Wednesday, March 28, 2018

MLG 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Tiger Tommy Nelson

It was the ship that launched a thousand careers. Well, several actually, including the one of the man who would become Toronto's -and Canada's-greatest name in Pro Wrestling - Bill Potts aka Whipper Watson. He wasn't the only one. The others that accompanied the soon to be re-named Whipper on that ship in 1936 would also make an impact on the Toronto and Ontario wrestling scenes in the coming years.
vs Billy Kohnke (mat) Sept 1938

It was June 1936 and a group of wrestlers from the amateur and semi pro ranks would embark on a tour of the United Kingdom. Along with young Bill Potts, there was Ken 'Tiger' Tasker, Al Korman, and Tom Nelson.

Whipper, of course would return in 1940 and go on to be the King of Toronto for the next 30 years. Tasker and Korman would continue their wrestling careers and then go on to be long time referees. Tommy Nelson's in-ring career would end sooner but he would be a part of the office for many years to come.

Tommy was born in 1900 making him an elder statesman among the younger wrestlers he traveled with. He had formerly worked as a bus driver for the Danforth Bus Company. In 1928 he was involved in an accident at Midland and Danforth Rd when a CNR Train hit his bus injuring him and the only passenger on board at the time. The bus was completely destroyed with fire after the train hit and likely ended his driving career.

I couldn't find any mention of his earlier wrestling years but he likely came up in the same way that they all did in those days. Learning their craft at the many Athletic Clubs and amateur contests that were plentiful in the small halls around Toronto.

He would hang up the boots in the early '40s and work with Tunney in a promotional capacity right through the 1960's putting on shows in the outlying towns around Toronto.
London, England 1938

The reports say the wrestlers left Montreal around the week of June 8. The 'SS Duchess of Bedford' (Canadian Pacific) is the likely vessel as a member of Nelson's family shared some nostalgia with me and there was a postcard of the Bedford in the collection. The only outbound I could find was 3 weeks later but if it took 7-8 days its possible they went on the Bedford on or around June 8.

Nelson wrestled in England as 'Bear-Cat Tom Nelson' initially. A Poster from Centenary Hall for a bout vs Hein Stack in Oct 1937 lists Nelson as 'from USA, extremely popular here as wrestler and referee.' A later ad in December of 1937 has him as 'from Canada and ex Olympic games, the return of an old and tried favorite, back by public demand, and glad to be back.'

There is no record of Olympic involvement or at least active at any games, Olympic background was a frequent boast to push wrestlers in those days though many wrestlers participated in events leading up to -or qualifying for.

Other names alongside Nelson in those years were Ben(gal) Engbloom, the popular in Toronto amateur Finn, as well as Herb Parks. Parks was a fine wrestler in his day and he and his brother Bill (Dinty) were early stars for Larry Kasaboski's Northland group in the 1940's. The brothers later owned Sunset Park in North Bay while starring for Kasaboski until Herb disappeared on a hunting trip in 1956 and was later found drowned. Sunset Park was the inspiration for the Sunset Flip.

Nelson made it through other parts of Europe through 1939. On a physicians statement in Toronto on Feb 20 1940 it lists his past bouts and includes stops in Belfast, Edinburgh, Vienna, Budapest, Paris, London, Manchester, and finally Toronto, and St Catherines.

Opponents in Europe list Rod Fenton (later Promoter in Vancouver), Whipper Watson, Johnny Demchuck, a namesake 'Gotch', Heine Stack, and a 'Shicat' (Dick Shikat?)

His last bout in Manchester is listed as May 31 1939, He would return for a bout in St Catherines vs Lee Henning on Jan 8 and also wrestled in Hamilton 1940 as 'Irish Tommy Nelson.'

His debut at MLG came in 1940 on Jan 12 vs Pete Baltran. The write up lists Nelson as hailing from Ireland and having had won the European light-heavyweight championship back on March 13 1939. I haven't found any reports of that as of yet. In his recap of the bouts Joe Perlove called Nelson an 'undersized grappler from Ireland' in his draw with Baltran.

It's not clear when Nelson 'joined' the office in an official capacity but he looks to have been involved as one of Tunney's insiders around the late 1940's.

Nelson looks to have worked as a promoter much as Sammy Sobol and others had previously. Running the towns and reporting (and bringing the $$$) back to the Toronto office. Towns he officially ran include Stoufville, Aurora, Barrie, Collingwood, Sutton, and Bradford . Nelson also had bigger centers such as Galt (Cambridge) and Kitchener until Johnny Powers bought Tunney (and Nelson?) out around 1965.

In 1955 Nelson was announced as taking over for Roy McMahon as matchmaker for CCWA (Red Garner's group) in Aurora on Aug 29 and then promoting in Stoufville, this time with Tunney stars instead of Garner's team. Garner and Tunney looked to have had a small turf war in the area - but that's for another story.

The only mention of a Toronto-proper show under Nelson was a 1958 show held at Scarboro Arena  on Oct 4 to benefit the Scarboro Hospital Building Fund using Tunney's stars. There is a small mention later of Nelson being on the Board of the Scarboro Police Youth Club.
MLG 1940

In some towns such as Barrie, Nelson was refereed to as 'Matchmaker for the Queensbury Club' which was the Toronto office's official name at that time.

In a 1958 piece on Nelson in the Galt Evening Reporter it quotes Tommy saying ' I was wrestling on a pro card in Manchester, England in 1938. I was thrown out of the ring and cracked my spine on the exposed iron part of a ringside theater-type seat.' The writer adds

'The results was five painful months in an English hospital with the not-too-heartening news that he would never walk again. But two years later Nelson was not only walking but was back on the pro grapple beat. It was 1940 now and he was booked into Detroit. Gus Sonnenburg was his opponent, when big Gus attempted a flying tackle both gladiators went sprawling among the ringsiders. Nelson, on the bottom, found another empty iron frame with his tender spine. Another long siege in hospital followed. But this time it was the end. There definitely would be no further wrestling.'

It goes on to explain that after spinal operations they found that he shrank somewhat from the effects of the spinal knife job. In a later 1962 piece in the Barrie Examiner, it repeats the story and says his height was pared by a couple of inches as well as his weight. It says he fought at 220lbs (though he was now down to 150lbs) and from later photos looks to have stayed in good shape into his senior years.

MLG Photographer and Writer Roger Baker attended some of Nelson's shows in the early 1960's.
He recalls Nelson was 'a very nice guy who was worried for his incoming wrestlers on a particularly snowy evening in Kitchener but still kept his smile amid the pressure of the evening.' 

Roger remembers another show in Sutton when 'one of the wrestlers threw his opponent via a slingshot into one of the corner posts with such force that the ring ropes popped out of the turnbuckles. Tommy came to the ring dressed in a suit, and again under pressure got those ropes back up, and the balance of the card was able to go ahead. A part time wrestling promoter must be able to handle a litany of potential problems!"

Below is a group pic from 1958 courtesy of Nelson's family.
l. to r. top: ?, Pat Flanagan, Joe Gollob, Dara Singh, Tunney, Lou Pistocia,
l. to r. bottom: Sammy Gotter, Al Korman, Tommy Nelson
thanks to Roger Baker for ID help

Thanks to Brian Lanigan for sharing some family history and pics with me.
There are lots of gaps so if you can add anything to Mr Nelson's story please contact me.
Thanks as always to Roger Baker for his help

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Martino Angelo in Toronto

Former wrestler Martino Angelo enjoyed some success in Toronto from 1962 to 1965 as a manager the fans loved to hate.
Tough as nails

He had started wrestling in the early 1930's all over the north and northeast U.S. and had wrestled as a main event star around his local Hamilton for promoter George Hills in the mid 1940's under his real name Angelo Curto. He came in to Toronto as Martino Angelo to wrestle in Sept 1962 on the same card Johnny Valentine made his Toronto debut.

He had at one time been a top junior heavyweight holding the Midwest Wrestling Association World Junior Heavyweight title around Columbus and Dayton, Ohio in the early 1940s. He would later gain recognition as the NWA World Light-Heavyweight Champion (Hollywood, California version) in the mid 1940s battling the likes of Dangerous Danny McShain and Wild Red Berry.

MLG Photographer Roger Baker remembers Angelo

'Martino was short in stature, but he was a genuine tough guy, his facial features resembled a man who had been in many fist fights, as well as hundreds of rough house wrestling brawls.'

He and John Yachetti (wrestling as Gino Angelo) had already been travelling in other areas but Angelo first managed Yachetti - as The Beast - in Toronto in May 1963 for a bout against Gene Kiniski. Star reporter Joe Perlove referred to Angelo not as his manager but as his 'keeper' and right from the start he was a thorn in the side of whomever his charge was facing.

Roger covered this bout for a wrestling magazine. He made note of the fact that big Gene, long hated in these parts was beginning to show signs of becoming a hero. The fans actually cheered Gene against The Beast. This is the same guy they would chase under the ring and on many occasions Kiniski would be lucky to get out of the ring alive.
Helping The Beast

Roger would describe The Beast as a 'fireplug with a fur-coat' indeed! At one point Angelo reached under the ring rope and grabbed Kiniski's foot tripping him up. The Beast pounced on him and got the big win.  Kiniski then took after Angelo outside the ring and delivered a good beating, setting a soon to be standard as far as receiving his fair share of action - on the outside.

Next opponent up was Bulldog Brower, the top villain in the area in the main event no less. As with Kiniski the fans sided with Brower, not exactly cheering him but hating him less as compared to Angelo and The Beast.

Again a win with interference from Angelo and a rare loss for the Bulldog. Another win 2 weeks later vs Brower and they set a special rules match for the following week.

Angelo was to be suspended in a cage above the ring to keep him from interfering in the bout. The time Brower got the win when The Beast was kayoed outside the ring by Johnny Valentine. The equally hated Valentine had sneaked up the ramp, his arm in a cast from a recent injury, and flattened The Beast when ref Tiger Tasker's back was turned.

They repeated that stipulation for a bout with Whipper Watson in Aug 1963, Watson winning when The Beast failed to make it back to the ring after a ten count.

After Valentine had healed up (and turned good guy) he got his chance at The Beast and this time Angelo was handcuffed to 'Gentleman' Jim Hady to even it out.

Roger relates his impressions of Angelo and The Beast

'The Beast was a very compact built man, he was incredibly strong, his entire body was covered in a thick coat of shiny black hair, if he were to catch an opponent in his famed bear hug, the opponent faced the prospect of having a cracked rib or two. '

'This wrestling fan almost bumped into the Beast while he was hunched over eating a sandwich at a lunch counter in Thorncliff Mall. This would have been in the mid 1960's, can remember saying hello to him but he let me know by his eyes leave him be while he had his lunch. '
In the middle of the Powerlock 

They would continue the trend over the next year with many of same special rules for the bouts. For one they had both Angelo and Pat Flanagan in the cage above the ring, Flanagan there to make sure Angelo couldn't get to help his charge in his bout vs Whipper.

In July 1964 The Beast got a shot against visiting WWWF champ Bruno Sammartino, and yet again Angelo interfered.

In April 1965 Angelo continued his cheating ways, this time during a bout of Bruno vs Johnny Powers and would begin accompanying the soon to be star - Powers..

Roger recalls an incident around this time.

'This reporter can remember one Sunday evening at MLG when Martino Angelo was at ringside with his current charge Johnny Powers who was working as a heel. A deranged fan swung a bicycle chain at Angelo and as a result of this cowardly act Martino sustained a nasty gash to the right side of his face. The police had a hold of this fan, and I later learned that the police told Martino that they would leave him alone in a room at the Garden's with his assailant if he so wished, Martino very generously let the guy off. '

'Powers was a superb athlete, and in top shape. He once told me that as a young man he belonged to a rowing team and that he had done many hours of sculling in dirty old Hamilton bay. This no doubt contributed to the considerable strength and muscularity that he possessed. Powers enjoyed a prolonged stay in the Toronto area, and went on to become an international wrestling star.'

Thanks as always to Roger Baker
We will look at Powers in an upcoming post with more fabulous photos from Roger

*some info on Angelo from an excellent profile by Gary Howard on Yachetti on Slam! Wrestling

Friday, March 9, 2018

Les Lyman

Les Lyman was a promoter/wrestler active around Toronto in the 1950's and early 1960's. I'm not sure when Les started wrestling but by the time he settled in as a regular at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1960-61 he was already fairly long in the tooth.
Lyman vs Alfie Richards (on ground) 1956

The first signs of him in the area are alongside Red Garner on Red's shows around the Toronto outskirts in 1950-51. It's likely Lyman came out of the busy amateur scene as had Red and many of the pros of the 1950's.

Around 1953 he started promoting some shows at East York Arena, the same spot Frank Tunney would occasionally run when MLG was unavailable. The wrestlers were a mix of guys who worked on Garner and Tunney's shows around the region.

Those early cards featured young Sandy Scott and his billed brother/ cousin Joe (real brother George?), Wilf Jennings (long time wrestler turned McKigney ref later), and big Jim 'Killer' Conroy. All of which would work for Tunney in some capacity down the road. Others names included Jack Sibthrope, Ivan Klimenko, Kenny Evans, Paul Penchoff, Al Kendall, George & Bob McKeague, Ronnie Kopac, and the usual masked gimmicks Masked Marvels, Red Mask etc.

Sometimes they would mirror the going-ons over at the Gardens. During the big Red Mask angle on Tunney's cards which ended with Lou Thesz unmasking the villain to reveal Dutch Hefner, Lyman too had a Red Mask headlining his cards.

He would promote under the banner of 'International Wrestling Association' and occasionally branch out to other spots, Scarboro Arena, Lakeshore Arena, etc. He and Garner had an ongoing partnership of sorts that lasted throughout the '50's. Besides sharing talent, much of it the homegrown talent that Garner had trained himself, Lyman would appear on Garner's cards, often as 'Canadian Heavyweight Champion.'

Sometimes referred to as the 'Scarboro Strongman' and variously billed from Scarboro or East York, In 1954 as Canadian champ he faced Quebec star Sylvain Richard at the Thornhill Market north of Toronto. Was also often billed as undefeated and a year later a byline listed him as 'having an enviable record, among his victims Baron Von Seiber, (later Waldo Von Erich), Tiger Jenson, and Sandy Scott who wrestled at MLG a few weeks back.' Garner mostly had middleweight wrestlers among a few heavyweights, Lyman, variously at 218-230lbs a heavyweight. Garner had his own title, the Canadian Middleweight Title.

He lost his Canadian title to Seiber in 1957 on Garner's circuit and was described even then as 'aging.' He was one of Seibers early opponents and carried on a feud over several years with the up and coming star.

In 1960 he made his MLG debut against Bob Nandor in the opener. He would remain a regular through 1961 and but for a few occasions, always worked in the opening bout. His last MLG date was teamed with Tony Marino against the Kalmikoffs, that one in the semi of the night but Lyman still took the fall for his team.

Photographer Roger Baker used to work out at the YMHA in Toronto and remembers Lyman and associates from there. The photo of Lyman and Alfie Richards was taken by Roger in 1956 as they worked out on the mat at the facility and he also attended some shows.

Thanks to Roger for the photo !

If you can add to the story of Les Lyman please comment or contact me