Saturday, March 31, 2018

CCWA Middleweight Title 1951-1961

Red Garner's Central Canadian Wrestling Alliance was a powerhouse circuit from about 1948-1961 holding weekly cards and with it's own champions.
Champ Red Garner

Red famously trained many wrestlers and his cards were the proving ground for stars including Dave McKigney, Waldo Von Erich, Mike Scicluna, Ron Doner, as well as an assortment of light heavyweights who made their names across Ontario and throughout Quebec.

For most of the 1950's Red promoted Richmond Hill Arena and the Thornhill Market (sometimes known as the York Market) year round in addition to shows around Toronto and Southern Ontario. Red was a light heavyweight star in his early days and many of the wrestlers on his shows were in the -under 180lbs class- and called 'Middleweights'.

From 1951 to at least 1960 the main Title defended on these cards was the Canadian Middleweight Title. There were also Tag Titles, a Labbatt Tag Trophy, and at times the heavyweight Canadian Title but the most active during those years was the Middleweight Title.

This is a look at the lineage of that title, sourced from results. As with the North American Title lineage it is followed as best as we can with whats available. It will be ongoing as we source more results from the other towns on the circuit where some of the unknown changes took place.


1951/./. Jack Diamond - Hamilton
*appears on scene in mid 1952 with belt said to have brought from Quebec and defending it in Hamilton in 1951
*Diamond called 'The Hamilton Hood'

1952/09/16 Ed 'Gori' Mangotich - Richmond Hill Arena
*2/3 falls Mangotich wins 3rd fall with Indian Deathlock
*Mangotich is well known amateur and pro nicknamed 'Killer' and at times 'Mangler' and billed from Ryding, On, an area of Toronto
*Brother Doni also wrestles, sometimes as a brothers tag with Gori. Doni is known as the 'Ryding Roughneck'
In later years Gori sometimes called 'The Svengali of the mat' and would do a hypnotizing act on fans

A writeup for a Keswick card on Oct 21 has Diamond still as champ.

Mangotich is champ through 1953. In May/June he has a series of bouts with rookie Baron (Waldo) Von Seiber including bouts at Lakeshore Arena in Toronto and in Guelph. Seiber billed from Bradford debuted for Garner in 1951 and had been working his way up the cards.

1954/06/(09) Red Garner - Lakeshore Arena
*Mangotich was still champ as of Jun 8 and the two met at Lakeshore on Jun 9 with Garner winning. No mention of title change but was clean win
*June 24 writeup for July 1 Thornhill show says Garner won in Toronto and will make first defense Jul 1 in Richmond Hill
*Garner was previously billed as former Middleweight champ as he held titles in Toronto and Quebec in his early career in the late 1930s

In July there is a Tournament at Weston Arena in Toronto with winner to meet Garner
Contestants include Mangotich, Orlando, Osborne, Van Dyke, Dubois, Greenfield, Flicker, Parisi, Sullivan and others.
Mangotich, Van Dyke, Orlando

1954/11/30 Tom Sullivan - Thornhill Market
*Sullivan takes 2/3 falls , nearly 1,000 fans riot after bout
*'Tall Tom' or 'Honest Tom' from Brampton also has a brother Jerry that wrestles, both are Garner trainees

In late 1954 Les Lyman is being billed as Canadian Heavyweight Champion
Separate lineage, some of the lighter guys would move up over the years to compete.
Title makes sporadic appearances on Garner cards through the 1950s, Baron Von Sieber (Waldo) holds it later in the decade. Lyman also promotes his own cards around Toronto with his own crew and some crossover

1955/06/11 Stoney Brooks - Campbellford Arena
*Defeats Sullivan, Andy 'Stoney' Brooks is billed as being from Campbellford, sometimes called 'The Great Scot'
*He marries another of Red's daughters to become part of the extended Garner family

1955/../.. Al Orlando 
*as of Nov 24 Al Orlando is champ
*Al(edo) Orlando billed from Malton, ON

1956/05/29 Jack Diamond (2) - Thornhill Market
*Diamond took 2/3 falls from Orlando, the two brawled out to the parking lot after the bout

1956/06/12 Al Orlando - Richmond Hill Arena
*Orlando takes 2 straight falls from Diamond

1956/09/18 Ed 'Gori' Mangotich (2) - Thornhill Market

1956/09/25 Harold Van Dyke - Thornhill Market
*beats Gori Mangotich 2/3 falls
*Van Dyke was subbing for injured Al Orlando
From Richmond Hill Van Dyke is another Garner trainee

1956/12/18 Ron 'Wildcat' Osborne - Thornhill Market
*Osborne won 3rd fall by submission from Van Dyke with a screw and twist hold
*Osborne billed alternately from Willowdale in Toronto and other times as the 'Stratford Streak'

1957/05/07 Stoney Brooks - Thornhill Market

1957/07/.. Ray Schrier - Guelph Memorial Gardens
*Brooks is still champ on Jul 19 - Schrier said to be from Fergus, other article calls him Carl Schrier of Fergus and Montreal

1957/11/05 Stoney Brooks (2) - Thornhill Market
*says he beats 'Carl' Schrier of Montreal - Carl/Ray
*Schrier had not defended the title since he won it from Brooks in July
*Brooks had beat Orlando on Oct 29 to become #1 contender

1957/11/19 Al Orlando (2) - Thornhill Market
*beats Brooks 2/3

1958 Jan 28 Stoney Brooks wins a tournament to meet World Middleweight Champ Rudy Valee
beats Billy Foster in Final, beat Al Orlando in first bout, bye for second round
*Tournament staged over 3 cards
Aledo is still Champ - keeps title despite loss in Tournament

1958/03/18 Juan Lopez - Thornhill Market
*Lopez beats Al Orlando when ref Chief Little Beaver stops bout as Orlando is cut
*Lopez had held the World Middleweight Title in 1938 and had met Red Garner at Mutual St Arena in Toronto for a bout

On Apr 4 the 'World's Middleweight Champion' Roger Vallee makes an appearance to take on Tourny winner Stoney Brooks. Said to be recognized by the Quebec Athletic Association, Maritime Wrestling Association, and the New England Wrestling Alliance. Vallee is billed from Montreal, PQ and Garner says 'he better be good, he's costing us enough money to be Lou Thesz.' Vallee was active on Sylvio Samson's Quebec circuit of which Garner, Mangotich, and the Siebers had wrestled on earlier in the decade. Vallee returns in March 1959 to meet then local champ Gideon Gideen and again in Feb 1960 to meet champ Al Orlando.

1958/Oct-Nov Jack Diamond (3)
*Nov 18 Card -Jack Diamond bout as champ , says he beat Lopez, Lopez still champ as of Oct 7
*unable to find bout

1959/03/10 Gideon Gideen - Thornhill Market
*Gideen beats Jack Diamond

1959/05/12 Billy Foster - Thornhill Market
*no results but Foster is champ on next card May 19 after bout against Gideen on 12th

1959/12/01 Al Orlando (3) - Thornhill Market
*Orlando beats Billy Foster

1960 as of Feb 16 Orlando still champ

1960/../.. Karl Mueller 
*Mueller is champ as of Oct 6

Jack Corcoran: The Queensbury King

Jack Corcoran promoted an Apr 4 1922 bout between Johnny Dundee and Jimmy Gooderich at the new Civic Arena on the Exhibition grounds, Corcoran said to be a 'well-known west end sportsman' wanted a big attraction for his debut as a Boxing promoter and Toronto beat out Buffalo and New York City for the bout. It attracted 'the largest fight crowd of the season' of over 8,000 to see Dundee beat Gooderich in 10 rounds..

In March 1923 Corcoran refereed at the Canadian Trials at Toronto's Gayety Theatre alongside Lou Marsh and would be picked to to go to Winnipeg to oversee the national bouts later in the month. Corcoran would also ref on his early cards, often with Marsh as a ref or judge.

Marsh was a noted and well respected sportsman and writer and frequently wrote the results column for the previous nights card. He was also an early supporter of Corcoran and they ran in the same circles, hunting and fishing together. When Marsh died in March 1936 Corcoran related several anecdotes including crediting him with saving him when their canoe turned over on a fishing trip. (Marsh was so influential and respected the Star devoted all of its cover and most of its first 4 pages to him when he died)

The first mention of the 'Queensbury Club' was in 1923 when Corcoran joined with Eddie Rudd to promote more cards around Toronto They held bouts at the Coliseum with some problems early on with cancelled bouts and such but came back with strong cards. Rudd had promoted as early as 1922 on his own around the same time Corcoran put on his first card.

They went on to put on cards at the Standard Theatre at Dundas and Spadina in 1924 and there was a mention of less than 3,000 paid for 3 consecutive cards held in January though that number doesn't seem too bad for a small theatre. .
1922 Opener

An item on Feb 20 1924 looking at the upcoming Queensbury Boxing card mentions that Wrestling may be making a comeback in the city. Cards had been held at the Labor Temple with Jack Forbes, George Walker, and other notables of the day appearing.

In Nov 1924 the Ontario Athletic Commission -OAC -re-licensed the two clubs promoting boxing in the city, Corcoran's Queensbury AC and George Williams International AC. It was said that it was a vote of confidence that the two groups were bringing good cards to Toronto.

A Nov 4 1925 item in the Star has Corocoran buying the Tyndall Apartments on Tyndall Ave consisting of 12 suites in 2 buildings for a deal which included cash and an exchange of housing properties on Ossington Ave, Dovercourt Rd, Perth Ave, and Hillary Ave in amounts to $84,500. He also owned the Queensbury Hotel on Scarlett Rd and Nealon House on King St, the Queensbury assumedly the genesis of the name of the Club.

A May 22 1930 item refers to Corcoran buying one of the 'Seagram Stable' horses at auction for $100. A horse owned by Corcoran a 'Rundall' placed 2nd in a race at Long Branch in June 1930 and another 'Fire Girl' placed first in the first race a week later. He would add more and keep a presence in the sport for many years. Often the races at Thorncliffe would be named for sporting and local personalities including the wrestling stars and Corcoran himself. .

Due to the resurgence of Pro Wrestling in Toronto under promoter Ivan Mickailoff, on Nov 6 1930 Corcoran promoted his first Wrestling show at Massey Hall. A writeup prior suggested that with the principals on the scene nothing remains now for 'Corcoran to do but sit back and listen to the merry click of the turnstiles' of which would appear certain due to the large demand for tickets. It was added that 'despite the outstanding wrestlers in the main event, Corcoran has decided not to increase his prices and the same popular rates will prevail as at previous shows'.

The main event was to feature Jim Browning vs Jack 'Rough-house' McCarthy said to be a former sparring partner of Jack Dempsey.

A review by the Star's Sports Editor W.A. Hewitt said that 'Corcoran was handed a lemon for his first show. 'Rough-House' McCarthy turned out to be such a poor performer that the Queensbury Athletic Club reported him to the Ontario Athletic Commission. The crowd razzed the wrestlers in a good-natured way, and Jim Browning, a real good grappler, was also a victim, though he made short work of McCarthy in a very business-like manner. The show lacked color and action. Promoter Corcoran should make amends in his next show by bringing along some top-notchers that the fans are acquainted with instead of 'unknowns' of the mat game.'

Lou Marsh wrote in his column that Corcoran was double-crossed and alleges one of the main bouters (McCarthy evidently) was 'Pie-eyed' and the OAC may fine Corcoran the purse amount. Marsh suggests that Corcoran will not be successful until he birngs in a 'rival gang of equal strength to the crowd which is operating here now - a crowd which knows what is all about' and adds 'Corcoran might be well advised to stick to the boxing end' as he 'knows his boxers, and he has the confidence of the local boxing public'.
Nov 6 1930

In the results the card was referred to as 'a thorough flop'. Final results were
Jim Browning over Jack McCarthey 2 falls
Joe Shimkus beat Jack Kogut
Chief War Eagle defeated Charles Monoogean

Prior to the Nov 19 card Lou Marsh wrote that it was openly charged that certain interested parties paid a couple of howlers to go to the first card and start 'the Bronx cheers' and that the same parties fixed up a nice set of double-crosses for the show.

For that second show Corcoran set up John Pesek vs Joe Shimkus as the main. Pesek wins and in the other bouts Jim Browning returned to beat Alan Eustace, and Frank Wolfe beat Jack Krogut in the opener. Marsh in his column the next day suggested that Corcoran and Mickailoff get together and set up a Pesek-Sonnenberg (Sonnenberg appearing on Mickailoff cards) bout.

Pesek returns in December and Marsh plays up a rivalry between Corcoran and MicKailoff.

On Oct 23 1931 Marsh writes that Corcoran is moving his show to the Coliseum for the nights card. That he 'is probably trying to get the boys used to the wide open spaces; for the shows Corcoran runs in the future are going to be at the new Maple Leaf Gardens'. He adds that the MLG people have a boxing license and have hooked up with Corcoran for the wrestling end.

The Oct 23 show draws over 7,000 to the Coliseum to see George Zaharias battle Mike Romano and Hewitt writes that 'when the Queensbury club stages its championship bout at the new Maple Leaf Gardens on Nov 19 a record wrestling crowd is likely to attend'. The 7,000 is to date one of the largest crowds to see pro wrestling in Toronto.

Corcoran brings in World champ Jim Londos for the Nov 5 card to introduce him to Toronto fans matching him with Romano. Romano is said to be runner up in the New York Tournament conducted to provide an opponent at Madison Square Garden for Londos and is sufficient indication as to the caliber of bout presented to fans here by the Queensbury club.
Jack with Playfair Brown

For the first MLG show on Nov 19 1931 reported attendance was 15,800 and Corcoran was off and running. Lou Marsh wrote that it brought in $13,000 from paid tickets as many more were invited guests. Another 2,000 more said to be outside unable to get in. Marsh added that 'the brains of the Curley rasslin loop' Joe 'Toots' Mondt who wrestled Hans Bauer on the card was really there 'counting up the customers'. Mondt was in fact a partner in the Toronto office.

Mondt would a year later stand trial locally on a manslaughter charge due to a car accident that killed a woman and Corcoran would be called to testify.

On Jan 7 1932 it is written that Corcoran added St Catherines to his loop and drew more than 1,600 on the 6th to the new stadium there to see Frankie Hart, Jack Kogut, Alex Kasaboski, and others. He would also branch out to Niagara Falls for regular shows.

A Feb 29 1932 item says Corcoran is just out of the shadows after a bout with 'Kid Pneumonia'. He had been ill for ten days and word was held back from the sporting public. It adds that Foster Hewitt, sports announcer and Andy Taylor building manager of MLG were also out with the flu. Another item says Corcoran was gone for nearly 6 weeks.

In March 1933 Corcoran is said to be promoting in Buffalo and Detroit. He also puts on wrestling shows in Ottawa as early as 1932.

An Apr 12 1933 story says Corcoran 'who controls pro wrestling over the major portion of Canada' is after a contract with 'Jumping' Joe Savoldi who had just pinned Jim Londos in Chicago to earn the claim as World Titlist. He ends up signing a 3 year deal said to be worth $100k. We will look at that in a future entry.

In 1934 Corcoran made news as a part of the bribery scandal.
(That story is covered at "Gary Will's TWH: The OAC, Jack Corcoran, and the bribery scandal of 1934"

In 1935 Corcoran published a 'Wrestling Guide' featuring sketches by Lou Skuce whose work was a regular fixture in the Star and included drawings of the wrestlers with facts about their careers. The book/pamphlet type was sold at newsstands and turns up occasionally on e-bay.
1939 Terror on the Lake

In May 1937 Corcoran appeared before the OAC to settle a dispute with fellow Boxing Promoter Playfair Brown and agreed to work with his rival. Fellow rivals Jack Allen and Doc Cook were also present.

Corcoran would have another nasty battle with the flu in March 1939 taking some time off to recuperate in Florida. Mondt would supervise the March 16 card featuring Londos vs Vic Christie and for the Mar 23 card John Tunney is said to be taking over matchmaking in the absence of Corcoran.

In July 1939 Corcoran and 8 others including 6 children and a dog escaped serious injury after their boat capsized in Lake Simcoe. They spent over 2 hours clinging to cushions waiting to be rescued, eventually by 2 teens and said to be in the nick of time. The story made the front page in Toronto. Corcoran would later receive a bronze medal from the Royal Canadian Humane society presumably for saving the life of the dog. The original incident article made note of the fact that Jack blamed a lot of the distress on the flailing of the dog in the water, and that the dog almost cost them their lives.

Its around this time Corcoran sells to the Tunney brothers. John Tunney was matchmaking and is now Promoter. His younger brother Frank, secretary of the Queeensbury Club is listed as matchmaker and other partners include Paul Bowser, Jack Ganson, and Jerry Monahan.

Jack stays in the office handling the boxing but starts to retire away from the promotion. Frank who takes over for his brother John when he dies suddenly in Jan 1940 continues to promote wrestling in Ottawa for several more years. Jack would continue to be the Boxing Promoter through 1941 but by 1942 was retired from the office in an official sense. A 1943 charity mention referred to him as the 'Queensbury Hotel's Jack Corcoran'.

While later articles refer to the Tunneys taking over for an 'ailing Corcoran', Jack appears to have wanted to retire at that time. He would leave at a relatively young age and go on to spend another 25 years in the city. The sudden passing of John and the near death experience on the lake may have expedited his decision.

A 1941 story said that Corcoran was still receiving 5% of the gate from Tunney's shows while he is referred to in the late '40's as 'retired from everything' and keeping a low profile. When noted athlete Lionel Conacher died in 1954 Corcoran was one of the guards of honor at the funeral alongside Primo Carnera, Red Dutton (NHL Exec.), and others.

In Dec 1957 a bit in the entertainment section reports that Corcoran a 'great-hearted Irishman who himself has done more for humanity in this time than many a group, was this week dragged out of mothballs (he's retired from even seeing his friends, it seems) and asked to talk about the infamous Red Ryan'. It goes on to describe a TV interview with Jack about the infamous bank robber and one time wrestler

On Apr 12 1960 Milt Dunnell, in his sports column, reported that Corcoran was ailing at a Ft Lauderdale hospital
1932 Going Strong

Jack - John Joseph 'Jack' Corcoran passed away Apr 12 1965 at St Joseph's Hospital in Toronto. A sports page obit in the Star lists him as 73. In a 1932 Lou Marsh column on Thurs Jan 14 he wished Jack a 'happy 38th birthday last Friday' which if correct would have him born on Jan 8 1894 making him 71 at time of death. The actual entry in the obituary page doesn't list age.

It lists him as brother of Margaret, Ambrose, and Vincent. Earlier mentions of hunting trips and social events appear to list brothers or brother and father Jim and Joe. He was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery as would Frank Tunney when he passed on in 1983.

Frank Tunney remarked that Jack had been like a father figure to him, easy to work for, and obviously an influence on the young Tunney who lost both his own father and brother at a young age. Frank with cigar in hand, just like Jack, would copy his predecessor's demeanor and likewise earn the respect of the Toronto sporting community over his long career as Promoter.

Gene Kiniski: Have No Fear Kiniski Is Here!

Big Thunder' Gene Kiniski earned his nickname the honest way.
vs Whipper 1957 , Hutton on floor

When he came into Toronto in 1956, it was with a thunderous entrance and the storm stuck around for a long time. On and off for 27 years in fact, much of those in the midst of the action at the top of the cards here.

His first appearance here came in the opening bout on the November 8 1956 card which saw a main event of then NWA champ Whipper Watson vs Mr Moto. Kiniski beat Ken Kenneth in the curtain raiser and the Whip beat Moto in the main. Watson would lose his title the very next night in St Louis but he and Kiniski would be tied together for many years to come.

Right from the start Kiniski looked unbeatable. His only loss in the first weeks was a dq when he wouldn't stop attacking Shaq Thomas after beating him in 54 seconds.

On Jan 3 1957 Kiniski would trounce local favorite Pat Flanagan with his 'Prairie Paralyzer' and return to the ring for the main event between Whipper and Buddy Rogers.

Big Gene, 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 would exit but return 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 and Walcott ended up disqualifying Rogers for outside interference.

That earned Kiniski his first main event a week later. Teaming with Rogers to face Watson and Pat O'Connor the heels got disqualified but Gene had injected himself into the midst of a very active Toronto scene in this era.
Air on the ramp 1957 vs Dassary (Cortez)

That would 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 second Hutton going after Whip and ref 'Jersey' Joe who was again part of the action. Kiniski had previously tried to interfere in the Hutton-Dick Beyer bout earlier in the night before being ejected by ref Bunny Dunlop.

A bout at East York Arena between Watson and Hutton the following week led to another incident involving Kiniski. In front of a standing room only crowd of 2,500 with 1000 turned away, Watson beat Hutton to win the $1000 check that Hutton had been offering to anyone who could beat him within 20 minutes.

Whipper would be 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. Big Gene would also spend most of the bout inciting the fans who were picking up chairs and swinging them over their heads.

The chairs started flying and Joe Perlove reported that Gene had to be 'the gamest and no doubt the craziest character in history - to pull that stuff in the Whipper's backyard.' Whipper of course lived in the area and was known as the 'Pride of East York.'

The riot ensued and Kiniski and Hutton were said to be 'fielding them (flying chairs) in the best Mickey Mantle style.' Ref Bunny Dunlop and announcer Jerry Hiff escaped while the Miller Brothers (Ed and Bill) came out to aid police and ushers in restoring order. Both Kiniski and Hutton were cut and left bloody by the chairs they couldn't 'field.'

Program 1963
This led to Kiniski being given a $500 fine by the OAC, said to be the steepest penalty handed down at the time. Kiniski was also given a 4 week suspension from wrestling in Metro Toronto.

Ontario Athletics Commissioner Merv McKenzie was also said to have curtailed the license of Tunney to promote at the East York Arena for 6 months. It was all likely legit (that's a whole other story that will be covered elsewhere on the site) as Tunney didn't return to East York until Oct 1957, though they only used it when the Gardens was not available anyways. Les Lyman and others ran the smaller Arena in that era also. Tunney admitted fault saying 'I'm not apologizing for Kiniski. He was way out of line in engineering the rumpus. However we erred by not having the chairs anchored to the floor as required by the rules.'

In a Milt Dunnell column in March 1957 he mentioned that Gene's admirers: 'both of them -will welcome him back to the Gardens tonight.' Dunnell goes on to call Kiniski 'the hottest box-office item in Canadian sports, and thats not excluding national heroes such as Jean Beliveau and Rocket Richard.' Kiniski himself brags 'Over in Buffalo they're gonna give me a pair of golden trunks for drawing more than 100,000 people to 10 wrestling shows. Those people who write to me may say I'm a jerk, but the bank manager addresses me as 'Mister.'''

He was making money in Toronto too. The first 4 main events he was in solos or as a part of a tag bout- drew more than 48,000 fans. He was the anti Whipper Watson and the crowds came out to see him. A note in 1965 quoted Kiniski as saying his best year (to date) was making $89,000 in 1957. It attributed his success not to gimmicks, trick holds. weird get-ups, or racial exploitation' (but that) 'In the ring he is simply a miserable so-and-so.'

After serving out his 4 week suspension he was back for the long awaited main event against Watson which ended with both wrestlers counted out while brawling on the floor.

vs Carpentier 1966
Kiniski had attacked Watson before he could enter the ring, Watson heaved Gene over the ropes and onto the announcers table. When Gene got back in Whip again heaved him out the other side. Ref Bunny Dunlop hadn't even made it to the ring yet. When announcer Jerry Hiff came in to make the introductions, Kiniski grew impatient with the pace and again ran at Watson who sidestepped and Kiniski flew between the ropes. He stamped up the corridor and waved his arms as if to say 'get somebody else.' When he finally returned the two brawled it out for another 17 minutes.

In the paper the next day it said that while the bout lasted 17 minutes -Kiniski 'found a way to brawl through half an hour.'

The feud with Watson is covered in more detail at Genesis of a Feud: Whipper vs Kiniski

Next up was NWA champ Lou Thesz. Kiniski used his brawling to try to counter the champ but Thesz responded with a series of dropkicks, one of which landed up on the 6'5 Kiniski's teeth drawing some cheers. The spectators were no fans of Thesz either with all the history between he and Watson, and were heard to cheer Kiniski a bit as he took the offensive. At the end Thesz flattened Gene again with a big dropkick as the curfew time was called at 32:58 ending the bout in a draw.

Kiniski made his presence known all over Southern Ontario working the circuit and making trips to Ottawa as well. Though Ottawa had turned over to Eddie Quinn, Tunney still had a working partnership and many of the Toronto stars would appear in the nations capital.

In addition to his feud with Whipper which traveled the province (and country), he would also meet Yvon Robert and Buddy Rogers while appearing in Ottawa. He would also appear as far north as Fort William (now Thunder Bay) as he moved across the country with success from the CBC TV that was helping Tunney's stars go nationwide.

For the balance of the 1950's Gene would star solo and in tags with partners including Hutton, Don Leo Jonathon, and Fritz Von Erich. The team with Von Erich would especially enrage the fans, with near riots ensuing at many a card. Gene, like others would often find his escape route jammed and take refuge under the ring.
Another bout vs Carpentier 1966

Later a Slam! chat (see below in article) had him saying the fans tried to throw lit paper under there to smoke him out. They had done that with Nanjo Singh and I have photos of Kiniski hiding under the ring but don't see any record of the smoking out thing. Still, it was more than likely it had happened, he could really get the fans going.

He and Whipper would also feud over the British Empire Title, trading it back and forth and vying for it in the other cities across the country as well. One bout in April 1959 saw Tunney come up with some new rules to control the action at MLG.

Kiniski and Whipper would meet in a Texas Death Match 'Toronto Style.' The first two rows at ringside were removed and the area roped off, there was a 2 minute rest between falls, no 5 count, and two referees. In addition there was no count-out, no holds barred, and they would wrestle until one couldn't continue. Kiniski would take advantage of the extra space between him and the customers to go out and try to start another riot but Whipper would win when Kiniski was knocked out cold after a pile-driver.

A note in 1960 starts with 'Have no fear, Kiniski is here'. 'This is the way the gregarious, ebullient, belligerent, and occasionally berserk Gene Kiniski greeted wrestling promoter Frank Tunney when he hit town the other day. That is the always the way Kiniski arrives - he hits town,'

A 1963 Program feature has Frank Ayerst saying that 'Even such a violent character as Kiniski has a group that loves him dearly and that's besides the promoters. They're the sports interviewers, who'd not hesitate to name him The Most Valuable Player of the Year, as he is never at a loss for a ferw thousand words on sport or his favorite subject -Kiniski. Once Gene gets the mic or a reporters ear, the guy's lucky to get a word in without making smoke signals.'

After Gene won the World title in 1966 he would make quite a few appearances in Toronto as champ. Kiniski wouldn't change his style much though and in 17 defenses in Toronto between 1966 and 1969 he would face Valentine (3 times), Ernie Ladd (2 times), Edouard Carpentier (4 times), Mighty Igor (2 times), Brower (2 times), Tiger Jeet Singh, and The Assassin (Guy Mitchell). He would also appear in the circuit towns during his title run.

When he came back in 1969 without the title he would enter into a series with Ivan Koloff and hear the cheers for a change. In one of the bouts the fans, previously ready to kill Kiniski, would come to his aid!

Slim and Trim 1976 
He would also face the newest star in Toronto - The Sheik. The bout hardly got started before it was over after Sheik attacked Kiniski on the ramp before the bout even started. After nearly choking him out and the bell was rung to start the bout, Sheik's manager Abdullah Farouk interfered and Sheik pinned Kiniski in just 2 minutes of official action. In a reflection of the changing times, the fans staged a mini riot trying to get at Sheik and Farouk while Kiniski became another stat in the Sheik's 5 year winning streak.

After the title had passed to Dory Funk Jr. he would get two shots at Funk in Toronto in 1970. Their first meeting drew 15,000 to see the two engage in what was described as 'a grueling highly scientific bout.'

Sandwiched in-between were two turns as a special referee for bouts between The Sheik and Lord Layton.

The first bout with Kiniski as ref didn't go so well. Kiniski was distracted by Farouk while Sheik hit Layton with a foreign object, went for the pin, and Kiniski counted Layton out. The 15,000 fans erupted in a chorus of boo's and Whipper Watson ran into the ring, shoved Kiniski aside, and then put his Commando hold on The Sheik. That brought out all of the 'bad guys' on the show and Layton and Whipper would fight them off to the delight of the fans. Big Gene meanwhile was said to 'shrug his shoulders' and depart.

He would return a month later to fill the same role and with pretty much the same result.

The Funk bouts were the last times he challenged for the World title here but his Toronto days were far from over.

Though he was set up his home base around Vancouver in the 1970's he would still make it to Toronto for some big shows. In 1976 he stepped into the Sheik/Mark Lewin feud to team with Lewin against Sheik and Ox baker in a cage match for the main on Tunney's 40th Anniversary show. He would stick around for an extended main event series against the Sheik and would hear the cheers again.

In Dec 1978 Gene was brought in to kick off the new Canadian Heavyweight Title by challenging Dino Bravo to determine the inaugural champ. The night was also 'Whipper Watson Appreciation Night' and the two would revive their feud when Kiniski argued with Whip before the bout. Kiniski would once again earn the fans wrath as he berated the 'Pride of East York.' Bravo would win the bout and get a bit of a rub in beating Kiniski, called the 'Canadian Champ' in many circles.

He would stay on the next day to face Ric Flair in Kitchener and return again in Sept 1979, again to vie for the Canadian Title. This time it was a tournament to decide a new champ after Bravo had left the area and been stripped of the title. Kiniski won his first round bout by forfeit when Lord Alfred Hayes didn't show and then got pinned by the eventual winner Dewey Robertson in the second round. Again the new champ gets by Kiniski on his way to the title (Dewey beat Greg Valentine in the finals).

Meaner and Nastier than Mosca 1982
When Gene returned to the Toronto mat wars in 1982 he got right back into the thick of things with a main event run with Canadian champ Angelo Mosca. The two former CFL'ers would have some good battles at MLG and around the region. The bout at MLG saw Mosca covered in blood and both men going all out in a full-tile brawl. Kiniski still went all-out and looked tough for a then 53 year old.

Defying the age thing, Gene's son Kelly was also wrestling in the area, but as a fan-favorite. The two would appear on the same card on Jun 6, Gene vs Mosca and Kelly teaming with Johnny Weaver against The Privates, Nelson and Kernodle.

In his short time here during 1982 he was back at the top. The ad for that June 6 bout vs Mosca had Gene's updated mug spotlighted. He was smiling in the pic but he would still play the heel vs Mosca who was the #1 face here at the time. The next night in Buffalo he beat a young Jake Roberts and then appeared at the TV taping in St Catherines the following day on two bouts. In one he beat both Chris Jones & Nick DeCarlo in a handicap bout.

The re-match against Mosca was a Texas Death match and Gene would go on the road appearing in Kingston vs Jay Youngblood and again in St Catherines for TV bouts against King Parsons, and Porkchop Cash. He would repeat a month later at MLG with a Lumberjack bout vs Mosca and a road trip including Ottawa, ON for his last area appearance for the run.

When Frank Tunney died in 1983 Kiniski flew in from Vancouver for the funeral and was one of the pallbearers alongside Billy Red Lyons, George Scott, Fred Atkins, Norm Kimber and CFRB announcer Bob Hesketh.

Kiniski, on Tunneys laid back demeanor, said 'I'm one of the few guys Tunney ever got mad at. He was just a little bit annoyed but, for him, that was a temper tantrum.'

He related a 'yarn' too.
'Gene,' Tunney implored, 'you've got to stop slugging my customers.'
'How come?' Kiniski retorted. 'You've got lots, it won't hurt you to lose the odd one.'
Tunney sighed and said, 'it's the lawsuits that are killing me.'
'We haven't lost one in months,' Kiniski argued.
'That's right,' Tunney agreed, 'but i'm going broke paying the lawyers.'

While he was here he filled in a couple of un-expected openings on two cards that had been arranged before Tunney's death. At MLG he teamed with The Executioner (Donn Lewin) against Sal Bellomo and Nick DeCarlo, and then replaced Angelo Mosca in a main event in St Catherines. Those would prove to be his last appearances in the area.

In a 2000 Slam! Wrestling 'chat' Kiniski was asked about Frank Tunney. 'Frank Tunney was one the great promoters, a good payoff man, great host, great to socialize with.'

On wrestling in Toronto ' I have to say that wrestling in Maple Leaf Gardens had to be one of the highlights, with all the old Maple Leafs like Turk Broda, and all the great stars of yesterday. It was a magnificent place, with wonderful crowds. It was a wonderful place. One of my greatest matches was against Whipper Billy Watson and the fans tried to decapitate me. I had to protect myself. They ignited newspapers, trying to suffocate me. All in an effort to destroy this great body.'

When asked about his 'worst experience' he had this to say. 'What always bothered me was audience participation. They bought a ticket to see me, not for them to participate. It cost me nothing but money from lawsuits. I always had to retaliate. I've been hit with chairs, stabbed.'

For more of that great 'chat' see Slam! - Gene Kiniski chat

I asked MLG Photographer Roger Baker about his memories of 'Big Thunder'

'At various meetings that we had, to name a few, when Frank Tunney would throw a luncheon banquet at The Gardens Hot Stove lounge, to do a photo shoot for a wrestling magazine, or to shoot a match that Gene was appearing in, and probably was at ringside for at least twenty, to twenty five of his matches in Toronto back in the sixties. I found Gene to be very affable, and we hit it off well, Gene loved to be in the public's eye, and due to the fact that I was up on my wrestling coverage made any encounters that I had with Kiniski enjoyable.'

When Gene passed on in 2010 the local papers paid tribute by mentioning his impact on the local scene, still remembered after all those years. 'Canada's Greatest Athlete' was 81.

Pics from top
vs Dassary and fence bout - Burns photos, thanks to Roger Baker
3 vs Carpentier by Roger Baker
candid 1976 by Roger Baker
action vs Mosca mag pic

Fred Atkins: Ferocious Fred

If there was a Hall of Fame for the MLG stars and you were to pick the first stars to be inducted, Fred Atkins would be a shoo-in on the first vote. His career in Toronto lasted 5 decades with Atkins serving as one of the trusted few in Frank Tunney's inner circle. Alongside Whipper Watson, Pat Flanagan, and later Lord Athol Layton, Atkins would make Toronto his home base from which to center his long career.
Set to battle Whipper 1949

Starting in Australia in the early 1940's he was soon recognized as Australian Champion. In 1946 he faced Jim Londos in Australia in front of 14,000 fans and was then said to have been offered $9380 to wrestle in five contests in San Francisco by Promoter Joe Malcovich.

He eventually did come to the US for what was said to be a six month tour. They followed his progress in the Australian newspapers, one update reporting him at 41 bouts with 41 wins. Upon his return to Australia it put him at 78 bouts with only one loss - to Sandor Szabo - and that he would be next returning to the US to take part in an elimination tourny for the World's Title.

In 1947 he would headline in Vancouver for a time battling Szabo and Joe Savoldi in big bouts before moving East.

In 1948 he wrestled his first bout in Toronto and got his first win against Jack Moore.

In a Star item before the following card it said "Promoter Tunney is looking for an opponent for Atkins. A number of the big matmen have hinted to Phil Lawson that they will 'be busy' while the Anzac wrestler is around."

It would set the tone for the rest of Atkins career, known as a tough no-nonsense type both in -and out- of the squared circle.
Noting a curfew change 1949

Atkins and his wife would buy a house that same year in Crystal Beach, Ontario in which he lived for the rest of his career. It would serve as a central point for Atkins to work regularly in Toronto and around Ontario and the Great Lakes region including Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit. Like the other locals he would make trips outside to other areas, often alongside Whipper, Flanagan, Lee Henning, or one of the other Toronto regulars.

In September 1948 before facing the #1 villain Nanjo Singh in the main event at MLG. it was reported that Atkins was looking for a 'clop at Whipper Watson'. First though he would team with Whipper who was by now established as the main matman in Toronto. He would tag with Whip against Sky Hi Lee and The Mask and then they would add Pat Flanagan for a 6 man bout vs Hi Lee, The Marvel, and Nanjo. Main events would continue including a big win over the 320lb Ben Morgan.

In February 1949 The Sydney Herald said Atkins was expecting to meet Whipper for the title at MLG and said his record since leaving Australia last year includes more than 50 wins 2 draws and 1 dq. It added that Atkins had packed MLG five times and he and Mrs Atkins were living at Crystal Beach.

In March 1949 being billed here as Australian Champ he did face Whipper and won the British Empire Title. In an update in the Star Atkins threatened to take the belt back to Australia and it was said Whipper and manager Phil Lawson were chasing Tunney for a re-match. Atkins wins the rematch by dq then takes on Mike Sharpe, Whipper again, and then the two new arch rivals go in n 8 round special with Strangler Lewis as ref which ends in a draw after 65 minutes of action.

A non-title loss to Ray Villmer would follow as well as a partnership with 'Wee' Willie Davis in which the two would second each other for bouts. In June 1949 he and Whipper would have a 10 round match with animal trainer Tuffy Truesdale as referee. The bout with 8 minute= rounds would go the distance and end in an 80 minute draw. After various tags facing Whipper and Flanagan, Atkins would lose the belt back to Whipper in Hamilton in August.

In Oct 1949 Atkins would get a shot at World Champ Lou Thesz in a highlight of the early years. Atkins would control the bout and make a good showing only to lose by dq after trying to erase part of Thesz's face with his elbow bandage.

He would also make an impact in the smaller towns. In Oshawa he was in many main events in the early years and would go on to headline the town 45 times over 20 years.

At the onset of the 1950's he would alternate between main events and opening bouts around the area. It would appear he was used as a tester of sorts for newcomers, or to set the tone for the nights card. After a 1951 bout with Steve Stanlee it said Stanlee had made one mistake -'getting rough with Atkins, he'd have been better advised to snarl at a lion'.

'Ferocious' Fred as the papers were now calling him, both here and in Ottawa and Montreal, would tag with newcomer Lord Athol Layton, initially a hated heel with his manager/valet Gerald. Their partnership would prove tumultuous as the two would engage in a few instances of tag rivalry after bouts. Layton would soon cross over to become one of the most beloved in the area but Atkins would remain nasty both here and at home in Australia.

In 1957 Dick Hutton would beat Lou Thesz at MLG to gain the NWA World Title. It was reported after (and in later years) that Hutton had trained with Atkins previous to the bout. One report said Hutton spent 8 weeks with Atkins.

It was said that Atkins got Hutton's weight down through his extreme conditioning regiments. Atkins claimed Hutton was an 'alcoholic for cake' so he 'ran him through the sand until he dropped, then insulted him till he got up and ran some more.' It may have been to give Atkins a hometown rub, more likely it may have been a legit situation to get Hutton in shape, how much help he could have been in a 'pro wrestling' bout is the question but there is no doubt Hutton looked a lot trimmer by the time of the Thesz bout.

On a trip back to Australia in 1959 the papers reported he was back for the first time in 9 years and he would face Stanlee in his first bout back - in the main event.

Back in Toronto in 1960 an item mentioned Atkins had logged 23,500 miles in one week. It reported he was in Cleveland on a Tuesday, took him 7 hours to drive to Chicago where he boarded a plane to Los Angeles, where he transferred to another plane bound for Honolulu. There he caught a jet to Australia. Having lost a day due to time differences, he arrived in Sydney Monday. He wrestled there that night, in Melbourne Tuesday, Brisbane Wednesday, and Sydney Thursday. Friday morning he headed back to Crystal Beach. Gaining back the day he lost, he hit Buffalo on Saturday. Total distance covered: 23,500 miles.

In the early 1960's he also began training others officially. He was already well respected for his conditioning and would begin to impart that knowledge onto others. Luke Brown who wrestled here as Man Mountain Campbell at the onset of his career was one of the early trainees.

In 1963 a MLW Program mentioned a giant 7 foot 300lb Japanese star about to invade the area. With Atkins at his side, the young Giant Baba would appear in Toronto and around the region.
Oshawa 1951

A couple of years later a teenage Tiger Jeet Singh would learn under Atkin's tutelage and go on to become a huge star in Toronto. Atkins would tag with his young protege into the late 1960's as his own career was winding down.

It was at this time Atkins would also start to referee and after wrestling his last bout at MLG in July of 1971 he would stay on as a ref until the early 1980's. He would also work for both the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs as a conditioning expert though the 1970's.

In what is a common thing now, Atkins in the 1971-72 season was the only full time conditioning coach employed in the NHL at the time. He also went on road trips with the Sabres that year to keep an eye on the players. In 1973 Sabres Coach Roger Crozier credited Atkins regiments as being the key to their success. In 1982 former Sabre and then Detroit Red Wing Jim Schoenfeld credited Atkins with saving him from surgery (through recuperative training) and later listed him as one of his biggest influences on his career.

In 1980 Atkins was splitting his time as a referee and as conditioning coach for another year with the hometown Leafs. An article at the time said the players were talking about 'Freddie's killer sessions, endless repetitions of push-ups, leg stretches, and situps. It went on to say that Ian Turnbull, then star defenceman with the Leafs once challenged Fred (at age 70 then) to an exercise showdown. Fred won in a walk, and Turnbull strained his back missing a few games

Whipper Watson in 1983 had this to say about his old foe "even today I would say that Fred Atkins would defeat 90% of the wrestlers in the business, he was the toughest, best-conditioned wrestler I ever saw."

Friday, March 30, 2018

Greg Valentine 1981: Classic Photo

Greg 'The Hammer' Valentine making his way to the ring to face WWF champ Bob Backlund in 1981. Valentine was one of the best of the era, a cool and focused style that made you a fan even while wreaking havoc on the fan favorites with his figure four and slow suplexes.

He faced Backlund at MLG three times in a feud that spanned several years with every bout a great one. The two were very evenly matched with both giving it all for the crowd.

We looked at Greg and father Johnny, also a longtime Toronto stalwart in an article at Johnny & Greg The Valentines  

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

MLG 2012

On a visit to Toronto in 2012, made sure to visit the old MLG and take some pics of the Wrestling exhibits at the Loblaws food court.

The group in charge of the re-do had contacted me for some of my photos for use under the glass on the tables so it was fun to be able to see them as part of the large array of images from the history of MLG (and a couple that aren't!). 

Mine are the Adonis/Ventura, Backlund, and Mosca/Studd in these shots. There were others, Koloff, Studd, Younblood etc. Not all of them were there so they are maybe in another spot around the giant grocery store.

The Cornette- Eaton-Condrey pic has no connection to MLG other than the title belts they are holding were made by Alex Mulko who made our local belts and many more. The Flair with the red U.S. Title (also a Mulko) is from a Mid-Atlantic arena. Still, only a wrestling nerd would notice that. 

The other pics include the remaining interior wall on the South side that they kept intact, as well as the Wood St entrance where the fans would congregate and meet the wrestlers arriving by car or having walked over from one of the hotels.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Oshawa Posters 1959

We have been moving items over from the Oshawa site the last few days. Today a couple of posters from the Oshawa promotions 1959 season.

Most of the Oshawa shows that season took place at the outdoor Kinsmen Stadium, a ballpark adjacent to the Oshawa Arena. We featured the Kinsmen (still there) also and will soon move that over here as well.

The Whitby Arena is in the town right next to Oshawa and was a regular stop for Oshawa promoter Pat Milosh as part of his circuit.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Oshawa Wrestling Postcard

A nice bit of marketing circa 1950 with a who's who of the many wrestlers who had passed through Oshawa - and Toronto in the previous years.

Hard to tell at first glance as most of the wrestlers and refs listed were active in the 1940's but Yukon Eric is listed, he debuted in Toronto in 1949. Steve Stanlee (Stanley above) was 1950.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Yukon Eric: The Sampson of the North

Flying into the front row at MLG 1954
For most of the 1950's and into the early '60's Yukon Eric would hold the esteemed spot of #2 fan favorite in Toronto, behind the main man Whipper Watson. From the big mans' debut here in 1949 he would immediately captivate the fans and spend most of his time at or near the top of the weekly cards at MLG, and in the many arenas around Southern Ontario.

As Yukon Eric he had been wrestling for several years before settling in this area including a short run with the NWA Texas Heavyweight Championship. He first showed up at MLG in the the ring before the main event on Oct 20 1949 to challenge any wrestler Frank Tunney could match him with. He claimed he had only wrestled in the lumber camps 'but talked so persuasively' that Tunney gave him a spot on the following card.

His debut at MLG on Oct 27 1949 on the undercard of a Yvon Robert/Killer Kowalski main event ended with a 90 second win over Faro Renaldi. More quick wins followed and the barefooted Eric would look to be un-beatable in his early showings using his Kodiac Krunch backbreaker to steamroll his opponents.
With Sandor Kovacs at Crystal Beach 1956

At this time the big draw was Whipper Watson vs Yvon Robert over the British Empire Title. Whipper would win the Title and successfully defend it against Robert in the re-match in November 1949. The following card, held on the last day in November saw Yukon receive his first main event taking on the equally large Sky Hi Lee in front of 8,500 fans.

He would prove to Frank Tunney he could draw on his own when Whipper was absent with good houses for 2 bouts against Fred Atkins (10,000 & 9,000) and one vs big Mike Sharpe (9,000).

Described by Jim Proudfoot as ' a large and cumbersome chap (who) can move like lightning' and '275 pounds and five feet around the chest', the papers would picture him posing with Alaskan dogs and in caricatures as a giant with an axe. Another byline described him (and in ads visually) as 'the iceberg that walks like a man'.
Squeezed by The Beast 1962

In Feb 1950 the still undefeated Eric would defeat the much hated villain Nanjo Singh at MLG. The recap the following day described him as a world’s champion in Montreal having beat Bobby Managoff in the Quebec metropolis on Feb. 15 for a 'world’s title of some kind'. This was the the Montreal Athletic Commission's International Heavyweight Championship, the highly regarded title previously held by Lou Thesz and Yvon Robert and soon to be held by the likes of Buddy Rogers and Verne Gagne.

Montreal would figure prominently again a couple of years later when Eric lost part of his ear during a bout with Killer Kowalski. In addition to Quebec, Eric would travel quite a bit through Canada and most of the upper U.S. with much of his time spent in Ontario.

Back in Toronto in March 1950 'The Sampson of the North' as he was sometimes billed would be handed his first loss by Whipper Watson. In a re-match the following month Eric would get by Watson with a dq win. They would meet quite a few times around the circuit over the first half of 1950 and while in the coming years the two would occasionally do battle, they would later form a very successful tag team.

In the many arenas around the Toronto circuit, Yukon would continue to prevail against the areas top heels and fan favorites alike. Big main events in Oshawa, Hamilton, Newmarket, Niagara Falls, London, and the new arenas in Milton and Bowmanville would contribute to his success.

He would rack up victories against the other big men. Primo Carnera, Lord Layton, and Canadian Weightlifting Champ Doug Hepburn would all see the lights after bouts with Yukon.

Midway through 1950 he would receive a NWA Title shot against visiting champ Lou Thesz which ended in a curfew draw.

In 1951 Eric would first team with Watson in a 6 man tag pitting the two (along with Pat Flanagan) against the trio of Sky-Hi Lee, Masked Marvel and Mayes McLain. The next few years would see Eric continue to dominate the cards both as a tag with Whip or solo in the mains.

Whipper and Yukon take Siki for a ride 1962

In the middle of the decade Fritz Von Erich would become one of the areas most hated wrestlers of the era. First in a team with Karl Von Schober and then with Gene Kiniski the hated duos would have wild clashes with Eric and Watson and other combinations of the favorites.

When Watson won the NWA Title here in 1956 he would defend it often on home turf. Eric would earn one of those title bouts with Whip which ended in a double count out decision.

In 1957 Yukon would meet then NWA champ Dick Hutton at MLG and again in Oshawa in 1958. Teaming with Dara Singh in 1959 he would again hold the Canadian Tag Titles after beating the Kalmikoff Brothers.

In late 1959 a battle of bear hugs would ensue against the Great Antonio, the unkempt strongman who had been putting on feats of strength displays around Toronto, including pulling TTC buses. Billed as 'The Siberian Strongman' Antonio would be no match for Eric losing in 8 minutes after falling to the ground after a bear hug and getting the 1-2-3.

Against both Gallaghers in Buffalo 1962

That same year Eric would be tested by the newest sensation on the Toronto scene, Don Leo Jonathon. Don Leo, one of the best big men ever would remain undefeated at MLG and beat Eric in a little over 14 minutes setting up a bout down the line with NWA champ Pat O'Connor.

In 1961 Eric would again be set to test another new star on the scene. the unstoppable Bulldog Brower. Yukon would lose the first bout by count-out and the two would draw over 10,000 fans for the re-match, with Eric losing once again to the now un-beatable in Toronto Brower. When the Stoufville Arena was demolished in 1987, a story mentioned one of the highlights of its long life - a 1961 bout between the two.

Photographer and writer Roger Baker followed Yukon's career closely both as a fan and as a writer for the mags. He relates a chance meeting with the big man in the summer of 1956.

'It was in the summer of 1956 the place, Crystal Beach Ont. which is situated on the shores of Lake Erie, it was a wonderful spot to come for a visit and enjoy all that it had to offer. Wrestlers also visited in the summertime to enjoy an outing on the famed beach, these wrestlers would almost always be appearing in a town or city that was not to far off, Buffalo, St.Catherines, Welland, Niagara Falls.

'It was a sunny Saturday morning, a wrestling card was taking place later in the day, it was an afternoon show that was being held in the fabled Crystal Beach Park, The main event was a tag team match that featured Yukon Eric his partner Sandor Kovaks vs. a very young Nick Bockwinkle and his partner Johnny Barend.'

'Earlier that day I was walking on Derby Rd. taking in the sights what with all the restaurants there was no shortage of interesting subjects to admire if you happen to be a twenty year old fellow with a sharp eye for detail. Who do I see sitting on a bar stool at the front of the restaurant? it was Yukon Eric, on the table in front of him was a plate stacked hi with jumbo pancakes, also beside the pancakes was a large jug of as I soon learned his own favorite syrup which he brought along to enjoy on his pancakes.'

'I couldn't resist and walked over to Yukon and introduced myself to him, and let him know that I was one of his many fans, he was wearing jeans, and a large plaid short sleeved shirt, one could not help but to notice lust how massive he was, his arms looked like tree trunks, and his chest according to Yukon himself was sixty inches around, his arms were over twenty inches in circumference.Eric explained to me that because of wrestling being the main focus on him, that his huge muscular development received less attention.'

'I thanked Eric for chatting with me while he had his pancakes, and assured him that I'd be at the Chrystal Beach Park later on in the day to see his match.'

His last bout at MLG was in July 1964 and he would finish his career in Florida some months later. Sadly he took his own life in 1965 but left a strong legacy here in Toronto and ranks among the most popular ever to appear at MLG.

-Thanks! - and photos by- Roger Baker

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Argentina Rocca vs Lou Thesz 1962

Antonino Rocca aka Argentina Rocca was a huge star in the 1950's and would make quite a few stops in the Toronto area between 1954 and 1962.
Ref Joe Gollob supervising the action

After bouts in Niagara Falls Rocca made his first appearance at Maple Leaf Gardens in February 1955. He would join a short list of stars post 1940's to make his Toronto debut in a main event, taking on Toronto's hero Whipper Watson. Over 13,000 fans turned out to see Rocca and Watson go at it for over 40 minutes before curfew ended the bout.

The inimitable Joe Perlove noted in the next day recap that they changed 'rassling to wrestling' and that the fans 'saw more wrestling in the 40 minutes and 48 seconds the match lasted than they've seen in the last 3,207 tag team matches combined'. He added that during the bout Frank Tunney had to telephone Lou Thesz 'for some new holds'. Quite a review for two that don't seem to get their due for 'wrestling'

The two would meet in a highly touted re-match a week later in front of 9,000 spectators.  The re-match goes over 35 minutes and ends when Rocca tries a leap frog over a charging Watson only to not clear the Whip and take a shoulder to the groin.
Thesz locks Rocca up 

Ref Bert Maxwell, noting Rocca unable to get back up would raise Watson's hand. Watson, ever the sportsman refuses the win based on the low blow and the bout officially ends as a count-out win for Watson.

A re-match is touted but Rocca would first face Lord Layton in a notable bout in April. He managed to perform his noted leaps and lands on Layton's shoulders, quite a feat vs the 6'5 Layton, and wins via count-out.

A re-match with Watson occurs in May and a rougher bout sees Watson get the win by pinfall (disputed of course),

Rocca would stay on for more bouts including tags with Whipper and later with strongman Doug Hepburn to take on the Kalmikoff Brothers.

In Aug 1955 Rocca and Watson would beat the Kalmikoffs to capture the George Richards Tag Trophy.

Rocca returns the favor
The title lineage gets a bit confused as Rocca still appears but in December after he and Whipper lost a non title bout vs Fritz Von Erich and Karl Von Schober it was explained that since Rocca was busy elsewhere he had given up his share of the silverware and Whipper had taken on new partner Yukon Eric.

Rocca would return in 1958 to MLG and appear in a couple of high profile bouts vs Edouard Carpentier and then Gene Kiniski.

In 1962 after a prolonged absence Rocca returned to Toronto to face former NWA champ Lou Thesz.

Photographer Roger Baker saw Rocca during these visits and recalls for us

'Rocca was an amazing athlete, he could do a running leap say from six or seven feet, and land atop his opponents shoulders, he would then ride his opponent all the  while twisting him for a better view from the audience, he would often finish his opponent off by draping him in his own form of a bouncing back breaker.

I remember one Thursday night at The Gardens, Rocca had beaten his opponent, and was basking in the adulation of several thousand vocal fans who were in awe of Rocca's acrobatic prowess as well as his wrestling skills.'

'As a reward for the fans affording Rocca such appreciation for his in ring performance, he then proceeded to do dozens upon dozens of one armed pushups in the ring, when he finally exited the ring, he bowed to the crowd, and waved goodbye, his audience was highly impressed with Rocca's unexpected, but most appreciated post bout performance.'

The bout drawing 5000 fans went on before the semi of Bruno Sammartino vs Bob Stanlee. Tunney said it was done to ensure the fans were not fretting about the late hour and would leave before the bout. 'A switch used for cards in New York' he added. It may have been because Bruno was becoming very popular here after his series vs Buddy Rogers in the cards previous to this one.

All the same Bruno took out Stanlee with a bearhug after just 4 minutes to end the night.
Steve York in his recap the next day said fans were disappointed in the finish, hoping to see Rocca win over Thesz.

At the 19 minute mark Rocca was initiating the rolling move Roger described above when they both bumped their heads off the mat and remained on their backs as ref Joe Gollob counted them both out.

Thesz who was between NWA Title reigns would return in Jan 1963 to defeat Buddy Rogers and regain the title in this very same ring. Rocca however, would be making his last appearance at MLG. He was advertised for a card in 1971 but didn't appear.

Roger Baker covered Rocca during a comeback attempt in 1968 and took photos of him in Buffalo. He sent me over a story from The Wrestler that used those photos.

The story included Rocca's often stated claims of 'I'll live to be 150 years old' and 'I'll still be wrestling when I'm 75'. His obituary contained those claims when published just 9 years later when Rocca passed on at the age of 49.

Thanks to Roger Baker for his photos and memories of Mr Rocca!