Sunday, November 11, 2018

Riots, Fights, Fires, & Mayhem: Moosonee 1957 Riot

Next up in Riots, Fights, Fires, & Mayhem we go to Moosonee ON. Far North on the shores of James Bay you could imagine a wrestling card back then invoking the emotions of the locals. Unsure if there were other cards there over the years, imagine Kasaboski went in every now and then. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Wrestlers who made their Toronto debuts in main events, 1930-1989: Gary Will's TWH

Starting From The Top: Wrestlers who made their Toronto debuts in main events, 1930-1989

Whipper Billy Watson didn't do it. Neither did Hulk Hogan, The Sheik, Buddy Rogers, Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, Ric Flair, or even Andre the Giant. In fact, very few wrestlers did it after the 1930s -- made their big-venue Toronto wrestling debuts in a main event.

It was easier to do in the 1930s because the weekly shows only began in 1929, so more wrestlers were making their debuts. And the undercards were much shorter, so a greater percentage of wrestlers on a card were in the main event.

These lists are in chronological order.

1930s: (31)
Cyclone Ress
Bill Demetral
Jack Winters
Jim Browning
Jack McCarthy
John Pesek
Glenn Wade
Jack Sherry
Joe Wagner
Ed Don George
Pinky Gardner
Lee Wykoff
Jim McMillen
Jim Clinstock
Dick Shikat
Casey Berger
Vanka Zelesniak
Abe Kashey
George Godfrey
Lionel Conacher
Sammy Stein
Jack Brown
Young Angelo
Dan O'Mahony
Ali Baba
Frank Sexton
Dave Levin
Vincent Lopez
George "Dazzler" Clarke
Cliff Thiede
Bronko Nagurski
1940s: (2)
Golden Terror
Gorgeous George

1950s: (5)
Lord Athol Layton
Lord James Blears
Antonino "Argentina" Rocca
Reggie Lisowski
Art Neilson
Nikita Kalmikoff

1960s: (1)
Mighty Igor

1970s: (5)
Harley Race
Jack Brisco
Abdullah Farouk
Terry Funk
Nick Bockwinkel

1980s: (3)
Buzz Sawyer
Tonga Kid

- by Gary Will

Toronto's Longest Runs -- The 25-Year Club: Gary Will's TWH

These are the wrestlers with the longest gap between their first Toronto appearance for a major promotion and their last:

Lou Thesz36.6
Lee Henning35.3
Ivan Kalmikoff33.2
Sky Low Low32.4
Whipper Billy Watson31.1
Little Beaver30.7
Joe "Killer" Christie30.0
Ric Flair28.6
Dick Beyer / The Destroyer28.0
Billy Red Lyons27.4
Pat Flanagan27.2
Wee Willie Davis27.0
Killer Kowalski26.7
Gene Kiniski26.5
Al Costello26.3
Nanjo Singh26.2
Lord Athol Layton26.0
Don Jardine / The Spoiler25.8
Mike Mazurki25.8
Bobo Brazil25.3
Bruno Sammartino25.2
Paul "Butcher" Vachon25.2

This is different from a list of wrestlers with the most matches in Toronto, since several of these guys had lengthy gaps where they made no appearances here. For example, Dick Beyer didn't wrestle in Toronto after 1961, until returning 18 years later as The Destroyer. Don Jardine didn't wrestle in Toronto for over 20 years after starting in the area in the late 1950s, but he came back for a few matches as The Spoiler in the mid-1980s. Nanjo Singh served a prison sentence for killing his wife before his final run in Toronto. 

-by Gary Will

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Riots, Fights, Fires, & Mayhem: Welland 1953 Cops Walk

Next up in Riots, Fights, Fires, & Mayhem we go to Welland Ontario in 1953 where the local cops have decided Pro Wrestling is too real! Granted the fans could get really out of hand in those days, Welland, Oshawa, London, Kingston, didn't matter where you were really, lot of hard working folks looking to let off a little or a lot of steam. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Indie show with Terry Yorkston, 1972: Gary Will's TWH

This poster went up for sale on eBay in early 2003. If it hadn't been for Terry Yorkston's name in the opening match, I might not have given it a thought. Yorkston was a prelim wrestler for Frank Tunney in the 1970s who went on to be a referee for Maple Leaf Wrestling. He had been wrestling for years before coming to the Gardens, including a good mid-card run in Quebec. He had just come off a stint in the Maritimes before arriving in Toronto in 1972.

(A few years later, he also worked under a hood for George Cannon. Somewhere in taped-over video heaven is a Cannon TV show with a scrawny teenager in the fourth row yelling "Hey! Terry Yorkston!" all through one of his matches. It took a couple of minutes to solve the puzzle, but I recognized him as someone I knew as soon as he came to the ring.)

 I don't know much about the show on the poster, but I was able to track it down. It was held on August 30, 1972 at the York Centre Ballroom -- south of Eglinton and east of Dufferin -- just a couple of months after Yorkston had made his Maple Leaf Gardens debut for Tunney (as a sub for Chris Colt).

Pat McMahon would go on to become Shillelagh O'Sullivan, who got a brief push at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1973. Andy Martin, from the main event, would make his first Gardens appearance in December. Pat Scott made it to Carlton Street for two matches in 1973. Ernie Schwaab (name misspelled on the poster) had done a job for Killer Kowalski at the Gardens in December 1971. There was a Golden Boy Apollo who wrestled at the Gardens in 1974, but I don't know if it's the same guy. The other names don't ring any bells.

I couldn't find any other shows at the Ballroom advertised in the Star, which is where the ad above is from.

-by Gary Will

Hercules Angelo Mosca?, 1970: Gary Will's TWH

This column by Jim Proudfoot appeared in the Toronto Star on August 1, 1970. It's a nice story about the success Angelo Mosca was having as a pro wrestler -- particularly his work for Roy Shire in Northern California as Hercules.

The only problem with the piece is that I can't find any record of a wrestler named Hercules working for Shire at the time.

The late Ron Valim kept detailed records of Shire's shows in San Francisco and other cities in the territory, and there's no Hercules to be found.

So was he using a different ring name with Hercules as a nickname? I don't see any likely candidates in Valim's results. Other than a few prelim guys, the workers Shire was using at the time are all well-known wrestlers. I don't see anyone who could have been Mosca.

In Proudfoot's column, Mosca is quoted saying the shows could draw 30,000 people to the Cow Palace in San Francisco. That's about double the actual maximum (the annual battle royal in November 1969 drew 15,974 and that seems to be the biggest crowd of the year).

Was the whole thing made up?

-by Gary Will

"The Sheik causes wrestling revival," 1970: Gary Will's TWH

Another Jim Proudfoot column from 1970 (see Hercules Mosca? for the other column). This one was published in the Toronto Star of February 21 and discussed the city's new wrestling boom -- driven by the return of The Sheik.

The Sheik had previously wrestled in Toronto in 1964-65, and had memorable matches against the top two babyfaces in town: Whipper Billy Watson and Johnny Valentine.

He came back four years later in February 1969 and the houses at Maple Leaf Gardens immediately and consistently shot up to 9,000 to 15,000. There had only been one show in 1968 with a reported attendance of 10,000, headlined by Ivan Koloff vs Edouard Carpentier, but with the Sheik on top, that was just an average gate.

The last show of 1969 drew a reported 16,500 to see a Texas death match between Sheik and his arch nemesis, Bobo Brazil. That was followed by three more shows with 15,000 or more in attendance, including the show that was run the day after this column appeared -- with Sheik vs Lord Athol Layton in the main event, with Gene Kiniski as special referee.

Proudfoot mentions that promoter Frank Tunney was hoping that the Sheik would fill the Gardens and set a new Toronto attendance record. That did happen, although not until exactly one year later. On February 21, 1971, more than 18,000 people turned up to see Sheik take on Tiger Jeet Singh.

-by Gary Will

Whipper Watson's fifth decade in wrestling, 1970: Gary Will's TWH

This Globe & Mail story ran on March 5, 1970 and is a look back at the career of Whipper Billy Watson, who had just started his fifth decade as a pro wrestler.

The story doesn't try to hide the unhideable -- that the 54-year-old Watson's career is winding down and he can no longer go more than once or twice a week. Even so, he would continue to wrestle for nearly two more years until an accident put an unwavering end to his career in the ring.

In the story, Watson says that when he returned to Toronto in 1940 after a lengthy stay in Britain, promoter Frank Tunney wasn't all that enthusiastic, although Tunney says he saw something in Watson right away. There's no question that Watson got the home town boy push from the start.

The writer of this story, Louis Cauz, went on to become a well-known figure in the Canadian horse racing world. He has been the managing director of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and the archivist/historian for the Ontario Jockey Club. In 1978, he wrote a book on the Toronto Blue Jays called Baseball's Back in Town. He also wrote a book on the King's/Queen's Plate that was published in 1984.

-by Gary Will

Toronto ring announcers, 1929-1986; Gary Will's TWH

For almost 60 years after the first weekly wrestling shows began in Toronto in 1929, there were only four men who worked as ring announcer at Arena Gardens and Maple Leaf Gardens. There may have been some temporary fill-ins over the years, but just four guys held the job in all that time.

Most of the years listed here are approximate since the newspapers weren't in the habit of reporting on ring announcers in much detail.

Bill Smith, 1929-1950
The longest serving ring announcer, Bill Smith was born in the United States and moved to Canada as a boy. He announced boxing and wrestling matches in Toronto and, according to his obituary, he didn't miss a single show in 25 years until suffering a heart attack in May 1950. That would mean he was the announcer at the original Arena Gardens shows in 1929 and continued through the move to Maple Leaf Gardens. The first show he missed was on May 11, 1950, headlined by Yukon Eric vs Wild Bill Longson. Smith died two months later at age 68.

Frank Ayerst, 1950-1955
Frank Ayerst was working as an assistant to promoter Frank Tunney when Smith's illness propelled him into ring announcing. Ayerst was primarily a PR man who had previously worked as an assistant to Leafs owner Conn Smythe and as a sports reporter for the Toronto Star. He joined Tunney in 1947. Ayerst bowed out as announcer around 1955, but continued to work in the office with Tunney into the mid-1960s. In the late 1950s, his face was seen every week in an ad for the wrestling shows that was designed to look like a newspaper column. His byline also appeared in the programs sold at the wrestling shows. Ayerst went on to work for the provincial government after leaving wrestling.

Jerry Hiff, 1955-1973
I don't know much about Jerry Hiff or Gerry Hiff, as his name was sometimes spelled (I believe his real name was Gerald). He also announced boxing matches, both at the Gardens and at a venue called Palace Pier in the late 1950s. Hiff's day job óin the late 50s at leastówas managing what was described as a "religious goods store." He appeared on broadcasts from St. Michael's Cathedral every other Sunday.

Norm Kimber, 1973-1986
Norm Kimber began working for Frank Tunney in the early 1950s while still in his early 20s. He eventually took over the PR duties that Ayerst performed and also became the Maple Leaf Gardens ring announcer after Hiff retired. I believe he had been performing as ring announcer on the TV tapings before taking over at the Gardens. Was pushed out as announcer in 1986 after Jack Tunney and Eddie Tunney had taken charge of the office and joined the WWF. Later that year, he briefly worked for Angelo Mosca's NWA-affiliated shows in opposition to the Tunneys.

-by Gary Will

Frank Tunney's 30th Anniversary, 1969: Gary Will's TWH

There were several anniversary shows at the Gardens in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Some were anniversaries of the first Gardens show in 1931. Others celebrated Frank Tunney's years as a promoter. Those were always tricky since there were three different years that could be used -- the year he started working for Jack Corcoran, the year Corcoran passed the promotion along to the Tunneys (1939), or the year John Tunney died, leaving Frank the main promoter (1940).

Tunney's 30th anniversary show was held on May 18, 1969 and featured a rematch between The Sheik and Whipper Billy Watson and the Toronto debut of NWA world champion Dory Funk Jr. The show drew 13,000 fans, making it the highest reported attendance at a Toronto card in years.

The writer of this retrospective piece from the Globe, Jim Vipond, went on to become Ontario Athletics Commissioner -- he's the unnamed guy in Jim Freedman's book DRAWING HEAT who's accused of being a friend of Tunney's and a thorn in the side of Dave McKigney.

-by Gary Will

*note the picture used in the paper was taken by Roger Baker, there are a couple of photos from that event elsewhere on the site