Saturday, February 29, 2020

Wildman, the OAC & Court

If you are a fan of Ontario wrestling you likely know about Dave McKigney's problems with the Ontario Athletic Commission. In the last years of his promotion he had issues over licensing, insurance, using the wrestling bear (also with the Ontario Humane Society), and other issues. 

The OAC had been an issue for pro wrestling in years past, even for Frank Tunney and his predecessor Jack Corcoran. Tunney especially though, kept the Commission close and but for a few issues never really had major problems with them. They would mostly impose fines (see Nanjo Singh and Gene Kiniski) and Tunney would iron them out. His esteemed spot within the Toronto and National sports scenes enabled him to work through issues that would later affect McKigney - though Frank did once lose his license to promote at East York Arena for a time (see link at end of post). 

In previous years the Wildman's troupe had toured around Ontario keeping busy through most summers with shows in the smaller towns around the province. He had mostly worked on the outskirts of Frank Tunney's promotion and had often used Tunney stars. Dave had also worked at MLG and mostly had a symbiotic attachment to the big circuit. In the heyday of the his Big Bear promotion Dave would even attend MLW TV tapings to recruit the stars for his summer shows. 

By 1987 that was down to a few spot shows and Jack Tunney who had replaced Uncle Frank in 1983 was not as receptive to the arrangement. 

In that vein, anything from this era is particularly interesting to come across. Roger sent me this OAC report from a card during Dave's last days in Ontario before he went on the fateful tour of the East coast the following year. 



I asked Toronto's own wrestler/trainer/promoter and good guy Ron Hutchison if he could add some info re the OAC Report..

 'We absolutely had to file these reports with OAC commissioner Ken Hayashi (and before Ken with  Clyde Gray) after the show.  He did expect his 2 per cent tax on the gate, no matter how minuscule that might have been. In addition to the the 2 per cent tax on the gate receipts the shows and the wrestlers working the shows had to be sanctioned by the commission.  

  The sanctioning fee for the shows themselves depended on the population of the town you were running in.  If memory serves me correctly any town with a population of over 100,000 people the show cost $300 to be sanctioned and in order for the show to be sanctioned the promoter had to have a $1 million dollar public liability insurance policy as well.

    I remember at one time (when I was working) the licensing fee per wrestler was $5 yearly with the year ending at the end of March.  So, if you licensed yourself on April 1st of one particular year or March 1st of that same year the licensing fee to the commission would still be the same amount. If memory serves me correctly the yearly licensing fee for the boys did go from $5 to, I think $25 and then to $50 per year.'  
-Ron

It's too bad McKigney didn't fill in the payouts. It's not a bad card at 579 paid tickets, though back in the mid/late 1970's they were regularly pulling 1,000-1,500 fans in to the small arena cards. Tickets at 6-9$ which had steadily gone up since we paid 2-4$ in 1981-82 but times had changed.

The crew listed is mostly the same as the previous year. After Jack took over for Frank it ended the cross pollination that had occurred in previous years. Chris Colt had been a regular since 1981 while Sweet Daddy Siki, Jet Star, Wolfman Farkus were mainstays in the last years. Mosca Jr and occasionally Mosca Sr would also join for some shows. As was standard on Wildman shows there was a little bit of everything. A hardcore bout, some ladies (Orser, Rose, Sheena), and the little guys.

And what about the other usual presence on Wildman cards? A few years earlier in 1984 Gentle Ben (Dave's latest wrestling bear) had bitten off a piece of the fingers of two young men during an exhibition in PEI. When he returned to Ontario it started a firestorm of problems including Commissioner Clyde Gray banning the bear and making it a condition of the wrestling licence.

The incident also brought back the tragic mauling of Dave's girlfriend Lynn Orser by previous bear Smokey at his Aurora home back in the summer of 1978.

The following season (1985) when Gray noticed an ad for Scarboro Arena with the bear listed, he pulled the wrestling licences putting Dave and the crew on the shelf. McKigney and his lawyer went to the Ontario Supreme Court which reinstated the licence but with the same conditions - no bear - until it could make a ruling weeks later. In front of a full house of 1,500 Dave and Ben exchanged a few playful slaps before the cheers turned to boos as he announced he wasn't allowed to wrestler the bear.

Ultimately the Supreme Court quashed the OAC's cancellation of his licences. McKigney argued that without the bear he would be unable to attract enough fans to cover the costs of arenas and the 18 wrestlers in the show.

Gray responded that it was not in his jurisdiction to sanction promotions that involve animals and if so 'you might as well throw the athletics out the window,' Dave summed it up by calling Gray arrogant and that 'the Ontario government spends millions  of dollars to create employment and I pour money into the economies of all the little towns we go to but they want to close us down.'

It was a small win but the war was soon to be lost. In 1988 with all  of the issues in Ontario Dave took his show back to the East coast - with the bear advertised - but it would be cut short with the tragic accident that killed him, Pat Kelly, and Adrian Adonis.

Mark Greer and Dave with Gentle Ben 1982 & 1985 

For more on Dave McKigney see "The Bearman" Dave McKigney: 25 years later
For more on the East York incident and related info see
1957: The year the Ontario government questioned pro wrestling's validity

Thanks to Roger Baker
Thanks to Ron Hutchison for his insight- for more on Ron's career get the excellent
Ron Hutchison - Pain Torture Agony - the Book!

Some have asked about my old wildmanmckigney. com site. Will bring back a few of the popular bits in the coming months.

-AC