Monday, March 23, 2020

Toronto Lists; Notable Guest Referees

First in a series of lists looking at wrestling in Toronto. 

 There were many guest referees over the years brought in mostly for big bouts or to settle heated feuds. Often a special referee was inserted to create a new feud or to cause an unjust or incomplete ending to a bout. 

 Most special refs were wrestlers themselves or pro boxers, occasionally office or non wrestlers. It was still all serious business. The Ontario Athletic Commission licensed the referees just as they did the wrestlers, usually about 6 at a time, and the special refs were no exception. 


5 NOTABLE GUEST REFEREES IN TORONTO

1. JACK DEMPSEY
 Former Boxing champ who had a long association with Toronto dating back to his early days and his boxing Tournaments. He first refereed here in the late 1930s and was often brought in for the big feuds including Whipper Watson-Fred Atkins, and Whipper-Nanjo Singh. After Whipper had defeated The Zebra in 1951 Dempsey helped him unmask Zebra as George Bollas. Perhaps his biggest bout was as ref of the 1956 title change of Lou Thesz to Watson after a disputed finish in their previous Toronto bout (that one with fellow boxing champ Jack Sharkey as ref). Dempsey would also hit the Tunney circuit towns working in Niagara Falls, Hamilton, Oshawa, Barrie, and Newmarket. In Newmarket in 1952 a low drawing card caused some issues with the big stars when Dempsey received a costly 225$ to appear leaving little for the others. He would also work a bit up North for Kasaboski in North Bay and other stops on that circuit.

Dempsey visits Oshawa, ON in 1952 at The Casino Restaurant, owned by Promoter Pat Milosh - at right
Oshawa's own wrestling star Jimmy Szikszay is getting a light from Dempsey, not sure of far left.
Milosh family photo


2. THE FABULOUS KANGAROOS COSTELLO/HEFFERNEN
 At that time a world class tag team, the Kangaroos were appointed for a 1958 bout between NWA world champ Dick Hutton and Watson. Costello & Heffernan were undefeated since coming to the city in late 1957 and were big fan favorites. Sports writer Jim Proudfoot in the following days Daily Star recap remarked  'while they looked more dashing and efficient than the regular portly officials, weren't able to forestall any of Hutton's illegal tactics.' On Hutton's performance Proudfoot wasn't as kind summing it up with 'It’s the first time in recorded history that a National Wrestling Alliance titleholder has gone through a whole bout without wrestling.' This one looks to be the only time that a tag team served as special referees in Toronto.

1957 Kangaroos vs the Kalmikoffs. 


3. JIMMY ORLANDO
 Orlando was a former Detroit Red Wing player notable for a stick swinging incident in 1942 against the Maple Leafs, and a fight with the US government over draft status. He was appointed for a big Watson-Yvon Robert bout in 1950 after having previously reffed in Ottawa licensed under the OAC. Dubbed 'the former Detroit Slasher' he earned the Toronto fans wrath -again- in not only siding with Robert, but attacking Watson as well. Whipper preserved though and won the bout but Orlando was said to have added 8,000 more people to the 'We hate Orlando' club. That was the only time a NHL player refereed here but two star Leafs players once battled in the 1930s. That story at Gary Will's TWH: Two Leafs wrestle, rival promoters combine for charity: 1932



4. JERSEY JOE WALCOTT
 Jersey Joe was one of the more prolific special referees out of former boxing champs to referee in Toronto. Jack Sharkey could make the list too with a part in some big bouts while others including Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, and Max Baer all reffed at the Gardens. Frank Tunney also ran the Boxing side for years and the office was teeming with ex boxers, matchmakers, and the like, making the visits by the ex champs big news around town. When the Watson/Kiniski feud blew up in 1957 Walcott was frequently in to keep peace within the various tag combos and such. At that time all tag bouts were two refs so they would often have one of our regulars along with a guest. In many of his bouts Jersey Joe would often end up trading blows with the various combatants. One notable square up came against a young Reggie Crusher Lisowski. A few years later in 1962 Walcott came back to officiate in 2 bouts between NWA champ Buddy Rogers and our #1 bad guy at the time Bulldog Brower.

Showdown with Reggie Crusher Lisowski MLG 1958 while brother Stanley looks on
Walcott was ref for a tag with the Lisowski's vs Watson/Wilbur Snyder. Bunny Dunlop is the other ref.


5. FRANK TUNNEY
 Yes the king of Toronto wrestling once (at least) stepped in as a referee. Though Tunney did have a bit of an athletic background he was one of the small group of promoters who weren't former wrestlers themselves. In 1945 they held a Boxing-Wrestling card for the Armed Service personnel at the Coliseum and Tunney worked as a referee. If he did it any other time I haven't found it yet. Not sure if his brother John ever did either. Jack Tunney would referee a bit on the circuit shows but not at MLG..

Frank & the French Angel Toronto 1942


-AC