Sunday, February 25, 2018

50th Anniversary Show Nov 15 1981: Sunday Night

This is a 'Sunday Night' feature... We have looked at the various anniversary shows held at Maple Leaf Gardens over the years, this time we focus on the final one, celebrating 50 years of wrestling at MLG.

The first show was held on Nov 19 1931 under the promotion of the Queensbury Athletic Club headed by Jack Corcoran. Corcoran passed the promotion to John & Frank Tunney in 1939 but in later days Frank said he had started working for Corcoran in 1931 and was around the night MLG officially opened on Nov 12. In fact he said it was notable also as it was his 19th birthday.

Frank had gone off to college in Feb 1930 and settled in as Corcoran's secretary for those early years. When his brother John passed away suddenly in 1940 Frank took over the reigns for the next 43 years untill his death in 1983.

The show was planned for Sunday Nov 15 1981 and was to feature an NWA title bout with new champ Ric Flair defending against #1 contender Harley Race. At that time newspaper coverage was minimal as compared to previous eras, but this anniversary earned a couple notable entries in the dailies.

The Toronto Sun had an enlarged ad type entry on Nov 11 with the caption 'He does it with Flair' with a photo of the new champ and his belt. It was billed as 3 championship bouts, Alongside Flair vs Race, Angelo Mosca trying to regain his Canadian Heavyweight Title from John Studd, and NWA TV champ Ron Bass to defend against Kurt Von Hess. Added to that was Andre the Giant going for revenge against Killer Kahn for breaking his leg (actually happened well before and the two had had several return bouts elsewhere) and 'others' including Johnny Weaver, Mike Miller, Mike (billed as Ron) Davis, and Victor Jovica.

The Globe had a feature article by James Christie (40 years at Globe as Sportswriter) entitled 'Love and pain and 50 years of grappling.'  He looked at the history of wrestling here and quoted Tunney as saying he would sell out the show expecting 17,000 and a gate of $100k.

The card did almost sell out MLG, announced attendance was 16,000 which made it one of the best of the era. Since 1974 there had only been two other cards over 15,000.

The place was full, and loud.

The card itself did not disappoint, though there were some minor changes from what was scheduled.

NWA TITLE: Ric Flair WP Harley Race 24:03
Andre the Giant D/DQ Killer Kahn 14:19
Canadian Heavyweight Title: John Studd LCOR Angelo Mosca 15:47
TV Title: Outlaw Ron Bass W Mike Miller (sub for Kurt Von Hess) 10:46
Johnny Weaver W Charlie Fulton 8:24
Tony Parisi/Mike Davis W Doug Vines/Izzy Slapowitz 11:12

About to hit the ramp! 

The highlight was Flair vs Race , 24 minutes of suplexes, figure fours, falling headbutts, and all out action both in the ring and on the ramp. As was usually the case when these two met both were covered in blood after sacrificing themselves on the hard wooden ramp.

Race appeared to pin the champ when ref Terry Yorkston counted Flair down for 3 and the fans thought we had seen another title change in Toronto. Ref John Laing came out to tell Yorkston that Race had pulled Flair's trunks. During this exchange Flair got behind Race and threw him into the ropes catching him in a cradle and pinning him. Flair was declared the winner and  wrestlers from the back came out to congratulate him.

Race blew up and laid out Mike Davis before piledriving Flair into the mat. Race continued to attack until Johnny Weaver grabbed the NWA belt and swung it around until Race departed down the ramp after which Weaver and Davis helped Flair off to a huge ovation.

That was their 2nd of 6 bouts here over the NWA Title between 1980-1984, each as champ for 3 bouts. Flair who was popular here all of the time since his switch in 1980 always earned the cheers while mostly a heel in other areas.

Even as a full fledged heel here in 78-79 the fans loved him and he would always draw them in when he made his return here as NWA champ, 10 defenses total 1981-1984. The only downside of his NWA runs was that we saw him less often.

The Andre- Kahn bout was also a hard fought, very realistic and rough battle. Andre looked to be killing Kahn before Miller, Fulton, Slapowitz, and Vines rushed out and dragged Kahn away from the angry Giant. Andre had Kahn on the ropes trying to break his leg and wouldn't let up so officially a double dq.

Mosca and Studd continued their feud with two referees and brawled their way to the floor where Studd had had enough and fled to the dressing room leaving Mosca the winner but not the champ. Mosca would eventually regain the title a few months later in a cage bout.

Those 3 bouts were worthy of the card and the openers were pretty good, including the only appearance for Slapowitz. Some of the wrestlers appeared in Brantford for TV tapings the following day, notably Race who wrestled 3 bouts for the day.

The card got some write ups in the magazines of the day including an 'Arena Report' in PWI, 'The Wrestler' had a' story entitled 'The John Studd School of Rulebreaking' - Studd mentoring Slapowitz, Miller, Davis and a great shot of the old dirty Maple Leaf Dressing room,  and a 2 page spread in 'Ring' Magazine.

The Mid Atlantic Gateway has the TV bout from the next day featuring Race vs Weaver 

None of the bouts from the 50th card have surfaced, I have a hazy memory of seeing portions of the Andre-Kahn and Flair-Race bouts on the CITY TV Monday 6pm news, likely repeated from the Sunday 11pm news where they usually showed it - we wouldn't have been home in time for that and I didn't have a VCR till about '83!