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.

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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.

Bulldog Brower: Home of the Bulldog

Dick 'Bulldog' Brower had quite a notable and lengthy career in the squared circle. Though perhaps best known for his time in the WWWF in the 1970's, earlier in his career he was once the star villain in Toronto. His debut at Maple Leaf Gardens in June 1961 came with heavy fanfare. He was said to have been working for Stu Hart in the West and was coming East to wreak havoc.
Toronto Debut 1961

His first appearance at MLG came unannounced on June 15 1961 when he came out to the ring just as a bout between Tony Monous and Sailor Clarke was about to start. Brower attacked Monous then Clarke leaving them both on the mat. When other wrestlers came he left them in a heap too before departing down the ramp to the back. The bout eventually went on with Manous defeating Clarke but Brower had left an impression.

They played it up well. "Fresh from Western Canada and word has just trickled in from the few survivors that the Bulldog should be given a rabies shot before being allowed to enter the ring. He has one obsession. He doesn't like to leave anything upright."

Wrestling Reporter and Photographer Roger Baker who spent quite a bit of time covering Brower for a lengthy article for the magazines of the day recollects

'Bulldog Brower was with out a doubt one of the greatest and most violent of all the 'Heels' that ever appeared in the Toronto region. He first appeared in MLG in the early sixties, and then the carnage began in earnest, in his initial matches he savaged his opponents with such brutality that he was soon the top dog in the feeding chain at MLG.'

Tunney set the Bulldog up to make his actual Wrestling debut on the following card against the very large Man Mountain Campbell. The papers meanwhile described Brower as (also) "large, not tall, just large in every other way. Weighs about 270 pounds with biceps larger around than Yukon Eric's". Campbell was a huge guy billed at 6'5 340lbs but could not stop the Bulldog. In the results the next day it proclaimed 'Bulldog turns Man Mountain into a Molehill" after Brower handily beat Campbell and finished him off with a back-breaker no less.

As the bouts went on Brower variously described as 'one of the most crushing ringsters seen here in a long time" and the 'Yankee Madman' first beat Ilio DiPaolo and then took on favorite Frank 'Farmer Boy' Townshend who didn't fare much better.

The bout vs Townshend lasted but 6 minutes and nine seconds. Sports writer Joe Perlove dryly remarked it an "unprecedented total of 20 minutes and 14 and 4.5 seconds for his three matches at the Gardens. Give or take a tick." When the bout spilled out on the floor and the fans crowded around Brower, he charged and they scattered. Upon (the fans) helping Farmer back into the ring, Perlove adds "What for? Whose side are they on?" while the Bulldog promptly threw him back out again on his head.

After meting out more destruction, including Brower using the stairs from the ramp to hit his opponent, he finished off Townshend quickly. Tony Marino and Hercules Romero then charged out to the ring in order to save the the poor Farmer. Perlove remarked that Bulldog was "leaving as frothing a crowd as has been seen there since Nanjo Singh". Quite high praise indeed.

Bulldog's next bout against Nikita Kalmikoff ended again by submission with the back-breaker and he was then matched against Nikita's 'brother' Ivan. For the first time in Ivan's career the fans were on his side, 4,000 cheering for the Russian villain to beat Brower but it was not to be. Kalmikoff did put up a better fight than any of the previous victims lasting 12 minutes before Brower leaped off the ropes and got the win with a press.

The wins continued, some fair some not, and 'without resorting to a wrestling hold worth a quarter' the Bulldog mowed down opponent after opponent.

Hercules Romero the 306 pounder would fall next as would Tony Marino and then the giant German villain Hans Hermann. Next up was the equally large Gino Marella. The future 'Gorilla Monsoon' would fall as those before him had. Brower would further earn the fans wrath by defeating his 300lb opponent with an illegal move - the banned piledriver. After pinning the prone Marella, Referee Tiger Tasker let the win stand electing not to enrage the now very un-predictable and violent Bulldog.
Yelling at the fans 1961

After another win over fan-favorite Lord Layton, Tunney would match Brower up with the number 1 man in town - Whipper Watson - for a bout on Sept 7 1961. The card also would feature NWA Champ Buddy Rogers defending the belt vs Townshend but the Brower-Whip match-up would get top billing.

Forecasting 10,000 fans for the card it did draw 9.500 only to see Watson end up on the 'VODBB (Victims of Dick Bulldog Brower) chart.' Whipper would get counted out and get a re-match with Brower while Buddy Rogers finished off Townshend on the under-card. .

Their next match-up would see the same finish with Watson counted out after Brower again would use the ramps stairs as a weapon and the Bulldog would remain un-beatable.

In his next match vs the equally villainous Killer Kowalski, Bulldog would continue his use of the ringside furniture by tossing Kowalski out of the ring and using a 4 set of seats to hammer his opponent. Kowalski would put up a good fight but in a leap off the top rope he would twist his ankle and after Bulldog started working it over, the Killer laying prone on the mat, was ruled unable to continue.

The Sept 28 Card put Brower against Gene Kiniski in what was billed as Match Of The Year. The two would end up in a bloody brawl and when ref Tasker was tossed to the floor and a fan kicked him, other wrestlers would come out to stop the melee. The two would keep brawling until replacement referee Sam Gotter called it a night while Kiniski would later need 11 stitches in his head.

Roger Baker remembers this night well.

'First out was Kiniski he bounded along the ramp through the ropes and into the ring, Kiniski was in the north west corner of the ring and was busy signing autographs for a group of fans. suddenly Brower comes flying into the ring brandishing a huge ash stand overhead, he rushed Kiniski from behind and relentlessly battered Gene's head with the ashstand, as a result there was blood, sand, and smoker's butts all falling onto the mat below.'

'Kiniski had to be helped back to the infirmary for diagnosis, about five minutes later he made his way back into the ring to once again do battle with Brower, Kiniski's head was wrapped in a large swath of white gauze, he wanted to battle but Brower would not let up, the gauze did not hold, and Kiniski was bleeding a lot, the referee called the bout a no contest, and these two opponents would go on to a rematch several weeks later at MLG.'

For the re-match vs Kiniski, Tunney would appoint Farmer Townshend to be the special referee for the bout. Townshend would proclaim "Brower will have to play this one straight. I won't stand for him using strange objects such as microphones, stairs, or ash-stands, to batter on Kiniski's head."

Townshend would prove to be right in that Brower left the furniture alone this time out, but it didn't stop the two from having another violent bout that ended with both wrestlers covered in blood and the Bulldog the winner yet again. This time Bulldog got a clean pin after he raised his shoulders off the mat a split second before Kiniski who thought he had won after all.

Brower was proving to be a huge draw at MLG. His unpredictable behavior along with the ease in which he was dispatching a steady parade of the biggest and best of the Wrestling world was endearing him to the fans, if not for his manners, then his steamrolling style.


Brower was also very tuned in to the business side of the sport as Roger Baker elaborates

'Brower was able to promote himself as few other wrestlers of his era could, namely because of his size, power and his ability to turn into a fearsome and dangerous individual momentarily as he saw fit. An example of how he would self promote was in evidence after our steak dinner at his downtown apartment, he must have made five or six long distance phone calls to wrestling promoters around the U.S. as well as Canada and Australia.'

'He took great pleasure in telling these promoters about how well he was doing in Toronto, and about all the great copy that he was receiving as a result of his ability to generate big houses in all the venue's that he headlined, no doubt he was trying to impress myself as well, since I was working on a photo story on him at the time.'

Another big crowd of 7,000 would come to see him take on Yukon Eric, another large customer and a long time area favorite. Brower would continue his winning streak by count out. In their re-match a few weeks later they would draw 10,000 to see the same mis-fortune befall Eric. In between Bulldog continued to beat the biggest and baddest with a win over Stan Stasiak and a wild double count out against the Whip with special ref Gino Marella attempting to keep the peace.

In addition to his self promoting skills Brower also took the sport - and himself - very seriously as Roger Baker adds

'On another occasion during a wild exchange with Yukon Eric at The Hamilton Forum Brower sustained a nasty and painful head laceration, Brower related that he was so miserable as a result the ensuing headache that when he got back home that night that he put his fist through the drywall in a couple of rooms in his apt. He claimed that it was not just the pain he was in, but the fact that his arch rival Yukon Eric had got the best of him that night.'

Roger mentions he could also earn the wrath of the other wrestlers due to his all-out style.

'Brower called me at home one night to let me know, that the night before in Kitchener On. he smashed an ash stand over wrestler Paul Demarco's head and caused Demarco to lose a lot of blood, he told me that the other wrestlers that were on the card did not want to even talk to him afterwards.'

The bouts would go on and Bulldog would form a team with Taro Sakuro to take on Whipper and Yukon Eric. Their bout ended with Brower un-intentionally belting his partner and causing their loss. After the bout the two villains would get in an argument and set up for a bout against each other on the following card.

Again a hated heel that was used to hearing the boos would become the favorite vs Brower. Sakuro playing the good guy for a change would fare no better than the previous victims though, losing via count-out after but four minutes of action.

The Bulldog would finally see a loss, somewhat, when he was disqualified against Bill 'Brute' Soloweyko on the first card on 1962. Another loss later in the month vs the 'Wrestling Rabbi' Raphael Halpern and Brower was starting to show some vulnerability -finally.

As Roger Baker remembers, the Soloweyko bout was a turning point for both the 'Brute' and the Bulldog.

'Several months went by with Brower beating all who were matched against him, that is until the night at the Gardens when Bill 'The Brute Soloweyko' was in the house, this reporter was standing directly behind The Brute in the alleyway that the wrestlers walk from the dressing rooms on up to the ramp, and then into the ring.'

'Brower had just beaten down another opponent and was ranting around in the ring, meanwhile Soloweyko was staring intently at Brower who was biting the ring ropes, and doing his trademark head snap, Soloweyko at this point rushed into the ring and nailed Brower with as hard an elbow as I've ever seen a wrestler throw, Brower went down and out, he lay stretched out on the canvas for a good five minutes, before he was able to leave the ring. The appearance by The Brute gained him a main event against Brower in the next headliner at MLG. as well this catapulted Brower into dozens of main events to follow.'
On the same side as Siki 1962

In February Brower would defeat Tom 'Emperor' Jones with the winner getting a shot at NWA champ Buddy Rogers. The following week the Bulldog would receive his first World Title bout against Rogers and appeared to win the belt after pinning Rogers. Brower would put on the belt and celebrate his win much to the dismay of the crowd.

Rogers meanwhile protested that his feet were in fact on the ropes during the pin. Referee Joe Gollub would hear nothing of it until Jim Hady came out and showed Gollub exactly what had transpired. Brower was halfway down the ramp with the belt when Gollub ordered the bout re-started and thus would quickly count him out depriving him of his new found title status.

It was a good enough showing that he received a re-match a week later. With Jersey Joe Walcott as special referee Rogers would manage the win via dq and hold onto his title yet again. After a grudge about with Hady, Brower would get yet another shot at Rogers with Walcott as ref but again fail in his bid to become NWA champ when Rogers won by dq again after 9 minutes.

The following week, with yet another shot at Rogers on the line, Brower took on 'Gentleman' Jim Hady with Lord Layton appointed as special referee. The 'Gentleman' was no match for the Bulldog however and Brower would earn an unprecedented 3rd shot over four cards at the World champ. The Bulldogs temper would again earn him the defeat at the hands of the 'Nature Boy'.

The Bulldog would then get a new partner in crime on March 1962 when Sweet Daddy Siki would interfere to help Brower win his bout against Rafael Halpern. The new team of Brower and Siki would challenge the International Tag Champs Whipper Watson and Billy Red Lyons and beat them in their first bout in April. Despite two referees to watch the action Bulldog and Siki would shadily beat the favorites and become the new champs.

The two would continue to wrestle solo and as a team, holding the belts until Sept 1962 when they were defeated by the team of Whipper and new sensation Bruno Sammartino. Bruno, fresh off bouts vs NWA champ Rogers would then try his hand with the Bulldog in a singles match and come out victorious when Brower was disqualified.

In late 1962 Brower would continue to cause trouble even when not wrestling when he came out after a bout between Bruno and Johnny Valentine. Bruno had just pinned Valentine to win the U.S. Title when Brower came out to tell the ref Bunny Dunlop that Valentines feet were on the ropes. Dunlop declared the title held up pending a decision from the NWA. Valentine and Brower would challenge Tag champs Whipper and Bruno a couple of weeks later. NWA rep Bobby Bruns announce before the bout that Sammartino is the rightful U.S champ after all. The champs go on to defeat the villains but Valentine gets his revenge beating Bruno to take the belt back on the Dec 14 show.
Saving Siki from Yukon Eric 1962

In addition to the trouble he was causing in the ring, the Bulldog was an imposing force out of the ring as well.
While Roger Baker was traveling with the Bulldog he would experience this firsthand !

'Brower and myself drove to Guelph Ont. He was wrestling a seasoned veteran in the main event by the name of John Paul Henning. Brower won the match after repeatedly fouling his opponent. Afterwards on the way back, we stopped at a diner to pick up some cold soda, Brower put some coins in a vending machine to pay for the pop, however the machine would not vend out the beverages, Brower then started to yank the machine in a fit of anger and several other patrons at the diner became quite uneasy with all the commotion that Brower was creating, they all looked to me as if to say 'what gives with your buddy?'

'Brower would not let go, he went into the diner and demanded that the girl behind the counter get him the beverages, she did and he gave her a hundred dollar to pay for the pop, when she told him that she did not have change for that large a bill, at this point Brower went on another rant and scared the frightened girl almost to the point of tears. T his reporter was very happy when at long last I got back home that long ago evening.'

'Brower would relate to, how years earlier back home in Wilmington Delaware, of many of the fights that he had with different dockworkers on the weekends. He explained to me how after spending a couple of hours lifting weights at a gym, he would then go out and imbibe himself with a few cold ones, then he was ready to go out looking for trouble, and to pick fights. This often resulted in him having to call his dad to come bail him out, he told me that his dad knew that when the phone would ring after ten on a Friday it would be his son who needed to be released for getting into another fight."

Roger Baker remembers another 'incident of unbridled violence' that took place in Sutton Ontario
On the ramp 1963

'One summers evening at the local arena, the turnout was very high as the area had a lot of visitors on the summer weekends. Brower and his partner Sweet Daddy Siki were to wrestle Ilio Dipaolo and John Paul Henning. The match was barely on for a minute, when suddenly Siki for whatever reason threw an uppercut into Brower's jaw, all hell broke loose, Dipaolo and Henning got out of the ring, Siki and Brower battled all over the arena, Brower went nuts and ran outside of the arena, a moment later he reappeared brandishing a huge wheel barrow overhead, he was screaming and his eyes were bulging, he flung that object at Siki, who backpedaled to avoid getting hit. When that didn't work for Brower he tried to dislodge a supporting beam from the arena floor. After about ten minutes of this madness one lone cop and other wrestlers were able to get Brower back to the dressing room, but not before Brower cut his own mouth by raking his teeth over protective wire near the dressing rooms.'

In what was to become a familiar scenario Brower would alternately feud with Siki and then team with him, a role he played out with most of his partners during his Toronto years.

Then as with Siki before, for no other reason than they were both the most hated heels in the city, Brower would take on Valentine for his U.S. belt. The tag partners would slug it out in a manner usually reserved for hated enemies before both being disqualified. A month later they would be back teaming again no worse for wear and would go on to defeat Whipper and Bruno to claim the Tag Titles on Feb 28 1963. They would continue to run roughshod over all competition and Brower would again get a shot at the World Title. This time vs Lou Thesz.

As Roger Baker relates

'As tough a man as Brower was, this reporter once saw The Bulldog in a match that he was not so confident as he always was in his other encounters.

'He was facing none other then Lou Thesz in the main event at MLG. Both men were facing one another, and the referee was giving them instructions prior to the start of the match, being right at the edge of the ring apron I was able to see and hear all that was happening in the ring. Brower was trembling, and Thesz asked him what was wrong, Brower replied that he was very nervous as well as fearful to be in the ring with him, Thesz told him to relax and that they should have a good match.'

Brower would not change his style for the respected NWA champ. In fact he was at his memorable best in choking, dragging, and otherwise pummeling the reigning world champ. Thesz countered with his repertoire of head scissors, headlocks, and elbow smashes until Brower finally flipped and tried to strangle the champ. As was now par for the course referee Tiger Tasker would have enough and disqualify the Bulldog.

In July 1963 Brower and Valentine would lose the belts to Art Thomas and JP Henning though Valentine would continue to hold the U.S. Title even beating both Thomas and Henning in single bouts on successive cards in August. .

The Bulldog meanwhile would find a new partner in Dr. Jerry Graham and with the good Dr they would defeat Thomas and Henning to take the tag belts in mid October.

Brower would then earn another shot at Thesz losing via count-out before he and Graham would lose the tag belts to Jim Hady and his partner, the newly loved in Toronto (after a feud with The Beast) - Johnny Valentine.

1964 would see Brower facing old nemesis - and new WWWF champ - Bruno Sammartino in a losing cause, before going on to face former partners Siki and Valentine in an extended program. Continuing his path of destruction (but not seeing as many wins) through the city battling Whipper and with Bruno coming in to defend the title keeps Brower busy through the year and into the next.

In May 1966 after a five year run as one of the most hated wrestlers to ever appear in Toronto, fans were shocked to see the Bulldog switch sides and become a hero after helping Whipper in a match with Masked Yankee 2. After Masked Yankee 1 interfered and Whipper was awarded the win, both masked villains would attack Watson. From the back Brower would run in and to the amazement of both the Whip and the fans, would chase the Yankees away.

The two would team up to take on the Masked duo (now International Tag champs) only to lose by dq with the papers proclaiming: "Playing the good guy is too much for the Bulldog". The feud with The Yankees would continue with fence matches leading into a big stipulation bout. Along with the belts at stake Whipper would put up his career against the Yankees unmasking should they lose. The good guys got the win and the titles, and the Yankees un-masked as Bob Stanlee and Mosse Evans. It wouldn't end there though, Stanlee and Evans now wrestling as the 'Unmasked Yankees' would enter into another fence match. This time if they lost they would be forced to leave the area. Brower and Whip prevailed again driving the former masked team into the great beyond.

Brower and Whip would go on to lose the belts to Fred Atkins and new protege Tiger Jeet Singh but would continue to team until late 1966 when Brower would once again go back to dis-pleasing the fans. But not for long and he would be back teaming with Whipper again, this time in a handicap bout with the two taking on a challenge to the loud talking World champ Gene Kiniski.

The last years of the 1960's would see Brower continue to dominate the local scene, taking on heroes and villains alike while continuing to team on and off with Watson. In all they would hold the tag belts for a total of 2 reigns. The Bulldog would enter into extended feuds with The Assassin and then Ivan Koloff along with his manager Tony Angelo.
vs Ivan Koloff 1968 

In 1969 The Sheik had started his stranglehold on the local scene and Brower would get a shot in front of 10,000 strong only to become #3 in the Sheik's long un-beaten streak. More tags continued with Watson until 1971. Brower was Whippers partner for his last bout on Nov 28 1971. Two days later Watson would get hit by a car and his career was over.

Brower would form new teams with Dewey Robertson and others, while continuing to wrestle solo including shots at The Sheik and becoming another statistic in 'The Streak' but his time in the spotlight was at an end. Through the mid 1970's he would turn up on the Wildman's circuit back as a hated heel taking on Luis Martinez and Carlos Belafonte (Colon) in the small towns around Toronto.

He would still show up at MLG through 1974 before facing The Sheik for his final appearance in Toronto on Sept 22 1974

All photos by -and thanks! -to Roger Baker

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."

Frank Tunney: The Early Days

This will be a look at the early days of the promotion under the Tunneys, as well as the early life of Frank Tunney. The information here has been pulled from digital archives, genealogy sites, and articles from the Toronto and Ottawa (and other select cities) newspapers. Some random stuff is inserted, in order to obtain as much info as we can, notable or otherwise. If anyone can contribute please contact me

This is not a definitive history, if you are a member of the Tunney family the article is intended in a respectful manner with the intention to try to add info that may not be readily available already. If you note corrections or additions please contact me and I will update.
We will focus on the Toronto office as more in depth issues such as Tunney's involvement in the NWA can be found at other sources, some of which are linked to in the article. We will look at the years beyond in a future article.
_____________________________________________________________________________

Tunney Family

The Tunney family originated from Ireland. Frank's great-grandfather Peter Tunney immigrated to Toronto sometime prior to 1849 when he married a Bridget Potter in St Pauls Church in Toronto. Peter and Bridget had 7 children. First born Hugh in 1851 would marry Ellen Quigley in 1873 in Newmarket, ON living life as a farmer before retiring in 1919. Hugh (d. 1931) and Ellen (d. 1933) would have 3 boys including first born Thomas Peter in 1875 or 1876 in the township of Whitchurch Stoufville.
With French Angel 1942

Thomas Peter Tunney later settled on a farm in Hagermans Corners near 14th Ave and Kennedy Rd in the town of Markham. Thomas Tunney had married Markham born Annie Corcoran (born 1873) in 1901 and they beget three children, the youngest of which was Frank.

We can note that Frank's mother Annie bears the same name as the longtime Boxing and Wrestling promoter Jack (John Joseph) Corcoran with whom Frank and brother John began working for in the 1930's. In the marriage announcement of Franks parents on Nov 8 1901 (date of marriage Nov 4) Annie is said to be daughter of one John Corcoran (d.1911).

Was there a family relationship between Frank's mother and his future employer? While Corcoran was not an uncommon name, given the fact that Frank went to work for Jack, would assume that it's quite probable that Frank's mother was related to Jack whose family also had ties to the Markham area. At least publicly there was no admission of a family connection between the two.

Thomas and Annie Tunney had three boys. First born John in 1907 (d.1940), Thomas Peter (Jr) in 1910 (d. 2000), and Francis Martin (Frank) in 1912. It is not clear when Thomas Sr settled on the Markham farm as both John and Thomas were listed as born in Scarborough. The Tunneys had first had a farm in the Milliken area (now Agincourt), while Frank is generally listed as being from Markham.

Frank Tunney

Frank, the youngest of the three boys was in later years described as growing up doing the usual farm chores. In 1927 when Frank was just a teen his father would pass away at the age of 51. There would be a fair amount of tragic circumstances in Frank's family as the years went on.

As a high schooler Frank was apparently quite athletic, he would compete in football, sprints and high jump at Markham and was said to have won a junior championship. In a 1947 piece (bearing in mind -the usually tongue-in-cheek sports writer) Joe Perlove referred to him as the 'Markham speedball'. In that same article it says Frank started as secretary to Corcoran and later got brother John a job.

A 1944 article from the Stoufville Tribune states that due to physical ailments Frank was unable to join the army but that he was doing his part to ease the monotony of army life by bringing leading wrestlers to the various 'camps' without charge. As far back as 1939 it was noted in the Star that he (and John) were also bringing members of the military to Maple Leaf Gardens to watch Wrestling and Boxing on his dime and was said to have entertained '7 thousand' over the year 1939 alone.

Corcoran and The Tunneys
with Strangler Lewis 1942

In Toronto in the late 1920's the local wrestling scene was growing. Ivan Mickailoff had begun weekly shows in 1929 at Arena Gardens (later Mutual St Arena and then The Terrace, a long time roller rink, a great spot if you grew up in the 1970's) and in 1930 Boxing promoter Jack Corcoran and his Queensbury Athletic Club obtained a wrestling license.

Corcoran, who had been promoting boxing in the city since the early 1900's formed the Queensbury Club with Ed Rudd who ran the Rudd Athletic Club. Jack would grow into the leading wrestling promoter in the city, arranging to be the matchmaker for shows at the newly opened Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931. Corcoran was said to have partners in Paul Bowser and Toots Mondt. His first card at MLG on Nov 19 1931 fell a week after Frank's 19th birthday.

Exactly when Frank -and later his older brother John- began working at Corcoran's office remains somewhat unclear. He was initially described as a 'secretary' while brother John was later to be the 'matchmaker'. There is nary a public mention of brother John until March 1939 when he is described as taking over matchmaking duties for an ailing Corcoran for the March 23 card. Frank merits public mention earlier as both boxing promoter and secretary in 1938.

When John passed away suddenly soon after his 32nd birthday in January 1940, it said he had been handling duties for Corcoran for 6 years placing him in the office about 1934. It should be noted that Corcoran was still listed (publicly anyways) as 'Matchmaker' into 1939.

In a 1986 story on John's son Jack (who took over after uncle Frank passed away in 1983) it notes that 'Jack has been promoting since 1956', Frank and John 'since the Gardens opened in 1931'. By that time it was a long way removed from the 1930's so not sure how accurate that is, they may have extended their history a bit, either Jack or the writer. Other stories on Frank or MLG later in the 1970's and '80's generally refer to Frank having 'promoted since 1931'. While he may have been in the office at that time he didn't 'promote' officially until 1939-40

In a 1948 article on Frank, it says he came to Toronto to take a 20$ a week job. A later article put it at 15 a week. In his obituary in 1983 it placed Frank in the office around 1931 straight out of business college. In another article from 1980 with Frank's comments it says he hopped the local (bus) with his diploma from Markham Collegiate and took his first -and only -job at the Queensbury Club. He (Frank) mentions that he 'wasn't all that interested in the fight game, bit I liked the place'. He goes on to say 'I liked Jack (Corcoran), a very fine man, like a father.'

In a Aurora Ontario newspaper report in August 1933, Frank, described as a former resident, son of Mr & Mrs Thomas Tunney, almost drowned at Harvey's pond north of Unionville. He was swimming with a friend when his friend got cramps. Frank grabbed his friend who was a not good swimmer and almost took him to the bottom of the pond. The friend managed to free himself and called for help. A young man jumped in and saved Frank and a Doctor on scene gave administered artificial respiration for over an hour, succeeding in resuscitating him. The young man who saved Frank later received a medal for bravery while the others received lifesaving certificates.
with Red Shadow and Manager 1943

On Aug 10 1937 Frank married Edna Mary Layola Kirby at St Brigid's Church in Toronto, the best man is older brother Thomas. The couple would honeymoon in Muskoka before returning to live in Toronto. They would go on to have 4 children including Eddie who would work at the office (in a bookkeeping role) in the 1970's and later officially as partner with cousin Jack after Frank passed away in 1983.

Eddie also worked for Exhibition Stadium in the 1970's. The Stadium was the scene of several large wrestling cards over the years starting in 1977 and later including the Night Of Champions cards in 1983 and the huge WWF Big Event show in 1986.

In June 1951 Frank's 3 week old son died after being found in his crib with breathing difficulties. Another son Frank Jr would pass away after a battle with cancer in 1978 at the age of 38. Both Eddie and Frank Jr. made the Star paper in a 1948 photo of them play wrestling at the Tunney home with the visiting 'Wild' Bill Longson.

On Apr 16 1938 at the age of 65, Frank's mother Annie passes away at her home at 102 Oak Park Ave, Toronto. Services are held at St Brigids

In 1939, Jack Corcoran was said to have taken ill and Toots Mondt had come up to run one show while he was away from the office. There was a front page story not long after about an incident on Lake Simcoe where Corcoran and others almost drowned after his boat capsized on a day out on the water.

It appears that around that time John and Frank buy the now on-the-downside promotion from Corcoran. Other investors are said to include Paul Bowser, Jack Ganson, and Jerry Monahan while the boxing matchmaker is 'Deacon' Allen. Perlove states in a March 1947 bit that John and Frank had lost $2700 in the first 3 shows they put on after taking over. Perlove would also call John the 'hustler and scuffler of the outfit'. Corcoran was also promoting Ottawa at the time and John would become matchmaker for those shows.

Corcoran would somewhat retire from the promotion soon after passing the reins to John & Frank, and from all accounts was very well respected in the city. He appears to have set the tone that Frank would continue for many years. That of the unassuming anti-promoter type, not very common in the Wrestling or Boxing world of the day.

While later articles refer to the Tunneys taking over for an 'ailing Corcoran' (he had a nasty bout with the flu early in 1939), Jack appears to have wanted to retire at that time to pursue other interests. He would retire at the relatively young age of 47 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 quoted Montreal Promoter Eddie Quinn as saying 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. He was active in real estate in Toronto since the 1920's owning several buildings including the Queensbury Hotel on Scarlett Rd as well as Nealon House on King. He was also involved in owning and racing thoroughbred horses from the 1930's up. He passed away in 1965 at the age of 73.

As we will see, John Tunney would not be involved as the public head of the promotion for long. Other than the occasional mention in the writeup for upcoming cards, John would figure in only one major item.

A June 1939 bit in the Ottawa paper mentions a 'New Deal campaign to bring fans back by eliminating the so-called champions, masked wrestlers, kicking, eye-gouging, hair-pulling, fights outside the ring and mauling of refs. Real old-fashioned wrestling with real holds is to be the vogue.' Said to include Promoters Paul Bowser of Boston, Tom Packs of St Louis, Jack Ganson of Montreal, John Tunney of Toronto, Jules Bauman of Rochester, and Hans Furst of Syracuse. A.E. Long, the Eastern Rep for the Ontario Athletic Commission gave his approval.
with Fred Atkins 1949

On June 5 1939 in Toronto under the byline 'King Kong Cox refuses to accept 'New Deal' bout, John Tunney announced the cancellation of the June 8 card with Dan O'Mahoney. Under contract he offered the bout to King Kong Cox on the condition he obey his edict and cut out the rough stuff. Apparently Cox refused to change his style and Tunney announced the bout was off and Cox would not be allowed to return until he was ready to wrestle instead of 'act like an enraged animal'. Seems quite comical now but the Athletic commission in those days was frequently involved, giving fines and such. Not sure what eventually came of the 'New Deal', suffice to say nothing much changed in the ways of the ring.

Though he had apparently already passed the reins to John and Frank by this point, in a Sept 4 1939 bit by Fred Jackson Sports Editor at the Star he reports 'business back as usual at the Queensbury Club. Corcoran back from his prolonged vacation and near fatal trip on Lake Simcoe, Deacon Allen back from California with Jimmy Webster, (and at the office) Frank and John and Phil Lisner.'

After a summer break the Oct 19 1939 show promoted as the first show of the season, Corcoran is still named. As of Nov 1 1939 he is listed as chair of Sports Service Leagues wrestling and boxing committee. At the end of the year on Dec 26th he is still named as Boxing head at the office.

In Jan 1940 just a few days after his 32nd birthday John Tunney passed away suddenly. He left behind wife Fidelis Merrick (d.1969) and 4 children including John Jr. aka Jack who would later join his uncle Frank in the office.

We will note that when Fidelis passed away in 1969 she was listed as Thomas Tunney's wife. When Thomas died in 2000 it listed his first wife as Fidelis Merrick. We could assume if that is correct, that Thomas stepped in to help John's young family as was not uncommon in those days. Later family notices seem to confirm this.

In John's obit it says his father Thomas was second cousin to Gene Tunney boxer. There is nothing definitive to indicate that is true, many Tunney's purport to be kin to Gene although it is possible, both families following a similar path from Ireland. John as well as Frank and Jack did all bear somewhat of a resemblance to the champ at different times in their lives. Boxer Gene also had a famous son John, a long time US Senator.

The card scheduled for Jan 19 was postponed and on the 20th Frank was said to have 'assumed matchmaking duties for the Queensbury Athletic Club' and was said to be 'brother and partner' of John. The obituary in the Ottawa paper described John as 'First Lieutenant' for Jack Corcoran, a 'genial soft spoken man, reputation for being sincere, a capable executive, a gentleman, and a good sportsman.'

In the 1940's in addition to Toronto, Frank was promoting Ottawa as well as shows throughout Ontario. Whipper especially was in high demand after beating Bill Longson for the NWA (National Wrestling Association) Title in 1947. He would appear on shows across the province from Ottawa to Windsor where Bill Thornton was the promoter with Frank getting co-promoter billing on those shows. Whipper would continue to have working ties to the office through to the early 1970's and would branch out to promoting smaller shows (in alliance with Frank) in and around Toronto in the 1950.s and '60's.

Star of the 1940's Pat Flanagan would also become a big part of the promotion on the inside. In addition to being one of the more prolific wrestlers (and referee) in Ontario from the 1940's to the late 60's, Flanagan would work as a type of booker for Tunney. Barry Penhale told me that Flanagan was the person who set up the outside towns as far as supplying the wrestlers to the local promoters. He would form close bonds with the area promoters such as in Oshawa with young promoter Pat Milosh.

In Oshawa at least, it ran with Milosh booking the arenas, doing the advertising, and running the shows. Part of the net proceeds would go back to the office in Toronto. Frank would frequently have Pat as a guest at MLG for parties and such. He appears to have maintained a close and very amicable relationship with most everyone he dealt with.

Along with Whipper and Flanagan, other former wrestlers would form the core of the office both during their wrestling days as well as after, some in non-official roles. Earlier stars including Al 'Bunny' Dunlop and Kenneth 'Tiger' Tasker stayed on for years as referees as did Bowmanville star Billy Stack. Fred Atkins, after a lengthy career later became a trainer and manager (said to have trained Dick Hutton prior to his NWA reign and also notably Tiger Jeet Singh and Giant Baba) and would referee right up into the 1980's. Athol Layton remained close to Frank also while another former star Billy 'Red' Lyons would become a commentator after his career finished.

With many of the other towns it appears to have been set up similarly where each town or area had a promoter who took care of the shows while working in tandem with the Toronto office. Along with Milosh, there was Joe Maich for Brantford and area, Sammy Sobol in the Niagara region, even the Northland group run by Larry Kasaboski would often feature talent sent up by Tunney 'direct from Maple Leaf Gardens'.

It should be noted that at the 1954 NWA convention Tunney who had been elected as vice-president complained about Kasaboski going into his towns and under-bidding him to promoters. Kasaboski did try to make some inroads in the outside towns (Lakefield -north of Peterborough- for one) but never got close to Toronto that I can see. As with Tunney's on and off again relationship with Dave McKigney later the feuds appear to be few and far between. Whipper too would promote shows in some alliance with Tunney in and around Toronto in the 1950's and up and also join Frank at the NWA conventions starting in 1954. Whipper himself would become a member a year later when he bought into the Seattle territory staying until 1956.

John Katan who had been a big star in the 1930's and '40's also would play a big part in the Toronto history in those early days - in the Hamilton area. Katan became the promoter of the town and running it with Frank's help and wrestlers it became a major stop on the Canadian circuit. Hamilton was also the site for Tunney's TV for many years.

Although Frank wasn't one to get too involved on the wrestling side as far as angles with the wrestlers, in 1941 there was an alleged lawsuit by Whipper against Tunney in regards to a breach of contract. Supposedly Whipper claimed he had been signed to wrestle in the main event against Masked Wolf. When Tunney held an open tournament to determine the number one contender for the world title on May 1, 1941, Watson submitted a copy of his entry form to the Ontario Athletics Commission so that Tunney couldn't claim he didn't enter. He then won four matches in one night to win the tournament. That was the beginning of the 30 year run with Whipper on top.

To Frank's credit, especially as a young promoter in the position he was thrust into, in a 1947 story it was said that Bowser, Gannon, and Monahan had all been against the big push for Whipper. As the 'Pride Of East York' Watson would become the home town favorite earning both the NWA (Association) title in '47 and then the NWA (Alliance) title in 1956. The British Empire Title became Whipper's hometown title which ended up being defended around the country when Tunney had National TV in the 1950's. It would prove to be the decision that saved Toronto wrestling.

In 1945 Frank would make what may have been his only appearance as a referee. He would officiate a bout between Whipper Watson and Whitey Hewitt at the Coliseum on a mixed Boxing-Wrestling card for the Armed Forces.

An item in the Social section in Nov 1948 shows Frank & Mrs Tunney hosted a party at their home after the Loretto dance. Guests included Mr & Mrs Winnett Watson (Pat Flanagan), Joe Perlove, Franks brother Thomas, and a William Tunney and their wives. Also notable is a Miss Lorraine Henning who would become Frank's second wife after Edna passed away on the last day of December 1969.

A 1948 article offers a peek inside the office. It reports 'he (Frank) and staff use 4 rooms and a basement in the NE corner of MLG. His private quarters are well secreted you peer through a little wicket at Frank Ayerst who does a Houdini under his deck. there is a click and presto, you are past the outer guardian or tiler and into a cubicle where nine times out of ten, Phil Lisner confronts you and shakes hands. No doubt Frank has to screen himself from tumultuous wrestlers who, like grizzlies, are playful.' It goes on to describe that office as 'overstuffed, its walls reeking with pictures of assorted fighters, wrestlers, and friends, which Jack Corcoran occasionally uses. The back office where Tunney resides behind a desk 'that wouldn't shame the untidiest editor in the business for the infinite variety of its charming disorder.'

The office once occupied part of the space that became the Hot Stove Lounge, site of many Tunney press conferences and parties. A large portrait of Frank hung on the wall there for many years (alongside one of Whipper) and when Frank passed on his friends and peers gathered there after his funeral.

Tunney also had points in the St Louis office starting in the 1940's. He had formed a relationship with then St Louis promoter Tom Packs and when Packs retired in June 1948 he (Packs) sold his interests in the World Title and offices to Thesz, Bill Longson, Tunney, and Quinn. A year later, Muchnick and the Thesz outfit formed a partnership and Frank followed. At the 2nd annual NWA convention in November 1949 Tunney was present representing Toronto. A later correspondence states that Tunney, along with Bill Longson, Bobby Manganoff, and Whipper Watson held about 34% share in the St Louis Office.

When Frank passed away in 1983 Sam Muchnick commented "I first met Frank 46 years ago, we were kids, working for big promoters, and we were witnesses at an anti-trust trial (to do with wrestling) in Columbus, Ohio. It was declared a mistrial -as good as a win- and even better, I acquired a friend for life."

Muchnick chuckled at the memory of Tunney's casual approach to business matters. "Frank had a piece of the action when I was running shows in St. Louis," he said. "I'd mail him a cheque every so often but lost of times years would go by before he'd cash one. The bank would call up to see if they were still any good. They'd have been buried in a pile of stuff on top of his desk. "One time he asked me to pull something out of the heap. It was a hydro bill from a year before. 'Guess that's why they shut off my power,' he said. I pulled again. It was an envelope with several $100 bills in it. He had no idea where that came from."

Boxing

In the early to mid 1940's there were several boxing promoters in the city alongside Tunney and Deacon Allen. Playfair Brown was the most active, also Sam 'The Furniture Man' Keller was another promoting shows at the CNE Coliseum and at least one card at MLG back in 1937.

Lil' Arthur King a Toronto native and regular at the Massey Hall amateur boxing cards made his debut at MLG for Tunney in 1946. In the midst of a successful career King would switch managers from Dave Yack to notorious Philadelphia mobster Blinky Palmero in 1948 and see his career suffer as a result. In 1956 Tunney helped arrange a buyback to bring King back to Toronto and King was forever thankful for it.

In 1956 Toronto native George Chuvalo turned pro and beat 4 opponents to win the 4th annual Heavyweight Novice Tournament run by Tunney and Deacon Allen in co-sponsorship with Jack Dempsey. Chuvalo would go on to have many bouts at MLG under Tunney including a 1966 title bout vs Ali where he lost by decision. Afterwards Ali called Chuvalo 'the toughest guy I ever fought'. Chuvalo was managed by Deacon Allen up to 1964 when Chuvalo moved to Irv Ungerman

While the boxing side would bring some success, there were many problems from the start and through the years. Boxers illnesses and problems with the commission and other promoters would take its toll.

Tunney would work with - and against - his counterpart in Montreal, Eddie Quinn. Quinn, like Tunney also promoted both wrestling and boxing. In 1945 the two combined to contribute to an Ottawa area boxing & wrestling (mit-mat) card with proceeds to Armed Forces. In 1958 Quinn offered Tunney 10% of the receipts to move an Archie Moore - Yvon Durelle bout from Montreal to Toronto to escape Montreal's Athletic Commission tax of 5% and the taxing of American Television coverage of the bout. Toronto's was only 2%. The bout and a subsequent one ended up being fought in Montreal.

Another dealing with Quinn in 1962 saw Tunney getting an injunction to stop a fight in Montreal between Archie Moore and Robert Cleroux after Cleroux had failed to abide by a contract to face Chuvalo in Toronto and had been barred. The fight was called off with Tunney commenting that Quinn had saved him further legal expenses in the matter. Quinn would see his boxing license suspended for his actions surrounding the booking and promotion of the bout and never promote boxing again, but would still promote a Wrestling card at the Forum 2 days later. He would subsequently lose the wrestling license too but regain it continuing to promote until he retired in 1963. Quinn would die soon after in 1964

Quinn would also promote wrestling in Ottawa (with Tunney moving out) starting in 1946. There was said to be tension between the two as Whipper Watson was being promoted by Tunney as Canadian Champion while in Quinn's realm of Montreal-Quebec-Ottawa his star Yvon Robert was regarded as Canada's best. Robert also worked for Tunney both in Ottawa and Toronto as both a Canadian and a world champ. After Quinn moved in to Ottawa, Tunney would not return to the nations capital for another 30+ years putting on shows starting again in 1982.

Tunney would also have issues with promoter Howard Darwin in Ottawa -also involving fighter Robert Cleroux. Darwin who was promoting both boxing and wrestling in Ottawa in the early 1960's was forced to cancel a proposed bout between Cleroux and Cecil Gray again because of the suspensions over the previous Chuvalo-Cleroux problems. Tunney threatened to take out an injunction to stop the fight while the OAC threated to pull both Darwins boxing and wrestling licenses. The bout eventually went ahead with Ottawa area alderman Robert Guertin stepping in as promoter.

In 1966 Tunney again got the better of Darwin when he was said to secure the Cassius Clay- Ernie Terrell bout at MLG ahead of second choice Hull (Hull is directly across the river from Ottawa). The bout was originally scheduled to take place in Chicago but was canceled after Clay made anti-war statements in the media. Other cities refused to host it also and when it was sanctioned in Toronto, Conn Smythe the builder of MLG and a veteran himself resigned as Director of MLG and sold all his shares in protest.

Harold Ballard, then Executive VP of the Gardens announced how the gate was going to be split up, a look inside the boxing side at the time. Clay would receive 50% of the gate, Terrell 20% with the Gardens taking the remaining 30%. Tunney would put a guarantee in excess of 96k while a full house of 17,500 paying from 10-100$ would net approx 195-225k. The fight did go ahead on March 29th but Clay's opponent due to Terrell backing out amid a contract renegotiation - was George Chuvalo. Tunney would notably show up at the glove ceremony with the wrong size gloves.

For Tunney, the wrestling side would prove to be far more profitable and easy to manage compared to the boxing side. In 1969 on the occasion of his 30 years as Wrestling promoter Frank reflected on his time in boxing in a Jim Proudfoot article and summed it up as 'It got to be a joke after a while'.

In contrast to his often problematic dealings with others in the boxing game, Tunney had much more success on the wrestling side. Wrestlers and promoters alike had only good to say about the genial promoter. Along with St Louis head Muchnick, Frank was close with Vince McMahon Sr in New York and was well liked and respected by the others in the NWA membership. Many wrestlers over the years including Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, and Gene Kiniski had nothing but praise for Tunney, both about his honesty in payoffs and his easygoing demeanor.

He was however not above a good rib, as was just part of being a wrestler in those days. He had a 'electric chair' in his office for many years that was hooked up to an electrical charge and once inviting the unsuspecting mark into the chair he would set off an electric shock. No-one was spared even Thesz who was said to have jumped the highest. One writer was remembered as having on long underwear under his suit and sitting through the whole shock with nary a response.

The Office 1930s-1940s

Lawson
We will now have a look at the main figures in the Office in the early days of the promotion

Phil Lawson, notably remembered as trainer, manager, and business partner of Whipper Watson, was also an important part of the office after Frank took over. Lawson was a noted amateur wrestler and also boxed in his early days winning the Canadian Lightweight championship in both sports. He had been on the wrestling scene as a promoter (amateur cards) and trainer since the early 1930's and became close with Frank, said to be his 'eyes and ears' and helping with the publicity side.

He was said to be a very outgoing character, confident and aggressive, 'bouncing off the walls in the office' and sometimes being referred to as 'volatile' but he was a big part of the success of the Wrestling office coming out of the 1940's. In May 1949 Lawson died unexpectedly at the age of 48 after some heart troubles. Said to be a health nut who was deep into fitness training his passing certainly left a void in the local scene. As a result Watson would take on an increased role alongside Tunney as the promotion moved into the 1950's.
Lisner 1961

Phil Lisner started working in the office in the mid 1940's. Phil had been an amateur boxer alongside his brother Alex aka 'Scotty' in the 1920's. He would serve as a type of 'man Friday', an office 'go-fer' who would pick up wrestlers or incoming visitors like guest ref Jack Sharkey and deliver them to MLG. In addition to his office duties he would be often seen as a 'second' during the cards, escorting wrestlers to the ring, carrying their robes and such (he was the one spraying Gorgeous George's germicide around the ring in 1956) right up to about 1963. Sometimes referred to as 'Tunney's assistant' Lisner passed on in Dec 1967 at the age of 65

Frank Ayerst had been the secretary for MLG's Marlboro's Athletic Organization when it was formed in 1937 and worked for Conn Smythe. For a couple of years at the onset of the 1940's he had also worked at MLG tracking goals and assists
Ayerst
during Leafs games. Through the '40's in his role as a sports writer for the Star, he would also write the occasional Wrestling results before joining the office. At the turn of the 1950's he would variously be referred to as Tunneys 'poll-taker', and the 'voice of Wrestling HQ' and would stay with Frank for 17 years. Ayerst would also be the Announcer at MLG for a time and later in the decade his weekly columns with bits about the wrestlers (and mostly for the purpose of advertising the card) were a regular entry on the sports pages. Ayerst who later worked for the Provincial Department of Tourism passed away in Dec 1984.

Jack 'Deacon' Allen was a long time Boxing impresario in the city. Settling in Toronto in 1936 he would promote boxing at the Palace Pier as well as running a gym and managing boxers, most notably George Chuvalo. Allen was a frequent presence in the office in the early days
The Deacon
alongside Corcoran, and would remain right up to the 1960's when Boxing was still a big part of the office. Referred to later as a 'partner' to Frank, he was the one who had in 1959 brought in the ill fated Indoor Soccer to MLG of which Frank said '...all I got was a little bunch of fans behind each goal. Most shots missed and these guys wouldn't give the balls back. I always wondered how anybody makes money off this stuff'. Allen was later in charge of publicity for the Jockey Club and passed away in Oct 1964 at the age of 73.

Jerry Monahan (sometimes Monaghan) billed often from Santa Rosa, California was a long time wrestler who worked all over North America in the 1930's. He has ties to the local office from about 1937 after having started wrestling here in the early '30's. As mentioned above he was part of the original group that took over from Corcoran that included Frank and John and Bowser and Ganson. In 1937 Monahan made the papers when he was suspended in Montreal and Yvon Robert was called to testify on his behalf.

In one article he is said to be Frank's 'right hand man', and was frequently in the hallway from where Frank and his inner circle would watch the bouts. Monahan also had a hand in Buffalo working as matchmaker there until 1947. In a 1959 article on masked wrestlers it said Monahan was one of the first - and best - Masked Marvels in this area. Looks like he may have been the Masked Marvel here circa 1932 prior to working under his own name. He also did the MM persona in California in 1936. Monahan died at his Crystal Beach home on Jan 10 1947 after complications from surgery the previous September.

There were others still that would frequent the office, mostly writers and boxing associates. Jimmy Webster, a South African boxer who had first appeared for Corcoran in 1938 would help Deacon Allen on the boxing side. Tommy Nelson ran some of the smaller towns around Toronto and was part of Frank's inner circle up until the early 1970's. Ed Noonan is another name that appears often around but I am unsure on what his duties were. Other sportswriters including Johnny Fitzgerald, Ralph Allen, and a young Jim Proudfoot were also often within the inner circle at MLG.

In the early days it was evident that the sportswriters in the city were in a quasi-working type relationship with the office. Joe Perlove in particular was almost an extension of the office and appeared to be close to Frank for many years. His creative and often humorous recaps of the bouts in the Star come off not dissimilar to what a good publicity director would put out. Frank was an astute promoter, he definitely knew the advantage of having the writers close to the office, first with Perlove then with Ayerst. Perlove also notably covered horseracing and was present at many of the 'clambakes' at the King Edward Hotel where much of the boxing and wrestling business went on in the old days, he passed on in 1966. Star sports editors Milt Dunnell and later Jim Proudfoot both had sidebar columns frequently covering wrestling with features and tidbits from behind the scenes.

In a interview in 1980 Frank had this to say about the scribes. 'That old Queensbury was a nuthouse and I loved it! And you know who the biggest crazies were? The Newspaper types...I don't know how they got away with it, hanging around all the time. And then there were the guys who had nothing to do but sit around reading the Racing News all day. They didn't even watch the workouts'. That last point is notable as Joe Perlove, Deacon Allen, Corcoran, and many of the others were all involved with Horse Racing in some respect, either writing, betting, owning, or all three!

The 1950's

The 1950's would see a major resurgence of pro-wrestling in North America and Toronto was no exception. Tunney had weathered the lean years using his main attraction Whipper Watson to his promotional best and would continue to do so along with the emergence of new stars on the scene.
with Barry Lloyd Penhale mid 1950's

The NWA Title would change hands twice in Toronto during the 1950's, first with Whipper beating Thesz in 1956, then when Dick Hutton beat Thesz in 1957. While Whipper was champ in 1956 he defended the title here in Toronto 15 times over 9 months before he lost it back to Thesz in St Louis in November 1956. In total the NWA title was defended here 50 times between 1950 and 1959. It also made its way around the circuit with many more defenses in Oshawa, Hamilton, Niagara Falls, and the other stops in Ontario

Newcomer Yukon Eric would then emerge as almost as big a star as Whipper occupying his share of main events and world title bouts staying as a regular in the city until 1964. Lord Athol Layton would also quickly go from being a hated heel to one of the more popular stars over the next 20 years. Like Watson Layton would mostly stay close to home and settle in the city after he retired from the ring. Canadian star Gene Kiniski would also treat Toronto like a home away from home with his feud with Whipper in the late 50's also going nationwide and back. Tunney would continue to run weekly shows through the decade with attendances generally up around 6,000-9,000 with more for the big bouts.

Toronto had become one of the major centers in the wrestling world while Frank was recognized as one of the top promoters in the business. The seeds of the future of the promotion were also planted in the 1950's with the addition of two important figures in the office.

The first public mention of Norm Kimber was in 1953 referring to him as 'buxom Norm' answering phones at the office alongside Frank Ayerst. In a 1954 Wrestling As You Like It mag it described Norm as a 'man Friday' for Tunney. In 1959 there was another small bit in the sports section about Norm Kimber, said to be on Tunneys staff and losing a game of cribbage to Al 'Krusher' Korman. Mostly behind the scenes Norm would first take over the publicity role and then notably replace ring announcer Jerry Hiff in 1973. Kimber would stay on, rarely missing a show right into the 1980's. In 1986 he parted ways with Jack and Eddie Tunney who were at that point running the office. Kimber passed on in 2002 at the age of 70.
with Whipper 1950 

John's son Jack would join the office in the early 1950's. The earliest public mention I could find was 1955. In 2004 The Wrestling Observer noted Jack had started working with Frank in 1952. Jack would go on to take a more prominent public role in the 1970's running TV among other duties, and appearing at shows here (at the Ex shows in 1977 he was ringside) and in Detroit. We will look more at Jack's role in the promotion in the next installment. Jack passed away in 2004 at the age of 68.

While there were many cancellations over the years for various reasons, one night in 1952 stands out. Tunney, always a man of the people, postponed the June 5 1952 card so the fans could watch the Jersey Joe Walcott - Ezzard Charles championship boxing bout on TV! Apparently wrestling fans were calling the office and Tunney moved the card featuring Whipper vs Hans Hermann to the following Thursday. No VCR's in those days!

A notice in the social section in Sept 1954 listed the marriage of Teresa Tunney, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Tunney with the reception held at the home of Frank Tunney. Jack Tunney, brother of the bride was an usher

The emergence of TV Wrestling in the early 1950's helped bring Toronto Wrestling to a National audience. The CBC would feature wrestling early in its schedule from a variety of Toronto locations, including the network's own Studio One or Four, the Palace Pier, the Masonic Auditorium at Yonge and Davenport (which would feature small shows into the 1980's), and on Saturday nights during the summer, Maple Leaf Gardens. The broadcasts usually included three matches including the main event with interviews in between. Dave Price, Fred Sgambati, and wrestler Pat Flanagan were early announcers. In the early 1960's CFTO would also show bouts taped at what is now known as '9 Channel Nine Court' studios in Scarborough.

Previously the bouts had been joined in progress on Thursday nights on the radio, with Barry Penhale and Bill Hewitt (Foster's son) announcing from the gondola high above the ring at MLG. The advent of TV finally enabled fans across the country to see the stars in action and Maple Leaf Gardens was to be the crown jewel across the nations TV's. Along with the Toronto shows the fans here were able to see wrestling from several other cities including the Chicago show from the Marigold on Friday nights. Many of the the Toronto stars would appear on those Marigold shows as well as to start traveling west in between MLG shows. The Whipper-Kiniski feud over the British Empire Title would draw fans in from coast to coast in the late 1950's.

Early 1960's
in the hallway 1961

In 1961 during Tunney's term as President of the NWA the yearly convention was held in Toronto. There was said to be 27 Promoters attending the city and also taking in the weekly card held on Aug 24 to see the main of Bulldog Brower take on Lord Layton. Stu Hart was scheduled to make a by then rare-in-Toronto wrestling appearance but was replaced by Tony Manous, I am unsure if Hart did attend the convention.

In Jan 1963 Lou Thesz pinned Rogers after a top spread in front of 9,000 Toronto fans to win the NWA Title. Northeast Promoters (who supported Rogers as champ) led by Vince McMahon contested the decision as Thesz had won the belt in a one-fall match, not the 2 of 3 that the championship bouts were normally held with. In the rematch a week later -a 2/3 falls bout- Thesz defeated Rogers again with 2 falls to cement the title claim. This led to McMahon breaking away from the NWA and forming the WWWF. When Sam Muchnick was tipped off that McMahon was going to make Bruno his champ Muchnick worked with Tunney to book a bout between Thesz and Sammartino on Mar 14 with Thesz winning. When Bruno later beat Rogers in NY for the WWWF Title, the magazines would acknowledge Thesz as the 'real champ'.

Even with all this, Frank and Vince remained friends and continued working together for the next 20 years. Bruno meanwhile returned to Toronto as WWWF champ in Feb 1964 and would go on to make 23 total defenses of the title in the 1960's. In later years Tunney was frequently seen visiting McMahon backstage at MSG and when Frank passed away Vince was an honorary pallbearer at the funeral.

I asked Toronto Writer and MLG photographer Roger Baker who was frequently around the office in those days for his memories of the office.

'I remember going into the office one Thursday evening to secure a working pass, the occasion was to shoot a world title match between then champ Buddy Rogers and challenger Lou Thesz, I was very excited to cover this event, and it was Frank Tunney himself who issued me a working pass to be at ringside, at the time I went to the office Tunney was the lone occupant at the front desk. What a thrill to be at ringside on that memorable bitter cold winter evening of January 24th 1963 when Lou Thesz defeated Buddy Rogers to once again reclaim the coveted world title.'

Roger adds another anecdote about Tunneys friendly disposition.

'(I) had been shooting eight millimeter movies Thursday nights at The Gardens for about six months, these films that I took had been taken for the most part from were I had my paid seat. Brought my two reels of wrestling films to The Gardens to present to Tunney for his viewing pleasure, he was quite pleased by my offer, and could he hold onto the film so that he could show them to the boys when they got together, of course I said it was okay, and he insisted on signing a note that he had borrowed use of the film, and that he would be most careful with it while it was in his possession. He returned my films back to me about a month later, and thanked me so much for the use of them, another pleasant memory from my wrestling experience from the Sixties and early Seventies'.

Thanks to Roger Baker and Gary Will for their help with this article.

The 1960's and beyond will be next, if you can add anything, corrections or otherwise please drop me a line at MLWP Contact