1961 NWA Convention in Toronto























Photo from the 1961 NWA Convention held in Toronto. Frank Tunney steps down as President to be replaced by Fred Kohler out of Chicago. We will add more names once we confirm them, check back. Thanks to the the family of Tommy Nelson for sharing this with us! Click on photo to see full size

The NWA conventions are fascinating, especially Frank Tunney's place in them. That year he held a card on his regular Thursday night, the first day of the convention. Stu Hart was scheduled to make what was by then a rare wrestling appearance (last at MLG 1955) but didn't appear and never returned. You can see in the notation from the article listed further down.

*As of September 28, 1961, Stu Hart was not listed on the membership roster of the NWA. Haft, Quinn, Light, and Luttrall paid their dues right before the 1961 convention in Toronto. Hart may not have paid his dues, and was considered not an active member

Globe Aug 26 1962
Tunney participated in other meetings and conventions over the years, mostly boxing and mostly at the King Edward where much of the business went down in those days. There are a couple of mentions of Frank hosting parties during the festivities for the dignitaries in town. This was the only NWA Alliance convention held here but Frank & Whipper (and later Jack and Eddie) attended meetings held across the U.S.

Roger mentioned that he remembers some of the visiting promoters siting in the Tunney seats above the ramp taking in the card. 

The program lineup with the sub noted and Tim Hornbaker's report on the convention follows...
Thanks to Roger Baker and Tim for the use of the notes

-AC




























---
From Legacy of Wrestling by Tim Hornbaker
http://www.legacyofwrestling.com/NWA1961.html 

National Wrestling Alliance Convention - 1961
Meeting Location: Toronto, Ontario
Meeting Dates: August 24-27, 1961

Officers
President: Fred Kohler (elected)
1st Vice President: Dr. Karl Sarpolis (elected)
2nd Vice President: Roy Welch (elected)
Executive Secretary: Sam Muchnick (reelected)
Treasurer: Sam Muchnick (reelected)

Membership Roster
Fred Kohler                        Chicago, IL
Sam Muchnick                    St. Louis, MO
Karl Sarpolis                       Amarillo, TX
Roy Welch                          Nashville, TN
Jim Crockett                       Charlotte, NC
Al Haft                                Reynoldsburg, OH
Harry Light                         Detroit, MI
Mike London                       Albuquerque, NM
Salvador Lutteroth              Mexico City, Mexico
Cowboy Luttrall                  Tampa, FL
Leroy McGuirk                    Tulsa, OK
Vincent McMahon               Washington, D.C.
Joe "Toots" Mondt               Pittsburgh, PA
Don Owen                          Eugene, OR
Eddie Quinn                       Montreal, Quebec
Morris Sigel                        Houston, TX
Frank Tunney                     Toronto, Ontario
Stu Hart*                            Calgary, Alberta

As of September 28, 1961, Stu Hart was not listed on the membership roster of the NWA.  
Haft, Quinn, Light, and Luttrall paid their dues right before the 1961 convention in Toronto.
Hart may not have paid his dues, and was considered not an active member.

Among those in attendance for the conferences were Muchnick, Tunney, Kohler, Sarpolis,
Crockett, Haft, Londos, Lutteroth, McGuirk, McMahon, Mondt, Owen, Sigel, Welch, Eddie
Graham, Bobby Bruns, Pat O'Connor, Buddy Rogers, Nick Gulas

Cowboy Luttrall, Harry Light, Eddie Quinn, and Stu Hart did not attend the Saturday
session, but may have appeared at other meetings.

In July 1961, Muchnick claimed there were 12 members of the NWA.  Following the
convention, there were 18 members in total.

The NWA Membership Committee rejected the application of Danny McShain because at
the time he didn't meet the requirements of the NWA By-Laws for membership.  The
committee decided he should resubmit his application, and his check was returned to him.

The Membership Committee also wanted Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle to resubmit
up-to-date applications.  Sam Muchnick had accepted their applications without approval
from the membership committee, in violation of the NWA By-Laws.  Barnett and Doyle were
prepared to take action against the NWA for refusing them into the organization, and
Muchnick had persuaded them not to do anything until they'd resubmitted their paperwork.

The Membership Committee was made up of Mike London, Don Owen, Morris Sigel,
Vincent McMahon, Jim Crockett, Harry Light, and Joe "Toots" Mondt.

Although, Sam Muchnick was no longer the president of the NWA and having the same
amount of responsibilities he once had, he was still being paid $15,000 a year by the
organization.  In a letter to the membership dated October 10, 1961, NWA President Fred
Kohler brought up this fact, and that the money was being paid for Muchnick to book
Buddy Rogers "as world's heavyweight champion," and Pat O'Connor "as the United
States Heavyweight Champion."

At the Toronto Convention, the NWA membership agreed that Muchnick, on behalf of the
organization, would book O'Connor as the U.S. Champion - a new designation awarded to
the former World Heavyweight Champion - to any member that wanted to use him.  That
meant O'Connor had a national booking schedule, similar to that of the heavyweight
champion.  Muchnick, the secretary-treasurer, was then compensated by the Alliance for
booking him.  There is still some debate whether or not the U.S. championship was actually
sanctioned by the Alliance.  It is a slippery slope because Muchnick was being paid by the
NWA to book O'Connor, yet there wasn't a U.S. Title committee and the title didn't need
any measure of Alliance approval to change hands - like the heavyweight, junior
heavyweight, and light heavyweight titles.

Kohler, in his letter of October 10, 1961, stated that he'd heard that Muchnick wasn't even
booking O'Connor, and it was Muchnick's assistant, Bobby Bruns.  The reasoning for
$15,000 annual payment to Muchnick was questioned even more.

In addition to the Barnett-Doyle and McShain applications, one came in from Jules
Strongbow of Los Angeles on October 2, 1961.  Muchnick sent copies to Kohler to initiate
the membership process.

With all the power that comes with being the NWA President, Kohler called a special
meeting of the Board of Directors to Chicago on November 12, 1961 "for the purpose of
adopting a resolution to dissolve the corporation, National Wrestling Alliance," according to
a letter from NWA attorney Harry N. Soffer to Muchnick dated November 3, 1961.  If a
majority of the Board adopts the resolution, it would then be voted upon by the
membership.  75% of the membership voting in affirmative to dissolve would be needed.  
Kohler informed the members that if they couldn't make the November 12th meeting, they
could vote by proxy.  Soffer told Muchnick, "I know of now law whereby boards of directors
can vote by proxy." Soffer also said that it would take a three-fourth vote of "all the
members" to dissolve the membership, not three-fourths of the members voting.

Soffer also said it would be better to hold such a vote after the result of the Sonny Myers
vs. NWA retrial in Des Moines, which was being staged the week of November 13, 1961.

Regarding the talk of dissolving the NWA, Morris Sigel sent a letter to Kohler (and other
members) on November 7, 1961, telling him that "Neither as a member of the Board of the
National Wrestling Alliance nor as a member of the Alliance, can I vote for its dissolution at
this time." Sigel pointed out that such an important decision should wait until all members
could be present at a meeting to discuss it.  He also noted that dissolution hadn't been
brought up at the last annual convention.  "Furthermore," he wrote, "has it been fully
thought out just what will be substituted in its place if we end the Alliance?"

Research by Tim Hornbaker
December 14, 2010
From 'Legacy of Wrestling' by Tim Hornbaker
http://www.legacyofwrestling.com/NWA1961.html 

...Thanks Tim! 

Classic Cards: Double World Title 1982

40 years ago... Apr 25 1982 was the last time 2 of the major world/fed titles were defended on the same card at MLG. This also marked the first time the NWA & AWA titles shared the stage here. 

We saw wrestlers from all three major groups of the time (NWA, WWWF/WWF, AWA) so we had several double title nights in the later years. 

WWWF & NWA  : Jul 1977 SBG vs Strongbow, Race vs Sheik
WWWF & AWA  : Nov 1977 SBG vs Stasiak, Bockwinkel vs Carpentier
WWWF & AWA  : Dec 1977 SBG vs Strongbow, Bockwinkel vs Carpentier
WWWF & AWA  : May 1978 Backlund vs SBG, Bockwinkel vs Brunzell
WWWF & AWA  : Jun 1978 Backlund vs Patera, Bockwinkel vs Rufus Jones
WWWF & AWA  : Jul 1978 Backlund vs SBG, Bockwinkel vs Mosca
WWWF & AWA  : Sep 1978 Backlund vs Monsoon, Bockwinkel vs Andre
WWWF vs AWA : Mar 1979 Backlund vs Bockwinkel
NWA & AWA      : Apr 1982 Flair vs Race, Bockwinkel vs Mosca

In Jan 1979 both the NWA & AWA titles were to be defended but Harley Race never made it in. They finally rectified that in Apr 1982 with NWA champ Ric Flair to take on Race while AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel was to face Canadian champ Angelo Mosca. 

It was a busy day with many on the card appearing on an afternoon show in Buffalo which drew 10,000. By 8pm there were over 11,000 at MLG for the evening show. 

The opener in Toronto was an unannounced bout that ended up being a jewel. Ray Stevens returned as a good guy and faced off against local veteran Tony Parisi. They shook hands at the bell and went on to have a great scientific bout with endless holds and counters. It ended in a draw and the crowd was especially appreciative for the great prelim action. 

Next up was Johnny Weaver vs Private Nelson followed by the number one challenger to the Canadian Title John Studd vs Ron Ritchie. Studd flattened Ritchie quickly including a big slam on the ramp and it marked Ritchie's last appearance here.  

Ivan Koloff & Don Kernodle teamed up to take on the fan favorites Jimmy Valiant & Porkchop Cash. As Norm Kimber was making the intros Valiant & Cash stormed the ring causing Norm to make an escape with the big boom box that had heralded Valiant's intro. Even with hazy memory.. most of the bout was exactly what I captured in that photo.

An Indian Strap bout was next with Jay Youngblood seeking revenge against Ninja who had sprayed his green mist in Youngblood's eyes at their previous meeting. Ninja again tried the mist but Youngblood turned and took it to the body, enabling him to take the advantage and drag his opponent to all 4 corners to secure the win. That's ref Terry Yorkston counting out 'two!'

AWA champ Bockwinkel soon made his way down the ramp with the fans united in a thunderous boo. His opponent was the reigning Canadian champ and area's top good guy Mosca. Big Ange got the best of the champ and was on the verge of winning the title when his archenemy John Studd ran in and helped Bockwinkel beat Mosca down. That led to a tag bout on the next card with Bockwinkel & Studd vs Mosca & Jake Roberts (who subbed for Blackjack Jr.) and marked Bockwinkel's last appearance in Toronto. 

Though this was Bockwinkel's last title defense at MLG, he defended the following day vs Youngblood in Ottawa. Note the ref in the ring with Bockwinkel above is Bill Alfonso who later found fame with the ECW. He stayed to ref the final bout too. Toronto favorite NWA champ Flair vs #1 challenger Race. Both were disqualified after an exciting bout. Flair covered in blood and some of the other wrestlers coming out to break up the post bout brawl. This fan left very happy with another great card at the Gardens!

More on Flair vs Race
- AC and photos by....
Posted Apr 25 2022

Classic Photo: Little Beaver


   The little people wrestlers were very popular across Ontario and frequently headlined cards in the smaller arenas in the 50's and 60's. They were stars at MLG as well, a hit with fans of all ages. On this occassion Roger captures Little Beaver handing out promo photos to some of his younger fans at the Sutton Arena, summer of 1963. Little Beaver had debuted at MLG in May 1955 and appeared here up to 1987. The Star's Jim Proudfoot once called him 'the best performer in the business' and 'tremendous.'
-AC 

Back to Roger and our conversations over the years...

...On another occasion I was sitting in a dugout at the old Maple Leaf Ballpark. Little Beaver was also in the dugout and we got to talking about the vagaries of running a wrestling business. Beaver went on to relate the following to me. 

'When I began to promote as well as wrestle all I got was complaints, bad working conditions, not enough pay, and on and on so now I don't promote anymore. I wrestle, collect my pay, enjoy life,, and most importantly sleep again at night.'.....

-Roger

ADS: Dick Hutton's Toronto Title run

A look at Dick Hutton's title run in Toronto. He defeated Thesz at MLG in '57 and defended 9 times. A somewhat forgotten champ but an important part of the history with his $1000 challenge and a big tag team with Kiniski. He also defended on the Ontario circuits (including vs Kiniski in Hamilton and Kasaboski's North Bay) but only Toronto included here. 

More on Dick Hutton in Toronto

Ads in order from top all MLG
57/12/05        Dick Hutton W Yukon Eric
58/01/16        Dick Hutton WDQ Whipper Watson
58/01/30        Dick Hutton D Whipper Watson
58/06/26        Dick Hutton W Wild Bill Longson
58/08/14        Dick Hutton WDQ Lou Thesz
58/08/21        Dick Hutton D Lou Thesz
58/09/11        Dick Hutton D Whipper Watson
58/10/30        Dick Hutton WDQ Whipper Watson
58/11/27        Dick Hutton WCOR Hombre Montana  

-AC









Wire Fence bouts

  Before the advent of steel cage matches there was the wire-fence bout. A chicken wire type fence around the ring approx. 5.5 feet high to keep the wrestlers in. It first made an appearance in Toronto in 1942 for a Whipper Watson-Nanjo Singh bout. Their feud which lasted 25 years was in full swing after erupting in 1941. 

 Nanjo had debuted years earlier for promoter Jack Corcoran billed as a student of the famous Indian wrestler The Great Gama. In his time in Toronto he had made it a habit to scurry under the MLG ring to escape the fans wrath. Often that included throwing those old heavy pop bottles from the upper rows at the Gardens and various other items that weren't bolted down

 Due to all of the commotion Singh caused jumping from the ring to escape Watson, promoter Frank Tunney set a special stipulation for a  Feb 1942 bout. A wire fence bout described as 'a special wire enclosure around the ring,' it was to ensure that there was no escape for the hated Singh.

Main pic: Whipper vs Fritz 1960

 The two battled it out for almost 20 minutes before Nanjo flung Whipper into the cage entangling him mostly outside the ring. In those days both the ring and the apron were huge. You could walk around the ring on the apron. As Whipper tried to escape his predicament he was soon getting the ref's count to (fully) return inside the ring.

First fence bout 1942
Sam Yanaky, an area promoter who was acting as Nanjo’s ring manager attempted to stop Watson before being beset upon by the now riotous fans. In response Tunney assistant and area promoter Sammy Sobel tried to help Watson extricate himself from the fence. Singh knocked Sobel off, climbed over the fence, and promptly made a bee-line for his office below the ring. The fans were now extra hot under the collar. When Singh finally spotted a lull and tried to get to the dressing room he was met by Sobel’s younger brother (and former boxer/wrestler) Eddie who took up the fight. Just another night in the Maple Leaf wrestling wars.

 Fast forward to 1948 and the fans had learned new tricks to vent their anger on Singh, including lighting papers on fire and throwing them under the ring. A recap suggested the purpose was 'to smoke him out  like a porcupine.' That led to Tunney initiating another stipulation for Nanjo-this time to protect him. Of course that was the ramp, which became  synonymous with Toronto wrestling for the next 40 years or so.

 By the late 1950s Whipper had found a new long-time feud in Gene Kiniski and they brought the fence out again. It didn't settle anything but almost guaranteed some blood flowing, not unlike the cage bouts of the 70s and 80s.

 Kiniski, like Nanjo before him (and others including Bill Longson & Hardboiled Haggerty) had also taken to finding temporary refuge under the ring until it was safe to escape down the ramp. After Tunney had announced the fence bout Whipper was said to be happy that it would keep Kiniski in the ring. Kiniski also expressed approval, hoping it would keep Whipper's rabid fans a safe distance from him. Tunney publicist Frank Ayerst in his weekly column commented that 'if they just put a lid over the ring and an arrow on top like a pressure cooker, we'll be able to tell when they're done.' Ayerst a forward thinker on the lid/roof idea

 In the 1960s Bulldog Brower was another choice for the fenced ring based on his propensity to destroy everything in his path. It didn't do much to tame the Bulldog either. He later became a fan favorite (same style!) and saw more fence bouts with now tag partner Watson.
Whipper vs Kiniski 1959. Note Frank Tunney putting up the wire fence.

 Another match stipulation that came around in the early 1960's was the manager suspended above the ring in a steel cage. Long time tough guy Martino Angelo, now manager of The Beast, was the first to be locked up to stop him from interfering on behalf of his charge. The cage was about 4x4 and was hoisted up above the ring. Angelo was not a fan of it and was lowered promptly after having a (real) near nervous breakdown.

 In that vein the wire fence evolved into the full steel cage with The Sheik entering the cage during his various feuds. In the late 1970's Bob Backlund & Superstar Graham had a WWWF Title bout in the cage. Bob Backlund and Jimmy Snuka replicated their MSG 'Snuka off the cage Superfly' here in 1982 and they often settled the Canadian Title picture with blow-off bouts and title changes in the cage.

Studd Mosca title change (Weaver helping Mosca) MLG Jan 1982
 Perhaps the biggest cage bout ever in Toronto was the 1983 NWA tag title change from Slaughter & Kernodle to Steamboat & Youngblood. In that era we had the cage in the photo above, and they kept it into the WWF years. That's the same one you see in the video of Andre-Kamala 1984.

-AC

Thanks to Roger Baker
Nostalgia mapleleafwrestling.com collection, Studd Mosca cage pic by AC
More on The Ramp
The Martino Angelo cage incident is captured on the MLG Film

Baker & Bruno: Two champs in Toronto

Roger Baker's photos from the classic days of Toronto wrestling are all around this site but this time the tables are turned! Thanks to Mike Mastrandrea for allowing us to share this great photo of Roger & Bruno Sammartino in Toronto 2010.
Baker & Bruno: Two Champs in Toronto

The occasion was a reunion dinner with Bruno as the main attraction. Almost 50 years prior Roger had been at ringside snapping pictures of Bruno. That was 1962 and the Italian Strongman was fast gaining fans from MLG to the smaller arenas on the circuit. In Jul-Aug of that year Bruno had faced World champ Buddy Rogers in a 3 card series at MLG which firmly entrenched Sammartino in the area history.

Bruno retuned in 1964 with his WWWF title and defended here over 25 times through 1976 with Roger taking photos at many of those bouts. In the main photo you can note Bruno is holding some of those photos that Roger brought him and he was 'chuffed' at seeing Roger again. Who wouldn't! 

Bruno vs Waldo 1964, vs Johnny Powers 1965, vs Rogers 1962
All photos at MLG by Roger Baker
After Bruno's initial run here he went on to hold the WWWF title through the balance of the 60s while Roger continued as a roving photographer for the big magazines of the day. Bruno sure got his share of magazine covers and so did Roger with photos taken in and around Toronto like the one below on a mag in Oct 1968. In addition to his fine photography skills Roger also wrote some great articles full of history and facts around our favorite Toronto stars. If a mag covered Toronto it was likely Roger's story, seek them out you will enjoy them!


This site wouldn't be the same with Roger and we can say the same about Bruno as far as the Toronto history goes. Thanks to both of these champs for their contributions to the sport we love. 👏

The city's Italian populace has found a major hero in Bruno Sammartino and have been flocking to cheer their countryman. Bruno is a hero in the same mould as the great Rocca is to the Puerto Ricans in New York. Veteran mat officials are together in their view that Bruno Sammartino, if he continues to improve, will be the next World Champ.
Toronto Daily Star 1962 

 -AC

Some clips from the 3rd Rogers-Bruno bout is part of the MLG Film you can find here 
All of Roger Baker's contributions can be found in Roger Baker's Corner
Special thanks to Mike Mastrandrea, his fine work can be found around the web

Big Anthony's & Tony Parisi

Big Anthony's in Niagara Falls Ontario was a popular spot for many years. It was owned by Tony Parisi and family who were longtime residents of the area. The restaurant was filled with great photos and nostalgia from Parisi's career and there was even a sitting area roped off like a ring

Parisi had a strong presence in the area since he had moved there in the early 1960s and later opened the Tony Parisi Sports Lounge. He first appeared at MLG back in June 1963 and put in a good showing vs Killer Kowalski despite getting the loss. His second bout was against Gene Kiniski before he soon teamed up with Lorenzo Parente in a popular Italian team. Parisi remained a regular on the weekly cards and the busy circuit to 1965 though in other areas he was Antonio Pugliese, pushed as Bruno Sammartino's cousin. 

Main pic: I took that in 2006. Quite a poster! 

The Italian Connection remained strong as he frequently partnered with Domenic Denucci & Gino Brito both here and away. When Tony came back in 1968 teamed with Brito he was billed as Pugliese (only time as Pugliese here) but didn't stay around long. He was scheduled to be on Dave McKigney's Varsity Arena show in 1971 (going head to head with Tunney) but didn't appear. A couple of weeks later he was back in the MLG ring. 

A few years later in 1976 he did appear for a rival promotion. George Cannon and his Superstars of wrestling ran at the CNE Coliseum while Tunney moved his 45th Anniversary show up to go head to head. Again no grudges held as Tony was back on the Tunney cards soon thereafter.

Throughout the 1970s Parisi promoted in and around Niagara Falls. Cards at Memorial Arena as well as the Skylon Tower, and at Oakes Park. One card at the Skylon brought in 2,700 fans for a main of Tony vs Waldo Von Erich. Of course in Niagara Tony always won. He also ran the popular wrestling shows at the annual CHIN Picnics in Toronto for many years. 


In late 1977 he took some time off but soon returned for the exciting Mid Atlantic era. He was still very popular and exciting in the ring. Quick and light on his feet. He would get up on the top rope and lay down like he's sleeping (his opponent was boring him) and other fun stuff. By this time he was mostly in the openers alongside Frankie Laine, The Destroyer (Beyer), Billy Red Lyons, and other skilled veteran types. We were lucky to have some really good prelim bouts through this era. He did team with Flair and others too, able to keep up with anyone.

With the onset of the M-A affiliation the promotion went back to a circuit with Parisi handling the Niagara Falls cards. Mostly held on the Monday after the big Sunday MLG card with Flair, Youngblood etc hitting the circuit towns for a couple of dates before heading back south. 
Let the match begin...Apr 1982 MLG -one of my best pics (content anyways)

At MLG in April 1982 he took on Ray Stevens, now a good guy after years of being 'The Crippler.' They shook hands at the beginning of the bout and put on a wrestling clinic. An all scientific type match it was one of the best bouts of the era for me. It was a good way to kick off the evening which was also the last time two major titles were defended on the same card. The NWA Title (Flair vs Race) and the AWA Title (Bockwinkel vs Mosca). 

Tony passed on in 2000 and the family continued for a time before selling the business. Last time I was by there it was an Indian restaurant. Tony was deservedly inducted into the Niagara Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.

-AC and all photos by ...


Frank Tunney: The Early Days

  The Tunney family originated from Ireland. Frank's great-grandfather Peter Tunney immigrated to Toronto sometime prior to 1849 when he married Bridget Potter in St Pauls Church in Toronto. Peter and Bridget had 7 children. First born Hugh in 1851 married Ellen Quigley in 1873 in Newmarket, ON living life as a farmer before retiring in 1919. Hugh (d. 1931) and Ellen (d. 1933) had 3 boys including first born Thomas Peter in 1875 or 1876 in the township of Whitchurch Stoufville.

Thomas Peter Tunney later settled on a farm in Hagermans Corners near 14th Ave and Kennedy Rd in the town of Markham. Thomas had married Markham born Annie Corcoran (born 1873) in 1901 and they had three children, the youngest of which was Frank.

We can note that Frank's mother Annie bears the same name as the Toronto Boxing and Wrestling promoter Jack (John Jr) Corcoran with whom Frank and brother John began working for in the 1930's. In the marriage announcement of Franks parents on Nov 8 1901 (date of marriage Nov 4) Annie is said to be daughter of one John Corcoran (d.1911).

Was there a family relationship between Frank's mother and his future employer? Corcoran was not an uncommon name but given the fact that Frank went to work for Jack it's quite probable that Frank's mother was related to Jack whose family also had ties to Markham. At least publicly there was no admission of a family connection between the two.

Thomas and Annie Tunney had three boys. First born John in 1907 (d.1940), Thomas Peter Jr. in 1910 (d. 2000), and Francis Martin (Frank) in 1912. It's not clear when Thomas Sr settled on the Markham farm as both John and Thomas were listed as born in Scarborough. The Tunneys first had a farm in the Milliken area (now Agincourt), while Frank is generally listed as being from Markham.

Main pic: Frank & Barry Lloyd Penhale in Tunney's office at MLG 1957

Frank Tunney

Frank, the youngest of the three boys was described as growing up doing the usual farm chores. In 1927 when Frank was just a teen his father passed away at the age of 51. There was to be a considerable amount of tragedy in Frank's family as the years went on.

with French Angel 1942
In a Aurora Ontario newspaper report in August 1933, Frank, described as a former resident, son of Mr & Mrs Thomas Tunney, almost drowned at Harvey's pond north of Unionville. He was swimming with a friend when his friend got cramps. Frank grabbed his friend who was not a good swimmer and almost took him to the bottom of the pond. The friend managed to free himself and called for help. A young man jumped in and saved Frank and a Doctor on scene administered artificial respiration for over an hour, succeeding in resuscitating him. The young man who saved Frank later received a medal for bravery while the others received life saving certificates.

As a high schooler Frank was apparently quite athletic, he competed in football, sprints and high jump at Markham and was said to have won a junior championship. In a 1947 piece (bearing in mind -the usually tongue-in-cheek sports writer) Joe Perlove referred to him as the 'Markham speedball'. 

On Aug 10 1937 Frank married Edna Mary Layola Kirby at St Brigid's Church in Toronto, the best man is older brother Thomas. The couple honeymooned in Muskoka before returning to live in Toronto. They went on to have 4 children including Eddie who worked at the office (accounting side) in the 1970's and later officially as partner with cousin Jack after Frank passed away in 1983. Eddie also had worked for Exhibition Stadium in the 1970's. The Stadium was the scene of several large wrestling cards over the years starting in 1977 and later included the huge Night Of Champions cards in 1983 and the bigger than huge WWF Big Event show in 1986.

A 1944 article from the Stoufville Tribune states that due to physical ailments Frank was unable to join the army but that he was doing his part to ease the monotony of army life by bringing leading wrestlers to the various 'camps' without charge. As far back as 1939 it was noted in the Star that he (and John) were also bringing members of the military to Maple Leaf Gardens to watch Wrestling and Boxing on his dime and was said to have entertained '7 thousand' over the year 1939 alone.

Corcoran and The Tunneys
with Strangler Lewis 1942

In Toronto in the late 1920's the local wrestling scene was growing. Ivan Mickailoff had begun weekly shows in 1929 at Arena Gardens (later Mutual St Arena and then The Terrace, a long time roller rink, a great spot if you grew up in the 1970's) and in 1930 Boxing promoter Jack Corcoran and his Queensbury Athletic Club obtained a wrestling license.

Corcoran, who had been promoting boxing in the city since the 1920s formed the Queensbury Club with Ed Rudd who ran the Rudd Athletic Club. Jack grew into the leading wrestling promoter in the city, arranging to be the matchmaker for shows at the newly opened Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931. Corcoran was said to have partners in Paul Bowser and Toots Mondt. His first card at MLG on Nov 19 1931 fell a week after Frank's 19th birthday.

Frank is placed in the office circa 1931 or sometimes 1932. He was initially described as a 'secretary' while brother John was later to be the 'matchmaker'. There is nary a public mention of brother John until March 1939 when he is described as taking over matchmaking duties for an ailing Corcoran for the March 23 card. Frank merits public mention earlier as both 'boxing promoter' and secretary in 1938.

When John passed away suddenly soon after his 32nd birthday in January 1940, it noted he had been handling duties for Corcoran for 6 years placing him in the office about 1934. Corcoran was still listed (publicly anyways) as 'Matchmaker' into 1939.

In a 1986 story on John's son Jack (who took over after uncle Frank passed away in 1983) it notes that 'Jack has been promoting since 1956', Frank and John 'since the Gardens opened in 1931'. By that time it was a long way removed from the 1930's. In various obits it put nephew Jack in the office as early as 1952. Other stories on Frank or MLG later in the 1970's and '80's generally refer to Frank having 'promoted since 1931'. While he may have been in the office at that time he didn't promote officially until 1939-40

In a 1948 article on Frank, it mentions he came to Toronto to take a 20$ a week job. A later article put it at 15 a week. An item in the Liberal (Richmond Hill) Social page has him attending business college in Toronto as of Feb 1930. In an obituary in 1983 it placed Frank in the office around 1931 straight out of business college. In another article from 1980 with Frank's comments it says he hopped the local (bus) with his diploma from Markham Collegiate and took his first -and only -job at the Queensbury Club. He (Frank) mentions that he 'wasn't all that interested in the fight game, bit I liked the place'. He goes on to say 'I liked Jack (Corcoran), a very fine man, like a father.'

with Red Shadow and Manager 1943
In June 1951 Frank's 3 week old son died after being found in his crib with breathing difficulties. Another son Frank Jr. later passed away after a battle with cancer in 1978 at the age of 38. Both Eddie and Frank Jr. had made the Star paper in a 1948 photo of them play wrestling at the Tunney home with the visiting 'Wild' Bill Longson.

On Apr 16 1938 at the age of 65, Frank's mother Annie passes away at her home at 102 Oak Park Ave, Toronto. Services are held at St Brigids.

In 1939, Jack Corcoran took ill and Toots Mondt came up to run a show while he was away from the office. There was a front page story not long after about an incident on Lake Simcoe where Corcoran and others almost drowned after his boat capsized on a day out on the water.

John & Frank Step Up 

Around that time John and Frank buy the now on-the-downside promotion from Corcoran. Other investors are said to include Paul Bowser, Jack Ganson, and Jerry Monahan while the boxing matchmaker is 'Deacon' Allen. Perlove states in a March 1947 bit that John and Frank had lost $2700 in the first 3 shows they put on after taking over. Perlove called John the 'hustler and scuffler of the outfit'. Corcoran was also promoting Ottawa at the time and John became matchmaker for those shows. Monahan, a former wrestler, was described as as Frank's right hand also promoted in Buffalo & Pittsburgh, PA. He was close with Frank but passed on after an illness in 1947. 

Jack Corcoran somewhat retires from the promotion soon after passing the reins to John & Frank. He does stay on in a limited capacity, mostly helping with the boxing side, and from all accounts was very well respected in the city. He sets the tone that Frank continues for many years. That of the unassuming anti-promoter type, not very common in the Wrestling or Boxing world of the day- and close with the media of the day.

While later articles refer to the Tunneys taking over for an 'ailing Corcoran' (in addition to the boat accident he also had a nasty bout with the flu early in 1939), Jack appears to have wanted to retire at that time to pursue other interests. He retired at the relatively young age of 47 and went go on to spend another 25 years in the city. The near death experiences on the lake and with the flu may have expedited his decision.

A 1941 story quoted Montreal Promoter Eddie Quinn as saying that Corcoran was still receiving 5% of the gate from Tunney's shows while he is referred to in the late '40's as 'retired from everything' and 'keeping a low profile.' When noted athlete Lionel Conacher died in 1954 Corcoran was one of the guards of honor at the funeral, alongside Primo Carnera (Boxing champ, also wrestled), Red Dutton (NHL Exec.), and others. He was active in real estate in Toronto since the 1920's owning several buildings including the Queensbury Hotel on Scarlett Rd as well as Nealon House on King. He also owned racing thoroughbred horses from the 1930's up. He passed away in 1965 at the age of 73.

A June 1939 bit in the Ottawa paper mentions a 'New Deal campaign to bring fans back by eliminating the so-called champions, masked wrestlers, kicking, eye-gouging, hair-pulling, fights outside the ring and mauling of refs. Real old-fashioned wrestling with real holds is to be the vogue.' Said to include Promoters Paul Bowser of Boston, Tom Packs of St Louis, Jack Ganson of Montreal, John Tunney of Toronto, Jules Bauman of Rochester, and Hans Furst of Syracuse. A.E. Long, the Eastern Rep for the Ontario Athletic Commission gave his approval.
with Fred Atkins 1949

On June 5 1939 in Toronto under the byline 'King Kong Cox refuses to accept 'New Deal' bout, John Tunney announced the cancellation of the June 8 card with Dan O'Mahoney. Under contract he offered the bout to King Kong Cox on the condition he obey his edict and cut out the rough stuff. Apparently Cox refused to change his style and Tunney announced the bout was off and Cox would not be allowed to return until he was ready to wrestle instead of 'act like an enraged animal'. Seems quite comical now but the Athletic commission in those days was frequently involved, giving fines and such. They even reprised the idea on the smaller circuits later as 'real wrestling.' Suffice to say nothing much changed in the ways of the ring.

Though he had apparently already passed the reins to John and Frank by this point, in a Sept 4 1939 bit by Fred Jackson Sports Editor at the Star he reports 'business back as usual at the Queensbury Club. Corcoran back from his prolonged vacation and near fatal trip on Lake Simcoe, Deacon Allen back from California with Jimmy Webster, (and at the office) Frank and John and Phil Lisner.'

After a summer break the Oct 19 1939 show promoted as the first show of the season, Corcoran is still named. As of Nov 1 1939 he is listed as chair of Sports Service Leagues wrestling and boxing committee. At the end of the year on Dec 26th he is still named as boxing head at the office.

In Jan 1940 just a few days after his 32nd birthday John Tunney passed away suddenly. He left behind wife Fidelis Merrick (d.1969) and 4 children (one a newborn) including John Jr. aka Jack who later joins his uncle Frank in the office.

We will note that when Fidelis passed away in 1969 she was listed as Thomas Tunney's wife. When Thomas died in 2000 it listed his first wife as Fidelis Merrick. We could assume if that is correct, that Thomas stepped in to help John's young family as was not uncommon in those days. Later family notices seem to confirm this.

In John's obit it mentions his father Thomas was second cousin to Gene Tunney boxer. There is nothing definitive to indicate that is true. Though it is possible, both families following a similar path from Ireland. Some of the Tunney's did bear somewhat of a resemblance to the champ at different times in their lives. Boxer Gene also had a famous son John - a long time U.S. Senator.

Frank Takes Over

The card scheduled for Jan 19 was postponed and on the 20th Frank was said to have 'assumed matchmaking duties for the Queensbury Athletic Club' and was said to be 'brother and partner' of John. The obituary in the Ottawa paper described John as 'First Lieutenant' for Jack Corcoran, a 'genial soft spoken man, reputation for being sincere, a capable executive, a gentleman, and a good sportsman.'

In the 1940's in addition to Toronto, Frank was promoting Ottawa as well as shows throughout Ontario. Whipper especially was in high demand after beating Bill Longson for the NWA (National Wrestling Association) Title in 1947. He appear son shows across the province from Ottawa to Windsor where Bill Thornton was the promoter with Frank getting co-promoter billing on those shows. Whipper continued to have working ties to the office through to the early 1970's and branched out to promoting smaller shows (in alliance with Frank) in and around Toronto in the 1950.s and '60's.

Star of the 1940's Pat Flanagan also became a big part of the promotion on the inside. In addition to being one of the more prolific wrestlers (and referee) in Ontario from the 1940's to the late 60's, Flanagan worked as a type of booker for Tunney. Barry Penhale told me that Flanagan was the person who set up the outside towns as far as supplying the wrestlers to the local promoters. He formed close bonds with the area promoters such as in Oshawa with young promoter Pat Milosh.

In Oshawa at least, it ran with Milosh booking the arenas, doing the advertising, and running the shows. Part of the net proceeds go back to the office in Toronto. Frank frequently had Pat as a guest at MLG for parties and such. He appears to have maintained a close and very amicable relationship with most everyone he dealt with.

Along with Whipper and Flanagan, other former wrestlers formed the core of the office both during their wrestling days as well as after, some in non-official roles. Earlier stars including Al 'Bunny' Dunlop and Kenneth 'Tiger' Tasker stayed on for years as referees as did Bowmanville star Billy Stack. Fred Atkins, after a lengthy career later became a trainer and manager (said to have trained Dick Hutton prior to his NWA reign and also notably Tiger Jeet Singh and Giant Baba) and refereed right up into the 1980's. Athol Layton remained close to Frank while another former star Billy 'Red' Lyons became a TV commentator as his career finished.

With many of the other towns it appears to have been set up similarly where each town or area had a promoter who took care of the shows while working in tandem with the Toronto office. Along with Milosh, there was Joe Maich for Brantford and area, Sammy Sobol in the Niagara region, even the Northland group run by Larry Kasaboski often featured talent sent up by Tunney 'direct from Maple Leaf Gardens'.

It should be noted that 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 did try to make some inroads in the outside towns (Barrie, Peterborough etc) but never got close to Toronto. As with Tunney's on and off again relationship with Dave McKigney later the feuds appear to be few and far between. Whipper too promoted shows in alliance with Tunney in and around Toronto in the 1950's and also join Frank at the NWA conventions starting in 1954. Whipper himself  became a member a year later when he bought into the Seattle territory staying until 1956.

John Katan who had been a big star in the 1930's and '40's also played a big part in the Toronto history in those early days - in the Hamilton area. Katan became the promoter of the town and running it with Frank's help and wrestlers it became a major stop on the Canadian circuit. Hamilton was also the site for Tunney's TV for many years.

Although Frank wasn't one to get too involved on the wrestling side as far as angles with the wrestlers, in 1941 there was an alleged lawsuit by Whipper against Tunney in regards to a breach of contract. Whipper claimed he had been signed to wrestle in the main event against Masked Wolf. When Tunney held an open tournament to determine the number one contender for the world title on May 1, 1941, Watson submitted a copy of his entry form to the Ontario Athletics Commission so that Tunney couldn't claim he didn't enter. He then won four matches in one night to win the tournament. That was the beginning of the 30 year run with Whipper on top.

To Frank's credit, especially as a young promoter in the position he was thrust into, in a 1947 story it was said that Bowser, Gannon, and Monahan had all been against the big push for Whipper. As the 'Pride Of East York' Watson became the home town favorite earning both the NWA (Association) title in '47 and then the NWA (Alliance) title in '56. The once national British Empire Title became Whipper's hometown title which was defended around the country again when Tunney had national TV in the 1950's. It proved to be the decision that saved Toronto wrestling.

In 1945 Frank makes what may have been his only appearance as a referee. He officiates a bout between Whipper Watson and Whitey Hewitt at the Coliseum on a mixed Boxing-Wrestling card for the Armed Forces.

An item in the Social section in Nov 1948 shows Frank & Mrs Tunney hosted a party at their home after the Loretto dance. Guests included Mr & Mrs Winnett Watson (Pat Flanagan), Joe Perlove, Frank's brother Thomas, and a William Tunney and their wives. Also notable is a Miss Lorraine Henning who became Frank's second wife after Edna passed away on the last day of December 1969.

A 1948 article offers a peek inside the office. It reports 'he (Frank) and staff use 4 rooms and a basement in the NE corner of MLG. His private quarters are well secreted you peer through a little wicket at Frank Ayerst who does a Houdini under his deck. there is a click and presto, you are past the outer guardian or tiler and into a cubicle where nine times out of ten, Phil Lisner confronts you and shakes hands. No doubt Frank has to screen himself from tumultuous wrestlers who, like grizzlies, are playful.' It goes on to describe that office as 'overstuffed, its walls reeking with pictures of assorted fighters, wrestlers, and friends, which Jack Corcoran occasionally uses. The back office where Tunney resides behind a desk 'that wouldn't shame the untidiest editor in the business for the infinite variety of its charming disorder.'

The office once occupied part of the space that became the Hot Stove Lounge, site of many Tunney press conferences and parties. A large portrait of Frank hung on the wall there for many years (alongside one of Whipper) and when Frank passed on his friends and peers gathered there after his funeral.

Tunney also had points in the St Louis office starting in the 1940's. He had formed a relationship with then St Louis promoter Tom Packs and when Packs retired in June 1948 he (Packs) sold his interests in the World Title and offices to Thesz, Bill Longson, Tunney, and Quinn. A year later, Muchnick and the Thesz outfit formed a partnership and Frank followed. At the 2nd annual NWA convention in November 1949 Tunney was present representing Toronto. A later correspondence states that Tunney, along with Bill Longson, Bobby Manganoff, and Whipper Watson held about 34% share in the St Louis Office.

When Frank passed away in 1983 Sam Muchnick commented "I first met Frank 46 years ago, we were kids, working for big promoters, and we were witnesses at an anti-trust trial (to do with wrestling) in Columbus, Ohio. It was declared a mistrial -as good as a win- and even better, I acquired a friend for life."

Muchnick chuckled at the memory of Tunney's casual approach to business matters. "Frank had a piece of the action when I was running shows in St. Louis," he said. "I'd mail him a cheque every so often but lost of times years would go by before he'd cash one. The bank would call up to see if they were still any good. They'd have been buried in a pile of stuff on top of his desk. "One time he asked me to pull something out of the heap. It was a hydro bill from a year before. 'Guess that's why they shut off my power,' he said. I pulled again. It was an envelope with several $100 bills in it. He had no idea where that came from."

Boxing

In the early to mid 1940's there were several boxing promoters in the city alongside Tunney and Deacon Allen. Playfair Brown was the most active. Sam 'The Furniture Man' Keller was another promoting shows at the CNE Coliseum and at least one card at MLG back in 1937.

Lil' Arthur King a Toronto native and regular at the Massey Hall amateur boxing cards made his debut at MLG for Tunney in 1946. In the midst of a successful career King switched managers from Dave Yack to notorious Philadelphia mobster Blinky Palmero in 1948 and see his career suffer as a result. In 1956 Tunney helped arrange a buyback to bring King back to Toronto and King was forever thankful for it.

In 1956 Toronto native George Chuvalo turned pro and beat 4 opponents to win the 4th annual Heavyweight Novice Tournament run by Tunney and Deacon Allen in co-sponsorship with Jack Dempsey. Chuvalo went on to have many bouts at MLG under Tunney including a 1966 title bout vs Ali where he lost by decision. Afterwards Ali called Chuvalo 'the toughest guy I ever fought'. Chuvalo was managed by Deacon Allen up to 1964 when Chuvalo moved to Irv Ungerman

Frank with Chuvalo and Deacon Allen 1959
While the boxing side brought some success, there were many problems from the start. Illnesses and problems with the commission and other promoters took its toll.

Tunney worked with - and against - his counterpart in Montreal, Eddie Quinn. Quinn also promoted both wrestling and boxing. In 1945 the two combined to contribute to an Ottawa area boxing & wrestling (mit-mat) card with proceeds to Armed Forces. In 1958 Quinn offered Tunney 10% of the receipts to move an Archie Moore - Yvon Durelle bout from Montreal to Toronto to escape Montreal's Athletic Commission tax of 5% and the taxing of American Television coverage of the bout. Toronto's was only 2%. The bout and a subsequent one ended up being fought in Montreal.

Another dealing with Quinn in 1962 saw Tunney getting an injunction to stop a fight in Montreal between Archie Moore and Robert Cleroux after Cleroux had failed to abide by a contract to face Chuvalo in Toronto and had been barred. The fight was called off with Tunney commenting that Quinn had saved him further legal expenses in the matter. Quinn sees his boxing license suspended for his actions surrounding the booking and promotion of the bout and never promote boxing again, but still promotes a wrestling card at the Forum 2 days later. He subsequently loses the wrestling license too but regain it continuing to promote until he retired in 1963. Quinn dies soon after in 1964

Quinn also promoted wrestling in Ottawa (with Tunney moving out) starting in 1946. There was said to be tension between the two as Whipper Watson was being promoted by Tunney as a Canadian Champion while in Quinn's realm of Montreal-Quebec-Ottawa his star Yvon Robert was regarded as Canada's best. Robert also worked for Tunney both in Ottawa and Toronto as a Canadian and World champ. After Quinn moved in to Ottawa, Tunney didn't return to the nations capital for another 35 years, running shows in 1982.

Tunney also had issues with promoter Howard Darwin in Ottawa -and also involving fighter Robert Cleroux. Darwin who was promoting boxing and wrestling in Ottawa in the early 1960's was forced to cancel a proposed bout between Cleroux and Cecil Gray again because of the suspensions over the previous Chuvalo-Cleroux problems. Tunney threatened to take out an injunction to stop the fight while the OAC threated to pull both Darwins boxing and wrestling licenses. The bout eventually went ahead with Ottawa area alderman Robert Guertin stepping in as promoter.

In 1966 Tunney again got the better of Darwin when he was said to secure the Cassius Clay- Ernie Terrell bout at MLG ahead of second choice Hull (Hull is directly across the river from Ottawa). The bout was originally scheduled to take place in Chicago but was canceled after Clay made anti-war statements in the media. Other cities refused to host it and when it was sanctioned in Toronto, Conn Smythe the builder of MLG and a veteran himself resigned as Director of MLG and sold all his shares in protest.

Harold Ballard, then Executive VP of the Gardens announced how the gate was going to be split up, a look inside the boxing side at the time. Clay receive 50% of the gate, Terrell 20% with the Gardens taking the remaining 30%. Tunney put a guarantee in excess of 96k while a full house of 17,500 paying from 10-100$ would net approx. 195-225k. The fight did go ahead on March 29th but Clay's opponent due to Terrell backing out amid a contract renegotiation - was George Chuvalo. Tunney notably shows up at the glove ceremony with the wrong size gloves.

For Tunney, the wrestling side proves to be far more profitable and easy to manage compared to the boxing side. In 1969 on the occasion of his 30 years as Wrestling promoter Frank reflected on his time in boxing in a Jim Proudfoot article and summed it up as 'It got to be a joke after a while'.

In contrast to his often problematic dealings with others in the boxing game, Tunney had much more success on the wrestling side. Wrestlers and promoters alike had only good to say about the genial promoter. Along with St Louis head Muchnick, Frank was close with Vince McMahon Sr in New York and was well liked and respected by the others in the NWA membership. Many wrestlers over the years including Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, and Gene Kiniski had nothing but praise for Tunney, both about his honesty in payoffs and his easygoing demeanor.

Frank with Whipper 1950
He was however not above a good rib, as was just part of being a wrestler in those days. He had a 'electric chair' in his office for many years that was hooked up to an electrical charge and once inviting the unsuspecting mark into the chair he set off an electric shock. No-one was spared even Thesz who was said to have jumped the highest. One writer was remembered as having on long underwear under his suit and sitting through the whole shock with nary a response.

In the early days it was evident that the sportswriters in the city were in a quasi-working type relationship with the office. Joe Perlove in particular was almost an extension of the office and was close to Frank for many years. His creative and often humorous recaps of the bouts in the Star come off not dissimilar to what a good publicity director would put out. Frank was an astute promoter, he definitely knew the advantage of having the writers close to the office, both with Perlove and with Ayres. Perlove also notably covered horse racing and was present at many of the 'clambakes' at the King Edward Hotel where much of the boxing and wrestling business went on in the old days, he passed on in 1966. Star sports editors Milt Dunnell and later Jim Proudfoot both had sidebar columns frequently covering wrestling with features and tidbits from behind the scenes.

In a interview in 1980 Frank had this to say about the scribes. 'That old Queensbury was a nuthouse and I loved it! And you know who the biggest crazies were? The Newspaper types...I don't know how they got away with it, hanging around all the time. And then there were the guys who had nothing to do but sit around reading the Racing News all day. They didn't even watch the workouts.' That Racing news comment refers to Joe Perlove, Deacon Allen, Corcoran, and many others that were involved with Horse Racing in some respect, either writing about, betting on, owning them, or all three!

A notice in the social section in Sept 1954 listed the marriage of Teresa Tunney, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Tunney with the reception held at the home of Frank Tunney. Jack Tunney, brother of the bride was an usher. 

By this time Toronto had become one of the major centers in the wrestling world while Frank was recognized as one of the top promoters in the business. We will look at the rest of the '50s through the M-A era in a future piece.

The 1950s battle with Kasaboski at The Boom & beyond Tunney

-AC

Info from the Toronto papers, Ontario archives, Oshawa library microfilm, genealogy sites
Barry Lloyd Penhale, Gary Will, Roger Baker, and conversations with others over the years
Photos & Nostalgia mapleleafwrestling.com collection
Originally posted 2015 Info is as presented, any corrections or added info....