Sunday, March 18, 2018

Fritz Von Erich in Toronto

For a time in the late 1950's and early 1960's Fritz Von Erich was one of the biggest stars in Toronto and across Southern Ontario.
with Von Schober 1955

His debut in the area came in July 1955 when he teamed with Karl Von Schober to take on Lou Plummer and 'Dirty' Dick Raines in an all heels tag. The 'Germans' were victorious and challenged the yet to be determined winners of the feature bout. A tag of Whipper Watson and Lord Layton against the Kalmikoff brothers.

Within a few weeks the hated team would star in the main event at Maple Leaf Gardens against the new strongman sensation Doug Hepburn and Prince Maiava. The 'Von's' would spend much of the bout complaining to refs Sam Gotter and Bunny Dunlop about Maiava's manager Coconut Willie. They claimed Willie was beating out instructions on his drum.

Schober, thrown outside the ring took advantage of the opportunity and flattened Willie, silencing the drum. After the Germans won Hepburn carried Willie back to the dressing room and then came back for Maiava.

Their winning ways continued against the team of Watson and Layton and the two heels remained undefeated in Toronto through September. They were also running roughshod throughout Southern Ontario keeping busy on the circuit around Toronto. Fritz would lose a singles bout in Niagara Falls against Hepburn in the middle of August.

They would also appear as far up as Fort William, Ontario with some of the others from the Toronto scene, as well as in Ottawa with one main event pitting Von Erich and Schober against Yvon Robert and Pat O'Connor.

On the last card of September Von Erich earned his first main event in a bout at East York Arena on his own against Watson and lost to Watson's 'claw' hold, not the claw that Fritz would use later. The following week saw another all heels tag bout with the Germans going up against the Kalmikoffs at MLG. The fans were solidly behind the hated Russians in a bloody match which saw Von Erich and Schober win by count-out after Ivan Kalmikoff failed to meet a ten count outside the ring.

The team of Von Erich and Schober continued through the balance of 1955 and lost their first bout against Watson and Eric in December in a match to determine new Tag champs. Special ref Joe Louis disqualified Fritz after Whipper ducked and Von Erich hit the former boxing champ.

They would come back though and and defeat Watson and Eric on the last card of the year to capture the Canadian Open Tag Titles. Over 10,000 fans saw ref Bunny Dunlop disqualify Watson for knocking him over and raised Schober's hand to the dismay of the fans. They would continue their winning ways through August of 1956 before losing the laurels to the Brunetti brothers.
with Von Schober 1955

In September 1956 Tunney revisited Stoufville Arena (north of Toronto) for the first time in years. 'Red' Garner usually ran Stoufville and the surrounding towns and at that time one of his stars was a young Bradford trainee who was wrestling as Baron (Wally) Von Sieber. Sieber already had a writeup in the WAYLI magazine and was highly touted. He would soon debut at MLG (as Waldo Von Sieber) and later become Waldo Von Erich, Fritz's wrestling 'brother.' On that first Tunney promoted Stoufville card, Fritz headlined against Tex McKenzie.

Fritz would see his share of main events all over the region. One bout vs Edouard Carpentier at MLG was said to have a 'considerable bearing on the World Title scene.' Von Erich was disqualified when he hit ref Bert Maxwell after Carpentier ducked under a haymaker.

In June 1957 Fritz interfered in a bout between Whipper and Gene Kiniski. Watson had just beaten big Gene to regain his British Empire Title when Fritz attacked. Yukon Eric came in to save Watson and it set up a series with Fritz and Gene joining to create a powerful team.

Even when wrestling solo Kiniski and Von Erich would accompany each other to the ring and interfere on each others behalf. A bout in August 1957 saw both Fritz and Gene attack Whipper before his bout with Kiniski. Later in the bout Fritz tossed ref Bunny Dunlop from the ring bringing out Yukon Eric to save the day. Fritz was fined $200 by the Ontario Athletic Commission for his actions.
First main 1956

At the time Kiniski and Von Erich were the top two heels in the area and formed a formidable tag. They finally defeated then champions Watson and Pat O'Connor to capture the titles on Oct 31 1957.

Publicist Frank Ayerst described the twosome as 'hovering somewhere between grumpy and miserable even on their most jovial days.'

MLW photographer Roger Baker was a young fan attending bouts at MLG and offers his memory of Fritz.

'He was a brute of a man, had very long legs that he used to to kick opponents all over the ring . The remarkable feature that you recall of his legs were the huge upper legs he possessed, they were very heavily muscular, as well he had a very long pair of arms. He was one of the greatest heels that ever appeared at the Gardens, he was also a regular main eventer in Buffalo N.Y. at this time of his career as well.'

In Jan 1958 Fritz and Kiniski would meet Verne Gagne and Don Leo Jonathon in a tag bout in Ottawa and Fritz would go solo against Gagne in a subsequent bout.

After losing the titles to Watson and Eric in Feb 1958 Fritz would soon take a leave from the area and not return until November 1958. This time in a tag team with Hans Hermann. Fritz would also see a main event against Watson while the NWA title match between champ Dick Hutton and Hombre Montana (unusual at the time) went on second last.

Fritz would remain quite unpopular and at times would have to escape (as many before him had) under the ring to get away from the unruly fans. He and Gene would also re-team around the area wrestling their brand of havoc wherever they appeared.

Fritz would face the then NWA champ Pat O'Connor in Niagara Falls in Jan 1958. Surprisingly Fritz never challenged for the title at MLG against either face champs O'Connor nor Whipper during his many title defenses here in 1956. Also notable is that while Fritz and Waldo teamed in other cities, they never teamed here. Waldo didn't start using 'Von Erich' in Toronto until 1964, long after Fritz had departed.
Fritz and Gene battling Whip and O'Connor
in the hallway 1957 

During 1959 Fritz was living at the Sunny Acres Mobile home park just across the border in Buffalo,NY. Tragedy struck when his young son Jack was killed in March in an accidental electrocution. A few months later they dedicated a park at the site 'Jacky Von Erich' in the youngsters honor and Fritz and his wife (listed as Jack and Mrs Adkisson) presented a trophy to be awarded annually to the best boys baseball team at the park.

In 1960 Fritz would team with Don Leo Jonathon for a time and continue his feud with Watson before winding down his main Toronto career with a bout against Whipper at MLG on June 23. He would still wrestle a few more bouts on the circuit shows into summer 1961. He would return for a final bout in 1965 teaming with The Beast (Yachetti) against Whipper and Karl Gotch.

In the Von Erich family heyday in the late 1970's early 1980's it would have been a natural for Tunney to import one or all of the sons for guest appearances in Toronto. With the 'family' history (Waldo was still active here up to 1979) they could have played it up and Kevin or David or Kerry would not have looked out of place at MLG.

Nostalgia and memories thanks to Roger Baker