Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Carlos Rocha Info

Wouter van Alst of boxrec.com sends some info on Carlos Rocha
his boxing record can be found at http://boxrec.com/boxer/44864

"I came across your request for more information on Carlos Rocha. I'm a boxing historian and because Rocha also was a boxer in his younger years, I have some biographical information that might interest you. . He was originally from the Portuguese town of Tavira, born Jan. 4 1928. Before moving to North America, he wrestled in Europe, Africa and South America. After his wrestling days he moved to Newark where he is reported to have owned a tobacco store. As of November 2014 he was reportedly living in Florida."

Over the years I have received quite a bit of correspondence on Rocha especially after I posted a bit including Roger Baker's awesome photos at MLW - Carlos Rocha in Toronto

He was here before I started going and to the younger fans he remained a mystery as he saw limited success elsewhere. In Roger's photos you can see how popular he was among the large Portuguese community in Toronto and why he worked on top vs The Sheik a couple of different times.

Thanks to Wouter for sharing this info with us

clips at bottom are 1972 * note they say he is 35 , at that time he would have just turned 44

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Myth Of Whipper Watson

The Myth Of Whipper Watson

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. It's the one about his 'real' wrestling skills, his legacy as one of the greats among peers including Bill Longson, Buddy Rogers, Gorgeous George, and Lou Thesz. Or more accurately the lack of a legacy among the historian sorts.

There are a few things to consider when looking at Whipper's career and being able to judge him as a 'wrestler'. His prime, shortened by injuries early in career came mostly before the advent of TV. While Whipper did become the big Canadian star when the CBC started broadcasting Wrestling from Maple Leaf Gardens in 1953, his best years athletically by and large were behind him.

His 'prime' athletically fell in the 1940's. His early years on the amateur-pro type cards held at Toronto's Consols Stadium in the late 1930's and his training spent mostly under the watchful eye of Phil Lawson, while not as well documented as his later years, are worth a look to gain insight to his skills in the ring.

In 1936 Toronto was teeming with Wrestling shows, both Professional and Amateur. Watson, at that time still East York native Bill Potts was wrestling on Amateur cards that included Fred Spittles, Al Korman (future MLG ref), and noted amateur/pro Ted McKinley (Mckinley won Silver in Wrestling at the 1934 British Empire Games). The future Pat Flanagan (Winnett Watson), and another future MLG wrestler and ref Cliff Worthy were both regulars on YMCA cards prior to their pro debuts.

His success came fast once he returned from England and secured a spot on Tunney's cards. In early battles like 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 an aging Jerry Monahan in a 17 minute bout.

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 amateur and then promoter in England.

Some lesser know tidbits in the Perlove article include 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 a Bob Gregory who was one of Whipper's traveling partners while in the U.K. Gregory married a then member of British Royalty, the Princess of Sarawak. Watson was said to win the European Light-Heavyweight crown in his travels as well as marry his wife Eileen and bring her back to Canada with him.

Another variation on the 'origin story' from 1943 has Whipper answering an ad for Wrestlers, hitchhiking to Montreal and then heading to first Cardiff, Wales, then on to England where they received 8 pounds for a 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 and 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 would include the then Winnett Watson, soon to be renamed as Pat Flanagan.

A day after the feature Whipper faced George K.O. Koverly in a 'special one hour bout' said to determine the next main eventer in Toronto. The bout which went on after the main event of Everett Marshall vs the Golden Terror 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 Al '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 a police presence was attacked by fans. Once he had made his exit the fans went after Dunlop, and finally after the press 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 and 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 would keep the ring set up in the basement of the Gardens for the wrestlers to work out between cards. They would also set up the ring in its usual spot a day or two before a card if the area was free and some of the stars would wrestle exhibitions in front of small crowds of reporters and other insiders around MLG. Some of these workouts and exhibitions would earn a photo in the papers. The stars Longson, Thesz, Watson, and their opponents or sparring partners including Dunlop, Ted Christie, Frank Hewitt, Billy Stack, Pat Flanagan, and others.

Tunneys inner circle of Wrestlers from the '40s to the '50s years besides Whipper, Flanagan, and Dunlop, included Fred Atkins, Jerry Monahan, Cliff Worthy and others from the amateur ranks for wrestling or boxing. Phil Lisner, Phil Lawson, Tommy Nelson, Jimmy Webster were all fixtures in the office with legit backgrounds.

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 would start training Whipper around 1931. Officially he would become Whippers Wrestling 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 was known to have trained Billy Stack and worked with many 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 would later be 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.'

Getting back to Whipper and his credentials in the ring we can look at his long and successful feud with 'Wild' Bill Longson which spanned the 1940's and resulted in a NWA (Association) World Title win for Watson when he beat the then 2 time champ Longson in 1947. Longson, the biggest star of the era had held the title for 4 years and rarely lost.  While Whipper would only hold the title for a few months before losing to Lou Thesz, he was firmly entrenched in the upper tier of the best wrestlers in the game.

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 huge popularity and exciting ring work. Longson was a 'legit' star as was Thesz, and later Dick Hutton who Whipper beat for the title in 1956. Many of those early 1940's bouts vs Thesz and Longson at MLG would go 30-40 minutes of action. There were quite a few 60 minute affairs with Watson also. The bouts with Thesz were always top-notch and earned attention from all over the wrestling world.

Wrestling was long past 'legit' by the 1940's and Whipper didn't really beat Thesz, and Longson, and Hutton, but he was good enough in the eyes of those who mattered to be able to hold the titles. In his later years Thesz was asked about Whipper and answered amiably, that Watson was a fine wrestler, and tough. The critics may say that Whipper was picked because of Tunney's influence within the NWA, and that would be true to an extent but it was not a one-man vote. He had the respect of the top stars both in the ring and out of it.

In those early years Watson would take a lot of abuse in his bouts. He was constantly going over the ropes to the floor and for a star of his stature would take a lot of stretcher exits from the floor at the Gardens. Some of these falls led to the injuries that hampered his style. He suffered some serious neck and back injuries in the 1940's leading to a change in style as he progressed. Who knows what may have been had he been healthy.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Toronto Programs 1930s-1980s

Collecting Toronto Wrestling programs can be a frustrating task. There are huge gaps where no programs were made, or at the least , none survived. We will take a look at the programs issued over the years.

The earliest one I have is 1930. You can see the whole program here Previous Blog Entry - 1930 Program Nice full program from the Mickailoff days, 14 pages with a photo on near every page, rules listing, and a line up card. price 10c

Next one is a 1935. The Wrestling content of that one is here Previous Blog Entry - 1935 Program 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


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 I can find 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



Then there is a gap. I can't find any from the 1950's as of yet. Surprising as that era had a huge amount of coverage in print, the dailies had wrestling coverage nearly every day of the week. Once TV started it was bigger than ever. Sports writer Frank Ayerst started working for Frank Tunney and would later pen the programs and a column in the dailies but I have yet to find any 50's - gottem ? send em please!

 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. 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 is from '63

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

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

Have yet to see anything from the Sheik era, in fact the only 1970's program found so far is this 1977 glossy type put together by Stan Obodiac, the 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, long removed from the scene by this time. Contributors listed are Norm Kimber (Announcer & Frank's publicity guy at this time) son Eddie and nephew Jack. cost unknown.

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

My buddy Griff who makes me look like an amateur when it comes to hunting 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. think these were 75c maybe 1$

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. Appears Mancuso and Arena pulled out in 1981, the format stayed mostly the same although the look started to go downhill and wasn't as good, cutout photos and such like the one below from 1983. Still with card specific lineup. cost 1$ still I think

When Jack Tunney switched to using the WWF stars they kept the Stranglehold format for a time as the one below shows. Thats 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  !

Monday, July 4, 2016

Ex Show 1983 Proudfoot Columnn

33 years ago this month were the two big Ex shows put on by the newly in charge Jack Tunney after Frank's death months earlier. Jack had something to prove and the shows did well, stacked with the top stars of the day. The first show 'Night Of The Champions' and the 'Return Of The Champions' 2 weeks later drew a reported 20,000 and 14,000 respectively.

The Ex had been run before during the summer of 1977 and would later be the site of the 'Big Event' in 1986 but these shows stand as two of the biggest - and best shows of the last days of the NWA in Toronto

Note that in the end notes after the article, it mentions Jack may be interested in the boxing side. After Frank's experiences with the boxing world it's surprising Jack was interested at all.