Early TV Wrestling in Ontario Part 1

Best of mapleleafwrestling.com: Excerpt from 'From Nanjo to the Sheik...'

As early as 1940 it was being discussed in Toronto papers of how Television would impact the country's game - hockey. In New York they were televising boxing and other sports to movies theaters. Conn Smythe, owner of the Maple Leafs and MLG had been invited to take in a Football game at a theater in New York and while not duly impressed remarked 'It was like the old flickers, but remember the handicap of making these impressions outdoors and on a cloudy day.'

In 1947 the President of RCA suggested that Television may soon be received in Toronto and Hamilton from across the border in Buffalo, NY. As the 'TV receiver' was available in the U.S. for 200-300$, it was reasonable to expect the Canadian price to be 395-435$. At that point there was said to be 45,000 TV's in use in NY and another 35,000 in the rest of the U.S. with a projected 160,000 over the next year.

 An article claimed that of all sports, boxing probably televises best, because the camera can focus on the ring and remain in fixed position. Basketball and Football came next. Baseball was said to present a problem because of the players spread out, No mention of wrestling and already, promoters in boxing were blaming TV for low attendance at bouts.

Football too was blaming short attendances on TV while other sports blamed what was on at the same time as their event. A boxing promoter claimed to have been going broke as his weekly show took place at the same time Milton Berle was on TV.

Conn Smythe was quoted in Nov 1948 as saying 'Sure, I'll go for television if the television people pay me the equivalent of a capacity house each time they televise.' 

At the same time Frank Tunney felt television in the homes would hurt him grievously on rainy, snowy, or cold nights. 'I know it would hurt my business on such nights, Tunney said, his fingernails starting to bleed just at the thought.' 'Otherwise I couldn't say just how it would affect boxing and wrestling.'

By 1949 TV's were on sale in Toronto by General Electric with the sales byline of 'see and hear your favorite programs daily, hockey, fights, wrestling, and news.' You had to order now or face wait times of up to 6 months to see 'Wrestling matches from Buffalo,' and 'Boxing matches from Madison Square Garden.' You also needed $599 - installation extra, plus each household needed a license. The CBC was said to be moving with 'extreme caution.'

By 1950 those lucky enough to own a TV in the Toronto area could look forward to 2 channels. WHAM from Rochester, and WBEN in Buffalo airing from about 12 noon to 12am. Wham had wrestling variously on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights at different stages showing the Dumont wrestling from Chicago. WBEN had 'Wrestling at the Aud' which featured many of the local Toronto stars. Ontario fans could catch announcer Chuck Healy and Sports Director Ralph Hubbell calling the action and interviewing wrestlers during the preliminary bouts on Friday evenings from Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo.

Roger Baker:
'We had a TV at home from the time that I was twelve, and I was glued every Saturday night to that little box to see all of the great stars that appeared in Chicago. These shows were shown on The Dumont Network and featured stars such as Verne Gagne, Hans Schmidt, Yukon Eric, Killer Kowalski, Bob Orton, Wilbur Snyder, The Mighty Atlas, and many others that entertained the faithful viewers weekly. These events were televised live from The Marigold Arena. As well I watched TV broadcasts of top flight wrestling from Buffalo N.Y. These matches took place in Buffalo's War Memorial Auditorium, and this show ran for years. The play by play announcer for many years was Chuck Healy, a very popular Buffalo sports announcer.’

Closed circuit broadcasts were being shown here in theaters of select boxing cards from NYC. It was said to be in the test stage though they were adding about 100 theaters to the network which could open a card to 200,000 people. It was still viewed as small time compared to what was coming. Other ways of getting the public to buy included 'Phonevision' where you would order by phone and pay at the end of the month, and 'telemeter' by dropping coins into a box attached to your TV.

In early 1950 Tunney was quoted as saying to be 'weighing the options of TV after success in the US.'  He also pointed out though that pal Paul Bowser of Boston had put his shows on TV for 23 weeks-and almost starved to death. Many of his regular ticket-holders cancelling their ticket holds. It was opined that Tunney would do well to allow the New York lead. To build up the wrestlers by televising shows and then when matched at MSG, to cut the TV off. 

In a 1951 'Canadian Sports Parade' column it imagined the effect of TV on Canada's sports. Wrestling, due to its attraction in the U.S. had its success assured. They asked that Frank Tunney and the other Canadian promoters follow the national trend. 'Tunney could come up with a whole galaxy of Canadian wrestlers suitably titled. Imagine such drawing cards as the 'Brampton Benumber,' the 'Terrible Torontonian.' or the 'Ottawa Ostrich', and perhaps the Kitchener Kook.'

Conn Smythe was still resisting TV at MLG saying 'I think the radio broadcast is good enough.' The NHL owners chief complaint was the same as Tunney's., that the fans would not brave winter weather to come to the arenas. The fight among the NHL and the emerging technology would continue to debate until 1952 when the CBC first started to televise hockey.

In fact the first try was from Maple Leaf Gardens when they televised a Memorial Cup game in closed circuit to executives from the network and advertisers in order to prepare for the coming NHL season. The first game from Montreal on Oct 11 1952 was followed by the first game from MLG, called by Foster Hewitt.

Hewitt had once called the wrestling over the radio from MLG starting with that first card on Nov 19 1931. He would pick up the card for the main event and sometimes second to last bout from high up in the gondola and broadcast live after the late news on CKCL. Coverage was sporadic but would continue even after TV took hold. Foster's son Bill would also call wrestling occasionally on Foster's station CKFH in the early-mid 1950's picking up around halfway through the card at 930pm. Prior to MLG being built there had previously been radio broadcasts from the cards held at Mutual St Arena.

In May 1952 it was announced Canada would begin its TV programming production in September with 3 hrs or less daily. Ad rates set at $1600 hourly for Toronto, Montreal at $500 as there were few TV's in Quebec. They would be connected with the 4 U.S. networks but would focus on Canadian production and development of shows in Toronto and Montreal.

On Sept 8 1952 CBC would open CBLT transmitting on channel 9 with an opening ceremony lasting three hours. Montreal's CBC station CBFT would start on the previous Saturday. Quebec got started first in the homegrown wrestling side also. In the fall of 1952, they presented wrestling every Tuesday night live from the Verdun Auditorium. Right away TV was the talk of the Toronto sports columns. Tunney's Wrestling shows were regarded as 'a likely feature.'

Here by mid-1952 you could get 5 channels including CBLT which only ran a few hours a day. The price had come down to about $300 (still huge in today’s equivalent) and in the ads for sales, Wrestling was getting billing after Hockey, Baseball, and Boxing. Wrestling could now be found not only on WHAM and WBEN, but also WICU out of Erie, PA showing live bouts from Pittsburgh.

In early 1953 CBLT started showing wrestling at 1030 on Friday nights and again on Saturday in the same time slot as WHAM. Along with the others you could also get a show on WHEN out of Syracuse at 11pm on Saturday. 

The CBLT show initially consisted of film from other spots. One 1953 item said much of the Toronto TV wrestling came from the 'Grapefruit Belt' of the Southern U.S. The first broadcast appears to be Feb 23 1953. In a recap of the Dec 10 1953 card, Joe Perlove noted that the Yvon Robert vs Mr Kato bout had been the 'feature TV match.' 

It didn't take long for wrestling to become one of the most popular programs on CBLT, with Holiday Ranch, and Playbill rounding out the top 3. More channels would come aboard including CKSO Sudbury, Canada's first privately owned TV station. And in 1954 they started airing a Wrestling show after the news at 10pm Saturdays.

CBLT/CBC here and in Montreal and later in Ottawa were broadcasting from the live card and would not turn to in-studio wrestling until later in the decade.

By the close of 1954 viewers now had access to 20 channels depending on where in the province you were. And there was quite a bit of wrestling to choose from. Eleven stations had wrestling as part of their programming.

CBOT first tried live coverage on July 13 1954 at the Auditorium in Ottawa. Producer Pierre Normandin headed a 15 member mobile unit crew for a card featuring a main event of Killer Kowalski vs Bobby Managoff. The broadcast of all three main bouts did not go beyond the building and was said to be a trial run in anticipation pf live telecasts from ringside in the near future

In 1955 more channels appeared with more wrestling including WKTV Utica, WEWS Cleveland, as well as WCNY Watertown with 'Texas Wrestling.' WGN added Wrestling in 1956 from the studio in Buffalo. It was said to be the first to originate from a studio in Western New York - and Ontario. The Buffalo show would become a favorite in the Toronto area right into the 1960's.

When I spoke to Barry Lloyd Penhale some years back he said he hosted the first Studio Wrestling show in Canada. A 1957 article included a look at Penhale, now on CKGN North Bay. The author says 'he (Penhale) staged the first studio live wrestling events to be seen in Canada -or anywhere else with two exceptions.' CKGN in North Bay had decided to produce their own local shows instead of showing old movies in the evening; one of those was Live Studio Wrestling. The Penhale show featured the stars of Northland Wrestling headed by Larry Kasaboski and often featured stars from MLG who would make the trip up North.

By 1957 in addition to the U.S. channels, there was CKVR Barrie, CHEX Peterboro, CKWS Kingston, CKCO Kitchener, CFCL Timmins, CKNY Wingham, and CHCH Hamilton all running wrestling. Some, being CBC affiliated, would have been a twin of the CBLT show. Some would show tape from Winnipeg.

Kingston's CKWS ran Texas Wrestling while CHCH (later to host the homegrown show for many years) and CKCO ran wrestling from Chicago and the 'Wrestling from Ringside' show out of Ohio. If you had tuned into CHCH on Apr 12 1957 at 11:30pm you could have caught Verne Gagne & Bobby Bruns vs Al Williams & Rudy Kay, and also Lou Thesz vs Bronco Nagurski. (The Gagne/Bruns tag is on youtube with the announcer introducing Vern GAG-NEE).

Just a few years in and wrestling had taken hold on TV here. The stars of MLG including The Fabulous Kanagaroo's, the Kalmikoff's, Yukon Eric, Lord Layton, and Whipper Watson were now 'TV stars' and in high demand across the country. 

The Whipper-Gene Kiniski feud in 1957, along with many of the Toronto area wrestlers would travel through Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver due to the coverage from TV wrestling. They had moved away from the 'live' aspect by then, a letter in the Star from a fan in Nov 1957 asked to have 'live wrestling returned.'

The CBLT show was still film of the Thursday MLG shows at least till mid-1960. A tidbit in May noted the CBC were moving the Saturday night CBLT show to Friday to allow CBC to meet the late movie competition of other channels, but that the show will continue to run on Saturdays 'on the network.' 
CBOT in Ottawa was also on the air with wrestling in 1960 while CFTO and CHCH would take over the weekly Maple Leaf show with Lord Layton as announcer.  

Roger Baker:
'Wrestling was taped by the CBC at a studio on Yonge St. near Dupont. You had to be there early to get in to watch the taping. The announcer's name was Fred Sgambati. I saw him interviewing Ivan Kalmikoff and the Russian kept repeating that there are people in the know that agree that he and his partner Karol Kalmikoff are superior wrestlers. Sgambati insisted that Kalmikoff reveal the name of the wrestling expert. Kalmikoff blurted out, 'his name is Earle Yetter' who at that time was active in as a wrestling photo journalist working out of Buffalo NY.'

Lord Layton would take over announcing duties in 1961 and go on to host the Toronto ‘Ringside’ show into the 1970’s. Pat Flanagan would also host both on the CBLT & CFTO shows right through the 1960s. 

In 1977 at the conclusion of the Sheik era the TV show was renamed Maple Leaf Wrestling. That name would become synonymous with the brand as they moved into the 1980’s, now with former star Billy Red Lyons hosting.  

-AC  2018 (included in 'From Nanjo to The Sheik..') Thanks to Roger!

CELEBRATING 20 YEARS mapleleafwrestling.com presents

Over 120 entries and 175+ photos and images in 1-2-4 page format 
Promoters, lists, venues, stars, builders, classic matchups, did you know? and more!
 Featuring photos by Roger Baker 238 pages $10.99 in Canada
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Also see Waterloo Chronicle.ca -Thanks to Marshall & Sarah! 

1961 Convention in Toronto- Best of mapleafwrestling.com

April 2 1972 Maple Leaf Gardens. Tony Marino easily handles Chris Colt while Colt's tag partner Lee Henning looks on. Pat Flanagan is the referee on the other side while Marino's tag partner Bob Harmon is out of view. 

A lot of Toronto years in this photo with Flanagan & Henning alone. Flanagan came up with the Balmy Beach Club and was wrestling semi pro by 1936. He debuted at MLG in 1941 and wore many hats. Wrestler, booker & matchmaker, agent, promoter, and referee, before retiring in 1978.

Lee Henning debuted in Toronto in 1940 and finished up -wrestling! - in 1975. By the 1950s he was mostly a prelim guy testing the newcomers and such but had some bigger profile bouts, especially on the circuit. He was the opponent for Whipper Watson's debut at MLG in 1940 and notably in the later years was the opponent for Jean Ferre's (Andre) Toronto debut in 1971.

Tony Marino wrestled in Toronto from 1960-1976 while Chris Colt wrestled for Tunney from 1972-1976 and served a memorable tenure for Dave McKigney's Big Bear through to 1986.

Thanks to Roger Baker for all his contributions to the site and photo by...


Myths and facts of Maple Leaf - Short version
Some misconceptions about the Toronto promotion we see commonly online and in books etc. 

Frank Tunney was Jack Tunney's Uncle

TRUE! Jack (John Jr) Tunney was John Tunney's son. John was Frank's elder brother who took over with Frank from Jack Corcoran in 1939. John died suddenly in Jan 1940. Frank's son Eddie Tunney later joined the office. See Smiling John: The forgotten Tunney & Frank Tunney: The Early Days 

Toronto was a one city territory like St Louis or Houston

FALSE!  For most of the history of the Toronto office there was a busy and vibrant circuit. Ivan Mickailoff began the weekly cards at Arena Gardens in Toronto in 1929. Right from the start he was branching out with cards around the region. Hamilton, London, Brantford, Kitchener, Oshawa, Timmins, and other towns. When businessman and boxing promoter Jack Corcoran entered the wrestling scene in 1930 he replicated the outward growth. He started to build the circuit using associates in the smaller towns. 

Frank Tunney continued the circuit growth with stops in over 30 cities many seasons. He took advantage of his associate promoters setting up a strong network of former wrestlers and old-timers. Sometimes two towns a night with split crews. 

By the end of the 60s and into the Sheik era, Frank was 30 years in as promoter. The roster was gone. Many of the smaller towns were now left to Dave McKigney and others, occasionally still in tandem with Jack & the Toronto office. For a time Jack even ran with McKigney before it all turned sour. 

With the Mid-Atlantic era (1978) and the success it brought, they went back to an office run circuit. The difference by that time was that much of our top tier talent was now imported. While many of the M-A stars stayed on past the MLG card, others continued back south. The circuit also only ran for a week a month or so though there were some spot shows on the off weeks, more so in the summer months. 
We looked at 'The Circuit' in Quick Bits: The Best (and rest) of Toronto Wrestling

Whipper Watson was not a good wrestler/old guy (nary a mention in the great 'wrestlers' talk)

FALSE! There are a few things to consider when looking at Whipper's career to be able to judge him fairly as a wrestler. His prime, shortened by injuries early in his career came mostly before the advent of TV. By the time Watson became the big Canadian star with CBC's TV Wrestling from Maple Leaf Gardens in the mid 1950's, his best years were mostly behind him. 

In his prime in the 1940's, his early years on the busy amateur circuit and his training under Phil Lawson are also worth a look to gain insight to his skills in the ring. 
We looked at 'The Myth of Whipper Watson' in Quick Bits: The Best (and rest) of Toronto Wrestling

Frank Tunney was complacent or unambitious

FALSE! Frank was a smart and well respected businessman in the city. His early efforts and creating key allies (Longson, Muchnick, Thesz etc) laid the foundation for over 40 years as the only wrestling promoter in town. Maple Leaf Gardens was a jewel and with a busy circuit from the 1930s to the 1960s there was no need to expand out of Southern Ontario for the most part (a few East Coast tours and others and mostly in the off-season). Frank did test Kasaboski & Northland in the 50s but opted to let it be. That was covered in Beyond the Boom in From Nanjo to The Sheik.

In those early days Toronto was a key NWA member and Frank was known for being 'easy to deal with' & 'a man of honor.' NWA head Sam Muchnick often looked to Frank as a 'voice of reason.' By wrestling promoter standards Frank was an anomaly. A nice guy, his handshake as good as gold. By his 30 year mark (1969 at age 57) Frank stepped back while nephew Jack took the reins and they started to bring in outside help. Detroit, then AWA, and finally Mid Atlantic. 

Vince McMahon bought Maple Leaf

FALSE! After Frank Tunney died in 1983 nephew Jack & son Eddie took over the office. The new Maple Leaf Wrestling was formed in June 1984 during a meeting with McMahon in June 1984. The partners were 50% Titan Sports (WWF), 33.33% Tunney Sports (50% Jack, 50% Eddie) and 16.66% George Scott. The deal was such that Tunney Sports would continue to run the business but only use WWF talent. McMahon and the WWF invested no money in the partnership. We looked at that in The Canadian Heavyweight Title: The Complete History 1978-1984.

'The Maple Leaf Gardens?'

HMMM...Many people outside of Toronto refer to the Carlton St cashbox as 'The Maple Leaf Gardens.' Always sounded strange to me. For Torontonians it was 'Where is the game tonight?' 'At Maple Leaf Gardens.' Or at 'The Gardens.' I suspect it came from that and partly as the Gardens (not Garden as in Madison Square) was synonymous with the Maple Leafs who played there from beginning to end. And their history and ownership was tied to the building. The Maple Leafs. Maple Leaf Gardens. The Maple Leaf Gardens. Even the papers occasionally inserted 'The.' We mostly call it the abbreviated MLG or just 'The Gardens! 


A Maple Leaf shout out to our pals Wes & Jesse who are keeping the local history alive on their various platforms. Check out their podcast that looks at classic wrestling from Ontario and around the world. The latest episode had a special guest in Paige Sutherland, daughter of Kurt Von Hess, in a wide ranging discussion. They can be found in their various history groups on Facebook and their podcast is on YouTube at NWCA Podcast on YouTube 
Pay them a visit!  

Wes also recently penned an online piece that will be of interest to the Ontario fans about Dave McKigney's wrestling kin at https://prowrestlingpost.com/rachel-dubois-and-carrie-orser/

To our friend Marshall Ward who writes some great articles about wrestling (and other stuff!) for various media outlets around Ontario. Marshall is a fan from our era and has a unique look at wrestling from the old days to today. His latest is at https://www.waterloochronicle.ca/the-road-to-wrestlemania . If you search by name you can locate his many other articles. 

Marshall and Sarah Geidlinger also have an award winning podcast about the Waterloo area and a unique one looking at the wrestling world - An Unscripted Spectacle check it out! 

Can find them at https://www.bonnpark.com/  and https://anunscriptedspectacle.com/

Wildman, the OAC & Court

Best of mapleleafwrestling.com 2003-2023

Dave vs Sheik in '82

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Greer (l) 1982 and Dave and a wrestler that I can't recall  (r) 1985 with Gentle Ben 

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


Nostalgia & Photos mapleleafwrestling.com 

It's been fun over the years to hear from fans and their own tales of pro wrestling fandom back in the day. A frequent mention is how much fun it was just getting there, or getting home! And making your own title belts, a lot of fans did that. Another tie is family and friends. Some got introduced to the sport by their Dads, an older brother, or a Grandmother (lots of them!) while others attended with fellow fans. For me usually just one or two if you could find, there weren't many (admitted) wrestling fans in my neighborhood. 
In our later years it's a common bridge, the fun of wrestling as a kid. Some even found inspiration in the art of the contest, the fitness, the devotion to craft. Lessons that remained throughout their lives. I'm happy to leave my friend Jeff's wonderful love letter to wrestling & family as a final note. Thanks to Jeff and thanks to all of the friends of the site and their stories....AC

'It was in Toronto Ontario Canada where I was born and where I grew up. And that’s a very important part of this story and the impact that this sport had on the person that I was to become and the career path I chose. I can honestly say looking back and reflecting, that the impact of professional wrestling on me from a very early age, was the single biggest determining factor in my future success.'  


Flair vs Race: Science & Violence

During the Mid Atlantic era 1978 -1984 there were a few matchups that could pack the fans in at MLG. Ric Flair vs Harley Race surely ranks near the top. Their six bouts here, all over the NWA title, are long remembered by the fans for both their science- and violence. 
At the time of their first match-up in Nov 1980 Race was champ and Flair was arguably the most popular star in Toronto. He was coming off successful feuds against old tag partner Greg Valentine as well as Hossein the Arab/The Iron Sheik, whom he had just chased to the dressing rooms to end their latest bout. 

Flair wins the title from Dusty Rhodes in Oct 1981 and appears as champ for the 50th Anniversary card held in November. They pack 16.000 in for that one and the next time the two match-up was another special card. A double World title card featuring both the NWA and AWA titles. AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel defends against our Canadian champ Angelo Mosca while Flair and Race had another hard fought battle that was action from start to finish. 

The main photos were taken at that bout. In the sequence the battle rages from the ring to the ramp and Race catches Flair with a piledriver after turning the tables on champ Flair, the last pic of the sequence shows Flair being restrained by Ron Ritchie and Johnny Weaver from going down the ramp after Race.

In the summer of 1983 Jack Tunney had recently taken over for Uncle Frank and took a risk promoting two big shows at Exhibition Stadium. They were packed with title bouts and topped by Race vs Flair. Both cards. 

The last matchup takes place in early 1984, just months before Jack aligns with the WWF. That card stood as the last great turnout of the NWA days.

11/16/1980 NWA Title - Harley Race D/COR Ric Flair est 14,000 not reported
11/15/1981 NWA Title - Ric Flair W Harley Race Att: 16,000
04/25/1982 NWA Title - Ric Flair D/COR Harley Race Att: 11,000
07/10/1983 NWA Title - Harley Race W/DQ Ric Flair Att: 20,000 est
07/24/1983 NWA Title - Harley Race W/DQ Ric Flair Att: 14,000 est
02/12/1984 NWA Title - Ric Flair W Harley Race Att:17,700

The 50th Anniversary card is at 50th Anniversary Card
The 83 Ex shows are covered a bit at Open Air Wrestling in Toronto

-AC and photos, nostalgia by...

Quick Bits: Ali vs Inoki Closed Circuit MLG

There were several closed-circuit cards shown at Maple Leaf Gardens over the years, and at other spots around Toronto. The 1976 Ali-Inoki 'War of the Worlds' card was a rare one that included pro wrestling.

A couple of weeks earlier they had  shown the Foreman -Frazier bout from Las Vegas at MLG. Attendance was listed at 4,000 to see Foreman win by knockout in the fifth round. All Canada Sports Promotions and Concerts West promoted the telecast. All Canada was headed by Irv Ungerman, a long-time boxing promoter.

Ungerman would also present the Ali-Inoki telecast, this time alongside Frank Tunney Sports. Tunney held exclusive rights to hold wrestling at MLG which was the extent of his involvement (cut of the $), having long since removed himself from the boxing wars in Toronto.

The card was set to start at 830pm and included some bouts from New York's Shea Stadium wrestling show which had Bruno Sammartino vs Stan Hansen and a few other bouts, Andre the Giant vs Chuck Wepner in a wrestler vs boxer bout for 10 rounds, and then the Ali-Inoki from Tokyo scheduled for 15 rounds. Tickets in Toronto were priced from $8-15, a bit cheaper than the Foreman-Frazier bout which were priced at $10-20.

For comparison Tunney's regular wrestling shows were $2.50- 7. 

Prior to the show in a Jim Proudfoot Star column, Gene Kiniski had predicted 'if it's on the level, Ali hasn't got a chance.' Kiniski, a pretty smart guy, predicted that Inoki 'has got to go to the canvas, that's where any wrestler would go - for the legs- if Inoki stays on his feet, you'll know he's going to get himself knocked out.' Kiniski added 'I've wrestled Inoki a few times and...he's nothing special.'

As the bout played out, it was generally viewed as a rather big disappointment after all the hype.

The next day on the front page of the Star was a pic of Ali looking down at Inoki on his back. The caption, all in caps screamed ...

About 8,000 turned up at MLG to watch it, one of 18 locations across the country to show it. Ungerman declared it 'a disgrace.' 'Never again. We blew a tube at our Hamilton location and had to refund admissions to about 1,000 people. They were lucky.'

The wrestling fans weren't quite so upset. Different expectations.

The sports world was slow to accept the combo of boxing and wrestling (known as mit-mat cards in the early days). Writer Jim Kerhaghan in the Star wrote that the Andre-Wepner bout was 'highly suspect' and after Andre got Chuck in a headlock ‘those who were watching closely noticed that Andre had his hand on Wepner's head and bonked his own knuckles.'