Saturday, September 29, 2018

Whip vs Togo in Oshawa 1953


"Used to be a time when people were happy to see three good fights. I remember three shows at the old Oshawa Arena where Whipper Billy Watson and The Great Togo brought brought in 10,000 people and boy was it hot in there...you couldn't breathe" -Pat Milosh 1985 reflecting on Oshawa wrestling history 

During his feud with The Great Togo in Oshawa in 1953 Whipper let his emotions get the better of him and attacks Togo with a chair 'that cut him for 11 stitches.'  The feud helps revitalize Oshawa Wrestling setting attendance records with a high of 3500+ to see the third bout in the series on July.

The match-up was so popular they came back in August for a 2 card series

Two of the five bouts didn't have attendance listed but would guess they all had close to the same attendance possibly with the exception of the first bout that set it on fire. The feud not the Arena. The Oshawa Arena did in fact burn down on the day of the final wrestling card a few months later. More on that in another post.

The entire year would prove to be successful for the young promoter. Even with ticket prices increasing 25c the fans would come out in droves to make Wrestling the most popular sport in Oshawa.

Average attendance in previous years was 500-1,500 with occasional spikes. The 1953 season of 21 cards may have drawn 40-50,000. Ten shows were reported totaling 25,000 while the other 11 didn't list but had 'Good crowd', 'Legions of fans' etc. Lots of good cards and lots of Whipper. Gorgeous George was in too in June drawing 2,750 fans.

Main photo is from June 23 1953

Below are Oshawa promoter Pat Milosh interacting with Togo in front of-and behind- the scenes
and two recaps from the paper, one using the Main Photo above.


Milosh getting into the action

Milosh and Togo

53/06/23 Oshawa, ON Oshawa Arena
B-E Title: Whipper Watson D The Great Togo
*Ref calls a draw, Watson goes berserk and hits Togo with a chair

53/07/07 Oshawa, ON Oshawa Arena (Att: 3000 * Largest crowd to date in Oshawa)
The Great Togo W/DQ Whipper Watson

53/07/14 Oshawa, ON Oshawa Arena (Att: 3527 * Largest crowd to date in Oshawa)
Whipper Watson W The Great Togo

53/08/18 Oshawa, ON Oshawa Arena
Whipper Watson W The Great Togo

53/08/25 Oshawa, ON Oshawa Arena (Att; 3000)
Whipper Watson W/COR The Great Togo

Pic from Jul 7 bout 


Main picture as used in the paper

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Canada's most notorious criminal gets in the ring: 1935: Gary Will's TWH

                    "Much of what Ryan said and did will be forgotten, and it cannot be too soon." 
Toronto Daily Star editorial, January 11, 1924

What Norman "Red" Ryan said and did are, indeed, now being forgotten. But for many years after the Star's editorial, Ryan was perhaps the best-known criminal in Canada. And his notoriety -- ironically, aided greatly by the Star -- only grew through the 1920s and 1930s.

Ryan became well-known as a bank robber whose exploits were romanticised, in a Bonnie & Clyde kind of way, by the newspapers of the day (a young Ernest Hemingway even wrote a story about him). We won't review Ryan's criminal career here—Peter McSherry's 1999 book The Big Red Fox goes into such details and is probably available from most public libraries in Canada—but after serving 11 years of a life sentence, Ryan was paroled from Kingston Penitentiary in July 1935 with the support of the prison chaplain and even Prime Minister Richard B. Bennett, among many others.

He was considered to be the model of a reformed prisoner. Shortly after his release, he wrote a series of stories for the Toronto Daily Star and when news got out that letters his wife had written to him had been confiscated by prison staff and sat in the warden's cupboard for 14 years—while Ryan was allowed to believe that she had died—he even became a symbol for prison reform. A car dealership in Toronto hired him as a salesman and invited people to buy a vehicle from the famous Red Ryan.

Just a few weeks before he'd been paroled, Ryan was allowed out of prison to attend his sister's funeral in Toronto -- something that was almost never done in that era. According to McSherry, Toronto wrestling promoter Jack Corcoran met with Ryan after the funeral:

Afterwards, Jack "Corky" Corcoran, a prominent Toronto wrestling promoter, who [penitentiary chaplain] Father Kingsley had involved on Ryan's behalf, came by in his new 1935 Chrysler sedan and took Ryan, [Ryan's brother] Russ, and the guard on a drive about a much-changed city.

Two weeks after he was freed, Ryan was spotted attending Corcoran's wrestling show at Maple Leaf Gardens.

There's a new wrestling fan in Toronto and he says it won't be his fault if he ever misses a show. The newcomer to the ranks of the mat addicts is Norman "Red" Ryan and he admits that he was positively amazed when he saw the mastodons of sport turn on the heat at Maple Leaf Gardens last Thursday. ... The "rasslin" bug must have bitten Ryan for the next night he motored over to Hamilton to see Sammy Sobel's show and he was the first in to Jack Corcoran for tickets for the Meyers-Cantonwine brawl of tomorrow night. — Lou Marsh, sports editor, Toronto Daily Star, August 14, 1935

Not only did Corcoran bring Ryan to the shows, he hired him as night manager for his Nealon House hotel on King Street East. Ryan greeted guests and booked entertainment, along with running errands to Maple Leaf Gardens and other places. Writes McSherry:

Ryan's employment with Corcoran also involved him in the activities of the Queensbury Athletic Club, for he was, after all, a huge celebrity in Toronto and his currency could be exploited in more than one way. On one occasion, Red Ryan was introduced into the ring at a Maple Leaf Gardens wrestling card while a multi-coloured spotlight bathed him in light.

Corcoran also let the 40-year-old Ryan work out with Freddy Meyers two days before Meyers' main event match against Howard Cantonwine (Ryan is the one facing the camera in the photo at top).

Ryan weighs 210 pounds and Meyers tried to sell him the idea that he should turn to wrestling as a profession. "Red" didn't hesitate a second. He said, "Nay, nay" in the most emphatic tones he could muster.— Lou Marsh, sports editor, Toronto Daily Star, August 14, 1935

As events would unfold, both Marsh and Ryan would be dead within 10 months of the date that story was written. Marsh died unexpectedly in March 1936. Ryan was one of many who attended the funeral -- as was Corcoran, Marsh's good friend.

According to McSherry, Ryan -- who still worked at the Nealon House -- attended a Corcoran wrestling show in Oshawa on May 21 and was planning on moving out west. Three days later, and just 10 months after his release from the penitentiary, Ryan was shot to death by police as he and an accomplice tried to rob a liquor store in Sarnia.


Before he was killed, Ryan cooly shot and killed 33-year-old Constable John Lewis, the first policeman to arrive on the scene. Following Ryan's death, there were rumours that he had recently committed other robberies and two murders. It was one of the biggest news stories of the year and led to a severe tightening of the parole system in Canada's prisons.

Corcoran and John Tunney attended Ryan's funeral at Mount Hope Cemetery.

-by Gary Will


Everett Marshall vs King Kong Cox, 1940: A Real Contest?: Gary Will's TWH

In an interview somewhere, Lou Thesz once said that Toronto promoter Frank Tunney got along well with the newspapers in town because he would tell the reporters when a match was going to be a real contest. Thesz said a lot of things like that, and the truth is that in the 43 years Tunney promoted there were never any matches that appeared to be contests and none that was reported as a shoot ... with one exception.

 The last show of 1940 featured a main event between two former world champions. Everett Marshall had defeated Ali Baba for a claim to the world title in 1936, and was also recognized as champion by the NWA in 1938. In both cases, he dropped his title to Thesz. King Kong Cox had been a two-time world champion in Toronto in 1938.

The two faced each other at Maple Leaf Gardens on December 5, 1940 in front of 3,000 people. Before the main event, there had been a five-minute riot as some fans tried to get at George K.O. Koverly who had been unkind to Don Evans in the semi-final. Koverly was reported to have cuts all around his face and eyes, and even had a cigarette burn from a fan. Hamilton promoter Sammy Sobel was also said to have been injured in the melee.

The Marshall-Cox match went on for almost two hours before Tunney went into the ring around midnight to bring it to a halt. It had been a rough battle, with Cox doing a lot of biting and committing other fouls. The Globe said that "the usually unruffled Marshall was vowing vengeance when it was all over." Referee Al "Bunny" Dunlop had his shirt ripped up during the match.

Joe Perlove of the Star wrote that the bout proved that Cox, "with all his burlesquing and rough-housing, can wrestle with the best of them. For Marshall is one of the best."

The report that the bout was a shoot came a few days later from Ralph Allen's "Mostly Incidental" column in the Globe & Mail. It was mostly meant to be a humorous piece (most of it wasn't as funny as the author thought, so this is just an excerpt), but here's what he wrote about the match:

Exposes are not in this bureau's line, but this bureau, nevertheless, wishes to direct the attention of all right-thinking sportsmen to one of the most unsavory episodes that ever blackened the good name of Canadian sport. I will come to the point at once. Last Thursday night a wrestling match was contested on the level.

This match was not contested in Buffalo or California or Jersey City, New Jersey or any of those other distant spheres where the high traditions of wrestling are sometimes opposed by the baleful influences of commerce. This match was contested right here in Toronto, under the eye of a trusted Commission and in the full view of 3,000 trusting fans. The match was between King Kong Cox and Everett Marshall and -- I repeat -- it was strictly and shamelessly on the level.

It is a well-known fact that, even including a wrestling match that is not on the level, there is no more tedious and subversive spectacle in the whole program of sport than a match that is on the level. Consequently, all promoters who have the interests of the patron at heart take the most extreme precautions lest any such matches creep into the schedule to stupefy the clients, wreck future gate receipts and destroy the orderly sequence in which champions are made and then unmade.

The phrase "on the level" as it is used here does not apply to matters of honor and the law. A wrestling match that is not on the level is neither dishonorable not illegal. Indeed, the Ontario Athletic Commission, in its wisdom, refuses bluntly to recognize the other kind. The Ontario Athletic Commission calls all wrestling matches "exhibitions"; it doesn't care who wins, or how, or at whose behest.

It's unlikely that it was actually a shoot. Maybe there was some lack of cooperation, but it sounds like a regular -- if unusually long -- match from the reports by Perlove and Hal Walker at the Globe. Maybe the wrestlers didn't want to be upstaged by the semi-final. One of the preliminaries only went 35 seconds, so a long main event may have been the plan all along .

On the other hand, Marshall never wrestled in Toronto again.

-by Gary Will


Toronto's own world title 1938: Gary Will's TWH

 Toronto promoter Jack Corcoran created his own world title in 1938. Montreal-based world champion Yvon Robert came to town in February and defeated local star Vic Christie at Maple Leaf Gardens.

After the match, Robert was presented a new championship belt by Princess Baba, daughter of the White Rajah of Sarawak (Malaysia), who was something of a celebrity at the time (she was married to wrestler Bob Gregory, who was the special referee for the match).

In his first defence of the belt -- against Christie on March 3 (see ad above) -- Robert was said to have suffered a broken collarbone in the first fall and was unable to continue. That made Christie the world champion ... in Toronto.

 Corcoran did a good job of giving the belt some credibility by giving Christie victories over former world champions Dan O'Mahony (twice) and Ed Don George.

Christie lost the belt to the Masked Marvel on June 9, and Marvel continued to show that the title was no joke with wins over ex-world champs Robert, George, and O'Mahony. In Montreal, Robert reportedly defeated Marvel on September 14, but that was never acknowledged in Toronto.

Marvel dropped the title to Mayes McLain on September 29 and was unmasked as Ted Cox. Cox would come back to regain the belt on November 10, but Corcoran's enthusiasm for his world title seems to have faded significantly by this point. A defence of the title in December wasn't even billed as the main event. That slot went to a match between Robert and O'Mahony.

 Cox's last defense was a draw against Steve Crusher Casey on December 15 (see ad at right). At the time, Casey was recognized as world champion in Boston.

After that, Cox left the area for several months and the title wasn't mentioned. When he returned in May, he was called a world title claimant, but was never again regognized as champion.

-by Gary Will

MLW.com note: We looked at Bob Gregory and Princess Baba in a previous article at Bob Gregory and The Princess come to Toronto 1938




The OAC, Jack Corcoran, and the bribery scandal of 1934: Gary Will's TWH


Pro wrestling in Toronto was front-page news in the fall of 1934 when it became the focal point of scandal and controversy at the Ontario Athletic Commission. Before it was over, the chairman of the OAC had resigned and his predecessor was disgraced. In an attempt to avenge his embarrassment, the previous chairman testified under oath that pro wrestling matches were fixed.
There were two separate issues that played out simultaneously. We'll just look at the one involving the previous commissioner here and save the story of his successor for another time.

The Liberals under 38-year-old Mitchell Hepburn had won the provincial election in July, defeating the reigning Conservatives. With the new government came new political appointments and -- some things never change -- accusations of financial mismanagement under the previous government. New appointments to the OAC were made in September while an audit was ordered of the commission's financial operations under previous chairman Thomas Murphy, a Conservative MPP representing the Beaches area in Toronto.

The auditor's report released in October was scathing in its findings. The commission was said to have a deficit of $11,000 (about $150,000 in today's dollars) while chairman Murphy was found to have made expense claims averaging what would today be $50-80 every day for years. The commission was spending about 40% of the revenue it collected on travel expenses, almost double what it was spending on amateur sport in the province. "It was never contemplated that members of the Commission should constitute themselves a body of tourists," wrote The Globe in an editorial.

The audit triggered a full investigation into the OAC in November, and wrestling promoter Jack Corcoran was subpoenaed to appear. He was a no-show at two scheduled hearings and his lawyer, P. Beverly Matthews, made a formal objection to the subpoena, but Corcoran finally did appear before the inquiry on November 15.


Corcoran dropped a bombshell on the proceedings when he testified that he had made two cash payments of $500 to Murphy in 1932 (in today's dollars that's over $14,000 in total). The payments, Corcoran said, had been demanded by Murphy. Corcoran said that Murphy had become a partner in the promotion of wrestling shows in Ottawa and he hoped the payment would make the commission go a bit easier on the fines it levied against his club and his wrestlers.

Corcoran had also organized 21 free shows within Murphy's riding and paid for them out of his own pocket. He said that he once refused to put on a free show in the Beaches area and was fined by the OAC later the same day.

The testimony from Corcoran provided an insight into the operations of his Toronto wrestling office. In 1932, the OAC had granted wrestling licenses to three groups: Corcoran's Queensbury Athletic Club, the Shamrock Athletic Club, operated by Walter Beauchamp, and a third group run by Fred Hambly called the Crescent Athletic Club.

Not long after Hambly received the license -- and before he ran any shows -- he offered to sell it to Corcoran. Corcoran talked to Beauchamp and they agreed that there wasn't room for three promotions operating in Toronto. They offered to pay Hambly $1,000 for his license, but -- according to Corcoran -- that was rejected as being too low a price after Hambly consulted with Murphy.

Corcoran testified that he discussed the matter with his partners -- Paul Bowser and Toots Mondt -- and then he and Beauchamp agreed to pay Hambly $40 a week for a year plus an additional $75 for a total of $2,155. Whether any of that money ended up in Murphy's pocket was never determined.

Hambly and his son, W.A. Hambly, testified that they had been planning to book wrestlers from Bowser for their shows, but Bowser was working with Mondt, who owned a piece of Corcoran's office, and so they agreed to sell their license back to Mondt-Bowser-Corcoran.

Murphy was recalled before the inquiry the day after Corcoran's appearance and flatly denied taking any money. "I never received any money from Mr. Corcoran in my life," he testified.



Murphy went on to say that wrestling was just like vaudeville -- "just a show" -- with the wrestlers travelling together from town to town. He said Corcoran was able to tell him the results of all the matches before the shows had taken place but Murphy said he didn't know how much the referees were told. (Star sports editor Lou Marsh pointed out that the first show after Murphy "blew his squealing bazoo" attracted more than four times as many spectators as the previous card. "What's the use of raving?," asked Marsh. "Ten thousand people had a hysterical and thrilling evening.")
Corcoran denied that the wrestling matches weren't legitimate contests and offered to pay $1,000 to charity if anyone could prove a single instance where the best man didn't win.

Referee Jack Forbes told the inquiry that, as far as he knew, "the best wrestlers were on top through merit. I absolutely believe that. Of course, I've heard street gossip to the contrary."

Timekeeper Willie Marr -- a commission appointee -- testified that he would give time signals to the referee and wrestlers so that they could "have a rousing finish to the bout." He said he sometimes knew in advance when there was to be a fall. "I considered it was only an act and I was part of the act." Marr later admitted that he was related to Murphy's wife (Marr is the "official" referred to in the headline at the top of this page).

Even Lou Marsh was called to give his opinion on pro wrestling. "I think modern wrestling is just as it is advertised -- an exhibition," he told the inquiry. (The inquiry is "not telling us anything new" about wrestling, wrote Marsh in his column.)

John Thomas, who had promoted some shows in St. Catharines with Corcoran before the two had a falling out, testified that Corcoran presented himself as "the Mussolini of the wrestling racket and that his word was law." He called Corcoran's assistant, G.W. Harris "most repulsive ... always chiselling."

Thomas said that Corcoran had ripped him off by over-reporting the expenses of the shows, thereby understating the profits the two were to split. He tried to sue Corcoran, but the matter was dismissed because Thomas couldn't submit the records of the OAC. He claimed they showed a discrepancy between the expenses Corcoran reported to the commission and what he told Thomas. Thomas said he got some of his money back from Corcoran after taking his case to the OAC. Corcoran would later testify that Murphy told him that if he didn't settle with Thomas he would lose his St Catharines license.

Whatever reluctance Corcoran had initially shown in his testimony vanished after Murphy's denial that he had ever taken money. He voluntarily came forward with the charge that Murphy had asked him to pay $225 for musical entertainers, liquor, and gifts for a meeting of Ontario and Quebec athletic bodies. "I paid the bill and he had the nerve to call me a chiseller," said Corcoran of Murphy. He also said that wrestler Jack Kogut was a witness to one of the payments made to Murphy. Kogut confirmed that Corcoran had handed something to Murphy, but he couldn't say what it was.

The findings of the inquiry were reported in January 1935. Commissioner Chester Walters accepted Corcoran's evidence that he had paid $500 to Murphy, provided free shows in Murphy's riding, and had paid entertainment expenses for an OAC meeting. The commissioner said evidence of a second payment of $500 was not conclusive and he made no ruling on Corcoran's accusation that Murphy had been a partner in the wrestling promotion in Ottawa.

Walters provided a list of recommendations, which included making OAC officials personally liable for spending outside of the organization's mandate, not allowing the commission to run a deficit, and limiting the terms of commission members to three years at a time.

-by Gary Will



Stanley Stasiak: Toronto's wrestling fatality, 1931

Stanley Stasiak was probably the wrestler who was most responsible for the success of Ivan Mickaillof's weekly shows in 1929 -- the shows that established Toronto as a pro wrestling town. He's also the only wrestler to have been killed as a result of a wrestling match in Toronto.

Mickailoff had already promoted a dozen cards at Arena Gardens before Stasiak arrived in the summer, but the popularity of pro wrestling hit new heights once Stasiak was on the scene to incite the fans' hatred.

Mickailoff and Stasiak -- both immigrants to North America from Eastern Europe -- were good friends with a long history. According to newspaper accounts, Stasiak was working at a car plant in Flint, Mich. when he accepted the challenge of a carnival wrestler and easily defeated his opponent. The circus boss hired him, and he began performing in the athletic shows. It was during those performances that he met Mickailoff. According to historian Mark Hewitt, after Stasiak left the carnivals, his first opponent was Mickailoff in a match in Waterloo, Maine.

Stasiak was an instant sensation in Toronto. The Star called him "the roughest wrestler yet to appear" locally. His position as the ultimate heel was sealed in his second match, when he reportedly broke the leg of Canadian champion Jack Taylor. The popular Taylor had been the name Mickailoff had depended on to build an audience for his shows. Taylor returned four months later, but was never again pushed as a top star. His rematch with Stasiak -- which Stasiak won -- was his last appearance in a main event in Toronto.

Stasiak's first Toronto main event was on August 15, 1929 and drew a reported 6,000 fans to Arena Gardens to see him take on popular Italian star Renato Gardini. Stasiak challenged Gus Sonnenberg for the world title in October 1930, a show that the Star reported had "the greatest advance sale and demand for seats in the history of wrestling in Toronto." It set a Toronto attendance record with 9,300 paid.

Some of his other well-known opponents in Toronto included Stanislaus and Wladek Zbyszko, Strangler Lewis and Jim Browning. He defeated Browning in his first appearance for promoter Jack Corcoran, wrestling in the main event of a show at Massey Hall in March 1931. That ended up being his only Toronto booking with Corcoran.

In the summer of 1931, Star sports editor Bill Hewitt wrote that "Stasiak has often been credited as the man who made the game popular here. ... Stasiak has won a host of friends in Toronto, for outside of the ring he is one of the best-liked men in sport."

 A couple of months later, on Thursday, September 3, 1931, Stasiak wrestled for Mickailoff against former world champion Ed Don George. In its preview of the match, the Star described Stasiak as "the greatest showman in the game" and labelled the bout a "grudge fight" -- Stasiak was said to have been hospitalized in January after a match with George in Buffalo.

The Toronto show drew 7,500 fans to the Arena Gardens. The Globe described the match as "a gruelling struggle" and "a rough-and-tumble affair" which saw George win in straight falls. He took the first in 41:28 after a number of flying tackles and the second in just 3:10. What wasn't apparent to the audience was that Stasiak had suffered a broken arm during the bout, but it wasn't considered to be anything serious at the time. "The biggest crowd of the season applauded George till their hands were sore and then went home saying what they thought about Stasiak," reported the Star.

Leaving Toronto, Stasiak headed for Montreal, but he never got that far. His arm had become infected and blood poisoning had set in. He was hospitalized in Belleville on Monday, September 7 with the Globe reporting that his arm was "in a dangerous condition." He underwent surgery on Wednesday with another round on Thursday by a specialist brought in by Mickailoff, but it didn't stop his condition from getting worse. The blood poisoning spread from Stasiak's arm to his shoulder and down his right side. On Friday, the Star reported that Stasiak was "seriously ill." The next day, it said his wife was by his side in Belleville.

Stasiak never left Belleville and died there on Sunday, September 13 at age 36. His body was taken to his home in Cambridge, Mass. Mickailoff and George attended the funeral, which was preceded by a mass at St. Adelbert's church in the Hyde Park section of Boston.

In its obituary, the Star wrote:

No more will the Arena rafters ring with the boos and hisses of worked up wrestling fans, as that arch-villain of the mat Stanley Stasiak the "stormy Pole" rages around the ring. No more will be heard the roar of hoarse voices imploring the giant Pole's opponent to "tear him to pieces" and no more will be heard the sighs of disappointment from the crowds who flocked to see him beaten for the beloved villain is no more.

Gone forever is the famous Stasiak strut of victory that the wrestling fans so loved to see as with chest extended and head thrown back the giant wrestler stamped around the ring beating his chest with clenched hands and making faces at the highly enraged fans as they cried out their disappointment.

Globe assistant sports editor Tommy Munns wrote:

Stasiak was known as the "villain of the mat," and lived up to that reputation in competition, but outside the ring his ready wit and cheery manner endeared him to all with whom he came in contact. His "bad man" tactics were all a part of his marvellous acting. He was best pleased when he contrived to incite the fans the most, and when his bouts appeared to lag momentarily he soon sent the crowds into renewed outbursts of booing, sometimes by a gesture, sometimes by pulling his opponent's hair or taking some unfair advantage calculated to antagonize the spectators.

The real Stasiak was different. Humorous, charitable, fond of children, and immensely proud of his ability to carry out his role of a villain; he made friends quickly--and kept them.

About 30 years later, his name was taken by George Stipich, a wrestler from Quebec who spent many years in Toronto. As Stan Stasiak he became WWWF champion in 1973 and was a well-known wrestler through the 1960s and 70s.

-by Gary Will




Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Danny Hodge 1972: Classic Photo



Roger Baker took these photos in March 1972 as Danny Hodge made his only Maple Leaf Gardens appearance. His opponent a young Johnny Fargo who would later adopt the 'family' name and wrestle as Greg Valentine. Greg's father Johnny was also on this card facing Chris Colt.

Hodge was the NWA Junior Heavyweight champ at the time. That prestigious title had been held by Verne Gagne, Dory Funk Jr, Hiro Matsuda, and others that were well known for their wrestling ability. Hodge was/is a true tough guy, a real wrestler. Not sure why he made an appearance here, likely touring around the territories as they often did back then.

Fargo went on to a successful career as Greg Valentine and had an impact here during the M-A era from 1979-1984 including holding our Canadian Heavyweight Title for a spell. Fred Atkins is the ref looking on.

Hodge also makes the list of oldest living who wrestled at MLG see MLW.com: Earliest MLG debut for a living wrestler .

Thanks to Roger for sending over these dramatic shots of Hodge and Fargo/Valentine at MLG!


Thats's gotta hurt! 


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Arena Gardens: Toronto's original wrestling palace (1922-1938) : Gary Will's TWH

Maple Leaf Gardens is Toronto's most storied wrestling venue and is one of a handful of sites that can credibly be called a pro wrestling mecca. For 64 years, the Gardens was host to top level pro wrestling matches, including four NWA world title changes.

But before there was Maple Leaf Gardens, there was another Gardens that was Toronto's primary wrestling venue -- the site where major league pro wrestling became established in the city. That was Arena Gardens -- later known as Mutual Street Arena.


Arena Gardens was where Ivan Mickailoff began promoting weekly shows in 1929. It was also where he presented his final Toronto show in 1938 -- the last time the building was used for pro wrestling.

Even before Mickailoff came to town, Arena Gardens had been the site of two matches between Stanislaus Zbyszko and Canadian champion George Walker in 1922 and 1924 (see ad at right).

Some of the names that Michailoff presented at the Arena included Strangler Lewis and Toots Mondt, as well as reigning world champions Gus Sonnenberg, Ed Don George, Henri Deglane, Jim Londos, Ali Baba, and Everett Marshall, who all defended their title in the building (as did light heavyweight champion Billy Weidner). Toronto-made world champion Vic Christie defended his title there once as well.

Rival promoter Jack Corcoran also promoted some shows at the Arena in 1931 before moving over to Maple Leaf Gardens when it opened in November of that year.

Arena Gardens was built in 1912 for $500,000 and was at the time the largest indoor arena in the country. It was located east of Yonge on Mutual Street between Dundas and Shuter, not far from Massey Hall, which was also used at times for pro wrestling shows, particularly when the Arena was closed for repairs. Sir Henry Pellatt, the man behind Casa Loma, was one of the Arena's primary backers.

The NHL's first Stanley Cup winners, the Toronto Arenas (1917-18), were named after the building and played their home games there, as would the Toronto St. Pats and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In 1938, the Arena was leased to William Dickson who turned it into a recreation facility offering ice skating in winter and roller skating in summer. Dickson bought the building in 1945 and it remained in the family for the next 43 years. Curling sheets -- 18 of them -- were added in a 1962 renovation, and the building was renamed The Terrace, a name it kept until it was sold in 1988 to become the site of a condominium complex. It closed its doors on April 30, 1989 and was demolished a few months later.

In the Toronto Star, Jim Proudfoot wrote:

The birthplace of professional hockey in Toronto is about to disappear - torn down and replaced by, yes, yet another picturesque pile of residential condominiums. Before long, people will dwell at Cathedral Square and they'll have no idea, most of them, that their homes sit precisely where so much of this city's history took place. A Stanley Cup was won there and the Maple Leafs started out there. Sammy Luftspring fought there and Frank Sinatra sang there. The Harlem Globetrotters entertained there and Torchy Peden rode his bike there. Foster Hewitt broadcast his first hockey game there.

Soon it'll be gone and shortly after that, forgotten.

And so it's goodbye forever to another chunk of what's made Toronto what it is today, about to join Sunnyside [amusement park], Thorncliffe [racetrack], Dufferin [racetrack], Icelandia [skating rink/arena], Ravina [Gardens -- one-time practice rink for the Leafs] and Long Branch [racetrack] in a dim and distant past - just a trivia question of the 21st century.

- by Gary Will


Friday, September 21, 2018

Smiling John: The forgotten Tunney: Gary Will's TWH

I am so pleased to start presenting the original articles from Gary Will's Toronto Wrestling History. Gary has graciously allowed me to integrate his content here and it will make a great addition to the MLW site. We will stagger the articles and collect them all on the main TWH page that will be tabbed above on the main bar as well as in the Quick Filter menu on the left side.

Gary's research was the reason I originally delved more into the history side and mapleleafwrestling.com is a direct result of that work. Thank you Gary ! and enjoy

Smiling John: The forgotten Tunney


Frank Tunney was Toronto's greatest wrestling promoter and one of the most successful and respected promoters in the world.

But if it hadn't been for a fluke illness, he may never have had the chance to rise to that level. When Tunney took over the wrestling operations of the Queensbury Athletic Club -- the main Toronto booking office -- from Jack Corcoran in 1939, he was the junior member of the new promoting team. The head matchmaker was his older brother, John Tunney.

It isn't clear exactly when the Tunneys started to work for Corcoran. Frank would say in later interviews that he was working in the office as a teenager at the time of the first Maple Leaf Gardens show in 1931. A story in the Star at the time said the Tunneys became involved in 1933. But whatever the date was, John and Frank spent years helping Corcoran behind the scenes.

Corcoran was reported to have caught pneumonia in March 1939, and Toots Mondt -- who was or had been a partner in the Toronto office (more about that another time) -- came up to run the Gardens show on March 16, which featured a world title bout between Jim Londos and local star Vic Christie.

 The following week, it was announced that John Tunney had become the head matchmaker. Attendance through the rest of 1939 averaged 3,000-4,000 per show, and John brought in Wild Bill Longson (an immediate hit), Bronko Nagurski, Frank Sexton, and Lou Thesz for their Toronto debuts in the fall of that year.

According to the attendance figures in the Globe, John Tunney's biggest show was on Thursday January 12, 1940. The main event was Longson vs Jumping Joe Savoldi with Gus Sonnenberg on the undercard. It drew 6,000. It would also be John's final show at the Gardens.

He started feeling sick the next day, but -- against the advice of friends -- decided to work through what seemed to be a bad cold. On Monday, he made the drive to Ottawa to oversee a show there. "Upon his return, he was ordered to bed by the family physician and his condition was not considered even remotely serious," reported the Globe.

Tunney remained at home -- his house was near Danforth and Woodbine -- but things took a sharp turn for the worse on Thursdsay, the day of his next scheduled Gardens show. He died early that morning at age 32. The Star said it was influenza and the Globe added that he had suffered a heart attack. The Gardens show that night was cancelled.

"The entire sports community is prostrated by this blow which took away one of its youngest, most pleasant and most promising promoters," wrote the Star.

Tunney's wife had given birth two weeks earlier to their fourth child and was herself in the hospital suffering from complications. Among the couple's other three children was their oldest son, Jackie.

John Tunney was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery. Frank immediately became Toronto's head promoter. John's son, Jack Tunney, would go on to work for his uncle Frank starting in the early 1950s and took over the business with Frank's son Eddie Tunney after Frank's death in 1983.

-by Gary Will


Thursday, September 20, 2018

REPOST Sammy Berg, Don Leo, Dick Beyer, Mark Lewin....Earliest MLG debut for a living wrestler.


Earliest MLG debut for a living wrestler

  1. Sammy Berg 89 debut 1951
  2. Don Leo Jonathon 87 debut 1953
  3. Dick Beyer 86  debut 1956
  4. Mark Lewin 81 debut 1956
  5. Johnny Walker 83 debut 1957
  6. Tony Marino  87 debut 1960  
  7. Domenic Denucci 86 debut 1960
  8. Dino Bravo ?  debut 1960
  9. Sweet Daddy Siki 77 (reportedly) debut 1962
  10. Emile Dupree 81 debut in 1965
As of May 19 2018 - MLG Debut listed

Dick Beyer aka The Original Sensational Intelligent Destroyer as he was known here has the distinction of being one of the oldest living MLG regulars - who debuted the earliest.

He will be 87 years young on July 30 and debuted here on July 5 1956 as 'Dick Beyer' earning a draw with 'Mr Canada' Sammy (Samson) Berg.

Sammy Berg who is listed as 89 debuted here in September 1951 and appeared through 1957. He would top the list as it is currently. The earliest MLG debut for a living wrestler. He is also the oldest on the top 10 list.

Don Leo Jonathon just celebrated his 87th birthday. He debuted at MLG in 1953 appearing in the area through 1956 making him #2 ahead of Beyer. Beyer had a longer tenure, from 1956-1961 and then as The Destroyer from 1979-1984.

Mark Lewin is 81 and debuted here way back in 1956. Incredibly, as we saw him on the Wildman's circuit as late as 1986 and he was still in top shape. He appeared on the MLG cards through 1976.

Johnny 'Rubberman' Walker aka Mr Wrestling II is 83 and appeared here in 1957. But only once. Technically not a MLW regular.

Tony Marino is 87 and debuted here in 1960. He appeared at MLG through 1976 and for George Cannon about a year or two later than that.

Domenic Denucci is 86 and wrestled here as Domenic Bravo in 1960. He put in a full schedule in that year and later came back as Denucci. He wrestled here through 1982 and beyond that on the Wildman's circuit.

The original Dino Bravo- real name- who wrestled here from 1960-1961 and teamed with Beyer a time or two in addition to teaming with Domenic Denucci/Bravo as the Bravo Brothers was profiled a few years back , if still living likely in around the same age as Domenic.

Sweet Daddy Siki doesn't reveal his actual age. Wikipedia has him at 77 but he doesn't tell, likely close to that. He debuted here in 1962 and was a regular in the area on and off through 1986. He was teaming with Mark Lewin on the Wildman shows in 1986, another guy who didn't seem to age

Emile Dupree 81 debuted in 1965
Tiger Jeet Singh 74 debuted in 1965
Rocky Johnson 73 debuted in 1965
Jacques Rougeau Sr. 87 debuted 1967
Gino Brito 77 debuted in 1967
Paul Diamond 82 debuted in 1969
Angelo Mosca is 81 but he didn't debut at MLG until 1969
There may be others from the 1960's but couldn't find anyone prior to 1962 in front of Siki

There are many others who are over 70 but debuted here after 1970
Carlos Rocha would be the oldest at 91 but he debuted here in 1971
Pampero Firpo is 88, debuted in 1971
Danny Hodge is 86 he wrestled here only once, in 1972

If you can correct or add to this list please do

Monday, September 17, 2018

Whipper and Phil Lawson Training: Classic Photo


An interesting and slightly creepy photo of Whipper Watson and manager/trainer Phil Lawson circa mid 1940's.

Lawson was a real powerhouse in the city running shows and training upstarts for many years. An accomplished amateur himself he had been both City and Ontario champion since starting at the YMCA as a kid around 1910. In 1921 he won the Provincial Light Heavyweight Title in boxing, and in 1926 the Canadian Lightweight Championship in Wrestling.

Lawson took over training for the YMCA in 1926 and would start training Whipper around 1931. Officially he would become Whipper's wrestling manager in 1940 but he had already been using his specialized training regimens from the time a teenage Watson had first found the sport.

There were stories about the unorthodox training methods Lawson would use. Having Whipper carry him up the Scarboro bluffs on his back, stuff like that. This one looks designed to strengthen your neck. If you survived.

Whipper would survive and go on to a long and successful career. Lawson, a very fitness conscious and hyper type who was described as literally 'bouncing' around through life passed away in 1949 at the age of 48 from a heart attack.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Fan Action 1950's: Classic Photo


This photo is from around 1954-57. Could be any bout at MLG during that time. Well, not any but many. At first I thought it was a valet, maybe for Athol Layton. He had a couple in succession when he first came in, Gerald notably.

I'm thinking it's just a regular guy, you or me, (they dressed better then) that got 'too into it' and is being dragged off the ring apron by one of  Metros finest with an usher waiting in the wings. The ring was a lot bigger too as you can see where the ramp starts.

It's always fascinating reading accounts from the 1950's when there were frequent riots and 'fan participation' at the wrestling bouts. From all over Ontario there are many reports of Wrestlers and Fans creating mayhem.

In a future article we will look at some of the incidents that took place back then.


Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Wrestling Boom of the 1950's - Beyond Tunney

While there were few threats to Frank Tunney's promotion throughout the 50+ years he controlled Toronto and the outlying towns. it did happen a few times. As it was Frank enjoyed the jewel of the territory, Maple Leaf Gardens, of which he had the exclusive wrestling rights and was seeing 300,000 fans a year or more for the weekly cards of the 1950's.

Amidst the wrestling boom of the 1950's Tunney and his affiliate promoters were also busy promoting the towns around southern Ontario. They were running Niagara Falls, Hamilton, Kitchener, London, Barrie, and Oshawa who all had regular seasons, and others that didn't. He had his trusted partners in place in these cities. Pat Milosh, Sammy Sobol, John Katan, and Tommy Nelson but a few.

Some others like the Maich brothers (Joe and Don) in Brantford on a smaller scale and Larry Kasaboski in Sudbury on a larger one ran their own show but kept an amiable relationship with Tunney going back to their wrestling days. Kasaboski's TV Wrestling frequently featured Tunney stars 'Straight from MLG!' Dave McKigney (The Wildman) would start promoting in the mid 1960's but at this time he was a young middleweight working on Red Garner shows.

Garner and Kasaboski were both promoting shows in Tunney's backyard and we will look at them here.

If you are not familiar with Ontario have a look on Google maps at Barrie Ontario and use the zoom 'two time's' to zoom out. That's the small area where many of the towns listed below are located.
Google Map - Barrie, Ontario


Red Garner and the Middleweight Circuit

Garner (pictured) show 1951 
Edwin 'Red' Garner, a former amateur standout was based in the small town of Richmond Hill just North of Toronto. He ran a small circuit using mostly trainees from his gym set up near his home. He started in the 1940's and was going strong by the 1950's.

Using fast and exciting mostly middleweight wrestlers he ran 'real' type pro wrestling and had a strong fan base in Richmond, Hill, Thornhill, and Aurora.

His wrestlers all had an amateur background but it was a pro style. The lighter grapplers didn't pose much of a threat to Tunney. He ran frequent shows in and around Toronto proper also and branched out to Guelph, Stoufville, and other small towns in Southern Ontario.

1952 was an especially good year for Red and company. They were doing brisk business with youngsters including Waldo Von Sieber (later Waldo Von Erich), Jacques Dubois (McKigney), and Toronto born Gori 'Ed' 'Killer' Mangotich who would later find great success in Europe.

New Action In Stoufville

Despite Garner's success, in early 1953 Stoufville Arena announced a change for it's second Wrestling season (the arena opened in 1952) with a move to 'Southern States wrestlers.' Said to be the same stars from the Grapefruit states which were shown on Toronto's film TV shows. The wrestlers eventually featured were not household names. Irish Michael O'Toole,Steve Zaboski, Wes Glazier, a 'Red Demon.' Don Ireland of Oshawa, Ted Swift from Niagara Falls and others from the area.

That outfit ran a few shows and one report claimed it to be the 'best wrestling show that has been offered here since it was introduced here over a year ago.' The only local 'name' that appeared was 'Killer' Jim Conroy (as Bert 'Killer' Conroy.

By 1954 though Garner was back in to Stoufville kicking off the season at the beginning of April with Von Sieber against Mangotich. Garner's matchmaker Roy McMahon (yup) offered a money back guarantee if you weren't happy with the show

Back in 1952 while Garner was filling out the arenas on his circuit Tunney was running Barrie -using famed sportsman Max Hurley as promoter - and Collingwood  (60km away). With his regular stars and guests like Boxing great Jack Dempsey in as special referee, they were regularly drawing 1000 fans to the small arenas. Tunney's shows ran from 75c to $2.50 for ringside while Garner had lower prices of 65c to $1 for ringside.

Wrestling Returns to Barrie 1954 - with Northland Wrestling

Come 1953 wrestling would be absent from the two towns. In 1954 Barrie announced a new summer wrestling season would kick off on May 25, this time with shows promoted by Northland Wrestling Enterprises headed by Kasaboski. Northland was enjoying a huge upswing at the time due to it's popular live TV wrestling, one of the first Studio shows in North America.

Kasaboski would run Barrie on Tunney's former Tuesday night while Tunney countered in Collingwood on the usual Wednesday night.  At the end of the month Kasaboski ran a card featuring the very popular midget stars as the main event and filled the arena. Tunney would send his biggest stars of the day alongside Whipper. The Mills Brothers, Fred Atkins, Yukon Eric. etc.

Kasaboski 1954 Tuesday Night Aug 10 

Tunney 1954 Wednesday Night Aug 11

A July main in Barrie had upcoming Olympic star Maurice Vachon vs Bobby Ford while Tunney followed with Whipper vs Sky Hi lee in Collingwood. Dory Funk and Don Evans would also appear that summer, many U.S. stars would come up over the years and enjoy the Ontario North. Kasaboski was regularly drawing 700-1200 to the shows. Tunney's attendance was not reported .

At that time Kasaboski's circuit was vast. He was running shows in over 30 towns from La Sarre in Northern Quebec across to Wawa, Ontario, working his way down as far as Brockville on the Canada/U.S. border. He would also run Orillia a few minutes to the East of Barrie.

1954 sharing the page

Tunney Fights Back 

At the 1954 NWA convention Tunney, who had been elected as vice-president, complained about Kasaboski going into his towns and under-bidding him to promoters. Kasaboski was not a member of the NWA so Tunney may have been looking to stop some of the Southern U.S. stars from heading.up.

Tunney takes Stoufville 1957 
In 1956 Tunney would move into Stoufville bumping Garner out with regular cards featuring Dick Hutton, Fritz Von Erich, Whipper, and the rest. They would also run other towns that Garner ran including Newmarket and Bradford. Garner would continue to run Thornhill (Summer Market) and Richmond Hill on alternate days to the Tunney cards. Tunney would promote with 'Big Name Stars' prominent on the ads.

In Sutton (across the Lake from Barrie) in July 1957 Tommy Nelson (Tunney) drew 1,500 fans for a main of Whip vs Kiniski. It was said to be the largest draw at the Sutton Arena for any sport over the past several years.

It's unclear if Tunney had any grievance with Garner who wasn't the same threat as Kasaboski was.

Somewhere along the way Kasaboski and Tunney settled up as some of the names crossed over. One Kasaboski card in September 1958 was set to have a main of  Fred Atkins (billed 'from Frank Tunney's Toronto circuit') vs Bobo Brazil, who were both current stars for Tunney. Bobo no showed forcing Atkins to face Thompson. It said the 'incident will not go unaccounted. Northland promoter Larry K who brings in the Toronto men through his friendly connection with Frank Tunney, is sure to find out the reason why.'  The recap for that bout claimed Thompson made Atkins 'work, probably harder than he has in many bouts.'

Somewhat related was that the Barrie Fair that same month had originally scheduled wrestling (Kasaboski). It was said the OAC said it was illegal to put on wrestling at the fair so the card was cancelled. Have to wonder as many fairs in Ontario at the time had 'exhibition' wrestling.


Northland Winning The Fight

A column in the Barrie Examiner in Sept 1958 looked at the past season and determined the best wrestling was ....Northland.

'While the Northland wrestlers were although a mite smaller, proved far more schooled in the science of the game. They were faster, and did more than hold their right arms up, claiming victory.'

Added was 'Best Villain - Maurice Vachon' and best supporting cast of Bill Curry, Sandy Scott, Louis Papineau, and Frank 'Scotty' Thompson.
Tunney heads North 1958

Tunney would in turn head North into Kasaboski's area promoting some shows at the Bracebridge Community Centre.

Bracebridge -100km North of Barrie, 200km north of Toronto - is the gateway to the North and further than Tunney had gone previously. For two successive shows they ran Yukon Eric vs Kiniski mains.

In 1959 Ricky Starr missed a Tunney show in Barrie. In a column titled 'Bad Feelings' Barrie Sports Editor Steve Jonescu kicked off with 'Francois Tunney, wrestling promoter at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto doesn't have too many friends among the wrestling crowd in the Barrie area.' He reminded readers of the Bobo no-show the previous year but said that Starr hadn't drawn very many anyways - as they weren't advised of the substitution until they entered the arena. Again it was said 'Northland Wrestling Enterprise was quite upset...'

Garner Still Going Strong

All this time Garner wouldn't miss a beat, filling them in at the Thornhill Farmers Market summer shows and in his home base of Richmond Hill. One of Garner's stars Stoney Brooks was from Campbellford in the eastern part of Ontario and they would run shows in the region including Cobourg and other towns. Kasaboski would also occasionally drop south of his usual circuit and run Perth and other towns in the Eastern area.

No Hard Feelings

Both Garner (as Great Kudo) and Kasaboski would return to wrestle at MLG in the early 1960's. Garner was slowing down and would retire soon after but not before a WWWF title shot vs Bruno Sammartino. Larry K would wrestle for Tunney in 1958 and again in 1960. He would come in for a last time in 1964 to face newcomer The Sheik who spent the better part of the 15 minute bout 'chewing on his victims left ear.' Maybe Tunney got his revenge after all.

Epilogue

Garner would team up with Gus Marmon and The Olympic Wrestling Club in the early 1960's for a time and they would have a short run TV show shown in Eastern Ontario. He would retire for good in 1964 and went on to drive the 'Bookmobile' (library on wheels) in North York and later was the head of Woodview Library.

Kasaboski would continue to promote the North through 1975 but wasn't down in the southern part of the province very often after his initial run in the 1950's.

Tunney celebrated the 50th Anniversary of MLW in 1981 and passed on in 1983 after 42 years at the helm. The rights passed to nephew Jack and son Eddy and as far as I know no one else ever had rights to promote at MLG before it closed in 1999.


For more on Red Garner and the CCWA see
MLW.com : Red Garner
MLW.com: CCWA


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Barry Lloyd Penhale with Tony Lanza 1955



We have lots of Barry Lloyd Penhale stuff around the site. This photo from a bodybuilding contest with wrestler and noted photographer Tony Lanza in 1955. The contest was held in Toronto with Penhale and Lanza as judges.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Barry Penhale Column WAYLI 1954 Joe Gollob Rene La Belle



Another Penhale column from WAYLI 1954. This time a visit with Joe Gollob, Tex McKenzie, Mighty Ursus,  and an update on Rene La Belle.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

1972 Article on 16 yr old Ray Rougeau








































A 1972 look at then 16 year old Ray Rougeau (he would turn 17 later that month) in with the recap of his Feb 6 bout against Ivan Kalmikoff. Ray debuted here in Nov 1971 and later teamed with his father Jacques Sr. wrestling here a bit up to 1974. He would come back in 1986 with the WWF teamed with brother Jacques Jr.

Both brothers were chips of the old block(s). Their uncle Johnny Rougeau was a huge star in Quebec and wrestled here in the 1950's and '60's as did their great uncle Eddie Auger (Jacques Sr. and Johnny's father) who wrestled here in the early 1950's as Pierre LaSalle.