on the bandwagon, kicking off his day-after column with 'I don't take wrestling seriously' no less. An article at the beginning of the year had CHCH (home of the local wrestling TV show) VP Gary Buss proclaiming 'I've never seen anything like it! Maybe five years ago you'd use wrestling as a throw-in. A client would say 'Oh, God, don't give me that unless it's free.' Now you look at it as a legitimate package. It's show-business.'

The last time Jack had ran Exhibition Stadium it was the summer of 1983 and wrestling was in a downturn again. They were a huge success at the time. Cards 2 weeks apart and anywhere from 30-45,000 people total depending on source. The Night of Champions, and Return of Champions were the biggest cards (as far as bouts/titles) ever held here to that time. If the first one actually had 19,000 or more it would have been the record for the city to that point. The Gardens was packed to the rafters at a bit over 18,000. 
We looked at the '83 Exhibition Stadium cards as part of a broader look at  Open Air Wrestling in Toronto

Fast forward 3 years and the stage was set again. This time at the height of wrestling's popularity in the city in recent years. Jack staged it as a partnership with CPI and the Ex and to say it was a huge success would be a massive understatement. When all was said and done attendance was variously reported from 61-71,000 fans. A souvenir seller said business was better than at rock concerts. Available: 12$ Hulk t-shirts, 6$ posters, 3$ programs, and buttons, cups, and the rest of the WWF merchandise machine. Seats were 20$ for ringside down to 8$ for 'seats close to Mississauga.' 

You had to be there. History was made in Metro last night, a large hammerlock on the sweatier chapter of our  book of records, hundreds of blows for mankind against the forces of evil and; most important, a welcome black mark (nearly $100,000) on the profit ledger of the Canadian National Exhibition. Forget rock concerts, country singers, killer trucks or the midway if you're talking rebirth of the Ex. Last night It was wrestling. Wrestling with a capital W. It was the Hulkster, Adrian Adonis, the Killer Bees and that damn Jake The Snake Roberts, everyone you've cheered or cursed on all those endless TV matches. Before it was over, 65,000, the largest crowd in the history of the sport (er, entertainment, er, exhibition) travelled, fought and bought their way into a chilly Exhibition Place to set a world attendance record for a single card and a near record for the largest grandstand show in the history of the creaky old Ex. 
Aug 29 1986 Star


Bill Stockwell, GM of the Ex said 'There's been bigger crowds here but nothing like this. This is unique.' The Ex was in a bit of a decline in attendance that year, but all was forgotten that night. 'They say there's nothing new at the Ex and I say to them, let them beat this one.' Profit was based on ticket sales, said to be a minimum $75-100k plus a large peripheral gain including parking and concessions. 

It added that Stockwell had come up with the idea two years before, when visiting the Texas State Fair. 'Put it together I said, and this result is tonight.' 

The Globe mentioned that 'The Toronto crowd, described by the promoters as a world record size for watching a professional wrestling match, surpassed a crowd of 52,000 in 1980 at Shea Stadium in New York.' Shea had held the acknowledged (pro wrestling version) record to that point but was in actuality considerably less. The Big Event would hold the title for just a year, until Wrestlemania III shattered it, with 93,000 proclaimed. The Globe also added that Ricky Steamboat had said that although wrestlers lose a great deal of money with the exchange rate when they wrestle in Canada, 'Toronto is my second home.' Steamboat a big favorite here in the M-A era. 

We would later break our own record with 67,000+ at the Skydome in 1990 for Wrestlemania VI, and then again in the early 2000's. That's a lot of wrestling fans! 

It wasn't all happy Hulkamaniacs though, a ticket snafu left some fans fuming. 

Concert Productions International says it will refund money to the hundreds of wrestling fans who were involved in last night's ticket mixup. Many wrestling fanatics showed up at Exhibition Stadium to find their choice floor seats didn't exist. Others couldn't see the ring be­ cause the seat less people were told to huddle in aisles. CPI spokesman Barbara Hoffman said late last night tickets were printed by mistake after a worker didn't consult the seating plan carefully. She said she didn't know exactly how many wrong tickets were sold. 'But people involved in the problem will be given a full refund,' she said. Details on how to collect refunds will be announced once CPI decides which tickets are eligible for rebate, she said. Paul Bernard, 16, paid $21.40 for his floor seat and came from Mississauga to see the Hulkster. He waited "several hours" to get seventh-row ringside seats  when tickets went on sale a month ago, he said. "What a joke," Bernard said. "They tell me I'm part of wrestling history. I tell you I got no seat and I gave up a night for this when I could have been at the cottage." He left after only three matches because he couldn't see kneeling in an aisle.
Aug 29 Star

The Toronto Fire department was also on hand to make sure it met fire safety standards. It did. The Stadium had come under scrutiny the summer before when Bruce Springsteen packed 69,000 in - twice. Under the regulations, capacity was only 54,331. After some investigation they decided that the jurisdiction did not extend to the field area of an open stadium because in the case of a fire it is considered a safe area. 

They were already speaking about doing it again the following year. Stockwell:  'Are you kidding? This is big big bucks we're talking about, serious money. The demand is growing for this sort of thing and of course we'll bring it back.'

For the record, here are the results of last night's wrestling match at the Canadian National Exhibition:

...Orndorff wears the Hulk's championship belt, but it was a short lived honor: the referee disqualified Orndorff and gave the wrestling crown back to the rightful owner, Hulk Hogan. 

Bout one
The Killer Bees faced the dreaded Funk Brothers of Texas and looked like early losers - until they left the ring to don masks and newfound power. Even though the Funks threw them out of the  ring, the Bees stung back for victory, much to the delight of the pro-Bee crowd.
Bout two
King Tonga and the Magnificent Muraco engaged in a singles grudge match, but time ran out be fore it could be decided once and forever. Muraco had Tonga on the ropes but the bell preserved the draw. The crowd was demanding a crown for Tonga.
Bout three
It was billed as the battle of the strong men, but the crowd was slightly upset when Tony (Mr. USA) Atlas was a late scratch. Still, Ted Arcidi had little trouble hammering fill-in bodybuilder Tony Gramm with a series of crushing blows as the fans roared their approval.
Bout four
In one of the big matches of the night, the ever popular Junkyard Dog defeated the hated Adrian Adonis, a man who admits he marches to a different drummer. The bout was decided when the Dog threw Adonis outside the ring and into the face of his manager, The Mouth of The South. Adonis, despite his flowing blonde locks and supply of flowers, could not climb back into the ring. Neither could his manager.
Bout five
Evil Iron Mike Sharpe of Hamilton failed to spark against Dick (The Rebel) Slater, who. finished him off with a suplex from the upper rung of the ropes.
Bout six
It was billed as one of the biggest. tag-team matches of the century but  the  result  appalled the  huge
crowd. The Machines (one of whom is rumored to be the banned Andre The Giant) destroyed the dreaded Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy, but they were disqualified after the Machines manager, Captain Lou Albino, leaped into the ring to help his team. Studd and Bundy were awarded the win as the crowd cursed and manager Bobby (The-Brain) Heenan laughed.
Bout seven
In  one  of  the  night's  other big matches, Ricky (The Dragon) Steamboat  destroyed  the  hated Jake (The Snake) Roberts in a death-match. Roberts was hindered, however, because he wasn't allowed to use his snake because of objections from  the  Toronto Humane Society.
Bout eight
Bllly Jack Haines, a comer from, the West Coast, defeated Hercules Hernandez with a drop-kick to the throat as the crowd thundered it's approval.
Bout nine
This one had the crowd up for a standing ovation as the Canadian Rougeau Brothers (Jacques and Raymond) battled to a victory over Greg (The Hammer) Valentine and Brutus Beefcake in a bitter tag-team match. Jacques was so excited after Valentine an Beefcake were finally subdued that he  plucked  a  Canadian flag from a fan and waved it over his head.
Bout ten
To no one's surprise Handsome Harley Race made mincemeat out of Pedro Morales as the trend of good over evil continued.
-Aug 29 1986 Star

Items from mapleleafwrestling.,com collection

Click on newspaper pages to see full size then right click open in new tab (as big as allowed)

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Angelo Mosca in Toronto


  Angelo Mosca was already a well known star by the time he first appeared at MLG in 1969. He was in the middle of his second go around with the Hamilton Tiger Cats and near the end of his Hall of Fame career in the Canadian Football League.

  He had started wrestling in Ottawa in 1960 on a part time basis while earning his reputation as 'Mean and Nasty' on -and off- the football field. He had been in some trouble while at University of Wyoming  in 1958. They cancelled his athletic scholarship for 'scholastic deficiency and disciplinary reasons.' He had also been sent away from Notre Dame for similar infractions. Just around the start of his wrestling career he was in Montreal playing for the Ottawa Shaffers in the Eastern Canada Senior Basketball playoffs (alongside some other CFL'ers earning extra money), Mosca slugged the referee and was promptly suspended. He had taken a 'kicking and kneeing' penalty earlier in the game and took it out on the ref with a right to the jaw. The coaches hauled Mosca off and convinced the ref not to call the game. Once he had visited the dressing room and returned he ordered Mosca to the showers. Mosca then hit him with a left to the jaw. His own teammates dragged him to the dressing room and he left the arena while the ref threatened to charge Mosca with assault. That was the end of the playoffs for Mosca who would stick to causing trouble on the field and in the ring.  

  When he finally made his Toronto wrestling debut years later it was the Sheik era in the city. Mosca would get his chance vs Sheik in June 1971, his first main event at the Gardens.

Angelo Mosca, evidently so unnerved at hearing Torontonians actually cheering for him, erred on a flying tackle, wrapped himself around a ring-post and ultimately, lost his wrestling assignment against he Sheik last night. In the autumn, Mosca is a 270 pound lineman with Hamilton Tiger-Cats and seems to rate the most verbal abuse when the Toronto Argonauts are hosting other Canadian Football League teams at CNE Stadium. He forgot however that a Maple Leaf Garden's wrestling crowd would throw roses to Adolph Hitler had he ever faced The Sheik. 
Allan Ryan Globe and Mail June 21 1971

 Mosca gave The Sheik trouble but still notched another mark on Sheik's unbeaten streak, then at 49 wins 0 losses and 7 double dq/double countouts. That would be his last appearance at MLG for a time but he remained an regular around Ontario. He spent a few tours with Wildman Dave McKigney as well as the crossover WWA (Indianapolis/Michigan) cards held around the southwestern portion of the province. He would have a tough main event feud with Stomper Archie Gouldie over the Wildman's North American Heavyweight title in summer 1971. At the end of that summer Mosca got into an altercation with a man after leaving a restaurant in downtown Hamilton. The other guy filed charges for assault after he was left with a 'bump on the head and torn clothes after a scuffle' with big Ange. The following year he would retire from the field and turn to wrestling full-time. 

  In late 1975 he would return to MLG, this time as a full out heel playing up his football reputation. In Dec 1976 he faced Andre the Giant in the semi final bout under a rare Sheik title loss (to Thunderbolt Patterson). 

Angelo Mosca weighed 285 pounds when he played defensive tackle for Ottawa and Hamilton. Now, as a pro wrestler, he goes 310. He's on the Boxing Day card at Maple Leaf Gardens Sunday evening up against Andre the Giant. 'I'd done a bit of wrestling when I was playing but I got very serious about it after we won the 1972 Grey Cup in Hamilton, and I retired from football.' says Mosca, who maintains a home in Mississauga, even while travelling all over the continent. 'It's certainly better financially. I'm getting up close to six figures a year.' Naturally Mosca in a villain, as he was in football. 'There's no dough in being a good guy.' he argues.
Jim Proudfoot Toronto Star 24 Dec 1976

  When Frank Tunney turned to use the AWA stars in Fall 1977 the stage was set for the now 'King Kong' Mosca to return and this time he would stay. In the AWA he was a heel with the fans chanting 'Ping Pong' in deference to his new nickname. For his first card back Mosca would arrive at MLG with AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel and Bobby Heenan and the night was memorable for another reason. There was no ramp. For the first time since 1948 the memorable ramp to the ring was absent. They ran rope where the ramp would be usually with a regular steps up to the ring. It was never revealed why the ramp was out but as far as we know it never happened again. 

Now that he is the heavyweight wrestling champion of Georgia, Angelo would welcome the kind of disaffection which in football, was so completely undeserved. He worked Maple Leaf Gardens , on Frank Tunney's Sunday night show, and he confesses to having developed villainous impulses since he left the refining influences of the Tiger-Cats. 'Even in the Yamaha snowmobile commercials, you get the impression I'm a pretty tough character,' Mosca boasts. 'I am. Well let me tell you I haven't been uunder $65,000 a year since I left football. Best money I ever made in football was $23,000. That was in my last three seasons with the Ti-Cats.' The heavyweight champion is in heavy demand.
Milt Dunnell Toronto Star July 28 1978

  He would work his way up the cards facing the top stars of the AWA & WWWF including Chief Peter Maivia and AWA British Empire champion Billy Robinson. For a May 1978 card Mosca was acknowledged as the Empire champ having beat Robinson in an AWA proper bout. That title different from the Empire title Whipper had held here back in the boom days. In July 1978 he would make his first appearance as a fan favorite facing champ Bockwinkel in the co-main alongside a Backlund vs Superstar Graham  WWWF Title bout. Almost two months later he would get a re-match with Bockwinkel, this time they were the main event over a title bout between Backlund and Gorilla Monsoon.


  On his next return the Mid Atlantic era here had begun. By early 1980 he was firmly seated to become the main local star on the scene. Previous local stars Dino Bravo and then Dewey Robertson had both finished their main event runs, Bravo had left in 1979 while Dewey was soon to go. With the launch of the new Canadian Heavyweight Title in Dec 1978 we now had a local title that Mosca would go on to hold through 5 reigns.

Angelo Mosca said with mock solemnity at a lunchtime tete-a-tete yesterday. 'When I'm wrestling in the southern states, they bill me as King Kong Mosca. Up here in Canada, the promoters don't bill me as a villain. They are aware of the real me-gruff, rough, but lovable. What does the future hold? If you look after yourself, you can last for a long time in wrestling.' he says. 'But I'd like to become a wrestling promoter somewhere down the line. And I'd like to get back into doing television commercials.' 
Jim Coleman Toronto Sun July 23 1980

  Around the time Mosca first won the Canadian title he was also a vicious heel in the WWF, appearing there regularly while holding the strap (he would be photographed backstage with the belt but as far as we know never defended the title there). There would be no mention of Toronto while on WWF TV, but the magazines would have stories on him where they had observed the personality change depending on the location he wrestled. Mosca would reply with, 'I wrestle the same way everywhere. The fans can decide to cheer or boo.' He did and they would. He was back in the WWF gunning for Backlund’s crown and prone to some serious fits of violence. He would be managed there by Lou Albano and appear both on the WWF TV tapings and at the big shows around the Northeast.

  This was a bit of a conundrum for the Maple Leaf fans as we got the WWF TV show here at midnight Saturdays on WUTV Buffalo. When he almost killed Pat Patterson with the water pitcher it left many of us scratching our heads. 

  While Canadian champ Mosca would challenge NWA champ Harley Race and the NWA Title. This card was moved to a rare 1:30pm afternoon start as the Maple Leafs were in a playoff series with the New York Islanders (we lost!). Both Mosca and Race were counted out after a tough brawl with very few wrestling holds.

  His new-found popularity as the star of Toronto wrestling would attract some mainstream coverage which had been minimal in the recent past. All three Toronto dailies, the Globe, the Star, and the Sun would feature full page articles on the wrestling revival, with more coverage than had been seen in many years. Big Ange was the star of several features both in and around Toronto and in other towns on the circuit. On the May 20 1981 episode of the Global Network’s That’s Life, one of the stories was a 'visit with Angelo Mosca.’ On one afternoon in London for a card, he appeared on CFPL radio’s Sports Call and people were calling in for 2 1/2 hours to talk to him. The Toronto Star also ran a full page feature looking at his wrestling and football careers with a photo from a recent MLG bout vs Ivan Koloff.

'I built this image,' says Mosca, his face a bloody mask after his bout with arch-rival Ivan Koloff, 'of a guywho loved to be hated and now it's different. All of a sudden, it changes. People Like me, really like me. That's the way it goes in this game. One night you're the good guy, the next you're the villain. It gets confusing. 
Kevin Boland Toronto Star June 18 1981

 The big 50th Anniversary card in Nov 1981 was packed with over 16,000 for a double world title night Flair vs Race and Mosca vs Bockwinkel. The AWA champ was making his first appearance since 1979 and had a good tough bout with Mosca. Big Ange would batter the champ and looked to be on the verge of winning when John Studd charged the ring and attacked Mosca. He and Bockwinkel laid a beating on Mosca until he was able to fight back and chase them from the ring. Official decision was a dq win for Mosca.

   A memorable title win came in Jan 1982. After a bloody Johnny Weaver-Alfred Hayes cage bout they left the cage up for a Canadian Title bout Studd vs Mosca. The two would face down on the ramp as Mosca waited for Studd to climb the stairs. Mosca would attack and the bout was on. It ended with Studd pinning Mosca. It appeared that ways anyways. Ref Terry Yorkston, inside the cage as was the case here, would get hit and in a daze (Yorkston played the semi-buffoon type well) awarded the victory to Mosca. The fans went wild when Mosca grabbed the belt to celebrate but the celebration didn't last long with Studd viciously attacking the new champ. Weaver (bandaged up from his bloody cage bout) along with John Bonello would return to the cage to help Mosca but both would take a beating from Studd before helping Mosca get the upper hand. A bloodied Studd emerged from the cage and took a lot of abuse from the fans on his way down the ramp. Mosca, bloody and beaten emerged from the cage as the new champ to begin his fourth reign with the title. . 

  In April 1982 the feud between Canadian champ Mosca and Studd continues with Studd announcing he was bringing a mystery opponent to 'permanently maim the champ.' Studd had hyped it for the two weeks previous to the show. Fans were talking and many names were being brought up as to who could be the mystery opponent set to meet Mosca on the Apr 4 1982 card. One of those names was Andre the Giant. Andre was still a few years away from his first heel turn in North America but at the time it seemed like a good idea. When the time came it wasn't such a big name. When Norm Kimber announced Tarzan Tyler, the crowd was disappointed to say the least. Tyler was a ways past his prime by this point and mostly unknown to the younger fans. He had appeared here sporadically from 1964-1978 and was a fine wrestler in his prime but... Special ref Sonny Fargo had been assigned to officiate and the bout was generally a letdown since it had been so highly touted. Mosca didn't have much trouble defending his title.

A feud with Gene Kiniski in June 1982 was better than expected. Kiniski, who went way back here (debut 1956) was still as ornery as he was back in 1966. Stomping and snarling he was a good opponent for Mosca in a short run. Kiniski had held versions of the Canadian title across Canada in his earlier days and they played up the mutual football backgrounds a bit. 

At the big Night of Champions card in July 1983 Mosca faced One Man Gang in front of anywhere from 16-22,000 fans at the old Exhibition Stadium. At the follow up two weeks later in front of 10-14,000 Mosca lost the title to Sgt. Saughter.

  In early 1984 Mosca beat Sgt. Slaughter to regain the Canadian title and would promptly disappear. He was said to be upset with the low drawing cards in Toronto as the NWA days came to a close. He took the belt and went to Florida for an extended trip often managed by JJ Dillon. As per usual he would be a vicious heel -and defend the title a few times- while the fans up here were left scratching their heads, again. 

'We (Sr&Jr) spend 1 1/2 or 2 hours in the gym together working out and in some mat training. Then we drive or fly to the town where we have our matches, then back home to Charlotte. We don't live together. Junior's not married yet, but I have a very understanding wife,' explains Sr. 'The best thing about wrestling is working with this guy right here,' says Junior, thumping his father on his hammy thigh.' 
Alison Gordon Toronto Star May 20 1984

  His son Angelo Jr. would debut here in 1984 after Sr. had been stripped of the title for not appearing. 'Injury' was the wrestling reason and they would hold a tournament for the vacant title in which Jr. would compete. Junior was a good athlete cut from the same cloth. He had attended a Ti-Cat camp for high school players in 1977 (at 17) but in June 1981 he had been cut trying out as a defensive guard at the BC Lions camp, effectively ending his pro football aspirations. He went on to earn a degree from Concordia University before trying out pro wrestling. After Jack Tunney had switched exclusively to WWF in July 1984 Sr. stayed on for a bit and also announced while Jr. got his brief run with the WWF here. When done both father and son would appear on the Wildman's Big Bear circuit in and around Toronto. 


  By 1985 Sr. was planning to bring the NWA back to Ontario. In Feb 1986 he would run a show at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. While Hulkamania  may had taken over Toronto, there was still a lot of fans from the NWA days. Sr., with a long history in Hamilton, announced the show to be dubbed 'Mosca Mania.' Jr. would also appear in an opener. The card did well drawing 12,000 fans with a gate of $140,000 to see a main of NWA champ Ric Flair vs Dusty Rhodes. Mosca Jr. teamed with Vic Rossitani against the Kelly Twins. 

  At the time Mosca was 50 years old, mostly retired from the ring, and doing TV ads and running several different business ventures around town. A few days after the show in Hamilton he was in Toronto doing a TV commercial for Lite beer and said he made 25k in what was his 14th or 15th commercial since he had done the Schick Razor 'Tell it to my face' campaign some years before.

It's not only amazing that Angelo Mosca is making a fortune doing TV commercials, but he's making them, period. Don't get me wrong: Mosca's good at them -he has charisma and style- but as the former villainous Mr. Mean of the Hamilton Tiger Cats and, more recently, the villainous King Kong of pro wrestling, Mosca's always held that butts were made for kicking, not kissing.'
Earl McRae Starweek June 15 1985

 Angelo Sr. was a guest star on the popular Night Heat TV show, and in June of that year was elected to the CFL Hall Of Fame. In Nov 1986 he was alongside Whipper Watson when Whipper received an award from the Canadian Children's Foundation. Mosca accompanied Whip as he carried a child on his shoulders, as he had done at the many Easter Seals dinners.  

Did you know.....The CFL Hall of Fame induction class of 1987 included another wrestler. 
Dick Huffman, a star with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Calgary Stampeders, had wrestled at MLG and around the area in 1956. Maple Leafs - Ti-Cats owner Harold Ballard also in that class.

  A month prior to the first Mosca Mania card, he had met with CFL commissioner Doug Mitchell to discuss becoming a goodwill ambassador. The reports later said  that the CFL missed the boat by not using him as he was a born promoter and 'mouthpiece.' Sr. teamed with former teammate Len Chandler to promote the show with corporate sponsor Amstel Brewery on Feb 2 1986. It was a huge success with over 12,000 fans and a gate of $140,000. A dollar from each ticket went to the Spinal Cord Society and the fans were treated to a great show.

  The main event brought Toronto favorite Ric Flair back for the first time since May 1984 to defend his NWA Title against Dusty Rhodes. At that time Flair was a heel while Rhodes was a fan favorite but the fans would have none of it. Flair had long been beloved here and during the Flair-Rhodes bout the fans started cheering Flair. They reversed roles with Rhodes 'second' Baby Doll Roberts interfering. Flair took the win to a huge ovation and the card which also featured the Road Warriors, Jimmy Valiant (always hugely popular here), Abdullah The Butcher, Sgt. Slaughter and a host of local guys was declared a huge success. Longtime MLG ring announcer Norm Kimber, recently let go by the Toronto office, did the introductions for the night.

Every now and then the wrestling world has a brainstorm which produces a card that leaves audiences shouting for more. A classic example was yesterday's Mosca Mania, which attracted some 12,000 fans to the Copps Coliseum here. No One left the building disappointed. 
Sam Scrivo Toronto Sun Feb 3 1986

  At the time Mosca had declared that he was seeking to become the exclusive promoter at Copps, similar to how the Tunney's had exclusive use of MLG. He also owned the syndicated TV rights for the TV show Pro Wrestling Canada which was produced by Milt Avruskin. They showed NWA bouts which were sometimes up to a year old and did voice-overs on the bouts. PWC ran from May 1986 to Oct 1986 on the CTV Kitchener affiliate channel 13 locally but that channel wasn't available to all in the Toronto area.

  Mosca later told a reporter that he couldn't get the show on in Toronto and that's what killed it. Doug Bassett, head of the CTV had told him 'it wasn't family oriented television.' At that time they had WWF, International Wrestling from Montreal, and the Maple Leaf WWF shows on TV in Toronto. While the WWF was tame, the International show was a harder style, a throwback to the 70's with bloody bouts and great brawls. If Mosca had been able to last, the Montreal based stars would likely have appeared here. Bravo, Abdullah, etc.but he would have had to run Toronto. MLG was still exclusive so it was limited venues outside of summer months.

'He (Mosca) is president and promoter of Pro Wrestling Canada, with shows on 10 TV stations in the east and two in the west. He stages live shows in Kitchener, Ottawa and Toronto (Varsity Arena), when he is not busy lifting trucks in Chevy commercials.' 
Milt Dunnell Toronto Star Nov 30 1986

He never promoted any shows at Varsity Arena or Ottawa as far as I know. Outside of the Hamilton shows and one in Kitchener the only other one of record was in Peterborough on Feb 17 with Tully Blanchard vs Barry Windham as the main.

  The TV show later appeared on TSN and as well as CTV and is a good show to seek out. Mosca not the greatest announcer (whole other article) but Avruskin one of the best. Sr. would present another card in Kitchener on Nov 23rd 1986 with a main of Nikita Koloff vs Wahoo McDaniel as Mosca Mania II. This one was a reverse of the first one, several no shows and most of the cast filled out with locals. Only 1.500 showed up, most of whom went to see the Road Warriors. Hawk never showed and was replaced by manager Paul Ellering. Jr. took on Siki and it was back to the circuit for both Jr. and Siki. Despite the setback it was not to deter Mosca from staging another Hamilton show in Feb 1987.

  Unfortunately he ran it on the same night as big WWF show at MLG featuring Roddy Piper vs Adrian Adonis in a 'retirement bout and Savage/Steamboat. Mosca in turn had  Flair vs Nikita Koloff but only drew 3,000 compared to the 17,000 at a packed MLG. On Mosca's show Blanchard battled Rhodes and they reversed roles too with the fans booing Dusty. A fan told me he had 'stickered' the MLG bathrooms prior with notice of the upcoming Hamilton card but it didn't seem to help much.There were rumors of bad payouts on shows (heard years later), and then he sold his interest in it and that was the end of Mosca's promotional tenure.

  Both Moscas would be featured on the popular CTV show Lifetime which ran the same night as a big WWF show at MLG. Sr. would continue to show up in  TV commercials, and various ventures capitalizing on his name. Remember the Peach pages?; a business directory he started with a partner in 1989. In recent years he has revisited his old Canadian title belt at tribute and fan events in the area, sometimes accompanied by Junior. 


Photos, etc collection
Mosca Mania items from Eric Peddle collection
Pics from 1978 out of 'Alias King Kong Mosca' Canadian magazine
The Sheik Streak by Gary Will is at The Sheik's unbeaten streak: 1969-1974: Gary Will's TWH

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Mid-Atlantic Gateway: Mooneyham Reviews upcoming "Crown Jewel"

A great new book coming from Dick Bourne of the Mid Atlantic Gateway!
Mooneyham Reviews upcoming 'Crown Jewel': Read Mike Mooneyham's review of the upcoming book on the NWA World Heavyweight Championship 1959-1973.  Dick Bourne’s new wrestling book...

“Our website is all about the positive, about reliving and sharing good memories,” says Bourne. “We don’t get into any of the backstage drama. We like to try and present the history of the territory just as it was presented to us back then on television and in the arenas. It’s like back in the days when people passed along folk tales from generation to generation; we want to pass along these great stories told decades ago so that new generations of wrestling fans will know them, too, and those great names will never be forgotten.”

Crown Jewel will be available through Amazon and the Mid Atlantic Gateway Book Store. 
Links and information on all related books can be found at 
On Amazon in late September or early October.