Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pat Flanagan: 'The Irish Tornado'

With apologies to Whipper Watson, Pat Flanagan may have been the most prolific and hardest working man in Toronto Wrestling history. He's at least in the top 3 alongside Whip and Fred Atkins. From his days wrestling to his later days as a referee his career spanned 5 decades.

As with most pro wrestlers of the day he would start out on the amateur circuit as a teenager under his given name of Winnett Watson. Already an accomplished athlete, by early 1936 at the age of 19 Flanagan was wrestling at the 174 pound level as a light heavyweight. A notable bout found him battling the British Empire champion of the day (amateur version) and former Dominion champ Terry Evans. Also on the circuit at that time was Cliff Worthy, a heavyweight who was also to become a longtime referee at Maple Leaf Gardens.

In mid 1936 Winnett the future 'Pat Flanagan would go over to England to join fellow Toronto wrestlers Billy Potts, Ken Tasker, Al Korman, and Tom Nelson on their tour of the British Isles. The first recorded bout in Portsmouth, England on Nov 1 1936.

Also appearing was fellow amateur combatant from the Toronto (and Montreal) scene Ben Engblom. It's said that Winnett Watson earned his new moniker while on this tour as Billy Potts had recently been christened the very similar Whipper Watson.

Some years later, Pat Flanagan's mother noted that in all the confusion between the names and the fact that Pat and Whip were close, people were often asking about 'her sons' Winnett and Whipper.

In England the newly christened 'Pat Flanagan - The Irish Tornado' would earn experience alongside - and also against - Whipper and the rest of the Canadian contingent.

Upon his return in mid 1937 Flanagan would wrestle both under his true name and wrestling name around Michigan and Illinois before returning to Ontario.

The first sign of him locally as Pat Flanagan is in Hamilton in 1939. He would spend a bit more time over in England and it would be a couple of years before he made it to Maple Leaf Gardens debuting on May 1 1941.

It was said that he had been wrestling in the US since his return from 4 years in England. In addition to his exploits across Lake Michigan, he is said to have been wrestling as Mendel Singer in the New York area around 1940.

While it does appear to coincide with the dates I couldn't find any proof they were one and the same - such as a photo. Mendel Singer was billed as 'Jewish Flash' and more notably The California Dropkicker'. Flanagan in his early days was a high flyer and known for his dropkicks also.

The night of Flanagan's debut at MLG was a tournament being held to determine the #1 contender for the Worlds heavyweight title. Flanagan lost in the first round to Jack Claybourne who was later beat by the nights winner Whipper Watson. This would begin Pat's long tenure as part of the small circle of Toronto regulars that would remain loyal to Frank Tunney for the next 35+ years.

Tunney would remark about Flanagan in a 1943 piece: "Flanagan has learned to wrestle all-in style, has put on weight and is steadily going up the wrestling ladder. If nothing untoward occurs he'll be a top-flight operative in a year or maybe less."

Flanagan, like the Whip would always wrestle on the 'good side' and take on the heels. Occasionally there would be face ve face contests and Flanagan would find himself on the the other side of the ring to Watson himself on a night in 1942. As part of Army Week Tunney put on a Boxing/Wrestling show at Maple Leaf Stadium for 1500 soldiers and their friends. The most popular bout of the day was an exhibition bout between Pat and the Whip which saw 13 minutes of action before Watson pinned Flanagan under the watchful eye of referee Phil Lawson.

They also occasionally faced each other in the smaller towns (likely as a fill in for a no show) and would go on to be frequent tag partners through the 1940's. Flanagan would mostly wrestle on the undercards at MLG other than when teaming with the Whip but had his share of main events in the outside towns.
Oshawa 1948 vs The Zebra

In addition to the Toronto scene, Flanagan would frequent other towns including Ottawa (Tunney run at that time), Buffalo and Cleveland, and also make appearances in St Louis both on his own and alongside Whipper during the Whips NWA Title run in 1947. One notable bout in St Louis found Pat facing future champ Buddy Rogers.

In Aug 1947 he would appear on Pat Milosh' first card at the Oshawa Arena. Pat would go on to have the most appearances in Oshawa out of all wrestlers with about 187 bouts over 20 years (summer month circuit) appearing in 42 main events solo and as part of a tag. The two Pat's would remain close through the years with Flanagan providing help and support to the young promoter.

In 1950 Flanagan would step in as an occasional referee, a position he would fill both during his remaining wrestling years and after retiring as a wrestler.

In 1952 teaming with Whipper the two would capture the Canadian Open Tag Titles by defeating Lord Athol Layton & Hans Hermann in tournament final to become first champions. Presented with the Calvert Trophy they would hold the title for several months before losing to Lou Plummer & Dick Raines. This appears to be the only Title Flanagan would hold in his ring tenure.

Around this time Pat would start to assist Tunney in scheduling the wrestlers for the Ontario curcuit towns. He would set up the wrestlers to appear on the local cards around Southern Ontario acting as a sort of booker, a liaison between the circuit promoters and the Tunney office.
Posing for Roger 1960 

In 1959 he was the first partner to newcomer on the scene Don Jardine. The future 'Spoiler' was said to have been discovered by Whipper on a tour of the Maritimes. Jardine had been in several singles bouts before being teamed with Pat vs the Vachon Brothers.

In the 1960's Pat would mostly appear as a referee, only stepping in as a wrestler as a sub or for a no-show. He would make his last appearance in the MLG ring July 1968 vs Waldo Von Erich.

A brief note in 1961 mentions Sam Yanaky, best known as manager of Nanjo Singh, being accompanied by 'his son Pat Flanagan' in visiting an ailing wrestling fan. I am unsure if there was any relation between the two, Yanaky also promoted a bit in the Kitchener/Cambridge area

I asked Writer and MLG Photographer Roger Baker for his memories of Flanagan.

"He was a very nice guy, and he helped me out a few times to gain access to a wrestler for the purpose of doing an interview. Remember so well my introduction to Gene Kiniski courtesy of Pat, I wound up doing a 40 minute photo shoot in a private room as well as an interview with Gene, as a result both Gene and myself were quite pleased with the results."

"Another time I was working one summer as a butcher up in Jacksons Point, had only been covering the Toronto wrestling scene for about a year at this point in time, not having been to the Gardens all that summer, well guess who comes into the store to buy some steaks, yes it was Pat Flanagan. We had a very welcome conversation and I mentioned to him to let the wrestling office know that I'd be back in Sept. He promised to do just that."
Flanagan warns Thesz 1963

"I first saw him wrestle at The Gardens around 1950. Around 1956 I met Pat at The Gardens and mentioned to him that I had a couple of pictures of him that had been taken some years earlier at The Gardens, he was very pleased to hear this. A few weeks later we met again at The Gardens and I gave him those pictures that were mentioned. He was very pleased, and he said to me that so many people promise something but don't bother to follow through."

In 1973 Flanagan accompanied Whipper to the annual Easter Seals dinner of which Whip had missed the 1972 one because of his accident. In a photo from the event Flanagan can be seen helping Whip make the memorable walk up the stairs with that years 'Timmy' on his shoulders.

Around late 1976 he would officiate his last bout and retire from the ring.

When he died at the age of 68 in 1985 he was the fourth member of the old guard of MLG wrestling to pass away in the 2 years span after Tunney, Layton, and Frank Ayerst. His obituary said that he had attended Malvern Collegiate and had played football for the Junior Argonauts and Balmy Beach while in High School

Photos by - and thanks! - to Roger Baker