Saturday, April 13, 2019

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