Catch up on some previous posts

Enjoy some of our previous entries. All active tags are listed at right, just scroll down a bit.
Our best wishes out to Roger and Gary. And to all the fans.

Whipper and Kiniski: The Feud Action on the circuit
Oshawa Results 1963 The year that was
The Myth of Whipper Watson A look at the early training ground
Don Leo 1959 Classic Matchup Recap
Open Air Wrestling in Toronto   Outdoor cards over the years 

The Big Event 1986   Hulkamania takes over the CNE 
Rogers Corner: Keswick 1967  It's Roger vs Terrible Ted! 
Niagara Falls Posters    Some classics from 1953-54
Crown Jewel and the love of Wrestling  A look at the new book Crown Jewel
Ontario 100 Years of History  Promoters, Venues, etc. 

Slaughter and that US title July 1982     The 'other' US title at MLG
Angelo Mosca in Toronto     Mean & Nasty...
Almanac 1956   The year in Maple Leaf
Bob Gregory and The Princess   Royalty & Wrestling
Ontario Venues   The Arenas and the Halls
Frank Ayerst: Matt Wise  Long time scribe and office man

Dave McKigney Career Record   From Dubois to Wildman
Red Garner: The Pride Of Langstaff   Story of Red & the CCWA 
Raphael Halpern: The Wrestling Rabbi   Comes to Toronto 
Flair vs Race   Photos from their Toronto bouts
Gorgeous George & Cherie Hair Bout II    Whipper saves the day
Whip and Togo set Oshawa on fire 1953     The feud heats up the region!

Whipper and Kiniski: The Feud

Wilf Long cartoon Toronto 1957

    By the time Gene Kiniski burst onto the Toronto scene in November 1956 Whipper Watson was well into his 16th year as the reigning king of the ring at Maple Leaf Gardens. Kiniski, billed as a 'footballer of note' made an instant impact on the fans in Toronto. They hated him right away.

Publicity man Frank Ayerst remarked that Kiniski was 'sometimes referred to as Genial Gene, because he smiled once when an opponent was being carried out of the ring.' Adding that he 'is such a rugged ring operator that getting a match with him is gaily alluded to as The Point of No Return.'

He rampaged over a few of the smaller types early in the cards before suffering his first loss against Shaq Thomas. He actually beat Thomas in a mere 54 seconds but was disqualified when he wouldn't stop assaulting his opponent. He finished out the year beating another newcomer Billy Red Lyons in December and returned in January 1957.

This time Kiniski trounced local favorite Pat Flanagan with his 'Prairie Paralyzer' and returned to the ring for the main event between Whipper and Buddy Rogers. Kiniski, not known for his quiet demeanor, stepped into the ring before the introductions and challenged Whipper. Rogers backed him up declaring 'Kiniski will pick up the pieces after I've finished with you.'

Kiniski left but returned to the ring when Whipper captured Rogers in his Canuck Commando and the future looked bleak for the Nature Boy. Kiniski attacked Watson and special ref Jersey Joe Walcott took at swing at big Gene. Pat O'Connor, who had wrestled earlier in the card came to Whipper's rescue but Walcott wasn't sure and took a couple of swings at Pat before going at Kiniski again and then disqualifying Rogers for outside interference.

That set up a tag bout for the next card with Whipper and O'Connor to face Kiniski and Rogers with Walcott and Bunny Dunlop as referees. The heroes won by dq in front of 14,000 fans when Kiniski took off under the ring a'la Wild Bill Longson and Nanjo Singh before him.

Joe Perlove in his recap the next day opined that 'he (Kiniski) had heard that Nanjo Singh had those nether regions fitted up with a bar and chintzy furniture.'

Perlove went on to describe that 'several hundred customers wanted to make his (Kiniski) crew cut a little shorter. By maybe a foot.' When Kiniski failed to return, Walcott gave the win to Watson and O'Connor. Kiniski still had to make his way to the safety of the dressing room having earned the fans full hatred previously shown to Nanjo and other enemies of the state - State Whipper.

Wire Fence Jan 1957 with Jersey Joe, and Hutton on the floor

That set the feud in motion with the two going to battle on the next card at MLG and later a wire fence bout (early type cage match). Dick Hutton would side with Kiniski and draw himself into the bouts and team with Kiniski against Whipper and Yukon Eric on a subsequent card as well as interfere in each others bouts.

The Fence match on Jan 24 ended in a wild finish with Kiniski and Hutton going after Whip and ref Jersey Joe who was again part of the action.

A bout at East York Arena between Watson and Hutton the following week led to another incident involving Kiniski. Watson beat Hutton to win the $1000 check that Hutton had been offering to anyone who could beat him within 20 minutes. Whipper was the first in Toronto to beat Hutton, but after the bout Kiniski jumped in and tore up the check while he and Hutton attacked ref Bunny Dunlop.

This led to Kiniski being given a $500 fine, said to be the steepest penalty handed down at the time. He was additionally given a 4 week suspension from OAC Commissioner Merv McKenzie, who also curtailed the license of Tunney to promote at the Arena for 6 months. MLG was not included!

Kiniski orating after his suspension 1957
It may have been legit as Tunney didn't return to East York until Oct 1957, though they only used it when the Gardens was not available. Les Lyman and others ran the smaller Arena in that era.

Genial Gene meanwhile offered this to the fans in response to the outrage over how he treated our fan-favorites. 'Tell them from me to go to hell too ! I'll fight in Maple Leaf Gardens whenever I like. Let those chicken bums stay home if they don't like me.'

This was around the same time that Ontario MPP Arthur Child had leveled criticism at the antics of Wrestlers pushing the referee's around and called it a farce. It started a heated battle with debates over the OAC being associated with pro rasslin and involved Whipper and others around the scene. Ref Joe Gollob, no stranger to the rough stuff replied back that 'we don't need a Commission.' Whipper used his diplomacy to smooth things over in the end.

Kiniski meanwhile showed up at MLG in March and takes to the ring before the main of The Miller Brothers vs Hard Boiled Haggerty and Hutton. In his usual quiet way Gene announced his suspension was now over and he would be back to destroy the Whipper.

They continued through the year both in singles and tag bouts, Whipper with various partners and Kiniski with Hutton. Kiniski went on to beat O'Connor for our British Empire Title and he earned a bout against NWA champ Lou Thesz at the Gardens.

Kiniski & Watson did big business here with averages of 10,000 a card. With them on top for most of the year, Tunney drew over 320,000 over 48 cards at MLG in 1957.

The feud travelled around the circuit here with some big bouts from Hamilton to London to Buffalo. They then moved across the country with stops in Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver with the fans following the feud on the CBC TV show.

Gene soon teamed with Fritz Von Erich to form a formidable tag and continued to battle Whipper and his partners through 1958 while the two battled in singles bouts and traded the B-E Title. The feud periodically started up again and continued into the mid 60's.

"Their matches will forever be a bench mark for both the length of time and many dozens of encounters that took place between these two great Canadian wrestlers. 

The only other feud that Watson had that could compare in number of years and brutality, would have been The Whipper's many grudge encounters with Nanjo Singh.

Kiniski was a very brash, in your face competitor, and he kept himself in excellent physical condition at all times. He belonged to be the headliner that he was, only the top wrestlers of his era could stay with him long enough to make for a good match, and at the same time walk out on their own two feet.

Whipper always gave Kiniski a battle whenever they met. Watson probably body slammed Kiniski at least eight to ten times in every encounter. To see Watson apply this slam was a thing of beauty. He would crotch Kiniski and lift him with his right arm and actually be able to raise him up to where Kiniski was a good foot above the Whipper's head, then Kiniski was slammed to the mat, or the wooden ramp with all of Watson's strength. This move always got the crowd excited, and had Kiniski crawling on his knees in a lot of pain.'

Kiniski employed many wrestling holds to his opponents that were at times crippling. An example was his knee drop to his opponents upper chest, and sometimes to the exposed throat as well. He often delivered his big boots to their rib cage, this could result in a wrestler having many a recovery for bruised ribs."

Kiniski had his run with the NWA Title and defended here a total of 17 times including a 1966 bout against Whipper (17 in Toronto only, Gene very busy on the circuit too). Their last bout at MLG came in June 1967 with Kiniski taking on both Whipper and Bulldog Brower in a handicap bout. The NWA title was not at stake as Whipper and Brower, working in tag rules, beat Kiniski in front of 6,200.

Whipper's career ended in 1971 but that wasn't be the end of the feud. In 1978 Kiniski was set to battle Dino Bravo for the newly created Canadian Heavyweight Title. The night was also deemed 'Whipper Watson Appreciation Night.' Frank Tunney was to honor Whipper by donating 1$ from each ticket to the Easter Seals 'Timmy Scholarship Fund ' and to acknowledge all he had done for the sport and the charities. Watson was also set to award the new championship belt to the winner of the bout.

Still not a quiet guy by any means, Kiniski started an argument with the newer fans booing him mercilessly as he lost to the new champ Bravo. At that point Whipper and Gene were at the 22 year mark of the feud.

Kiniski, in later years talked very highly of Watson and all of the money they made with each other, and he was present at Whipper's funeral in 1990. The feud was finally over.


Photos from .com collection,  and original clips and memories thanks to Roger Baker

For more on the MP's vs Wrestling incident see  1957: The year the Ontario government questioned pro wrestling's validity  External Link on Slam Wrestling- opens in new window.

Toronto Programs 1930s-1980s

  Collecting Toronto Wrestling programs can be tough. There are huge gaps where it appears no programs were made, or have surfaced yet. Let's take a look at the programs issued over the years.

  The earliest one was issued in 1929, a generic program for Arena Gardens, where Mickailoff started the weekly cards. That style in 1930 -above. Full program 14 pages with a photo on near every page, rules listing, and a line up card. price 10c

  Next one is a 1935. This one has other sports content, hockey mostly but still has 6 pages of Wrestler bios, plus the event specific line up center spread. Cost 15c. Frank Ayerst who would work with Tunney wrote many of the bios.

  There are others through the late 1930's and early 1940's that follow the same format as above. Not all of the Wrestling nights had wrestling on the cover either. There are examples with an elephant (Circus) or figure skaters (Ice Capades) for events that were coming up that were the focus rather than the Wrestling card. Still those had the lineup spread in the middle and some other pages devoted to wrestlers.

  The next change found is in the late 1940's. They went to a Maple Leaf Sports Magazine. Photo on the front with headliner or close for that night. About 50 pages covering all sports with several on the wrestlers and the 2 page center spread with the lineup sheet. cost 25c

1947 Example



  In the 1950's Star writer John Fitzgerald would contribute alongside Ayerst who was now also penning a weekly wrestling column. They would still use the generic MLG program with wrestling within it, and the lineup card in the center for wrestling. For other sports and events they would do the same thing. Mostly it was Leafs on the covers. 

  This one 1955 16 pages with a center lineup spread for that nights event. Cost unknown. The papers often referred to the local stars as 'Tunney Thumpers.' Not sure how long these lasted, it's only one I have come across. 

 Next ones are the early 1960's. A shorter format but wrestling specific. A bi-fold with 2 pages of info, a lineup card and a blank page with a holder for an insert photo with one of the stars. Frank Ayerst wrote a cover piece and then the page inside had a tidbits type column similar to his newspaper pieces, often with inside info or personal type stuff about the wrestlers. Price 25c

This one from '63

 That type to at least 1965 and then a gap again.

 Then the 1970's, huge cards when the Sheik was on top here, full houses and a revival in wrestling in Toronto - but no programs?

 Other than lineups sheets the only 1970's program found so far is this 1977 glossy type (below) put together by Stan Obodiac, then Maple Leaf Gardens publicity head. Similar in feel to a Maple Leafs hockey program this one is 12 pages and while not event specific (no lineup card) it features the participants from the July 11 1977 card held at Exhibition Stadium. Also has a NWA title history  and a page on Whipper Watson and Lord Layton, both retired from the ring by this time but working on the announcing side. Contributors listed are Norm Kimber (Announcer and Frank's publicity guy at this time) son Eddie and nephew Jack. cost 1.50$.

  They did have lineup sheets up to the onset of the M-A affiliation but not for every card and they have been slow to surface so not sure how many were issued.

Summer 1977

  Then another gap, a bit of unrest between the Sheik era and the M-A era but nothing in the 78-79 years (beyond occasional lineup sheets) and the beginning of the association with the Crockett stars.

  My pal Griff who has hunted down MLW artifacts still has not found anything previous to Oct 19 1980 which is in the Stranglehold format. The Oct issue is listed as number 5 but unable to locate the earlier ones. Put together by Gary Kamansack under the Arena Magazine and Mancuso Publishing name. They were responsible for the Detroit area programs, also the fabulous Wrestling Exchange magazine, as well as programs for George Cannon's Superstars. Slick feel with good (mostly) local photos and a card specific lineup sheet. 75c then1$

This one Nov 16 1980 

 A bit of a gap through the end of 1980 and then starting in early 1981 and regular to the end of the NWA era in mid 1984. Mancuso and Arena pulled out in 1981. The format stayed mostly the same though the look wasn't always as good, the colors and cutout photos like the one below from 1983. Still with card specific lineup. cost 1$.

  When Jack Tunney switched to using the WWF stars they kept the Stranglehold format for a time as the one below shows. That's where I stop but they did switch to the WWF magazine some time after, a generic type with an inserted lineup sheet


If you can supply a pic from any of the years that have gaps please send over. If you have programs for sale please contact me.


Oshawa Wrestling History: Results 1963

1963 is another strong year in the Oshawa wrestling history. U.S. champ Johnny Valentine takes on all comers including Ilio Dipaolo, Yukon Eric, Billy Red Lyons and Jim Hady. The feud with Hady spills over from Toronto with some special stipulation bouts. Some of the local DJ's also get involved and Port Perry is included in the circuit.
Note no results published this year, lineups presented

63/05/21 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
US Title: Johnny Valentine vs Ilio DiPaolo
Sweet Daddy Siki vs Jim Hady
Tony Marino vs Duke Noble
Mr Gordon Garrison President of CKLB will officially open the Wrestling season with alderman Gord Attersly

63/05/28 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
US Title: Johnny Valentine vs Jim Hady
Sweet Daddy Siki vs Billy Red Lyons
Ilio DiPaolo vs Mike Valentino

63/06/04 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
US Title: Johnny Valentine vs Jim Hady - Special Referee Pat Flanagan
John Paul Henning vs Stan Stasiak
Tony Marino vs Fred Atkins

63/06/17 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
The Beast vs Yukon Eric
The Destroyer vs Johnny Foti
Fred Atkins vs Billy Stack

63/06/25 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
John Paul Henning vs The Destroyer
Tony Parisi vs Antonio Manos
Don Lewin vs Billy Stack

63/07/06 Port Perry, ON Port Perry Arena 
Killer Kowalski vs Ilio DiPaulo
Lord Littlebrook vs Dandy Andy
Wrestling Bear vs Gene Dubois
Plus 1 other bout

63/07/09 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
Jim Hady vs The Beast
US Title: John Paul Henning vs Hans Schmidt
The Great Mephisto vs Judo Jack Terry

63/07/16 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
Ykon Eric vs Hans Schmidt
Pee Wee James/Irish Jackie vs Farmer Pete/Pancho Lopez – Special Referee CKLB’s Terry Mann
Jim Hady vs Firpo Zvyszko

63/07/23 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
Jim Hady vs Bulldog Brower
Fuzzy Cupid/Irish Jackie vs Tiny Tim/Farmer Pete
Tony Marino vs Stan Stasiak

63/07/30 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
US Title: Johnny Valentine vs Yukon Eric
Ilio DiPaolo vs Bob Liepler
Tony Marino vs Firpo Zbysko

63/08/06 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
The Beast vs Jim Hady
John Paul Henning vs Sweet Daddy Siki
Dr Jerry Graham vs Tony Marino

63/08/13 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
US Title: Johnny Valentine vs Jim Hady
Tony Marino vs Judo Jack Terry
The Great Mephisto vs Bob Liepler

63/08/20 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
US Title: Johnny Valentine vs Billy Red Lyons
The Beast vs John Paul Henning
Sky Low Low/Irish Jackie vs Farmer Pete/Tiny Tim – Special Referee CKLB’s Terry Mann

63/08/27 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
US Title: Johnny Valentine vs Jim Hady
Ilio DiPaolo vs The Beast
The Great Mephisto vs Ox Anderson

63/09/03 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
US Title –Texas Death Match: Johnny Valentine vs Jim Hady
Dr Jerry Graham vs John Paul Henning
Tony Parisi vs Ox Henderson

63/09/10 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
Fence Around Ring: Johnny Valentine vs Jim Hady
Ilio DiPaolo vs Billy Red Lyons
Tony Marino vs The Great Mephisto

63/09/17 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
US Title: Johnny Valentine vs Jim Hady
Billy Red Lyons vs Stan Stasiak
Dr Jerry Graham vs Tony Parisi

63/09/24 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
US Title -2 Hour Time Limit: Johnny Valentine vs Jim Hady
John Paul Henning vs Fred Atkins
The Great Mephisto vs Mike Valentino

63/10/01 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
Johnny Valentine/The Destroyer vs Jim Hady/John Paul Henning
Bob Liepler vs Fred Atkins
Johnny Foti vs The Great Kudo

63/10/08 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena
Hans Schmidt/The Destroyer/The Great Kudo vs Seaman Art Thomas/Lorenzo Parente/Tony Marino
The Destroyer vs Lorenzo Parente
Tony Marino vs Johnny Foti

63/10/12 Oshawa ,ON Oshawa Arena – Last show of season
Johnny Valentine/The Destroyer/Dr Jerry Graham vs Yukon Eric/Jim Hady/Tony Marino
Jim Hady vs Fred Atkins
Dr Jerry Graham vs Lorenzo Parente

Smiling John: The forgotten Tunney: Gary Will's TWH

Frank Tunney was Toronto's greatest wrestling promoter and one of the most successful and respected promoters in the world.

But if it hadn't been for a fluke illness, he may never have had the chance to rise to that level. When Tunney took over the wrestling operations of the Queensbury Athletic Club -- the main Toronto booking office -- from Jack Corcoran in 1939, he was the junior member of the new promoting team. The head matchmaker was his older brother, John Tunney.

It isn't clear exactly when the Tunneys started to work for Corcoran. Frank would say in later interviews that he was working in the office as a teenager at the time of the first Maple Leaf Gardens show in 1931. A story in the Star at the time said the Tunneys became involved in 1933. But whatever the date was, John and Frank spent years helping Corcoran behind the scenes.

Corcoran was reported to have caught pneumonia in March 1939, and Toots Mondt -- who was or had been a partner in the Toronto office (more about that another time) -- came up to run the Gardens show on March 16, which featured a world title bout between Jim Londos and local star Vic Christie.

 The following week, it was announced that John Tunney had become the head matchmaker. Attendance through the rest of 1939 averaged 3,000-4,000 per show, and John brought in Wild Bill Longson (an immediate hit), Bronko Nagurski, Frank Sexton, and Lou Thesz for their Toronto debuts in the fall of that year.

According to the attendance figures in the Globe, John Tunney's biggest show was on Thursday January 12, 1940. The main event was Longson vs Jumping Joe Savoldi with Gus Sonnenberg on the undercard. It drew 6,000. It would also be John's final show at the Gardens.

He started feeling sick the next day, but -- against the advice of friends -- decided to work through what seemed to be a bad cold. On Monday, he made the drive to Ottawa to oversee a show there. "Upon his return, he was ordered to bed by the family physician and his condition was not considered even remotely serious," reported the Globe.

Tunney remained at home -- his house was near Danforth and Woodbine -- but things took a sharp turn for the worse on Thursdsay, the day of his next scheduled Gardens show. He died early that morning at age 32. The Star said it was influenza and the Globe added that he had suffered a heart attack. The Gardens show that night was cancelled.

"The entire sports community is prostrated by this blow which took away one of its youngest, most pleasant and most promising promoters," wrote the Star.

Tunney's wife had given birth two weeks earlier to their fourth child and was herself in the hospital suffering from complications. Among the couple's other three children was their oldest son, Jackie.

John Tunney was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery. Frank immediately became Toronto's head promoter. John's son, Jack Tunney, would go on to work for his uncle Frank starting in the early 1950s and took over the business with Frank's son Eddie Tunney after Frank's death in 1983.

-by Gary Will

Memories of Toronto Roger Baker: Fishing with Victor Rivera

Warming up for a day of fishing !

During the Summer break we will revisit some of our favorites from the past. 
In a 'Memories of Toronto' Roger Baker takes Victor Rivera fishing on Simcoe 1965. Enjoy. AC

   It was back in the mid sixties that a young Puerto Rican wrestler made his first appearance at MLG. He had an easy to remember name- Victor Rivera- and his in ring skills as well as his impressive strength caught my attention.

   I made a point to meet up with the wrestler and we hit it off well, it was the summer time and I was planning to go fishing on the week end, and asked him if he would like to come along and test his skills insofar as hooking a pike or a bass from Lake Simcoe. 
He was eager to go. We made plans that I would pick him up the following Saturday at 8am. He was outside waiting when I got there and we left to arrive at a pre-determined marina on Cook's Bay which is at the south end of Lake Simcoe.

   The marina that we were going to launch from was owned by several brothers, and one of the brothers kept staring at Rivera, and then at myself. After a few minutes of  the stares he said to me 'Hey, your buddy looks like like Jeff, and you look like Mutt,' I had to admit he was right.

   The day turned out to a very enjoyable experience for us both, and wouldn't you know it , the novice Rivera catches a pike, and I got skunked.

The rookie snags one! 

   Fast forward about six years, I'm at Buffalo's War Memorial Auditorium on assignment to do a story on Abdullah The Butcher. I walk into one of the wrestlers dressing rooms and who do I see? It was none other than Bruno, Domenic Denucci, Louis Martinez, and Victor Rivera. The wrestlers all had smiles on their faces as did this wrestling reporter. I yelled 'Victor, the fish, the fish, you remember us and only you caught a fish,' he was all smiles, and this impromptu meeting was the highlight of my trip to Buffalo that day.

As an after thought I heard that the photo of Rivera with the fish was published in wrestling programs in the Boston Mass. arena.
*note, pic was used in a Ring mag also , at bottom of post

Battling Abdullah in Buffalo

Ron Martinez and the ref attempt to separate the two during the Buffalo bout

Victor Rivera's wrestling career was very successful and he went on to win many titles in the following years including
The NWA Americas Heavyweight title 5 times
The WWW world tag championship with Dominic Denucci
He held the WWW  Los Angeles tag title with Tony Marino
As well as the WWW International tag title also with Tony Marino
- Roger

-Thanks Roger ! 

Roger's photo used in a 1969 Ring Mag 

The Myth Of Whipper Watson

With Lawson, McCready 1942
  There is the other side of the conversation about Whipper Watson. Not the one that talks about the pride of East York as a humanitarian, or as the tireless crusader for children with disabilities, or of the man who places high on any list of great Canadians, wrestlers or otherwise. 

It's the one about his 'real' wrestling skills, his legacy as one of the greats among peers Bill Longson, Gus Sonnenberg, Earl McCready, and Lou Thesz. Or more accurately, the lack of a legacy amongst the talk of shooters and hookers and the like.

There are a few things to consider when looking at Whipper's career to be able to judge him fairly as a wrestler. His prime, shortened by injuries early in his career came mostly before the advent of TV. By the time Watson became the big Canadian star with CBC's TV Wrestling from Maple Leaf Gardens in the mid 1950's, his best years were mostly behind him.

In his prime in the 1940's, his early years on the busy amateur circuit and his training under the watchful eye of Phil Lawson are worth a look to gain insight to his skills in the ring. 

 The Early Years 
Phil Lawson, notably known as Whipper's trainer and manager was a real powerhouse in the city running shows and training upstarts for many years. An accomplished amateur himself he had been both City and Ontario champion since starting at the YMCA as a kid around 1910. In 1921 he won the Provincial Light Heavyweight Title in boxing, and in 1926 the Canadian Lightweight Championship in Wrestling. 

 Lawson took over training for the YMCA in 1926  and started training Whipper around 1931. Officially he became Whip's manager in 1940 but he had already being using his specialized training regimens from the time a teenaged Watson had first found the sport.  By the 1930's he was solidly entrenched in the sporting scene for both wrestling and boxing. Besides Watson, Lawson trained Billy Stack and worked with many others that frequented the MLG cards. Lawson was also very tight in the wrestling/boxing office of Jack Corcoran prior to- and after -the Tunney's taking over. He was later described as 'the eyes, ears, and sometimes mind of Tunney' as they shaped and built a modest start in wrestling to one of the most successful on the continent.

 In the early 1930s Toronto was teeming with wrestling, both professional and amateur. Many of the country's top amateur stars were from here or based in the city. Watson, at that time was still East York boy Bill Potts, and was wrestling on amateur cards that included Fred Spittles -Al Hamilton/Al Spittles future trainer of stars, Al Korman - longtime fixture and future ref, and Ted McKinley - noted amateur/pro, won Silver in wrestling at the 1934 British Empire Games. 

Others included Ben(gal) Engbloom -noted amateur here and overseas, the soon-to-be Pat Flanagan (Winnett Watson), and longtime wrestler and ref Cliff Worthy. Whipper wrestled for the Scarboro wrestling club and worked up to 190lbs.   
A trip to Europe honed the young Watson's skills. His success came fast once he returned from the U.K. and secured a spot on Tunney's cards. In his second pro bout at MLG, a 1940 contest vs Bobby Robert, Watson got the win and in a Joe Perlove recap 'seems headed for bigger things in the local mat scheme.' A week later Perlove wrote that Watson got the 'best hand of the night' after beating the aging Jerry Monahan in a 17 minute bout. 

Lawson & Whip 1945
 Local Hero   
By November Perlove was proclaiming Watson as a 'local hero' who 'bids fair to be white-haired Johnny of Ontario Wrestling rings.' Perlove did a small feature on Watson and recounted the much heard origin story of being introduced by brother George to Wrestling at All Hallows Church in Toronto. Further training under Lawson and then his trip England via Ireland and training under George de Relwyskow, a noted promoter in the British Isles. 

Some lesser know tidbits in the Perlove article include a mention of Whipper appearing in several movies, including one as a Detective, and wrestling Tiger Tasker in another  featuring George Formsby (likely 1937's boxing themed Keep Fit). Perloves says in another 1937 film 'The Rat' Whipper was doubling for star Anton Wallbrook. 

That film also had Bob Gregory who was one of Whipper's travelling partners while in the U.K. Gregory married a then member of British Royalty, the Princess of Sarawak and arrived here in 1938 for a memorable visit. Watson meanwhile was said to win the European Light-Heavyweight crown in his travels as well as meet and marry his wife Eileen, bringing her back to Canada. 

 Another variation on the origin story has Whipper answering an ad for wrestlers, hitchhiking to Montreal, and then heading to Wales, then on to England where he received 8 pounds sterling (about 13$) for his first bout. A note in the Star from 1936 supports the Perlove version, with Potts, Tasker, Korman, and Tommy Nelson (long time Tunney office guy/promoter), along with Harry Joyce as a manager sailing out from Montreal the week of June 8 1936. According to the blurb another group was scheduled to head out the following month. A subsequent trip included the then Winnett Watson, soon to be renamed as Flanagan. 

Some programs from England 1936-37

Back in Toronto in 1940 Whipper soon faced George K.O. Koverly in a special one hour bout said to determine the next main eventer in Toronto. The bout ended badly for Watson but set the tone for the coming stardom for the young grappler. Watson ended up out cold on the floor after taking a beating from Koverly who had also knocked referee Bunny Dunlop to the mat. 

The fans unhappy with the result tried to get at Koverly as he made a hasty retreat to the dressing room. This was in the pre-ramp days and Koverly, despite the police presence, was attacked by fans. Once he had made his exit the fans went after Dunlop, and finally after the photogs who had vacated the press table during the melee. Some 200 fans wouldn't give up, even when ushered out of the Gardens, milling about until the ambulance came and took Watson away on a stretcher to St Michaels Hospital around the corner. The new crowd favorite was said to have taken a stiff punch on the chin while off-balance injuring his neck in the process. 

In 1941 before his first main event, again vs Koverly, Whipper was pictured in the Star sparring with soon to be World boxing featherweight champ Jack 'Spider' Armstrong. In the 1940's and 1950's they kept the ring set up in the basement of the Gardens for the wrestlers to work out between cards. They  also set up the ring in its usual spot a day or two before a card if the arena was free, and some of the stars wrestled exhibitions in front of small crowds of reporters and other insiders. Longson, Thesz, Watson, and their opponents or sparring partners, including Dunlop, Ted Christie, Frank Hewitt, Billy Stack, Flanagan, and others. 

 In those early years Watson took a lot of abuse in his bouts. He was a high flyer with a ton of energy. He was constantly going over the ropes to the floor and for a (rising) star of his stature took a lot of stretcher exits from the floor at MLG. Some of these falls led to the injuries that hampered his style. He started to suffer some serious neck and back injuries in the 1940's leading to a change in style as he progressed. Not as much as his doctors may have liked, those injuries continuing to pile up through the 1950s.

 Wild Bill
 A long and successful rivalry with Wild Bill Longson spanned the 1940s and resulted in a World title win for Watson when he beat Longson in 1947. Wild Bill had held the title for 4 years and rarely lost.  He was close with Tunney and had helped the young promoter gain a foothold in the lean years prior to Whipper arriving on the scene. While Watson only held the title for a few months, he was soon firmly entrenched in the upper tier of the best wrestlers in the game. He and Longson thrilling the Toronto fans with tough and exciting bouts, the fans riled to riot on many occasions. Wild Bill often having to flee under the ring until the cops could get him out- before the ramp. 

1954. By 1956 he had dropped 30lbs and was in great shape leading to the title win.

The Toronto papers reporting on Whippers win over Longson in St Louis proclaimed him 'wrestling's No. 1 box office attraction.' St Louis programs lauded Whippers speed and noted his popularity and exciting ring work. Longson was viewed as a legit type and many of those bouts go 30-40-60 minutes of action and earn attention from all over the wrestling world. 

Wrestling was long past legit by the 1940's and Whipper didn't really beat Longson or Thesz, but he was good enough in the eyes of those who mattered to be able to hold the big title. In his later years Thesz (who was often brutally honest) was asked about Whipper and always answered amicably. That Watson was a 'fine wrestler,' and 'tough.'  Not to say Whipper was picked because of his skills. Of course Tunney's influence within the NWA would rate, and that he was trusted to return the title, but it was not a one-man vote. He had the respect of the top stars both in the ring and out of it. 


Whipper UK programs from Twitter or one of the UK guys sent it, thank you