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. 

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 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 


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 at Slam Wrestling and around the web

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.'

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.'.....


Alexandra Studio photos 1

Some of the Alexandra Studio's wrestling photos used to be online but seem to have vanished. It's a shame they are mostly hidden from the fans. I'm not sure how many there are, hundreds at least, thousands maybe. The Turofsky brothers started their studio back around 1911, and when wrestling hit big in 1929 they would cover the action through to their deaths in the late '50s. Michael Burns who worked with the brothers continued with the studio. These are some original photos in the collection.

Click on pic and then right click on photo and select 'open image in new tab' to see full size

RIP Angelo Mosca

  Angelo Mosca was already a well known star by the time he first appeared at MLG in 1969. He was in the middle of his second go around with the Hamilton Tiger Cats and near the end of his Hall of Fame career in the Canadian Football League.

  He had started wrestling in Ottawa and Montreal in 1960 on a part time basis while earning his reputation as 'Mean and Nasty' on -and off- the football field. He had been in some trouble while at University of Wyoming  in 1958. They cancelled his athletic scholarship for 'scholastic deficiency and disciplinary reasons.' He had also been sent away from Notre Dame for similar infractions. 

  Just around the start of his wrestling career he was in Montreal playing for the Ottawa Shaffers in the Eastern Canada Senior Basketball playoffs (alongside some other CFL'ers earning extra money) when Mosca slugged the referee and was promptly suspended. He had taken a kicking and kneeing penalty earlier in the game and took it out on the ref with a right to the jaw. The coaches hauled Mosca off and convinced the ref not to call the game. Once the ref had visited the dressing room and returned he ordered Mosca to the showers. This time Mosca hit him with a left to the jaw. His own teammates now dragged him to the dressing room and Mosca left the arena while the ref threatened to charge him with assault. That was the end of the playoffs for Mosca who stuck to causing trouble on the field and in the ring.  

  When he finally made his Toronto wrestling debut years later it was the Sheik era in the city. Mosca got his chance vs Sheik in June 1971, his first main event at the Gardens.

Angelo Mosca, evidently so unnerved at hearing Torontonians actually cheering for him, erred on a flying tackle, wrapped himself around a ring-post and ultimately, lost his wrestling assignment against the Sheik last night. In the autumn, Mosca is a 270 pound lineman with Hamilton Tiger-Cats and seems to rate the most verbal abuse when the Toronto Argonauts are hosting other Canadian Football League teams at CNE Stadium. He forgot however that a Maple Leaf Garden's wrestling crowd would throw roses to Adolph Hitler had he ever faced The Sheik. 
Allan Ryan Globe and Mail June 21 1971

 Mosca gave The Sheik trouble but still notched another mark on Sheik's unbeaten streak, then at 49 wins 0 losses and 7 double dq/double countouts. That marked his last appearance at MLG for a time but he remained an regular around Ontario. He spent a few tours with Wildman Dave McKigney as well as the crossover WWA (Indianapolis/Michigan) cards held around the southwestern portion of the province. He had a tough main event feud with Stomper Archie Gouldie over the Wildman's North American Heavyweight title in summer 1971. At the end of that summer Mosca got into an altercation with a man after leaving a restaurant in downtown Hamilton. The other guy filed charges for assault after he was left with a 'bump on the head and torn clothes after a scuffle' with big Ange. The following year he retired from the field and turn to wrestling full-time. 

  In late 1975 he returned to MLG, this time as a full out heel playing up his football reputation. In Dec 1976 he faced Andre the Giant in the semi final bout under a rare Sheik title loss (to Thunderbolt Patterson). 

Angelo Mosca weighed 285 pounds when he played defensive tackle for Ottawa and Hamilton. Now, as a pro wrestler, he goes 310. He's on the Boxing Day card at Maple Leaf Gardens Sunday evening up against Andre the Giant. 'I'd done a bit of wrestling when I was playing but I got very serious about it after we won the 1972 Grey Cup in Hamilton, and I retired from football.' says Mosca, who maintains a home in Mississauga, even while travelling all over the continent. 'It's certainly better financially. I'm getting up close to six figures a year.' Naturally Mosca in a villain, as he was in football. 'There's no dough in being a good guy.' he argues.
Jim Proudfoot Toronto Star 24 Dec 1976

  When Frank Tunney turned to use the AWA stars in Fall 1977 the stage was set for the now 'King Kong' Mosca to return and this time he stayed. In the AWA he was a heel with the fans chanting 'Ping Pong' in deference to his new nickname. For his first card back Mosca arrived at MLG with AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel and Bobby Heenan and the night was memorable for another reason. There was no ramp. For the first time since 1948 the memorable ramp to the ring was absent. They ran rope where the ramp usually was, with regular steps up to the ring. It was never revealed why the ramp was out but as far as we know it never happened again. 

Now that he is the heavyweight wrestling champion of Georgia, Angelo would welcome the kind of disaffection which in football, was so completely undeserved. He worked Maple Leaf Gardens , on Frank Tunney's Sunday night show, and he confesses to having developed villainous impulses since he left the refining influences of the Tiger-Cats. 'Even in the Yamaha snowmobile commercials, you get the impression I'm a pretty tough character,' Mosca boasts. 'I am. Well let me tell you I haven't been uunder $65,000 a year since I left football. Best money I ever made in football was $23,000. That was in my last three seasons with the Ti-Cats.' The heavyweight champion is in heavy demand.
Milt Dunnell Toronto Star July 28 1978

  He worked his way up the cards facing the top stars of the AWA & WWWF including Chief Peter Maivia and AWA British Empire champion Billy Robinson. For a May 1978 card Mosca was acknowledged as the Empire champ having beat Robinson in an AWA proper bout. That title different from the Empire title Whipper had held here back in the boom days. In July 1978 he made his first appearance as a fan favorite, facing champ Bockwinkel in the co-main alongside a Backlund vs Superstar Graham  WWWF Title bout. Almost two months later he got a re-match with Bockwinkel, this time they were the main event over a title bout between Backlund and Gorilla Monsoon.


  On his next return here the Mid Atlantic era had begun. By early 1980 he was firmly seated to become the main local star on the scene. Previous local stars Dino Bravo and Dewey Robertson, had both finished their main event runs, Bravo had left in 1979 while Dewey was soon to go. With the launch of the new Canadian Heavyweight Title in Dec 1978 we now had a local title that Mosca went on to hold through 5 reigns.

Angelo Mosca said with mock solemnity at a lunchtime tete-a-tete yesterday. 'When I'm wrestling in the southern states, they bill me as King Kong Mosca. Up here in Canada, the promoters don't bill me as a villain. They are aware of the real me-gruff, rough, but lovable. What does the future hold? If you look after yourself, you can last for a long time in wrestling.' he says. 'But I'd like to become a wrestling promoter somewhere down the line. And I'd like to get back into doing television commercials.' 
Jim Coleman Toronto Sun July 23 1980

  Around the time Mosca first won the Canadian title he was also a vicious heel in the WWF, appearing there regularly while holding the strap (he was photographed backstage with the belt but as far as we know never defended the title there). There was no mention of Toronto while on WWF TV, but the magazines ran stories on him where they had observed the personality change depending on the location he wrestled. Mosca replied with, 'I wrestle the same way everywhere. The fans can decide to cheer or boo.' He did and they would. He was back in the WWF gunning for Backlund’s crown and prone to some serious fits of violence. He was managed there by Lou Albano and appeared both on the WWF TV tapings and at the big shows around the Northeast.

  This was a bit of a conundrum for the Maple Leaf fans as we got the WWF TV show here at midnight Saturdays on WUTV Buffalo. When he later looked to have killed Pat Patterson with a water pitcher it left many of us scratching our heads. 

  While Canadian champ, Mosca challenged NWA champ Harley Race. This card was moved to a rare 1:30pm afternoon start as the Maple Leafs were in a playoff series with the New York Islanders (we lost!). Both Mosca and Race were counted out after a tough brawl with very few wrestling holds.

  His new-found popularity as the star of Toronto wrestling attracted some mainstream coverage which had been minimal in the recent past. All three Toronto dailies, the Globe, the Star, and the Sun featured full page articles on the wrestling revival, with more coverage than had been seen in many years. Big Ange was the star of several features both in and around Toronto and in other towns on the circuit. On the May 20 1981 episode of the Global Network’s That’s Life, one of the stories was a 'visit with Angelo Mosca.’ On one afternoon in London for a card, he appeared on CFPL radio’s Sports Call and people were calling in for 2 1/2 hours to talk to him. The Toronto Star also ran a full page feature looking at his wrestling and football careers with a photo from a recent MLG bout vs Ivan Koloff.

'I built this image,' says Mosca, his face a bloody mask after his bout with arch-rival Ivan Koloff, 'of a guy who loved to be hated and now it's different. All of a sudden, it changes. People Like me, really like me. That's the way it goes in this game. One night you're the good guy, the next you're the villain. It gets confusing. 
Kevin Boland Toronto Star June 18 1981

 At the big 50th Anniversary card on Nov 15 Mosca faced Studd in front of 16,000 noisy fans. Our Canadian Title took 3rd semi behind Andre vs Kahn, and the main of Flair vs Race. There was two referees and they brawled their way to the floor where Studd had enough and fled to the dressing room. It left Mosca the winner but not the champ. Mosca eventually regained the title a few months later in a cage bout.

    The memorable title win came in Jan 1982. After a bloody Johnny Weaver-Alfred Hayes cage bout they left the cage up for a Canadian Title bout Studd vs Mosca. The two faced down on the ramp as Mosca waited for Studd to climb the stairs. Mosca attacked and the bout was on. It ended with Studd pinning Mosca. It appeared that way anyways. Ref Terry Yorkston, inside the cage as was the case here, gets hit, and in a daze (Yorkston played the semi-buffoon type well) awarded the victory to Mosca. The fans went wild when Mosca grabbed the belt to celebrate but the celebration didn't last long with Studd viciously attacking the new champ. Weaver (bandaged up from his bloody cage bout) along with John Bonello returned to the cage to help Mosca. Both end up taking a beating from Studd before helping Mosca get the upper hand. A bloodied Studd emerged from the cage and took a lot of abuse from the fans on his way down the ramp. Mosca, bloody and beaten emerged from the cage as the new champ to begin his fourth reign with the title. .

  In April 1982 the feud between Canadian champ Mosca and Studd continues with Studd announcing he was bringing a mystery opponent to 'permanently maim the champ.' Studd had hyped it for the two weeks previous to the show. Fans were talking and many names were being brought up as to who could be the mystery opponent set to meet Mosca on the Apr 4 1982 card. One of those names was Andre the Giant. Andre was still a few years away from his first heel turn in North America but at the time it seemed like a good idea. When the time came it wasn't such a big name. When Norm Kimber announced Tarzan Tyler, the crowd was disappointed to say the least. Tyler was a ways past his prime by this point and mostly unknown to the younger fans. He had appeared here sporadically from 1964-1978 and was a fine wrestler in his prime but... Special ref Sonny Fargo had been assigned to officiate and the bout was generally a letdown since it had been so highly touted. Mosca didn't have much trouble defending his title.

 A big card two weeks later was a double world title night. Flair vs Race and Mosca vs Bockwinkel. The AWA champ was making his first appearance since 1979 and had a tough bout with Mosca. Big Ange battered the champ and looked to be on the verge of winning when John Studd charged the ring and attacked Mosca. He and Bockwinkel laid a beating on Mosca until he was able to fight back and chase them from the ring. Official decision was a dq win for Mosca.

A feud with Gene Kiniski in June 1982 was better than expected. Kiniski, who went way back here (debut 1956) was still as ornery as he was back then. Stomping and snarling, he was a good opponent for Mosca in a short run. Kiniski had held versions of a Canadian title  in his career and they played up the mutual football backgrounds and ‘greatest Canadian’ bit. 

At the big Night of Champions card in July 1983 Mosca faced One Man Gang in front of anywhere from 16-22,000 fans at the old Exhibition Stadium. At the follow up two weeks later in front of 10-14,000 Mosca lost the title to Sgt. Slaughter.

  In early 1984 Mosca beat Sgt. Slaughter to regain the Canadian title and promptly disappeared. He was said to be upset with the low drawing cards in Toronto as the NWA days came to a close. He took the belt and went to Florida for an extended trip often managed by JJ Dillon. As per usual he was a vicious heel -and did defend the title a few times- while the fans up here were left scratching their heads, again. 

'We (Sr&Jr) spend 1 1/2 or 2 hours in the gym together working out and in some mat training. Then we drive or fly to the town where we have our matches, then back home to Charlotte. We don't live together. Junior's not married yet, but I have a very understanding wife,' explains Sr. 'The best thing about wrestling is working with this guy right here,' says Junior, thumping his father on his hammy thigh.' 
Alison Gordon Toronto Star May 20 1984

  His son Angelo Jr. debuted here in 1984 after Sr. had been stripped of the title for not appearing. 'Injury' was the wrestling reason and they held a tournament for the vacant title with Junior announced as an entrant. Jr. was a good athlete cut from the same cloth as his father. He had attended a Ti-Cat camp for high school players in 1977 (at 17) but in June 1981 he had been cut after trying out as a defensive guard at the BC Lions camp, effectively ending his pro football aspirations. He went on to earn a degree from Concordia University before trying out pro wrestling. After Jack Tunney had switched exclusively to WWF in July 1984 Sr. stayed on for a bit and also announced while Jr. got his brief run with the WWF here. When done, both father and son appeared on the Wildman's Big Bear circuit in and around Toronto. 


  By 1985 Sr. was planning to bring the NWA back to Ontario. In Feb 1986 he ran a show at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. While Hulkamania  may had taken over Toronto, there were still a lot of fans from the NWA days. Sr., with a long history in Hamilton, announced the show to be dubbed 'Mosca Mania.' Jr. appeared in an opener. The card did well drawing 12,000 fans with a gate of $140,000 to see a main of NWA champ Ric Flair vs Dusty Rhodes. Mosca Jr. teamed with Vic Rossitani against the Kelly Twins. 

  At the time Mosca was 50 years old, mostly retired from the ring, and doing TV ads and running several different business ventures around town. A few days after the show in Hamilton he was in Toronto doing a TV commercial for Lite beer and said he made 25k in what was his 14th or 15th commercial since he had done the Schick Razor 'Tell it to my face' campaign some years before.

It's not only amazing that Angelo Mosca is making a fortune doing TV commercials, but he's making them, period. Don't get me wrong: Mosca's good at them -he has charisma and style- but as the former villainous Mr. Mean of the Hamilton Tiger Cats and, more recently, the villainous King Kong of pro wrestling, Mosca's always held that butts were made for kicking, not kissing.'
Earl McRae Starweek June 15 1985

 Angelo Sr. was a guest star on the popular Night Heat TV show, and in June of that year was elected to the CFL Hall Of Fame. In Nov 1986 he was alongside Whipper Watson when Whipper received an award from the Canadian Children's Foundation. Mosca accompanied Whip as he carried a child on his shoulders, as he had done at the many Easter Seals dinners.  

Did you know.....The CFL Hall of Fame induction class of 1987 included another wrestler. 
Dick Huffman, a star with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Calgary Stampeders, had wrestled at MLG and around the area in 1956. Maple Leafs - Ti-Cats owner Harold Ballard also in that class.

  A month prior to the first Mosca Mania card, he had met with CFL commissioner Doug Mitchell to discuss becoming a goodwill ambassador. The reports later said  that the CFL missed the boat by not using him as he was a born promoter and 'mouthpiece.' Sr. teamed with former teammate Len Chandler to promote the show with corporate sponsor Amstel Brewery on Feb 2 1986. It was a huge success with over 12,000 fans and a gate of $140,000. A dollar from each ticket went to the Spinal Cord Society and the fans were treated to a great show.

  The main event brought Toronto favorite Ric Flair back for the first time since May 1984 to defend his NWA Title against Dusty Rhodes. At that time Flair was a heel while Rhodes was a fan favorite but the fans didn't want any of it. Flair had long been beloved here and during the Flair-Rhodes bout the fans started cheering Flair. They reversed roles with Rhodes 'second' Baby Doll Roberts interfering. Flair took the win to a huge ovation and the card which also featured the Road Warriors, Jimmy Valiant (always hugely popular here), Abdullah The Butcher, Sgt. Slaughter and a host of local guys was declared a huge success. Longtime MLG ring announcer Norm Kimber, recently let go by the Toronto office, did the introductions for the night.

Every now and then the wrestling world has a brainstorm which produces a card that leaves audiences shouting for more. A classic example was yesterday's Mosca Mania, which attracted some 12,000 fans to the Copps Coliseum here. No One left the building disappointed. 
Sam Scrivo Toronto Sun Feb 3 1986

  At the time Mosca had declared that he was seeking to become the exclusive promoter at Copps, similar to how the Tunney's had exclusive use of MLG. He also owned the syndicated TV rights for the TV show Pro Wrestling Canada which was produced by the great Milt Avruskin. They showed NWA bouts which were sometimes up to a year old and did voice-overs on the bouts. PWC ran from May 1986 to Oct 1986 on the CTV Kitchener affiliate channel 13 locally but that channel wasn't available to all in the Toronto area.

  Mosca later told a reporter that he couldn't get the show on in Toronto and that's what killed it. Doug Bassett, head of the CTV had told him 'it wasn't family oriented television.' At that time they had WWF, International Wrestling from Montreal, and the Maple Leaf WWF shows on TV in Toronto. While the WWF was tame, the International show was a harder style, a throwback to the 70's with bloody bouts and great brawls. If Mosca had been able to last, the Montreal based stars may have appeared here. Bravo, Abdullah, etc. but he would have had to run the Gardens or the EX. MLG was still exclusive so it was limited venues outside of summer months.

'He (Mosca) is president and promoter of Pro Wrestling Canada, with shows on 10 TV stations in the east and two in the west. He stages live shows in Kitchener, Ottawa and Toronto (Varsity Arena), when he is not busy lifting trucks in Chevy commercials.' 
Milt Dunnell Toronto Star Nov 30 1986

 He never promoted any shows at Varsity Arena or Ottawa as far as I know. Outside of the Hamilton shows and one in Kitchener the only others of record were a TV Taping, and a card in Peterborough on Feb 17 with Tully Blanchard vs Barry Windham as the main 

  The TV show later appeared on TSN as well as CTV and is a good show to seek out. Mosca not the greatest announcer (whole other article) but Avruskin one of the best. Sr. presented another card in Kitchener on Nov 23rd 1986 with a main of Nikita Koloff vs Wahoo McDaniel as Mosca Mania II. This one was a reverse of the first one, several no shows and most of the cast filled out with locals. Only 1.500 showed up, most of whom went to see the Road Warriors. Hawk never showed and was replaced by manager Paul Ellering. Jr. took on Siki and then it was back to the circuit for both Jr. and Siki. Despite the setback it was not to deter Mosca from staging another Hamilton show in Feb 1987.

  Unfortunately he ran it on the same night as big WWF show at MLG featuring Roddy Piper vs Adrian Adonis in a 'retirement bout and Savage/Steamboat. Mosca in turn had  Flair vs Nikita Koloff but only drew 3,000 compared to the 17,000 at a packed MLG. On Mosca's show Blanchard battled Rhodes and they reversed roles too with the fans booing Dusty. A fan told me he had 'stickered' the MLG bathrooms prior with notice of the upcoming Hamilton card but it didn't seem to help much. There were rumors of bad payouts on shows (heard years later), and then he sold his interest in it and that was the end of Mosca's promotional tenure.

  Both Moscas were featured on the popular CTV show Lifetime which ran the same night as a big WWF show at MLG. Sr. continued to show up in  TV commercials, and various ventures capitalizing on his name. Remember the Peach Pages?; a business directory he started with a partner in 1989. In recent years he had revisited his old Canadian title belt at tribute and fan events in the area, sometimes accompanied by a still fit (and very friendly to the fans) Junior. 

RIP to a true legend of the ring - and the field. 

Originally published 2005 revised 2019

Photos, nostalgia, collection
Mosca Mania items from Eric Peddle collection
Pics from 1978 out of 'Alias King Kong Mosca' Canadian magazine
The Sheik Streak by Gary Will is at The Sheik's unbeaten streak: 1969-1974: Gary Will's TWH

Spotlight: Boxing Day Cards in Toronto

  A big part of the Toronto history were the Boxing Day Cards held on or around Dec 26. They started them early on in 1930 and had them most years to the end of the NWA days in 1984. I attended a couple in the early 80s, the crowds in a festive mood and more importantly for the younger fans, often no school the next day. It was touted as family fun, a way to enjoy and extend the Christmas Holiday.

In the early days before Jack Corcoran and the Queensbury Club took over Maple leaf Gardens Ivan Mickailoff was the big promoter in town. He caught on early with a Dec 26 1930 card that featured 'a delighted mob' to see Count Zarinoff beat Freddy Meyers in the main. Local star Stanley Stasiak and the Maleciewicz brothers Joe & Al were also present. In the recap it mentioned 'that on the evening after Christmas, when everybody was broker than- well, mining brokers- for the first time in Losh! these many moons, customers with cash dough in their hands were turned away from a Toronto sporting box-office.' This was Arena Gardens where a packed house was about 9,500 fans. 

Main pic Boxing Day Toronto 1957 by Wilf Long

In 1935 Jack Corcoran's Dec 26 card at the Gardens drew 7,500 to see Dan O'Mahony defend his world championship vs Lou Plummer in the main. That one also memorable for long time wrestler/ref Al 'Bunny' Dunlop being fined his entire purse for abusing ref Cliff Chilcott in an opener. Star sports editor Lou Marsh recapped that the fans 'apparently went home well pleased.' 

Boxing Day 1952 held on Dec 27 featured Lord Athol Layton & George Bollas (the unmasked Zebra) vs Whipper Watson & Yukon Eric. This was in the days that Layton was still a bad guy. They drew 9,000 to that one.

In 1952 the fans got a treat when two masked men went at it. Red Mask beat Masked Marvel to reveal one Frank Valois. Red Mask lost his own mask a few months later to none other than Lou Thesz- revealing Dutch Hefner.

In 1956 Whipper Watson, fresh off a Hawaiian vacation (with Frank Tunney along no less) returned just in time to face Buddy Rogers on the Dec 27 card. They returned to Dec 26 the following year with a main of Whipper vs Hardboiled Haggerty. Another big part of the Boxing Day cards were the little people, fun for kids of all ages. That started in the 1950's and continued right up to the end. 


1962 had a memorable night with recent arrival U.S. champ Johnny Valentine finally meeting Whipper. one on one. Valentine had been pummelling all competition in front of the Toronto fans. A new favorite Bruno Sammartino, and long time bad guy Gene Kiniski were also on the card. A couple years later Valentine, again the champ, would lose that title to The Sheik on a Dec 27 show. 

That 1964 card was also memorable for being the first time Tunney held wrestling on a Sunday. They had just changed the laws here to allow sporting events on that day. In a Joe perlove bit in the Star that day, in his inimitable way with words said...

'Tunney's humanitarianism emerges because he is getting many fathers out of the house. Ah there's the essence. A stroke of genius. Fathers by the hundreds, he hopes, will heap econiums and other such like huzzas on the graying head. For after three straight days of home and mother and kids with noisy Christmas presents, father has to be tickled dizzy to flee into the night. Even to see the Sheik.'

1970 Click to enlarge
Joe was mostly right. There was 9,000 fans which was one of the larger turnouts of the year. Dave McKigney (as Jean Dubois) also brought Terrible Ted the bear to the festivities. Nothing says holidays louder than a wrestling bear. 

As far as the Boxing Day attendances, they had always been decent in the days of weekly cards. Anywhere from 5-10,000 expected. In 1970 with the Sheik era moving at full steam, they drew 16,000 to see Sheik beat Lord Athol Layton. That made 47 straight bouts for him without a loss. The next year they did 15,000 with the same main event. 

If you were in attendance for the Dec 26 1976 card you were lucky to see a rare Sheik title change. He had recently lost the U.S. title to Thunderbolt Patterson but regained the title for a late Christmas gift.

I was in the seats for the 1981 version held on Dec 27. John Studd defended the Canadian Title vs Bad Leroy Brown while Andre the Giant almost killed Killer Kahn (again) in the semi. Ivan Koloff, Ron Bass, Jay Youngblood, Jake Roberts, and Blackjack Jr filled it out. Decent card overall but not life changing. It was busy though with 13,989 announced. 

The 1982 version was a big disappointment. Andre teamed with Salvatore Bellomo to face Mr Fuji & Mr Saito in the main with Leroy Brown vs Angelo Mosca in the semi. I remember that one more for missing the last bus home and having to hitch. Different times...

They finished out the NWA era with a matinee Dec 26 card in 1983 featuring Roddy Piper & Dory Funk Jr facing the Assassins. Not a great card with the quality diminishing from what we were used to. This was about it for me. 


In the WWF years they continued with the tradition drawing a rare full house of 17,500 in 1987 (Hogan & Bigelow vs DiBiase & Bundy), 15,000 in 1988 (Savage vs Bad News Brown), but only 7,500 in 1989 (Ultimate Warrior vs Dino Bravo), and 8,500 in 1990 (Hogan & Tugboat vs Earthquake & Dino Bravo). The final Boxing Day card at MLG in 1993 had 7,000 to see The Undertaker vs Yokozuna.

Merry Christmas Happy Hanukkah & Happy Holidays to all the fans and faiths worldwide. Special shoutout to Roger, Gary, and Griff, and their families. Will maybe watch some wrestling on Boxing Day.


1961 NWA Toronto Convention Photo

Photo from the 1961 NWA Convention here in Toronto. That year Frank Tunney stepped 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
See also Featured External Link: 1961 NWA Convention in Toronto


MLG Film 1962-1964

Up now at our friends 'Maple Leaf Wrestling Archives'  MLW VideoArchives 
Bruno vs Buddy 1962 and Reel 1 1962 listed below, and below that Reel 2 1964. 

Special Thanks to Hilda Yanoff and JoAnne F for making this happen
All rights reserved. 

Other Toronto film here under the tag Film

1962/08/30 World Title Buddy Rogers vs Bruno Sammartino 
1962/08/30 Little Beaver/Tiny Tim W Sky Low Low/Pee Wee James
1962/08/16 Bulldog Brower/Sweet Daddy Siki vs Yukon Eric/Whipper Watson (clipped)
1962// Little people TBD 
1962 Brower/Siki vs Yukon Eric/Whipper Watson (cont, then clipped)
1961/06/22 Ilio Dipaolo/Billy Red Lyons vs Ivan/Karol Kalmikoff
1962/05/17 Bulldog Brower vs Bruno Sammartino 
1962/05/24 Bulldog Brower vs Sweet Daddy Siki
1962/03/01 Sweet Daddy Siki vs Timothy Geohagen 
1962/03/28 Bulldog Brower vs Raphael Halpern
1962/04/04 Tom Emperor Jones *CFL player vs Timothy Geohagen
1962// Whipper Watson/Billy Red Lyons vs Bulldog Brower/Sweet Daddy Siki 
1962 Haystack Muldoon
1962/05/24 Chris/John Tolos vs Jim Hady/Ray Gordon
1962/06/07 Bruno Sammartino vs Sweet Daddy Siki
1962/06/07 Haystack Muldoon vs Frank Valois
1962/06/07 Ivan Kalmikoff/Nikita Kalmikoff vs Billy Red Lyons/Bill Brute Soloweyko
1962// Bulldog Brower vs ? 
1962// Bruno Sammartino vs Sweet Daddy Siki
1962/06/14 Haystack Muldoon vs Sweet Daddy Siki *Brower &Bruno come out
1962/06/14 Bruno Sammartino vs Great Kudo *Red Garner
1962/06/14 Whipper Watson vs Bulldog Brower *Siki interferes
1962// Mr Kleen vs ?
1962/06/21 Bruno Sammartino vs Great Kudo *w/mgr Sam Sullivan
1962/06/21 Whipper Watson vs Sweet Daddy Siki  *Roger Baker sighting 0.29.17
1962/06/28 Mr Kleen vs Steve Stanlee 
1962/06/28 Bruno Sammartino vs Ivan Kalmikoff
1962/06/28 Whipper Watson vs Bulldog Brower

Reel 2 1964 

1964// Duke Noble vs Arion Lambrakis?    *Siki comes out
1964/09/17 The Sheik *Toronto debut vs Erich Froelich
1964/09/17 Scufflin’ Hillbillies Rip Collins/Chuck Conley vs Sweet Daddy Siki/Bob Leipler
1964/09/17 Professor Hiro/Fred Atkins vs Whipper Watson/Johnny Valentine *Carpentier & Hady come out
1964/07/02 Scufflin’ Hillbillies Rip Collins/Chuck Conley vs Joe Christie?/Lee Henning
1964/07/02 Professor Hiro/Fred Atkins vs Whipper Watson/Yukon Eric
1964/06/18 Scufflin’ Hillbillies Rip Collins/Chuck Conley vs Tarzan Tyler/Ike Eakins
1964/06/18 The Beast *Yachetti vs Erich Froelich
1964/06/18 Professor Hiro vs Whipper Watson 
1964/06/25 Scufflin’ Hillbillies Rip Collins/Chuck Conley vs Bulldog Brower/Ike Eakins
1964/06/25 Professor Hiro vs Johnny Valentine
64/03/26 Jim Hady vs Joe Christie?
64/03/26 The Beast *Yachetti w/mgr Martino Angelo vs Erich Froelich 
64/04/03 Professor Hiro vs Billy Red Lyons
64/04/03 Whipper Watson vs The Beast *Yachetti w/mgr Martino Angelo & Pat Flanagan suspended in a cage
64/04/03 Pancho Lopez/Sonny Boy Cassidy vs Farmer Pete/Vito Gonzales 
--Whipper Watson vs Sweet Daddy Siki  same as reel 1?
--Kleen vs Stanlee same as reel 1 ?
--Bruno Sammartino vs Ivan Kalmikoff
--Whipper Watson vs Bulldog Brower

Bert Maxwell, Tiger Tasker, Joe Gollob, Cliff Worthy, Sam Gotter, Pat Flanagan, Bunny Dunlop, Billy Stack  
Announcer Gerry Hiff, Jack Tunney   
Second Phil Lisner

Bruno vs Buddy
The first meeting between Buddy and Bruno in July 1962 ends when Bruno can't continue after hitting the mat head first and is is unable to get up before the 10 count. Two weeks later in front of 14,000 fans Bruno controls the bout and when Rogers attempts to leap over Bruno he gets hit below the belt by a charging Sammartino. Ref Tiger Tasker is ready to declare Bruno the new champ but Bruno, being the rule abiding hero, addresses the fans (in Italian) refusing to accept the title under the circumstances. A rematch is set for August. For the 3rd meeting (film clips) in front of 14,000 again (and with traffic jams outside MLG) Bruno gives Rogers a beating but Sammartino tries for another drop kick and lands badly. Tasker declares him done. Rogers though takes the win, and next returns to Toronto to lose the title to Lou Thesz in Jan 1963...

7 minutes of Bruno, exciting and superhuman. Johnny Valentine and Professor Hiro beating the &*^% out of each other. Hiro another of Fred Atkins protege's. And good to see Atkins too, he and Whipper laying it on each other like the old days. Brower as nuts (and entertaining) as Roger Baker relates, and he was a great bump guy. He and Siki as a tag and solo, and their turns on each other a big part of the era. Everyone was a tough guy back then, even our refs. You can see Bunny Dunlop on the apron during a tag bout, he was as big as a house. They said he had taken down Hutton in the dressing room. And Flanagan, Gollub especially, got into the action a lot. The Sheik and his first appearance here, he had wrestled in Windsor and other towns on our side of Lake Michigan but not in Toronto. Bruno vs Kudo. Some rare Red Garner footage, he ran the CCWA promotion for many years around Toronto and finished up with a title bout vs Bruno when he returned in 1964. The bit where they attack Kudo's manager Sam Sullivan, Roger took a great photo of that from the North side of the ring. You could even tell in the photo that they were out to kill him. The fans when they had a chance were fearless, you can see why there were riots most days of the week around the circuit. The bit with Flanagan and Martino Angelo suspended over the ring in a cage, Angelo (another old style tough guy) was apparently deathly afraid of heights and had a bit of a breakdown up there, before Flanagan started beating on him..

For me, hearing Roger tell me about these bouts over the years as we look at his photos, and being invested in the history here, its cool to see it played out. Roger is there in some of the clips sitting beside the ramp looking very fit, with a fine head of hair, and his trusty camera.



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 Sobol tried to help Watson extricate himself from the fence. Singh knocked Sobol 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 Sobol’s younger brother (and former boxer) 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.

Thanks to Roger Baker
Nostalgia collection, Studd Mosca by AC
Excerpted 'From Nanjo to The Sheik: Tales From Toronto Wrestling'