Friday, June 1, 2018

NWA Title in Toronto

Kiniski vs Carpentier

In my era among the fans of the 1970's and early 1980's the NWA World Title was the king of them all. In Toronto at that time while we frequently saw the AWA and WWWF/WWF Titles, none were as highly respected as the NWA Title and the champion at the time. The AWA Title, though dating from 1960 only started appearing here in the late 1970's through 1982 (total of 16 appearances), while the WWWF Title made its first appearance in 1964 and would be a frequent visitor through 1983 with over 50 appearances.

With the possible exception of the very popular in Toronto Bruno Sammartino (28 total defenses in Toronto) a visit by a NWA champ was the prized must-see bout out of all the feds.

The NWA Title would make over 130 appearances here between 1949 -1984 including 4 title changes. We will take a look at each of the 12 champions that defended here and some of the more notable bouts.

Note this is the National Wrestling Alliance created in 1948 and referred to below as the NWA Title. The previous National Wrestling Association Title also was defended in Toronto regularly and was the center of some big bouts but will not be included here.

Also note that most of the champs defended around the region. Hamilton, Oshawa, London, and Niagara Falls all saw many NWA bouts over the years especially in the 1950's. Only the Toronto bouts are included here.

All photos are from the actual bouts at MLG, credits at end of article.

Lou Thesz
Thesz vs Whip 1951

Lou Thesz would have a huge impact on the history of wrestling in the city from his first appearance in 1939 over the next 30 years. He was a 3 time former World champ when he made his is first visit with the NWA (Alliance) Title in 1949 to begin a string of 30 successful title defenses over 3 reigns as well as winning the title here once (vs Buddy Rogers) and losing it twice (Whipper Watson, Dick Hutton).

Thesz first faced Masked Marvel and then Fred Atkins in 1949 but the most frequent opponent for Thesz in Toronto would be Whipper Watson, also a former National Wrestling Association champ and the #1 wrestler here. When Thesz came back as NWA champ in 1950 he and Whipper had already had several battles in Toronto over the Association Title and had cultivated a rivalry both here and in St Louis. Their bout on Jan 19 1950 was a wild one with Watson's arch enemy Nanjo Singh interfering and costing Whipper the bout.

Over the next 6 years Thesz would return to defend against Seelie Samara, Yukon Eric, Timothy Geohagen (2 times), Hans Hermann, Gorgeous George, Red Mask, Lord Layton. Great Togo, Paul Baillargeon, and Whipper (4 times).

On some of these early appearances Thesz would be accompanied by his manager/mentor Ed 'Strangler' Lewis. Thesz, with Lewis in his corner would face Whipper on Dec 6 1951 for the only appearance of the year for the title. Watson had earned the bout by beating 'Wild' Bill Longson in a World Title elimination bout back in October '51. The two would both be counted with Thesz returning in Jan 1952 to face Hans Hermann.

In October 1952 Thesz returns to face Whipper again for 2 weeks in a row. The first bout on October 23 with 10,000 present went 40 minutes until Whipper was disqualified by step-in referee Al 'Bunny' Dunlop after ref Bert Maxwell was injured. Whipper would have many run ins with Dunlop over the years and on this occasion would flatten him after the decision. 'Strangler' Lewis would be 'quoted' after the bout as saying they would give Whipper another shot but not with the title at stake. That 'there were many big money matches on the calendar at this time, especially one with Rocca in Los Angeles that will draw $100,000.'
Thesz vs Togo 1954

Still, the following week Thesz returns to face Watson again in a title bout, this time with 2 referees appointed. In front of 9,000 fans and with both Joe Gollob (said to favor Thesz) and Sam Gotter (said to favor Watson) officiating (and battling each other!) the two would go to a draw at the time limit.

Thesz returns 3 times in 1953 to battle George, Red Mask, and Layton, then again twice in 1954 facing Togo and Baillergeon.

The bout against George on June 4 1953 was recapped with the title 'Thesz makes mess of Gorgeous One'. Thesz makes short work of the 'Orchid' defeating him in 11 minutes after 2 drop kicks, a body slam, and pin.

The bout vs Mask is featured in a Flashback Feature at Thesz vs Red Mask 1953 and includes photos from the bout. Thesz unmasks him as Dutch Hefner.

After the 2 bouts in 1954 Thesz is absent through 1955 but will return in 1956 to face Watson in what becomes two history setting bouts in Toronto.

The Thesz-Watson bout on Mar 1 1956 ends in controversy when special referee Jack Sharkey disqualifies Thesz for a low blow and declares Watson the new champ. Sam Muchnick, then NWA president and present at MLG declares that there could not be a title change via dq. He was said by writer Joe Perlove (in his usual style) to invoke 'Directive 1337, clause gimmel (a)' of the NWA rules which stated in 'large black letters' that the title cannot change on a dq. Sam points out that was put in effect in 1953 and as Perlove notes 'came in mighty handy for Thesz when he was disqualified in a bout vs Leo Nomellini a year prior in San Francisco'. Back in the ring Sharkey was asked by Watson 'who won?' and the former boxing champ declared the NWA rules had nothing to do with him.

The 15,000 fans on hand were elated and then deflated as it was left up in the air with the papers declaring Tunney (then VP of the NWA) at risk of being suspended if he flouted the NWA rules and went with Whipper as new champ.

A week later there was a photo in the Star with Tunney, Muchnick, Watson, and Thesz, signing for a re-match, apparently cancelling a Thesz West coast bout with promoter Harry Nichols. It was made for the 15th as the following weeks card was booked for the small East York Arena that 'wouldn't hold a tenth of those who would want to see it.' The clipping with Sam and Frank is on the MLW Blog

Whipper Watson
Whip vs Hutton 1956

That meeting between the two on March 15 1956 would result in Whipper getting the win to start what was recognized as his second World Title reign.

Again in front of 15,000 fans, this time with special referee Jack Dempsey appointed for the bout, Whipper would end Thesz's reign at the 30:33 mark. After a bodyslam on Thesz on the ramp, Whipper would get back in the ring while Thesz remained outside with an apparent injury to his arm. Dempsey would count Thesz out (count-outs were allowed back then) and Whip would get his arm raised as the new champ.

Announcer Gerry Hiff would announce Whipper as the new World champ and the president of Whipper's fan club would escort him back to the dressing room while Dr. Myron Millar attended the former champ. Muchnick was 'quoted' the next day with 'If Thesz wasn't disqualified then Watson is the new champ. Good luck to him'. Thesz added 'The man is in better shape than I've ever seen him'. It was reported that 'the victory was greeted with mighty acclaim. The Leafs in their Stanley Cup winning nights never had it so good.'

I was fortunate to be able to ask MLG Photographer and writer Roger Baker about his memories of Lou Thesz and this bout in particular

'Lou Thesz the standout N.W.A. Champ... had the pleasure of seeing Thesz wrestle a number of times at the Gardens. He was the consummate professional wrestler, no showboating, he went about his wrestling without any theatrics, a few of Thesz's matches that I saw come to mind. On March 15th. 1956 Whipper Billy Watson challenged Thesz for the title in an epic match that was held in the MLG. Whipper had been training for this title clash at Cowboy Luttrell's gym in Florida for the upcoming event and when he entered the ring to square off with Thesz it was obvious that The Whipper was ready He entered the ring at a trim 227lbs, the lightest that he'd been in years.

'This young future wrestling reporter was seated at ring side, and watched up to that point in time one of the greatest matches that I would ever see. The special referee for this match was the former heavyweight boxing champ Jack Dempsey. Thesz and Watson had wrestled several weeks earlier at the Gardens and Thesz kept his title amid much controversy at the conclusion of this match.'

'At the start of the rematch Whipper was the aggressor and punished Thesz with a vast number of holds, including hammer locks, head locks, step over toe holds, as well as Whippers latest submission hold called the cork screw in which he twisted Thesz's hand so severely that his arm curled up to his chest. In his pain to escape the hold Thesz climbed through the ring ropes to what he thought was the safety of the ramp. Watson was not to be undone of his opportunity to dethrone Thesz and followed him out to the ramp and gave Thesz a very hard body slam on the ramp. Thesz's arm was behind his back when he was slammed, in the meanwhile Dempsey was counting to ten, Watson reentered the ring to beat the count, and Thesz was counted out while still on the ramp. Watson was declared the winner, and loser Thesz had to be tended to by the ringside doctor Myron Miller.'

Though Watson would only hold the title for 8 months, he defended it in his hometown 16 times between March and November 1956 before losing it back to Thesz in St Louis.
Scrapbook Whip wins 1956

Whipper would defend the title elsewhere across the U.S. and Canada but he would spend much of his reign within the comfort of his hometown crowd here and in Hamilton and around the Great Lakes region.

His list of opponents is no less impressive. Bouts in Toronto included Gorgeous George, Wild Bill Longson, Hans Schmidt, Hardboiled Haggerty (2 times), Pat O'Connor (2 times), Yukon Eric, Dick Hutton (3 times), Mighty Ursus, Mr Hito, and Mr Moto.

Whipper's first defense is a week after beating Thesz when the new champ takes on Gorgeous George at MLG. The bout ends after a mere 7 minutes with Whipper putting the corkscrew hold on George and the fans are said to be upset at the short bout.

A week later former World champ and long time Watson adversary "Wild' Bill Longson comes in to challenge Whipper.

Prior to their battle the fans would see Layton and O'Connor tangle with the winner to receive the British Empire Title of which Whipper was giving up to enable his run with the NWA title. O'Connor won and was presented the belt by Watson himself. O'Connor accepted the belt with a handshake but also challenged Whipper to a future bout. Longson, portrayed as a 'policeman' for Thesz fell to Whipper in 13 minutes after the NWA champ slapped a step over toe hold and made Longson submit. Prior to the title bout Whipper was presented with an award by East York Reeve Harry Simpson for outstanding citizenship.

O'Connor would get his chance, in fact two chances at the crown, earning a draw in the first bout and handed a loss in the second a week later. O'Connor and Watson while sometimes foes were also a successful tag team at times and the fans loved O'Connor even in his bouts against Watson.

The first bout between the two ends at the 11:15pm curfew in front of 10,000 fans, of whom some were actually booing Whipper! O'Connor had Watson in his patented cradle hold and shoulder stand and ref Gollob counted one...two... and the curfew brought the 40 minute bout to a close. This bout as were many in this article was shown on TV with Pat Flanagan calling the match. It noted that the cameras were off by the time the bout ended.

The second O'Connor bout goes over 32 minutes in front of 6,500 before special referee Wayne Pate (St Louis ref) counts O'Connor down after a missed drop kick and cover by Whip. They had waived the curfew for this one and Pate was said to have been appointed by Ontario Athletics Commissioner L.M. McKenzie.
Whip tosses Hutton 1956

Another former partner in Yukon Eric would challenge Whipper on June 28 with the two going to a double count-out after they both missed the count after 15 minutes of action. The recap said that Whipper tried his mightiest to control Eric but 'it was like trying to hold on to an oil barrel.' There was expected to be a full house for the pairing of the two heroes but only 6,000 were in attendance.

Dick Hutton who had been offering $1000 to anyone who could pin him in under 20 minutes would keep his money both times he faced Whip for the title. The first bout Whipper pinned him- but after the 20 minutes. In the second bout before 5,500 fans Hutton got backdropped and flipped over the top rope to be counted out by ref Bert Maxwell. Steve York of the Globe asked 'do you suppose Hutton really has a $1,000 bill?' Hutton was frequently pictured in the papers with a bill stuck to his chest

Hardboiled Haggerty was enjoying a good run in the city both on his own and with Fred Atkins as a tag. He had his first shot at Whipper back in May winning the bout via count-out.

In his second try in September he appeared to win the title when ref Joe Gollob raised his hand after a pin. Haggerty parades triumphantly around the ring while the crowd of 6,000 roared as they knew Whippers foot was on the ropes. Gollob catches on and re-starts the bout with Whipper getting pushed outside on the ramp. He knocks Haggerty down from outside the ring, flies over the ropes for a quick pin and the win.

Whipper then defends against Mr Hito and then his partner Mr Moto. Moto interferes on behalf of his partner and caused him to be disqualified in front of 9,500 fans. Against Moto our hero Whipper gets the salt in the eye treatment (as does ref Burt Maxwell) after Hito hands Moto a package of the stuff. The re-match vs Moto on Nov 8 would prove to be his last bout as NWA champ in Toronto. He beats Moto after 14 minutes in front of 6,000 with his corkscrew hold.

In the Sat Nov 10 edition of the Star the byline reads 'St Louis, MO: Thesz grabs Whip's title in count out shemozzle'. Whipper had lost the title to Thesz in a wild match and was coming home sans title belt. Whipper was said to have had bouts set up in Florida which were cancelled but that he was going to go to relax anyways.

Lou Thesz
Thesz vs Kiniski 1957

Tunney was said to have offered Thesz $10k for the re-match to be held in Toronto while Whipper claimed he was robbed by the 20 count they used in St louis as opposed to the 10 count used here The re-match at MLG on Nov 22 1956 went to curfew under the watchful eye of special ref (again) Jack Sharkey to deny Whipper another run with the title. In front of 11,000 Watson had a claw hold on Thesz as time ran out on the bout after 42 minutes.

Thesz would not return again until May 1957 to face Gene Kiniski. In front of 9,500 fans Thesz would hold Kiniski to a draw after 32:58 when the bout was called at the 11:15pm curfew. Kiniski would be the force in the bout however with his usual roughhouse tactics though the crowd would cheer on Thesz anytime he would get the upper hand.

When Lou returned again in Nov 1957 to face 3 time NCAA champ Dick Hutton the Toronto fans would see another title change when Hutton beat Thesz after 35 minutes of action.

Dick Hutton

Hutton who had been a regular in Toronto since 1956 was still offering $1000 to anyone who could pin him in under 20 minutes and on this night he pledged double that against the champ, an extra thousand to charity if Thesz could beat him. It was declared a no time-limit bout where there had to be a winner. Either the tile changed hands or the 2 G's, with Sam Muchnick holding the money.

Roger Baker offers his take on Hutton and the bout

'Dick Hutton, a powerhouse of a man, he was built like a tank, weighed around 260lbs. This Oklahoma bred mat man was all business in the ring and he could stay on his feet much to the consternation of many of his opponents. Hutton could also lay a sledgehammer elbow smash to an opponent that would make the recipient senseless. Hutton had a standing offer to any wrestler that could beat him in the ring, that he would hand over a thousand dollar bill if he was pinned, or submitted. During his time in Toronto Hutton spent about a month training and conditioning with Fred Atkins at his home in Crystal Beach Ont. Hutton was in training for a title match with Lou Thesz, and he went on to defeat Thesz for the NWA title.'

The following day in the Star Joe Perlove described an exciting bout featuring the 'best assortment of scissors, toe holds, hammerlocks, armlocks, headlocks, and flying mares the fans had seen in a long time'. There were 10,000 of them on hand to see ref Bert Maxwell raise Hutton's hand to declare a new NWA champ after he clamped on an abdominal stretch making Thesz concede. There is a recap of Atkins training Hutton in Fred Atkins:'Ferocious Fred'
Cash vs Title 1957

Hutton would return 3 weeks later to defend against Yukon Eric in his first of 9 title defenses in Toronto. In addition to Yukon, Hutton would face Whipper (4 times), Wild Bill Longson, Thesz (2 times), and Hombre Montana.

Hutton would face Whipper in Jan 1958 with the bout ending in a dq win for Hutton in front of 8,000. Ref Dunlop disqualified Whipper after he had pinned Hutton and thought he had won the title. The lights went on and the crowd roared but Dunlop noticed Hutton's foot on the ropes and ruled the pin wasn't legal. Watson, incensed by the verdict threw Hutton over the ropes to the floor and lost the bout. Hutton (as happened several times in Toronto) would have to be stretchered out.

The rematch 2 weeks later ended in a curfew draw after 36 minutes. 10,000 were on hand to see the bout described later by Jim Proudfoot with 'It’s the first time in recorded history that a National Wrestling Alliance titleholder has gone through a whole bout without wrestling.'

For this one the Fabulous Kangaroos tag team were appointed as special referees. They called the bout fairly although Steve York of the Globe remarked 'And then there was that goofy business of making wrestlers Al Costello and Roy Heffernan referees. Whoever heard of two referees for a regularly scheduled championship bout?'

Watson would get another shot at Hutton in September 1958 earning a curfew draw and again in October losing losing by disqualification with also the same ending as the first Jan 1958 bout.

Longson would come in to challenge the champ on June 26 with Hutton winning the bout in 16 minutes with his abdominal stretch in front of 4,500 fans.
Hutton vs Thesz 1958

Thesz would return in August 1958 for 2 straight weeks and challenge champ Hutton on successive cards. Thesz, cheered as he usually is -unless facing Whipper- would dropkick Hutton and when trying for a second one would connect with ref Burt Maxwell. Thesz would cover a prone Hutton and when Maxwell woke up and patted Thesz on the back the fans thought he was declaring Lou the winner. He was actually disqualifying Thesz for the hit. Thesz protested but to no avail.

Watson was on hand to watch the bout after being off due to surgery and would watch as Hutton was stretchered out. It said Whipper had been originally set to face Hutton but had to go in for minor surgery. Another article described the bout as a 'shooting match'

The second bout on Aug 21 ends in a curfew draw after '36 minutes of skill,science and Hutton's canny rewrites of the NWA rule book, if there is one'. Thesz would try to get an extra 5 minutes added while special ref Wilbur Snyder checked with Hutton who would have nothing to do with it. Snyder was said to have been mutually agreed upon by both participants. Whipper, who was on hand again would challenge the winner of the bout beforehand but would be said to 'have to wait as there was no winner'.

It was also reported that Hutton had Watson to thank as he had stood in for Whip when he beat Thesz back in 1957 for the title. In a Frank Ayerst column back in Jan 1958 it claimed Whipper had broken his toe in a bout in London Ontario that caused him to miss the bout with Thesz. Not sure if there any truth to that.

Hutton's last defense in Toronto occurs on Nov 27 1958 against Hombre Montana. The 325 Montana earns his shot by beating the team of Al Korman and Tiger Tasker (both refs too) the previous week after pinning Tasker for the win. Montana would be counted out after 24 minutes in the title bout which unusually was the semi of the evening. The card was advertised as 'two main events' but the Whipper-Fritz Von Erich bout went on last in front of 6,500. Watson, now British Empire champ again was in an on-going feud with both Von Erich and his partner Kiniski

Hutton would lose the title to Pat O'Connor in St Louis in Jan 1959 and O'Connor would return to Toronto as champ in Jan 1959. O'Connor had also been a regular here from late 1955 and had earned the fans respect with his strong wrestling skills and occasional tag-team with Whipper.

Pat O'Connor

O'Connor's first bout as champ here was against Thesz in front of 8,500 fans. In a recap the next day in the Globe, Steve York remarked “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. How else can you account for O’Connor replacing Dick Hutton as NWA champion? O’Connor bounces around, has more color and is more expressive than the phlegmatic, stolid Hutton, who does everything deliberately. Besides which Pat is as good a wrestler as Hutton. And this Thesz is still a treat to watch". O'Connor wins the bout via count-out and a rematch is booked for the following Thursday which ends in a curfew draw after 50 minutes.

Roger Baker singles out O'Connor as one of the best

'A few of those great past champs and challengers that I recall seeing wrestle include Pat O'Connor. Pat was an amazing wrestler with a vast knowledge of wrestling holds as well as counter moves. He had the perfect wrestlers build and stature, and would never fail to please his audience. Pat had some very exciting matches with Whipper Billy Watson, and these two performed as a team for some time.'
O'Connor vs DiPaolo 1959

In addition to the two bouts vs Thesz O'Connor would return as champ 10 more times facing Hans Schmidt, Dick Hutton, Ilio DiPaolo, Don Leo Jonathon, Anastas Minasian, Kiniski, Whipper (3 times), and Tiny Mills.

Anastas Minasian may stand out in that role call of challengers. He was enjoying a short run here buoyed by the Greek community in the city and said to have come 'highly touted' by none other than the Golden Greek Jim Londos. Said to have enjoyed success internationally, Minasian loses the bout by count-out in his highlight of his short career here.

The first bout between former tag partners O'Connor and Whipper in July 1960 almost saw another title change. Watson had pinned O'Connor near the ropes and was in the midst of being carried from the ring on the shoulders of his fans when O'Connor protested his foot was on the ropes. With the help of Rip Hawk who had ran into the ring O'Connor successfully lobbied the rookie ref to see things his way. Referee Al Korman called Whipper back to the ring and also consulted announcer Jerry Hiff who admitted he hadn't seen the foot on the ropes (O'Connor had hit the ropes with his foot at the count of 3). Korman now braving the ire of said fans insisted Whipper come back to re-start the bout. Les Lyman who had come out to assist Whipper also got into it. Whip refused to continue and stormed from the ring in disgust so Korman disqualified him.

In the 2nd meeting Whipper and O'Connor were both out flat on their backs, Whip outside and O'Connor inside the ring. Both remained there even after ref Bert Maxwell had counted to ten but O'Connor was declared the winner.
O'Connor vs Thesz 1959

Watson grabbed the belt in protest but announcer Hiff explained on Maxwell's behalf that the wrestler inside the ring gets the nod in that case. The crowd of 5,015 agreed it was a dumb decision while Pat Flanagan and Gino Marella steadied the angry Whipper.

O'Connor would face former champ Hutton in March 1959 in front of 6,000 fans who were solidly behind the new champ. After the action spills to the floor O'Connor gives Hutton an airplane spin in front of the first row fans and then dumps him on the ramp and gets back in the ring just before the count to earn the win.

Don Leo Jonathon, enjoying a good run here would earn a shot at the tile by beating both Yukon Eric and Dick Hutton on consecutive cards. Despite a huge size advantage Don Leo could only earn a curfew draw with O'Connor.

In Kiniski's try at O'Connor big Gene would end up getting disqualified after beating on ref Al 'Bunny' Dunlop. Dunlop not a softy by any means would fight back and tie up the raging Kiniski before ruling the bout over.

By comparison the Nov 17 1960 bout vs Tiny Mills was said to be 'one of the seasons most boring matches' with the fans 'dozing in their seats'. Mills gets disqaulified when tag partner Krusher Kowalski interferes to prevent an O'Connor pin.

O'Connor's last defense in Toronto was another against Whipper. The bout on November 24 ended in a draw. Whipper while slowed from his early days but still a huge favorite had seen his time in the NWA title scene pass. It would not be Whippers last try though as he would continue to receive shots in Toronto up to 1966. The two would wrestle in front of 4,100 fans for 40 minutes to the 11pm curfew in a bout that started scientific but turned into a brawl, mostly by the champ's doing

Buddy Rogers

Buddy Rogers would beat O'Connor in Chicago in June 1961 and make his first defense in Toronto in Sept 1961 vs Frank 'Farmer Boy' Townshend. Rogers would earn the win and go on to defend against Whipper, Bulldog Brower (3 times), and Bruno Sammartino (3 times).

Buddy vs Bruno 1962

Rogers would then take on Whipper in front of 7,500 and had Rogers reeling with his 'Canuck Commando' outside the ring. Rogers broke free and as Whipper tried to follow the champ back in the ring Bulldog Brower came out and floored Whipper, costing him the bout via count-out. The next day Joe Perlove wrote an interesting headline for his recap: 'Whip is 'jobbed' when Bulldog enters the picture'.

Brower had quickly established himself as the #1 heel (and #1 enemy of Whipper) in Toronto by the time he got 3 shots at Rogers crown within a month of cards. After a win over 'Emporer' Tom Jones at East York Arena Tunney announced the Bulldog had earned a shot at the World Title.

In the first bout with an attendance of 10,000 Brower pinned Rogers and appeared to win but had his feet on the ropes. Jim Hady came out and told ref Joe Gollob who reversed his decision. Brower even wore the belt- for 2 minutes - before clobbering tell-tale Hady over the head with it. The Bulldog claimed he was the rightful champ and demanded a re-match. Tunney agreed and was 'quoted' as saying 'that was the best bout we have had here in years. I knew Rogers would make Brower work'.

Prior to the second bout announcer Hiff declared that the Alliance, based on the previous weeks bout would not allow either man to wear the belt into the ring, that they had to win it.
Brower goes after Rogers 1962

It made no difference as Brower got himself disqualified after attacking special referee Pat Flanagan with 10,000 in attendance. In the third bout Brower got disqualified again in front of 9,000 fans for hitting special ref 'Jersey' Joe Walcott who had been pegged for the 2nd bout also but pulled out due to commitments. Brower had been battering Rogers all over the ring and when was handed the loss declared 'it took two champs to beat me'.

The Bruno bouts would go down in history as they lead up to the next big change. The first meeting between Buddy and Bruno in July 1962 ends when Bruno can't continue after hitting the mat head first and unable to get up before Rogers at the 10 count. Two weeks later in front of 14,000 fans Bruno controls the bout and when he tosses Rogers into the ropes Rogers attempts to leap over Bruno but gets hit below the belt by a charging Sammartino. Ref Tiger Tasker is ready to declare Bruno the new champ but Bruno the rule abiding fan favorite addresses the fans in Italian and refuses to accept the title under the circumstances and a rematch is set for Aug 2.

For the 3rd meeting In front of 14,000 again (and with traffic jams outside MLG) Bruno is said to have given Rogers his worst beating when Sammartino tries for a drop kick but lands bad and ref Tiger Tasker declares him done. Rogers, not as law abiding as Bruno takes the win and will return on Jan 24 1963 to face Lou Thesz.

Lou Thesz
Thesz wins! 1963

In what is arguably the biggest single bout in Toronto history Thesz pins Rogers in a one fall bout. Before 9,000 fans Thesz becomes a 6 time world champ, 3 with the NWA (Alliance) title.

There is some displeasure voiced by the Rogers backers about the one-fall win. In reality the bout was a result of much infighting between the promoters that backed Thesz and those that backed Rogers.

The re-match 2 weeks later sees Thesz pin Rogers again and solidify the change in the fans eyes. Some promoters led by Vince McMahon Sr break off as a result and form the WWWF with Rogers as the first (albeit short time) champ.

Roger Baker is present at this bout too and offers his memory of the classic matchup

'This wrestling photographer was at ring side to shoot the NWA title match that pitted the challenger Lou Thesz vs the current champ 'Nature Boy' Buddy Rogers. This event took place at MLG the evening of Jan 24 1963. There was a large audience on hand to witness this match and the president of the NWA Sam Muchnick was also in attendance to see these two opponents compete in a what turned out to be a very exciting bout. Both wrestlers employed excellent wrestling moves and counter moves, along with many bone bruising flying tackles. However it was the superior wrestler Lou Thesz that was able to wrest the title away from the multi talented Buddy Rogers at the 14.54 mark. N.W.A. president Sam Muchnick made an appearance post bout in the ring to present winner Lou Thesz with the coveted belt, and thus another milestone in the long history of the NWA Title took place in the MLG.

Over the next 2 years Thesz returns 10 more times to defend the title against Bruno, Brower (2 times), John Paul Henning, Johnny Valentine (2 times), Kiniksi, Professor Hiro (2 times), and Whipper for a final time. Of the ten bouts 2 end in draws as they did back in '57, one vs Whipper and one vs the next NWA champ Gene Kiniski.

The bout vs Bruno on Mar 14 1963 was also an important bout for the history side. Besides being the only time the two met (they tried to match them later on unsuccessfully) this bout was said to solidify Thesz as the 'real' world champ as the NWA promoters knew at this point that the WWWF was going to move their title from Rogers to Bruno.

Gene Kiniski
Kiniski vs Carpentier 1967

By the time Kiniski beats Thesz in St Louis in Jan 1966 to claim the title he was already a legend here in Toronto. His feuds with Whipper and O'Connor and his tags with Rogers, Hutton, and Fritz Von Erich had earned him the extreme displeasure of the fans here (and elsewhere!).

Kiniski wouldn't change his style much as champ and his opponents here were mostly of the same mold. In 17 defenses between 1966 and 1968 he would face Valentine (3 times), Ernie Ladd (2 times), Edouard Carpentier (4 times), Mighty Igor (2 times), Brower (2 times), Tiger Jeet Singh (challenged for all 3 major titles NWA,AWA,WWWF in Toronto), and The Assassin (Guy Mitchell).

For fans outside of the area note that Valentine and Brower, despite their rough tactics were fan favorites at this time.

Kiniski also found time to take on both Watson and Brower in a non-title handicap bout in June 1967. He lost that one when Brower floored him in front of 6,200.

Dory Funk Jr.

After a 3 year run with the title Kiniski passes it to Dory Funk Jr in Feb 1969 in Tampa. Funk Jr is the first of the champs to makes his first appearance in Toronto while NWA champ. He takes on Ivan Koloff in May 1969 for Tunney's 30th Anniversary show, and goes on to face Kiniski (2 times), The Sheik, and Valentine over his 5 appearances as champ between 1969-1973.
Jr. vs Kiniski 1970

In the match-up with former champ Kiniski, 15,000 turn out to see Jr' battle big Gene in a mostly scientific match. Kiniski tried to bring Funk back into the ring from outside and collapsed under his weight to be pinned after 25 minutes.

Funk's reign occurs during the Sheik's heyday here and their bout on June 6 1971 draws 17,000 fans to Varisty Stadium. The bout only lasts 5 minutes before ref Tiger Tasker counts both wrestlers out, Funk bloodied but retaining his title.

Funk meets Valentine on Feb 11 1973 in front of 13,000 and wins with a pin after 28 minutes of action

Harley Race

Race is the next of the champs to make his first appearance in a Toronto ring as an NWA champ. He takes the title from Funk Jr. in May 1973 in Kansas City to begin a short run. It is his first of an eventual 6 times as NWA champ and Race makes but one appearance here during this reign vs former champ O'Connor.

The bout on June 24 1973 in front of 10,000 saw Race thrill the fans with a 'spectacular title defense' against former champ O'Connor. After 19 minutes of action Race used his 'giant suplex' to pin the challenger.

Jack Brisco
Brisco vs Lyons 1973

Race loses the title in July 1973 to Jack Brisco in Houston and Brisco first comes into Toronto (his first visit too) in Sept 1973 to take on Eric The Animal (aka Eric The Red) in front of 10,000 fans. Brisco returns in December to face Valentine and comes back 7 more times over his reign. Between 1973-1975 he meets Valentine again (twice), hometown favorites Tony Parisi (2 times) and Billy Red Lyons, The Sheik, Stan Stasiak, and Spiro Arion.

Brisco takes on Eric The Animal in September 1973 and despite being outweighed 305 lbs to 231 lbs gets the win after 12 minutes of 'good scientific grappling' with a leg breaker move.

A bout vs Valentine on Apr 21 1974 ends with a rolling cradle win for Brisco at 24:35.

For The Sheik bout in September 1974 both Brisco's title and Sheik's U.S. Title were at stake but in by-now typical fashion (Sheik bouts) it goes only 4 minutes with a double dq ending.

Two weeks later the Brisco vs Red Lyons bout would make the magazines in a story titled 'Don't believe those nasty stories about Jack Brisco', a denial of Brisco 'turning dirty' as evidenced by the clean bout against Lyons. Lyons got the hometown cheers but the fans had respect for Brisco who won the bout and then wouldn't return until March 1975 to face Stasiak.

Stasiak was by this time a former WWWF champ and one of the select few to challenge for all three major titles (NWA, AWA, WWWF/WWF) in Toronto. Edouard Carpentier and Tiger Jeet Singh are the others.

Terry Funk
Funk vs Rocha 1976

Terry Funk becomes the 3rd straight champ to make his Toronto debut while holding the title. After defeating Brisco in Miami in Dec 1975 Funk debuts here vs Carpentier in Jan 1976. He would also face Stasiak, Dom Denuucci, and Carlos Rocha in his 3 successful bouts in 1976.

The bout vs Denucci took place on the 45th Anniversary card Nov 19 1976, 45 years to the day of the first card held at MLG. Funk wins in 17:27 with a reverse cradle. Funk returns on Dec 5th to face Rocha with Tunney donating net proceeds to the Santa Claus Fund, the yearly drive to provide families with gifts at Christmas.

His 5th defense in Toronto in Feb 1977 would result in the 4th and final NWA title change in the city.

Harley Race
Race on way to title win 1977

Race had by now established himself as a major player in the NWA and would be rewarded with another title reign by beating Funk here at MLG using an Indian Deathlock for the win. He would win and lose the title 4 times over the next 4 years and while he would come back to defend 6 times none of the men who beat him in that time frame would. Giant Baba, Dusty Rhodes (comes later on his 2nd reign), and Tommy Rich, all with short reigns don't make it in. Of the three, Rich is the only one never to appear here during the NWA days.

Race was a well respected champ here and would face Ken Patera, The Sheik, Ricky Steamboat, Dewey Robertson, Ric Flair, and Angelo Mosca between 1977-1981.

The Sheik would get a shot at Race at an outdoor Exhibition Stadium show in July 1977. In what would be his final bout for Tunney The Sheik would be disqualified by ref Tiger Tasker before Race chased him all over the outfield with a sledgehammer!
Sheik awaits Race 1977

With Race being centered around the Midwest the NWA title would remain absent from Toronto with the AWA and WWWF title's taking center stage until April 1979

Race would meet Ricky Steamboat on Apr 8 1979 in a much talked about bout that resulted in a draw with the popular youngster.

It would be another year before Race returned, this time to face hometown hero Dewey Robertson. Robertson was Canadian champ at the time he got his shot and had a great bout with Race in front of over 10,000 fans. Despite taking Race's brutal Suplexes and piledrivers Dewey would battle it out to a draw after he had clamped his figure-four on Race and time ran out just as it looked as if the champ was about to give up.

In November 1980 Race returned to take on the newest hero in the city - Ric Flair. Flair was coming off a big win via count-out over the Canadian champ Hossein The Arab/The Iron Sheik when Hossein retreated to the dressing room during the bout. This would be the first of 6 meetings in Toronto over the NWA title and the two would quickly set the stage for future battles. Race was declaring Toronto 'his town' due to the fact that he had won the title here but there was no doubt in the fans minds that Toronto was Flair's town. The ramp would play an important part of the bouts here with the two exchanging suplexes, both with the hanging in the air for what seemed like an eternity type and then crashing down on the wooden ramp.

The bout ends in a wild double count-out but Flair had made his statement that he could work with the best of them all

Dusty Rhodes
Rhodes 1981

Race would lose the title for a second time to his arch rival Rhodes in Atlanta in June 1981. Rhodes had been in Toronto previously in this era as well as with tag partner Dick Murdoch in the early 1970's but would only make one appearance as NWA champ during his second short reign with the title facing John Studd with over 17,00 announced. Dusty loses the tile in Kansas City on Sept 17 1981 to the very popular in Toronto Ric Flair.

Ric Flair

Flair, upon his return as new champ was already a huge favorite here from his first bouts here as a (popular) heel battling Steamboat through his fan favorite feuds with Valentine. Iron Sheik, and the Andersons.
War on the ramp 1981

He made his triumphant debut as NWA champ in Toronto on a big card, the huge 50th Anniversary show on Nov 5 1981. Tunney was celebrating 50 years of Wrestling at MLG and put together an all-star card with Flair vs Race as the main. In front of 15,000 fans the two would put on an epic bloody battle that raged out on the ramp again with suplexes and falling headbutts inside and outside the ring. Race appeared to win the bout after a pin but Flairs foot on the ropes gets the bout re-started and Flair gets the big win on what was one of the best cards of the era.

While it had been inevitable that Flair was to become the champ it meant he wouldn't be seen in Toronto as much over the next few years. In a Feb 1982 bit in a Jim Proudfoot column lamenting the fact that Flair was here less as a result he quoted Tunney as saying 'All I can tell you is I hope to get him here within the next couple of months.' Still, on that first reign he would defend in Toronto 7 times between 1981-1983 and would face some respected ex-champs in big bouts at MLG.

His return came on the big Apr 25 1982 show (also AWA title bout Bockwinkel vs Mosca) to face Race again in a great bout with 11,000 present. This one ended in a double dq when the Privates, Nelson and Kernodle came out to help Race and Flair shoved the ref to get at the two. A bloodied Flair had to be help back by Ron Ritchie and Johnny Weaver who had ran in to help as he tried to go after Race down the ramp.

Next up was ex-champ Brisco followed by 2 more former champs in brothers Funk Jr and Terry Funk. All three battles were great with the ex-champs giving Flair a run for his money.
Head to Head 1982

The bout vs Funk Jr. on Oct 17 1982 drew over 12,000 while Flair and Terry Funk (subbing for Roddy Piper) drew over 13,000. Flair also had 2 bouts vs Roddy Piper (2nd bout 12,000) and one against Greg Valentine on this run.

Against Piper on Mar 27 1983 both had their shoulders on the mat while the ref counted. He declared Flair the winner and Piper claimed he was robbed. Sandy Scott was appointed special ref for the re-match 2 weeks later which ended in a dq win for Flair.

No matter who Flair faced here he was mostly cheered despite playing the heel most everywhere else and the fans came out in droves every time he came to town. Flair's first reign would end on June 10 in St Louis when he lost the title back to Race.

Harley Race

Race's historic record setting 7th reign as NWA champ (vs Thesz's 6) would kick off in style in Toronto when he appeared at both Exhibition Stadium shows in July 1983. Dubbed the Night of Champions and Return of the Champions, Jack Tunney was out to prove he could handle the office after Uncle Frank had passed away in May. The 2 cards were huge spectaculars featuring numerous title bouts, each card topped with Race vs Flair. On the first card in front of close to 20,000 Race would earn the win by dq after Flair tossed him over the top rope.

In the second one in front of 14,000 special referee was knocked down by Flair after Flair came off the ropes to nail Race but hit Weaver instead.
And again in 1983..

Flair would lock his figure-four on Race and when Weaver got back on his feet he raised Race's arm. The crowd thinking Race had submitted was ecstatic but Weaver was ruling Race the winner. Flair would argue with Weaver while the crowd voiced it's displeasure and then Weaver slugged him. Flair would hop through the rops and grab the timekeeper's hammer and chase Weaver back to the dressing room.

Race would return once more in September to face Mike Rotundo at MLG.

Ric Flair

The final run of the NWA title in Toronto for the era (it would return to Hamilton in 1986 as part of Moscamania) would begin in Feb 1984. Flair was champ again and would return to face Race for the 6th time here in a battle for the belt. Flair made one more appearance vs Dick Slater in May 1984 and a month later the WWF came in ending the long history of the NWA Title in Toronto.

The last word goes to Roger Baker

'There were many great title holders over the years, this reporter witnessed a good number of them, several that come to mind are Pat O'Connor, Dick Hutton, Whipper Watson, Gene Kiniski, Dory Funk Jr. and Lou Thesz. Hopefully the long and great legacy of the NWA. title will never be forgotten by wrestling historians, as well as all the fans that remember viewing, and knowing how hard these wrestlers worked to please the fans with their wrestling skills.'

Thanks again to Roger Baker for his memories and photos !

Photos by Turofsky or Burns unless noted- MLW collection
Kiniski vs Carpentier main by Roger Baker
Buddy vs Bruno by Roger Baker
Buddy vs Brower by Roger Baker
Thesz vs Buddy by Roger Baker
Kiniski vs Carpentier by Roger Baker
Brisco vs Lyons is out of a Weston mag
Race Funk and Race vs Sheik are screenshots from video
Flair vs Race - AC @ MLW
Clips sourced from papers, scrapbooks - MLW collection