Showing posts from 2019

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

-by Gary Will

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-w…

PHOTOS: Dory Funk Jr. defends NWA title: 1973; Gary Will's TWH

PHOTOS: Dory Funk Jr. defends NWA title: 1973

On February 11, 1973, Dory Funk Jr. successfully defended the NWA world heavyweight title at Maple Leaf Gardens against challenger Johnny Valentine.

A good portion of the match consisted of Valentine holding Funk in a front face-lock, but February 11 would turn out not to be Valentine's day, as Funk would come back to win the match in 28:12. Reported attendance was 14,000. The referee is Tiger Tasker.

You can see in the photos how the crowd lights would go out during the matches, leaving only the lights above the ring. You can also see the famous Gardens ramp in the background.

-by Gary Will

Unmasked! -- Wrestlers who lost their masks in Toronto : Gary Will's TWH

Masked wrestlers in Toronto date back to the first appearance of the area's first Masked Marvel in 1932. More than 20 wrestlers lost their masks in the ring in Toronto:

DATENAMEUNMASKED ASUNMASKED BY36/06/18   The UnknownHal RumbergJim McMillen38/09/29Masked MarvelTed CoxMayes McLain41/11/27Masked WolfJohn GrandovichThe Angel43/08/12Red ShadowLeo NumaWild Bill Longson44/01/05The CzarDick LeverBobby Managoff48/01/08The MummyPedro MartinezMasked Marvel49/01/27Mr. XEarl McCreadyMasked Marvel & tag partners49/02/17Masked MarvelLew ReynheerWhipper Billy Watson51/02/22Masked ManagerMayes McLainWhipper Billy Watson51/08/30Masked MarvelLou NewmanThe Zebra51/11/29The ZebraGeorge BollasWhipper Billy Watson52/12/26Masked MarvelFrank ValoisRed Mask53/06/11Red MaskDutch HefnerLou Thesz59/06/04Great BoloAl LovelockWhipper Billy Watson61/05/25Black TerrorLaverne BaxterWhipper Billy Watson64/01/16The DestroyerJoe ChristieJohnny Valentine64/05/06Mighty Herculesnot identifiedJohnny Valentine66…

Toronto's Longest Runs -- The 25-Year Club: Gary Will's TWH

These are the wrestlers with the longest gap between their first Toronto appearance for a major promotion and their last:

NAMEYEARSLou Thesz36.6Lee Henning35.3Ivan Kalmikoff33.2Sky Low Low32.4Whipper Billy Watson31.1Little Beaver30.7Joe "Killer" Christie30.0Ric Flair28.6Dick Beyer / The Destroyer28.0Billy Red Lyons27.4Pat Flanagan27.2Wee Willie Davis27.0Killer Kowalski26.7Gene Kiniski26.5Al Costello26.3Nanjo Singh26.2Lord Athol Layton26.0Don Jardine / The Spoiler25.8Mike Mazurki25.8Bobo Brazil25.3Bruno Sammartino25.2Paul "Butcher" Vachon25.2
This is different from a list of wrestlers with the most matches in Toronto, since several of these guys had lengthy gaps where they made no appearances here. For example, Dick Beyer didn't wrestle in Toronto after 1961, until returning 18 years later as The Destroyer. Don Jardine didn't wrestle in Toronto for over 20 years after starting in the area in the late 1950s, but he came back for a few matches as The Spoiler …

Whipper Billy Watson vs Gorgeous George, March 12, 1959: Gary Will's TWH

It may be the most famous match in Toronto that didn't involve a world title switch. On March 12, 1959 Whipper Billy Watson defeated Gorgeous George in a match where the stipulations were that Watson would retire if he lost and George would have his head shaved if he was defeated. It was a no-curfew, there-must-be-a-winner match, so promoter Frank Tunney had just about guaranteed the fans that one of the stipulations would be carried out. And it was.

George had just turned 44 the previous month, but he was an old 44 and his hall-of-fame career was clearly on the downswing. He had made his first appearance in Toronto in 1948 and wrestled Watson at Maple Leaf Gardens that year and again in 1956. Watson had won both of the previous matches and this would be their third meeting in Toronto.

The stipulations were only announced five days before the match. On February 26, George had made his first appearance in Toronto in three years, defeating a clean-cut youngster named Wally Sieber wh…

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

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 …

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 wel…

Al "Bunny" Dunlop: wrestler, referee, promoter: Gary Will's TWH

Al "Bunny" Dunlop was a fixture on the Toronto wrestling scene for 40 years, working as a wrestler and referee. And, for a few months in 1947, Dunlop promoted his own shows under the banner of the Atlas Athletic Club.

The first appearance I've found for Dunlop as a pro wrestler in Toronto is a 1932 match organized by Jack Corcoran at Oakwood Stadium (near Oakwood and St. Clair) as part of a YMCA fundraiser. Fifteen years later, Oakwood Stadium would become an important venue for Dunlop.

He wouldn't make it to Maple Leaf Gardens until 1934, losing to Bert Rubi in the first match on the first card presented by Maple Leaf Gardens (not the first show at MLG, but the first one that was promoted by Maple Leaf Gardens itself and not by Corcoran).

Dunlop was invariably described as fat but strong. In a 1943 profile, it was said that he had been a weightlifter before becoming a wrestler. During the day, he was a truck driver for the York Township parks department -- a job h…