Sunday, June 2, 2019

Whipper and Kiniski: The Feud

By the time Gene Kiniski burst onto the Toronto scene in November 1956 Whipper Watson was well into his 16th year as the reigning king of the ring at Maple Leaf Gardens. Kiniski, billed as a 'footballer of note' made an instant impact on the fans in Toronto. They hated him right away.

Publicity man Frank Ayerst remarked that Kiniski was 'sometimes referred to as Genial Gene, because he smiled once when an opponent was being carried out of the ring.' Adding that he 'is such a rugged ring operator that getting a match with him is gaily alluded to as The Point of No Return.'

1957 with Jersey Joe
He would take out a few of the smaller types early in the cards before suffering his first loss against Shaq Thomas. He actually beat Thomas in a mere 54 seconds but was disqualified when he wouldn't stop assaulting his opponent. He would finish out the year beating another newcomer Billy Red Lyons in December and next show up at MLG on Jan 3 1957.

This time Kiniski would trounce local favorite Pat Flanagan with his 'Prairie Paralyzer' and return to the ring for the main event between Whipper and Buddy Rogers. Kiniski, not known for his quiet demeanor, stepped into the ring before the introductions and challenged Whipper. Rogers backed him up declaring 'Kiniski will pick up the pieces after I've finished with you.'

Kiniski would exit but return to the ring when Whipper captured Rogers in his 'Canuck Commando' and the future looked bleak for the 'Nature Boy'. Kiniski attacked Watson and special ref 'Jersey' Joe Walcott took at swing at big Gene. Pat O'Connor, who had wrestled earlier in the card came to Whipper's rescue but Walcott wasn't sure and took a couple of swings at Pat before going at Kiniski again and then disqualifying Rogers for outside interference.

That would set up a tag bout for the next card with Whipper and O'Connor to face Kiniski and Rogers with Walcott and Bunny Dunlop as referees. The heroes won by dq in front of 14,000 fans when Kiniski took off under the ring a'la Nanjo Singh.

Joe Perlove in his recap the next day opined that 'he (Kiniski) had heard that Nanjo Singh had those nether regions fitted up with a bar and chintzy furniture.'

Perlove went on to describe the 'several hundred customers (that) wanted to make his (Kiniski) crew cut a little shorter. By maybe a foot.' When Kiniski failed to return Walcott gave the win to Watson and O'Connor. Kiniski still had to make his way through the fans to the safety of the dressing room having earned the fans ire previously shown to Nanjo and other enemies of the state - State Whipper.

1957 Jersey Joe again and Hutton outside the fence
That would set the feud in motion with the two going to battle on the next card at MLG and later a wire fence bout (early type cage match). Dick Hutton would side with Kiniski and draw himself into the bouts and team with Kiniski against Whipper and Yukon Eric on a subsequent card as well as interfere in each others bouts.

The Fence match on Jan 24 ended in a wild finish with Kiniski and Hutton going after Whip and ref 'Jersey Joe' who was again part of the action.

A bout at East York Arena between Watson and Hutton the following week led to another incident involving Kiniski. Watson beat Hutton to win the $1000 check that Hutton had been offering to anyone who could beat him within 20 minutes. Whipper would be the first in Toronto to beat Hutton, but after the bout Kiniski jumped in and tore up the check while he and Hutton attacked ref Bunny Dunlop.

This led to Kiniski being given a $500 fine, said to be the steepest penalty handed down at the time. Kiniski was also given a 4 week suspension from Metro Toronto. Commissioner Merv McKenzie also curtailed the license of Tunney to promote at the Arena for 6 months. MLG was not included !

It may have been legit as Tunney didn't return to East York until Oct 1957, though they only used it when the Gardens was not available anyways. Les Lyman and others ran the smaller Arena in that era also.

Genial Gene meanwhile offered this to the fans in response to the outrage over how he treated our fan-favorites. 'Tell them from me to go to hell too ! I'll fight in Maple Leaf Gardens whenever I like. Let those chicken bums stay home if they don't like me.'

Genial Gene orating while on suspension 1957
This was around the same time that Ontario MPP Arthur Child had leveled criticism at the antics of Wrestlers pushing the referee's around and called it a farce. It started a heated battle with debates over the OAC being associated with pro rasslin and involved Whipper and others around the scene. Ref Joe Gollob, no stranger to the rough stuff replied back that 'we don't need a Commission.' Whipper used his diplomacy to smooth things over in the end.

Kiniski meanwhile would show up at MLG in March and take to the ring before the main of The Miller Brothers vs Hard Boiled Haggerty and Hutton. In his usual quiet way Gene announced his suspension was now over and he would be back to destroy Whip.

They would continue through the year both in singles and tag bouts, Whipper with various partners and Kiniski with Hutton. Kiniski would go on to beat O'Connor for our British Empire Title and he would earn a bouts against NWA champ Lou Thesz at the Gardens.

They would do big business here with averages of 10,000 a card. With Whip and Kiniski on top for most of the year Tunney drew over 320,000 over 48 cards in 1957.

The feud would travel around the circuit here with some big bouts in London as well as in Buffalo, and then moving across the country with stops in Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver with the fans following the feud on the CBC shows.

Gene would soon team with Fritz Von Erich to form a formidable tag and continue to battle Whipper and his partners through 1958 while the two would battle in singles bouts and trade the B-E Title into 1959. They would also battle with the Canadian Open Tag Titles at stake in the same time frame, both of them on top of the wrestling world here in Toronto.

The feud would periodically start up again and continue through the 1960's up to 1965.

MLG Photog and writer Roger Baker saw these two in action many times over the years and relates his memories

"Their matches will forever be a bench mark for both the length of time and many dozens of encounters that took place between these two great Canadian wrestlers. The only other feud that Watson had that could compare in number of years and brutality, would have been The Whipper's many grudge encounters with Nanjo Singh.

Kiniski was a very brash, in your face competitor, and he kept himself in excellent physical condition at all times. He belonged to be the headliner that he was, only the top wrestlers of his era could stay with him long enough to make for a good match, and at the same time walk out on their own two feet.

Whipper always gave Kiniski a battle whenever they met. Watson probably body slammed Kiniski at least eight to ten times in every encounter. To see Watson apply this slam was a thing of beauty. He would crotch Kiniski and lift him with his right arm and actually be able to raise him up to where Kiniski was a good foot above the Whipper's head, then Kiniski was slammed to the mat, or the wooden ramp with all of Watson's strength. This move always got the crowd excited, and had Kiniski crawling on his knees in a lot of pain.'

Kiniski employed many wrestling holds to his opponents that were at times crippling. An example would be his knee drop to his opponents upper chest, and sometimes to the exposed throat as well. He often delivered his big boots to their rib cage, this could result in a wrestler having many a recovery for bruised ribs."

Kiniski would have his run with the NWA Title and would defend here a total of 17 times including a 1966 bout against Whip. Their last bout at MLG would come in June 1967 with Kiniski taking on both Whipper and Bulldog Brower in a handicap bout. The NWA title was not at stake as Whipper and Brower, working in tag rules, beat Kiniski in front of 6,200.

Whipper's career ended in 1971 but that would not be the end of the feud. In 1978 Kiniski was set to battle Dino Bravo for the newly created Canadian Heavyweight Title. The night was also deemed 'Whipper Watson Appreciation Night.'

Frank Tunney was to honor Whipper by donating 1$ from each ticket to the Easter Seals 'Timmy Scholarship Fund ' and would acknowledge Whipper for all he had done for the sport and the charity work. Watson would also award the new championship belt to the winner of the bout.

Well, big Gene, still not a quiet guy by any means would start an argument with Whipper earning the wrath of the newer fans who would boo him mercilessly as he lost the bout to the now new champ Bravo. At that point Whip and Gene were at the 22 year mark of the feud.

Kiniski, in later years would talk very highly of Watson and of the money they made with each other, and he would be present at Whipper's funeral in 1990. The feud was finally over.

Photos by Burns and original clips and memories thanks to Roger Baker
For more on the MP's vs Wrestling incident see  1957: The year the Ontario government questioned pro wrestling's validity