Almanac 1956

The 1950's had seen an upswing in the local wrestling scene that was at it's peak by 1956. Whipper Watson, as British Empire champ was into his 2nd decade as the top star and others had helped push it along as the 1940's turned into the '50's.

Yukon Eric (MLG debut 1950) had taken the #2 spot among the fan favorites while Fritz Von Erich (MLG debut 1955) was fast becoming one of the most hated heels.

Fritz, along with his tag partner Karl Von Schober were creating all sorts of havoc for the popular stars since they had regained the Canadian Open Tag Titles in Dec 1955 from Whipper and Yukon. Fritz especially, was well on his way to becoming one of the most hated in the area since Nanjo Singh.

Some big debuts at MLG in 1956 including Dick Hutton, Gene Kiniski, Edouard Carpentier, and the return of Pat O'Connor would help make this year one of the most successful years of Maple Leaf Wrestling.

Over 300,000 fans would attend the main MLG/East York Arena shows over the year, lets take a look at this year in MLW history.

January - March

The year would kick off with the hated Germans taking on Whipper and Eric in front of 10,500 fans. The two teams would go to a curfew draw when the bout was stopped at 11pm after 34 minutes of action. At that time cards were held weekly on Thursday night and the following week the two would go at it again. This time with all-in rules, all four in the ring at the same time and special referee Joe Louis assigned to keep peace along with regular ref Bert Maxwell.

Also on the card was Hardboiled Haggerty, proving his mettle by taking on both Chief Big Heart and Bob Liepler.  After the Whip-Yukon tag bout Haggerty came to the ring to challenge Watson. The fans booed him down so he attacked Whipper who fought back and the two brawled right down the ramp steps into the hallway.

The following week after beating two men again, Haggerty went after Watson before his and Yukon's bout, this time ripping his robe. An enraged Whipper proceeded to rip most of Haggerty's street clothes off him before he retreated to the safety of the back. Haggerty, built up strong was now ready to face Whipper on the Jan 19 card. In a wild bout Haggerty met the ring post once too often and was eventually counted out by ref Al 'Bunny' Dunlop.

The two had been brawling outside the ring when Haggerty slammed Whipper on the photographers table, The crowd rushed up and the Police along with several wrestlers from the back tried to stop a full scale riot from breaking out. Haggerty, like many before him attempted to escape the fans wrath by escaping under the ring. Whipper took chase and Dunlop managed to drag him back to the ring where he proceeded to count Haggerty out.

Dunlop over the year was frequently the target of fans who believed he supported the bad guys too much, Any time Whipper was in action especially,  the fans were high strung to any mis-deed against him.

New to the scene were the Smith brothers, John and Al who ran their record to three in a row beating the fast young team of Johnny Foti and Johnny Barend. After their wins the Smith's would do a  Russian style dance in the ring.

Haggerty, now said to be being advised by Fred Atkins would get another shot at Watson, this time with a wire fence around the ring and Lord Athol Layton as a special referee. Watson pins him to end it once and for all.

At the same time a bit of controversy hit the headlines when Doug Hepburn, the famed weightlifter turned wrestler (see a feature on Hepburn on this site) decided to call it quits. He claimed he had only made 15k the previous year, far less than the 50k Frank Tunney had predicted. As per Tunney 'why, he's barely started. He has to build up a following and he's done well for the time he's been at it.'

February

The Ice Follies were in town so the action moved over to Whipper's home turf at the East York Arena for the first card of February. He would take on Fritz Von Erich with another former boxing champ Jack Sharkey officiating. Sharkey was in town for the annual Sports Celebrity Dinner.

After Sharkey disqualified Von Erich for hitting him, Von Schober acting as a second charged the ring in his 'civvies' and attacked Watson. Flanagan and Ilio DiPaolo rushed from the back and together they all chased their foes from the ring.

The Smiths ran up another win and set themselves up for a main event against Von Erich and Von Schober. In this era heels vs heels and good guys vs good guys happened quite a bit. The fans would usually take one side, in the case of two heels - the one they 'hated least.'

For the tag bout held the following week back at MLG the fans took the Smith's side who surprised the Germans with a pinfall win. The bout was a non-title affair. The following week in a title bout, Von Erich pinned brother John to end their title aspirations.

Also returning to the area was the popular Pat O'Connor who put on a show in beating Liepler. He was said to use holds that hadn't been seen in these parts and beat Liepler with a type of leg-shoulder stand.

In a feature article by Jim Vipond, O'Connor was said to have spent 11k in travel costs in the previous year while making about 40k.

At MLG he was found working out in the basement where they kept the ring between cards. MLG photographer Michael Burns took a pic of O'Connor performing a neck bridge while Vipond sat on his belly and put his typewriter on Pat's chest using him as a desk.

After beating Nick Roberts with a 'clutch hold' described as an 'intricate weaving of legs' O'Connor would earn the main event against Haggerty.

O'Connor would get the win by dq after Haggery had spent most of the 32 minute bout trying to defend against the super fast O'Connor's sliding leg scissors and dropkicks.

Also returning was Hepburn, said to have wanted to try it again. He took on the tough Martino Angelo while another newcomer footballer Dick Huffman of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (CFL) took on Maurice LaPointe.

It was also announced during the card that Whipper would get a long awaited title shot at World champ Lou Thesz on March 1.

The two were no strangers to bouts at MLG. Since Thesz had first come in with the NWA (Alliance) Title in 1949 he had faced Watson 4 times over the coveted title. Thesz had defended 17 times here between 1949-1954. His bout against Watson would be the first time in almost 2 years since he had last defended at MLG.

Thesz claimed to have 'been forced' to take the match, which was set for no curfew. Watson was claiming to be in the best shape of his career having trimmed down, to which Thesz countered with 'I'm in top shape too, I never let myself get out of condition.' It was played up however that Thesz had a bad ankle, having been injured in a recent bout.

March

Over 15,000 fans filled MLG for the bout, which had Sharkey again as a special referee. At one point in the 23 minute match Watson had Thesz in his Canuck Commando sleeperhold but Thesz was able to get his foot over the bottom rope forcing Sharkey to make Watson break it.

Later in the bout Thesz had a headlock on Watson and Whipper threw Thesz into the ropes to break it. On the return Whipper tried to leapfrog the champ but Thesz's shoulder hit him with a low blow. Watson rolled out of the ring in pain while ushers and fans rushed to see his condition. Sharkey dropped down to check on him and returned to the ring and told announcer Gerry Hiff to award the bout to Watson as Thesz was disqualified.

Afterwords Thesz claimed the title couldn't be won on a dq and NWA President Sam Muchnick in attendance agreed, saying it had been written into the NWA by-laws in 1953. Tunney said he felt Watson was the champ but as an NWA member would abide by the constitution. Whipper claimed victory and Sharkey stood by his decision to declare Whipper champ.

Thesz called out Sharkey as a 'homer', that he had just looked at the 15,000 people and made a popular decision. He said he had lost a bout the same way to Leo Nomellini in San Francisco but didn't lose the title.


Another article claimed Muchnick told Tunney 'if you advertise him (Watson) as the champ I'll throw you out of the NWA. Tunney was the NWA vice-president at the time. It was reported that Thesz had matches booked in Los Angeles on March 14 and Long Beach on March 15, but the California promoter had  agreed to release Thesz from those commitments so 'he may meet Watson here March 15 to settle the issue.'

It was made for the 15th as the following week's card (8th) was booked for the small East York Arena that 'wouldn't hold a tenth of those who would want to see it.' A photo in the paper had Watson, Thesz, Muchnick, and Tunney all hovered over a contract in Tunney's office.

The following week Watson took on John Smith at East York with Smith hoping to throw a spanner in the works of Watson's next try at Thesz a week away. Even with brother Al's interference Watson defeated John with a corkscrew hold after just 8 minutes.

For the Title re-match Jack Dempsey was assigned as special referee. Again over 15,000 packed the Gardens to see the highly anticipated re-match. This time Watson made good to win the title in front of the hometown crowd. Watson avoided Thesz' step over toeholds and got the champ in an arm claw. Thesz seemed hurt and tried to escape the ring.

Whipper kept the hold and took after him, slamming him on the ramp with Thesz' arm underneath him. Thesz lay prone on the ramp while Watson and Sharkey stood over him. It was obvious Thesz couldn't continue. Watson climbed back over the ropes, Dempsey counted 10 and Watson was declared the new champ. Thesz then made his way back to the ring and sat down while Watson and Sharkey looked over him. He refused their help and waited for MLG physician Dr Myron Miller to attend to him.

A few fans rushed into the ring and a couple got their photo taken with Watson while he took in the applause. The lady who ran Whipper's fan club escorted him from the ring ans the fans celebrated. 'The Leafs, in their Stanley Cup winning nights never had it so good' was one description.

Thesz later said that about Whip that 'the man is in better shape than I've ever seen him. He's one rough baby now.'Muchnick also chimed in with 'if Thesz wasn't disqualified, then Watson is the champ. Good luck to him.'

I was fortunate to be able to ask MLG Photographer and writer Roger Baker about his memories of Lou Thesz and this bout in particular

'Lou Thesz the standout N.W.A. Champ... had the pleasure of seeing Thesz wrestle a number of times at the Gardens. He was the consummate professional wrestler, no showboating, he went about his wrestling without any theatrics, a few of Thesz's matches that I saw come to mind. On March 15th. 1956 Whipper Billy Watson challenged Thesz for the title in an epic match that was held in the MLG. Whipper had been training for this title clash at Cowboy Luttrell's gym in Florida for the upcoming event and when he entered the ring to square off with Thesz it was obvious that The Whipper was ready He entered the ring at a trim 227lbs, the lightest that he'd been in years.

'This young future wrestling reporter was seated at ring side, and watched up to that point in time one of the greatest matches that I would ever see. The special referee for this match was the former heavyweight boxing champ Jack Dempsey. Thesz and Watson had wrestled several weeks earlier at the Gardens and Thesz kept his title amid much controversy at the conclusion of this match.'

'At the start of the rematch Whipper was the aggressor and punished Thesz with a vast number of holds, including hammer locks, head locks, step over toe holds, as well as Whippers latest submission hold called the cork screw in which he twisted Thesz's hand so severely that his arm curled up to his chest. 

In his pain to escape the hold Thesz climbed through the ring ropes to what he thought was the safety of the ramp. Watson was not to be undone of his opportunity to dethrone Thesz and followed him out to the ramp and gave Thesz a very hard body slam on the ramp. Thesz's arm was behind his back when he was slammed, in the meanwhile Dempsey was counting to ten, Watson reentered the ring to beat the count, and Thesz was counted out while still on the ramp. Watson was declared the winner, and loser Thesz had to be tended to by the ringside doctor Myron Miller.'

In Thesz's book Hooker he had this to say :
"Whipper" Billy Watson wore the belt for several months in 1956, but it was strictly a caretaker-sort of deal. I had fractured an ankle while skiing in California and, with the aid of Novocain, had wrestled on it for five weeks to protect my title. I badly needed some recovery time, so I "deposited" the belt with my close friend Frank Tunney, the promoter in Toronto, because I could trust him.

I hobbled into Toronto, shot my ankle with Novocain immediately before the match, and then worked a one-fall, 35- minute match with Watson that I "lost" when I was counted out of the ring. It took my ankle seven months to fully heal, a stiff price to pay for my obstinacy. Once it had healed, though, Watson came to St. Louis for a rematch and dropped the title back to me.)

Title change: Mar 15 Whipper Watson W Lou Thesz to win the NWA World Title

As it was in later era's Watson was said to have assumed the champ's bookings. He also vacated his British Empire Title and a bout was to be held between two top contenders to claim the title which was Toronto's main prize.

The following week Watson would make his first title defense at MLG facing Gorgeous George. The bout was already signed before Watson and Thesz had their re-match. That would begin a series of 17 title bouts for Watson in his own backyard.

A week later former World champ Bill Longson was in to test the new champ. Though Longson was near the end of a celebrated career he was the one Whipper had won his first World Title from in 1947. Longson also had been a huge star here prior to Whipper gaining hold, helping Frank Tunney in his first few years after taking over on his own in 1940.

The piledriver, Longson's feature hold was said to be banned by the Ontario Athletic Commission and it was suggested that Longson was acting as Thesz's 'policeman' in trying to wrest the tile back. The bout ended in just over 13 minutes when Watson used his Canadian Avalanche to finish off Longson.

Pat O'Connor took on Lord Athol Layton for the vacant B-E Title and took the bout - and the title - after Layton was counted out. Rushing out of the back came none other than Whip's long time rival Nanjo Singh who loudly challenged the new champ to a bout.

Prior to the Watson-Longson bout Watson presented the B-E belt to O'Connor who took the mic for a few words. 'This has been my life long ambition. My next one is that crown you're wearing.'

Title change: Mar 29 Pat O'Connor W Lord Layton to claim the vacant British Empire title


April - June

O'Connor would take over the top spot while Whipper traveled with the title. His first challenge against Singh was touted as a big challenge for the young scientific star, the fans here still remembered Singh and his trail of violence throughout the previous decades.

O'Connor tamed him in a quick bout despite Singh using his teeth to try carve him up, and 'Nanjo the Banjo' almost ended up under the ring as he had often before the ramp was built (for him, no less). Singh went on to challenge O'Connor to a re-match but that would be it for his return to the Toronto mat wars for a bit.

On that same card Fred Atkins and Hard Boiled Haggerty took on Johnny Barend and Pat Flanagan. Atkins pinned Barend after roughing him up leaving the young star 'worse for wear.' Atkins, as is well known was a true rough customer. Atkins and Haggerty teamed again in a losing cause against O'Connor and Roy McClarity with the winners said to be top contenders for the Canadian Open Tag Titles as held by Von Erich and Von Schober.

On the April 19th card Whip returned to take on the rugged Hans Schmidt with Jack Dempsey again as special referee. Hardboiled Haggerty who had previously beat Billy Stack and Scotty Thomson in a handicap bout interfered on behalf of Schmidt getting him disqualified. That led to an all out brawl with Watson, Dempsey, and an incoming Lord Layton against Haggerty and Schmidt.

That set up a rare occurrence. A handicap bout pitting NWA champ Watson against both Haggerty and Schmidt. The title wasn't at stake for the bout with the rules stating Whipper had to face one at a time, no tagging, and beat both or lose the bout. Watson first pinned Schmidt then went to a curfew draw with Haggerty.

On the same card Dick Hutton would make his MLG debut and present his 'Beat the Yank' campaign offering $1000 to anyone who can beat him in under 20 minutes. Against any 'amateur, professional, midget, or giant in the world' is how it was presented. His first opponent was to be Donn Lewin (later the masked Executioner here). He beat Lewin with his signature hold the abdominal stretch and kept the money.

May

After another bout with Haggerty on May 3 winning by count-out Watson would hit the road again for the remainder of the month.

Hutton would continue his winning ways taking care of Donn's brother Mark Lewin in another $1000 challenge match. (Will just note that Donn as the 'Executioner' was wrestling here in 1983 while Mark showed up here as late as 1986 on the Wildman's circuit, still in great shape 30 years later).

Von Erich and Von Schober would return to defend their tag laurels against O'Connor and McClarity while Hutton continued to look strong defeating not one but two challengers in one night. Both Larry Hamilton and Abe Zvonkin would submit to the stretch in consecutive bouts. The Zvonkin an 'extra' challenge for Hutton. On the next card he would do the same beating both Bill Melby and Ian Campbell.

Another new tag team on the scene was the Gallagher Brothers Doc and Mike. Doc had been on the scene for a while and now joined by Mike they made for a formidable addition to the already busy tag scene.

Vipond covered Watson's NWA title travels in a column and described Whipper working his way through the South, into Texas and over to California. He said Whip had been studying the 'racial problem' in the South was upset at wrestling in a 'double auditorium',  with the black people segregated behind a curtain from the white fans.

B-E champ O'Connor faces a tough test when Wladek 'Killer' Kowalski became his next challenge. Kowalski 'The Polish Giant' was well known to Toronto fans as one of the toughest and most aggressive wrestlers to ever appear at MLG.

He didn't disappoint, manhandling the much smaller champ and using his arsenal of knee drops, one with O'Connor's leg over the rope, nearly breaking it. O'Connor fought back and twice nearly pinned him, the ref Bert Maxwell claiming he only hit 2 on the count. The fans solidly behind O'Connor gave the ref an earful with one elderly gent claiming of Maxwell 'he's a washout.' They battled till the 11pm curfew and the fans let Kowalski have it on the way down the ramp.

For a change Fritz Von Ulm came in as a German good guy beating Larry Hamilton with a headlock typ move that Globe reporter Steve York coined a 'Hohenzollern Twist.'

Next up for O'Connor was Karl Von Schober in a bout at East York (Opera at the gardens) with the winner to meet Watson. The champ made short work of Von Schober.

On that same card a battle of the giants between Sky Hi Lee and Lord Layton ended in a draw.

June

'Two of the top ring craftsmen in the world will try their talents against one another in feature wrestling match at Maple Leaf Gardens tonight' said the headline for the Watson-O'Connor bout.
Whipper was at his best to match holds with O'Connor in a wild 40 minute bout in front of 10,000 fans. At one point Whipper was in full control, using many of O'Connor's moves to stun his challenger. The fans booed. Watson. Yes you read that right. 'We want Pat' filled the arena.

At that point the tide turned and Watson went on the defense. Star scribe Joe Perlove said that it was what the wrestlers call 'a wrestler's wrestling match.' Near the 40 minute mark O'Connor appeared to pin Watson when the lights when on, the bell rang, and ref Joe Gollub declared it a draw. On the way back to the dressing room a fan threw a newspaper at Watson.

The no curfew re-match a week later saw Whip get the decisive win after O'Connor missed a dropkick. Again some fans cheered O'Connor and booed Watson.

There was a photo in the paper of Whip with San Francisco Promoter Joe Malcewicz taken during his travels through California. Malcewicz had wrestled here in the '30's.

In a non title bout near the end of June O'Connor fell to Hutton via count-out. Hutton, till now popular with the fans (said to be #3 behind Whip and o'Connor) became a heel when he used some questionable tactics on the champ but got the win and kept his $1000.

 For the June 28 card Frank Tunney lined Whipper up for a formidable challenge against his pal and frequent tag partner Yukon Eric. Whipper, now down to a trim 229 lbs was giving up about 60 lbs to the powerful challenger.

The two had battled before in this era of face vs face bouts but this time the NWA Title was on the line. Whipper did not have an easy time, eventually winning by count-out after which Yukon returned to the ring and proceeded to heave Watson through the ropes. The fans were said to appear bored at times as Whipper was unable to use his variety of holds on Eric 'like trying to apply a hold on an oil barrel' as one report put it.

July - September

Next up for Whip was Hutton with both the NWA Title and Hutton's $1000 at stake. Frank Ayerst in his column joked that Hutton had displayed the currency on his chest so long 'people think it's a birthmark.' The bout went 22 minutes before Hutton was counted out by ref Bunny Dunlop so he kept his money again and Whip kept the title. Hutton was stretchered out, one of the helpers was wrestler Dan' O'Connor who may have been working for Tunney in some capacity.

New on the scene was Dick Beyer, college star out of Buffalo making his MLG debut against 'Mr Canada' Sammy Berg. Beyer, of course would go on to be 'The Destroyer' and would return to the Toronto mat wars in the late 1970's, another whose longevity matched his talents in the ring.

The following week O'Connor (who was said to have wrestled in Newfoundland the night before) took a shot at Hutton but it ended in a curfew draw.

Edouard Carpentier made his MLG debut on the same night dazzling the fans with his vast array of acrobatic moves in beating Donn Lewin. Joe Perlove claimed Carpentier had been on the French gymnast team in the past Olympics and 'if he didn't win a gold medal he must have lost to a chimp.'

Also new to the scene was yet another brothers tag team, the Brunetti's Guy and Joe, a fast pair that were quickly gaining fan support. Billed as Italian tag champs they reached the main event on July 19 meeting the Gallagher brothers. The Brunetti's edged the Gallagher's to the delight of the fans.

The summer circuit was in full swing, In addition to London, Tunney's stars travelling the smaller towns that were mostly promoted by associates including Pat Milosh (Oshawa), John Katan (Hamilton), Sammy Sobol (Niagara Falls), and Tommy Nelson (Galt, Cambridge etc). Others were busy too, The Maich brothers in the Brantford corridor, Red Garner in Richmond Hill and area, Larry Kasaboski's Northland and others across the province.

The small town cards would give fans the chance to see the top stars in their hometown arena's.
Photographer and writer Roger Baker relates a chance meeting with Yukon Eric in a small town in the summer of 1956.

'It was in the summer of 1956 the place, Crystal Beach Ont. which is situated on the shores of Lake Erie, it was a wonderful spot to come for a visit and enjoy all that it had to offer. Wrestlers also visited in the summertime to enjoy an outing on the famed beach, these wrestlers would almost always be appearing in a town or city that was not to far off, Buffalo, St.Catherines, Welland, Niagara Falls.

'It was a sunny Saturday morning, a wrestling card was taking place later in the day, it was an afternoon show that was being held in the fabled Crystal Beach Park, The main event was a tag team match that featured Yukon Eric his partner Sandor Kovaks vs. a very young Nick Bockwinkle and his partner Johnny Barend.'

'Earlier that day I was walking on Derby Rd. taking in the sights what with all the restaurants there was no shortage of interesting subjects to admire if you happen to be a twenty year old fellow with a sharp eye for detail. Who do I see sitting on a bar stool at the front of the restaurant? it was Yukon Eric, on the table in front of him was a plate stacked hi with jumbo pancakes, also beside the pancakes was a large jug of as I soon learned his own favorite syrup which he brought along to enjoy on his pancakes.'

'I couldn't resist and walked over to Yukon and introduced myself to him, and let him know that I was one of his many fans, he was wearing jeans, and a large plaid short sleeved shirt, one could not help but to notice lust how massive he was, his arms looked like tree trunks, and his chest according to Yukon himself was sixty inches around, his arms were over twenty inches in circumference.Eric explained to me that because of wrestling being the main focus on him, that his huge muscular development received less attention.'

'I thanked Eric for chatting with me while he had his pancakes, and assured him that I'd be at the Crystal Beach Park later on in the day to see his match.'

Whipper would return to face Hutton again on two consecutive cards, both ending in count-out victories for the champ after the 20 minute challenge mark. Steve York in the Globe remarked 'this is getting monotonous.'

August

Carpentier would return to beat Angelo Savoldi and was then matched against O'Connor in the August 9 main event. Over the 26 minute bout the 9,000 fans were spontaneously clapping along with the fast pace of the action. O'Connor got hit by a knee and was flattened when ref Gollub called it a win for Carpentier. Capentier embraced O'Connor after the bout amid a few fights in the crowd.

Despite the good nature of the main event here were a few fights in the crowd and several fans were ejected. Ike Eakins was almost attacked after his tag bout with Fred Atkins against Guy Brunetti and Pat Flanagan. A fan ripped off his (own) shirt and adopted a stance like a boxer on the ramp facing Eakins. The police swooped in and escorted him out, but not before he raised his arms and got a big cheer form the crowd. The fan managed to swoop back in during the intermission and was seen signing autographs for other rowdy fans.

About the O'Connor-Carpentier bout Hal Walker called it 'reminiscent of such heroes of the past as 'Gentleman' Jim Browning, Ray Steele, and the like.' There was no mention of O'Connor's B-E Title being at stake.

The following week the Brunetti's got a shot at Von Erich and Von Schober and their tag titles. In an action packed 25 minutes the high flying Brunetti's took the win when Guy pinned Fritz and captured the titles.

Fans rushed the ring and 'chaired' the new champs on their shoulders while trampling all over the fallen Germans. Even George Richards got mobbed when he tried to enter the ring to present the tag trophy bearing his name to the brothers.

Title change: Aug 16 the Brunetti Brothers W Fritz Von Erich and Karl Von Schober to capture the Canadian Open Tag Team Title

Another ethnic tag new to the scene was Mr Moto and Mr Hito. Moto was later played by 'Red' Garner but pictures used for these two showed the U.S. based pair.

On Aug 23 Tunney signed a big bout with Carpentier against the equally high flying Antonino Rocca. Rocca was hugely popular in Toronto also and had been here quite frequently the previous year battling Whipper and others but this was his first appearance in 1956. The two put on a show drawing at the 11pm curfew after 31 minutes of furious action.

Whipper returned on Aug 30 and was originally scheduled to meet Carpentier who was injured the previous night in Brampton. Carpentier appeared at ringside on crutches, said to have suffered a torn knee cartilage. Whip faced The Mighty Ursus instead getting a relative easy win.

September

The Brunetti's won the rematch with Von Erch and Von Schober on Sept 6 and that would mark the last appearance of the German tag team. Von Erich would return in mid 1957 to cause a whole lot more trouble with new partner Gene Kiniski.

Watson took on Haggerty yet again, this one almost resulting in a title change before ref Gollob noticed Whipper's foot on the ropes.

On the next card Haggerty teamed with Hutton to take on the Brunetti's. Ref Bunny Dunlop got a kick to the head and was unconscious while other ref Bert Maxwell counted down Guy Brunetti (after a double teaming) and awarded the bout to the Hutton and Haggerty. After the bout had ended the Brunetti's called foul and challenged their opponents to come back in the ring. They refused to give up the trophy and a re-match was signed

Title change: Sept 20 Hard Boiled Haggerty and Dick Hutton W the Brunetti Brothers to capture the Canadian Open Tag Team Title 

That card also marked the debut of another long time Maple Leaf star - 'Red' Lyons -earning a draw with Shaq Thomas. Later Billy 'Red' Lyons would become the voice of MLW, a staple here into the late 1980's.

The Brunetti's would earn the titles back in the re-match after ref Gollob awarded them the bout when Hutton and Haggerty refused to return to the ring. This time the bad guys refused to 'return the trophy' so since the trophy hadn't actually changed hands the first time it was all back to normal.

Title change: Sept 27 the Brunetti Brothers W Hard Boiled Haggerty and Dick Hutton to capture the Canadian Open Tag Team Title 

October - December

A show at East York on Oct 4 saw Whipper again beat The Mighty Ursus. Prior to the bout while Watson was waiting for his challenger, Mr Hito and Mr Moto entered the ring to challenge any and all wrestlers. They then set upon Whip before he and ref Dunlop disposed of them. They took seats at ringside and rooted for Ursus until it was over and then rushed the ring. Watson, aided by Pat Flanagan ran them off in front of the small arena crowd of 1,000 fans.

That set up a Watson-Hito bout back at MLG on Oct 11. Watson won by dq when Moto interfered.
Special referee assigned was Wee Willie Davis who had wrestled here through the past decades was actively appearing as a contestant on the TV show '$64,000 Question' and had won himself $8k so far. He had answered a question by smelling flowers blindfolded and identifying them so Watson presented him with some flowers before the bout.

The following week Whip was back, this time to face both Hito and Moto in a handicap bout.
Davis, now having achieved the $18,000 level on the show, again was the ref and this time NWA President Sam Muchnick presented him with flowers. Also in attendance was Montreal Promoter Eddie Quinn. They along with 10,000 fans and fans at home watching on TV saw Whipper get the win when the Moto-Hito team was disqualified.

Buddy Rogers would also make his return having been absent since 1951. He took on Pat Flanagan.

A note in the paper said that Whipper, the last passenger on a flight from Columbus to Cleveland took the only vacant seat. He received a smile of semi-recognition from a lady across the aisle and smiled back. He realized his travelling companions were Mrs Elanor Roosevelt and her secretary. As he settled down for a snooze he heard a man behind him whisper 'that's her bodyguard.' When the plane landed the rest of the passengers stood back and let 'bodyguard' Watson to fall in immediately behind Mrs Roosevelt and her companion.

Another note had the Brunetti's in Tunney's office recalling their College football days at the University of Utah with their frequent opponent at the time - Gene Kiniski, who played for the University of Arizona. Kiniski was likely booking himself in with Tunney to make his MLG debut a month later.

Hito and Mito then took on Brunetti's on the Oct 25th card and took the tag titles when Joe attacked ref Maxwell after some chicanery by the Japanese team. The brothers again disputed that the titles cannot change hands on a dq so it was again somewhat left up in the air. The rematch a week later didn't settle it either ending in a draw.

Also on the card was a 'sizzling' 30 minute draw between Hutton and Ilio Dipaolo. Steve York wrote that 'by the time an opponent does fulfill the requirement (beating Hutton in under 20) the bill will have been eaten by moths or will come apart at the folds.'

Title change: Oct 25  Mr. Hito and Mr. Moto W the Brunetti Brothers to capture the Canadian Open Tag Team Title

November

Watson would face Moto on two consecutive cards, winning both. The next night (Nov 9) after the second bout Whip would lose the title back to Thesz in St Louis making the Nov 8 defense his last at MLG. Kiniski would make his debut on the same card flattening Ken Kenneth.  His only loss in the first weeks was a dq when he wouldn't stop attacking Shaq Thomas after beating him in 54 seconds.

'Wee' Willie Davis was the ref for the St Louis Whipper-Thesz bout which saw Whip get counted out after 37 minutes while Davis was disabled after getting knocked over. Whipper had Thesz down for some ten seconds before the Missouri Athletic Commissioner got in the ring and restarted the bout with a new referee.

After a tussle both men were outside the ring where Watson was counted out after 10. Thesz got a 20 count and returned on the 15. Whipper protested and asked for a rematch 'preferably in Canada' while Thesz pushed for a bout in San Francisco (near his California home) or Toronto or Montreal. Tunney said he was due for a return challenge within 30 days at a location suitable for Whipper and added 'we're working like heck to on a rematch at the Gardens.'

Whipper promptly left for his Florida home for a well deserved rest after a busy schedule as champ. He said he was still being asked to wrestle in Hawaii, even without the belt. He ended up going to Hawaii in December alongside Tunney.

Tunney got the rematch for Thesz-Watson and it was set for Nov 22 at MLG with Jack Sharkey as special ref. The two went to a draw at the 11pm curfew with Thesz stalling for time at the end, said to be tired out with Watson holding the upper hand. The two shook hands after the bout leaving Whipper strong in his hometown. While Watson was done with his World title days he would continue to be the top dog here through the 1960's.

Gene Kiniski continued his winning ways beating Billy Red Lyons with a big backbreaker and was set to dominate the scene in the new year.

Hope you enjoyed this look back at the Maple Leaf wrestling year 1956
Thanks to Roger Baker !
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In 1956 there were 50 shows at MLG/East York and an estimated 100-200 shows around the circuit including Oshawa, Hamilton, London. The MLG shows which listed attendance (approx 43) added to 306,000 fans. Biggest crowds were 15,000 for the two Thesz-Watson , dq and title win for Watson bouts. Quite a year !

Recognized Titles

NWA World : Lou Thesz, Whipper Watson
British Empire Title: Whipper Watson, Pat O'Connor
Canadian Open Tag Titles : Fritz Von Erich and Karl Von Schober, Guy and Joe Brunetti, Hard Boiled Haggerty and Dick Hutton, Mr. Hito and Mr. Moto

*based on actual Toronto and area appearances with title at stake

World Title

56/03/01        Lou Thesz LDQ Whipper Billy Watson
56/03/15        Whipper Billy Watson WCOR Lou Thesz, to win the title
56/03/22        Whipper Billy Watson W Gorgeous George
56/03/29        Whipper Billy Watson W Wild Bill Longson
56/04/19        Whipper Billy Watson WDQ Hans Schmidt
56/05/03        Whipper Billy Watson WCOR Hardboiled Haggerty
56/06/07        Whipper Billy Watson D Pat O'Connor
56/06/14        Whipper Billy Watson W Pat O'Connor
56/06/28        Whipper Billy Watson DCOR Yukon Eric
56/07/05        Whipper Billy Watson WCOR Dick Hutton
56/07/26        Whipper Billy Watson WCOR Dick Hutton
56/08/02        Whipper Billy Watson W Dick Hutton
56/08/30        Whipper Billy Watson W Mighty Ursus
56/09/13        Whipper Billy Watson W Hardboiled Haggerty
56/10/04        Whipper Billy Watson W Mighty Ursus
56/10/11        Whipper Billy Watson WDQ Mr. Hito
56/11/01        Whipper Billy Watson WDQ Mr. Moto
56/11/08        Whipper Billy Watson W Mr. Moto
56/11/22        Lou Thesz D Whipper Billy Watson

Notable MLG Debuts

Billy Red Lyons
Gene Kiniski
Dick Beyer
Dick Hutton
The Brunetti Brothers
The Gallagher Brothers
Edouard Carpentier