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 mapleleafwrestling.com collection, Studd Mosca by AC
Excerpted 'From Nanjo to The Sheik: Tales From Toronto Wrestling'

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


What's This! Wrestling Refs In Tails? 1957

    Ontario MPP Arthur Child took offence to Gene Kiniski and pro wrestling (a farce!) back in 1957. He also claimed that wrestling referees resembled 'some third rate cook in a greasy spoon restaurant' and 'are slapped and pushed around like comedians in a two reel slapstick comedy.'

Child had asked for film from the Thursday night Gardens shows. The crusading MPP wanted to screen the matches in the Assembly to illustrate his charge. Child, of course, singled out Kiniski for particular criticism. He used phrases like 'disgusting behavior,' and 'utter brutality.' And he did not have much respect for the referees either, for allowing 'the sloppy circus-like performance' while the wrestlers 'slapped and pushed the arbiters around.'

At that time the refs wore the rather respectable (by todays standards) clean clinical looking white shirts or 'aprons' with dark pants, often with a bowtie. So as a response to the 'third rate cook in a greasy spoon restaurant' comment, the refs dressed it up a little bit! 

Besides that, there are a lot of local wrestling and boxing years represented in the photo.
  • Sam Gotter: Amateur wrestling standout from the 1930s-40s and ref from the early 50s into the early 60s. 
  • Bert Maxwell: Ref from the mid 1940s into the early 60s. Former amateur star known as the West Hill Terror and later The Little Flower of Uxbridge due to his horticulture expertise. He was a day 1 employee of MLG (1931) as a gate person and other duties. 
  • Joe Gollob: Former boxer became a referee in the early 1950s to the late 60s. Had a couple of heel ref runs around the circuit and took lots of bumps. Classic old days tough guy and Roger Baker's favorite ref!
  • Al 'Bunny' Dunlop: Former star and strongman would first don the officials attire in the early 1940s while still wrestling. He remained a fixture on the scene right up to 1972. Another tough guy of the day (most were), there are stories about his strength and of shooting on a famous name. *see Gary's bit on Dunlop below. He worked for the Toronto Parks dept. during the day. and had 'forearms like ham hocks' as per Roger. 
  • Cliff Worthy: Another former amateur standout. Refereed wrestling as early as 1934 up until the mid 60s. He also refereed boxing in the early 30s in and around Toronto. Was still around at Frank's 30th Anniversary party (1969) at the Hot Stove. 
More on Gollob at Gentleman Joe Gollob
More on Dunlop at Al 'Bunny' Dunlop
We looked at the whole story on Childs, Kiniski, Whipper at
1957 Childs goes after wrestling- on Slam Wrestling *external link opens in new window

Thanks to Roger Baker


Whipper and Kiniski: The Feud

     By the time Gene Kiniski burst onto the Toronto scene in November 1956 Whipper Watson was well into his 16th year as the reigning king of the ring at Maple Leaf Gardens. Kiniski, billed as a 'footballer of note' made an instant impact on the fans in Toronto. They hated him right away.

Publicity man Frank Ayerst remarked that Kiniski was 'sometimes referred to as Genial Gene, because he smiled once when an opponent was being carried out of the ring.' Adding that he 'is such a rugged ring operator that getting a match with him is gaily alluded to as The Point of No Return.'

Main pic: Wilf Long cartoon 1957

He rampaged over a few of the smaller types early in the cards before suffering his first loss against Shaq Thomas. He actually beat Thomas in a mere 54 seconds but was disqualified when he wouldn't stop assaulting his opponent. He finished out the year beating another newcomer Billy Red Lyons in December and returned in January 1957.

This time Kiniski trounced local favorite Pat Flanagan with his Prairie Paralyzer and returned to the ring for the main event between Whipper and Buddy Rogers. Kiniski, already not known for his quiet demeanor, stepped into the ring before the introductions and challenged Whipper. Rogers backed him up declaring 'Kiniski will pick up the pieces after I've finished with you.'

Kiniski left but returned to the ring when Whipper captured Rogers in his Canuck Commando and the future looked bleak for the Nature Boy. Kiniski attacked Watson and special ref Jersey Joe Walcott took at swing at big Gene. Pat O'Connor, who had wrestled earlier in the card came to Whipper's rescue but Walcott wasn't sure and took a couple of swings at Pat before going at Kiniski again and then disqualifying Rogers for outside interference.

That set up a tag bout for the next card with Whipper and O'Connor to face Kiniski and Rogers with Walcott and Bunny Dunlop as referees. The heroes won by dq in front of 14,000 fans when Kiniski took off under the ring a'la Wild Bill Longson and Nanjo Singh before him.

Joe Perlove in his recap the next day opined that 'he (Kiniski) had heard that Nanjo Singh had those nether regions (under the ring) fitted up with a bar and chintzy furniture.'

Perlove went on to describe that 'several hundred customers wanted to make his (Kiniski) crew cut a little shorter. By maybe a foot.' When Kiniski failed to return, Walcott gave the win to Watson and O'Connor. Kiniski still had to make his way to the safety of the dressing room having earned the fans full hatred previously shown to Nanjo and other enemies of the state - State Whipper.

Wire Fence Jan 1957 with Jersey Joe, and Hutton on the floor

That set the feud in motion with the two going to battle on the next card at MLG and later a wire fence bout, an early cage match. Dick Hutton would side with Kiniski and draw himself into the bouts and team with Kiniski against Whipper and Yukon Eric on a subsequent card as well as interfere in each others bouts.

The fence match on Jan 24 ended in a wild finish with Kiniski and Hutton going after Whip and ref Jersey Joe who was again part of the action.

A bout at East York Arena between Watson and Hutton the following week led to another incident involving Kiniski. Watson beat Hutton to win the $1000 check that Hutton had been offering to anyone who could beat him within 20 minutes. Whipper was the first in Toronto to beat Hutton, but after the bout Kiniski jumped in and tore up the check while he and Hutton attacked ref Bunny Dunlop.

This led to Kiniski being given a $500 fine, said to be the steepest penalty handed down at the time. He was additionally given a 4 week suspension from OAC Commissioner Merv McKenzie, who also curtailed the license of Tunney to promote at the Arena for 6 months. MLG was not included!

Kiniski orating after his suspension 1957
It may have been legit as Tunney didn't return to East York until Oct 1957, though they only used it when the Gardens was not available. Les Lyman and others ran the smaller Arena in that era.

Genial Gene meanwhile offered this to the fans in response to the outrage over how he treated our fan-favorites. 'Tell them from me to go to hell too ! I'll fight in Maple Leaf Gardens whenever I like. Let those chicken bums stay home if they don't like me.'

This was around the same time that Ontario MPP Arthur Child had leveled criticism at the antics of Wrestlers pushing the referee's around and called it a farce. It started a heated battle with debates over the OAC being associated with pro rasslin and involved Whipper and others around the scene. Ref Joe Gollob, no stranger to the rough stuff replied back that 'we don't need a Commission.' Whipper used his diplomacy to smooth things over in the end.

Kiniski meanwhile showed up at MLG in March and takes to the ring before the main of The Miller Brothers vs Hard Boiled Haggerty and Hutton. In his usual quiet manner Gene announced/bellowed that his suspension was over and he was back to destroy the Whipper.

They continued through the year both in singles and tag bouts, Whipper with various partners and Kiniski with Hutton. Kiniski went on to beat O'Connor for our British Empire Title and he earned a bout against NWA champ Lou Thesz at the Gardens.

Kiniski & Watson did big business here with averages of 10,000 a card. With them on top for most of the year, Tunney drew over 320,000 over 48 cards at MLG in 1957.

The feud travelled around the circuit here with some big bouts from Hamilton to London to Buffalo. They then moved across the country with stops in Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver with the fans following the feud on the CBC TV show.

Gene soon teamed with Fritz Von Erich to form a formidable tag and continued to battle Whipper and his partners through 1958 while the two battled in singles bouts and traded the B-E Title. The feud periodically started up again and continued into the mid 60's.

"Their matches will forever be a bench mark for both the length of time and many dozens of encounters that took place between these two great Canadian wrestlers. 

The only other feud that Watson had that could compare in number of years and brutality, would have been The Whipper's many grudge encounters with Nanjo Singh.

Kiniski was a very brash, in your face competitor, and he kept himself in excellent physical condition at all times. He belonged to be the headliner that he was, only the top wrestlers of his era could stay with him long enough to make for a good match, and at the same time walk out on their own two feet.

Whipper always gave Kiniski a battle whenever they met. Watson probably body slammed Kiniski at least eight to ten times in every encounter. To see Watson apply this slam was a thing of beauty. He would crotch Kiniski and lift him with his right arm and actually be able to raise him up to where Kiniski was a good foot above the Whipper's head, then Kiniski was slammed to the mat, or the wooden ramp with all of Watson's strength. This move always got the crowd excited, and had Kiniski crawling on his knees in a lot of pain.'

Kiniski employed many wrestling holds to his opponents that were at times crippling. An example was his knee drop to his opponents upper chest, and sometimes to the exposed throat as well. He often delivered his big boots to their rib cage, this could result in a wrestler having many a recovery for bruised ribs."

Kiniski had his run with the NWA Title and defended here a total of 17 times including a 1966 bout against Whipper (17 in Toronto only, Gene very busy on the circuit too). Their last bout at MLG came in June 1967 with Kiniski taking on both Whipper and Bulldog Brower in a handicap bout. The NWA title was not at stake as Whipper and Brower, working in tag rules, beat Kiniski in front of 6,200.

Whipper's career ended in 1971 but that wasn't to be the end of the feud. In 1978 Kiniski was set to battle Dino Bravo for the newly created Canadian Heavyweight Title. The night was also deemed 'Whipper Watson Appreciation Night.' Frank Tunney was to honor Whipper by donating 1$ from each ticket to the Easter Seals Timmy Scholarship Fund and to acknowledge all he had done for the sport and the charities. Watson was also set to award the new championship belt to the winner of the bout.

Still not a quiet guy by any means, Kiniski started an argument with Whipper and the fans booed him mercilessly as he lost to the new champ Bravo. At that point Whipper and Kiniski were at the 22 year mark of the feud.

Kiniski, in later years talked very highly of Watson and all of the money they made with each other, and was present at Whipper's funeral in 1990. The feud was finally over.


Photos from .com collection and original clips and memories thanks to Roger Baker

For more on the MP's vs Wrestling incident see  1957: The year the Ontario government questioned pro wrestling's validity 
 External Link on Slam Wrestling- opens in new window.

Sammy Sobel

 Sammy Sobel had been around the wrestling and boxing scene from the turn of the century. He was from a sporting family, he and his brothers all pursued their favorite sports with Sammy turning to wrestling. 

There isn't a lot of information on his early life. He was born in Toronto and appears to have joined Jack Corcoran's Queensbury team around the beginning of the MLG cards in 1931. Initially he was in charge of Hamilton & Ottawa as Corcoran branched out. Later he officially took over Niagara Falls and occasionally ran cards in other areas. In 1935 Corcoran sent Sobel to run some summer shows in Timmins and area, handling the books and also refereeing the bouts. 

In 1938 he was appointed as ring manager of Toronto's newest star and World champ (Toronto) Vic Christie. During a Christie bout vs Masked Marvel, Sobel attacked longtime ref Cliff Worthy earning a review from the Athletic Commission. They suspended him indefinitely so he enlisted a former Hamilton policeman named Al Reid to second Christie for his next bout. Sobel bought a ringside seat anyways. 

He was also part of the busy boxing scene in and around Toronto, at one point managing Jack Matheson, a highly touted middleweight boxer from Hamilton.

In Hamilton Sobel ran the shows at the Municipal Pool where they had the ring set up over the middle of the water. It made for some eventful action including one night when the spectator seats collapsed dropping the patrons into the drink. They were fortunate that all-round athlete and noted swimmer Mike Sharpe was on the card. Sharpe, the son of a Hamilton policeman would rescue many of them. The headline (on page 1 of the Toronto Daily Star no less) screamed 'Wrestler Saves Screaming Fur-Coated Women.' 

Sobel ran the cards as well as handling the announcing from ringside. He was known for his sharp wit and entertaining intros. He occasionally battled against George Hill who also ran cards in Hamilton (mostly lightweight affairs) but Corcoran and then Tunney stacked the cards to help bring the fans into the Queensbury shows. 

In 1942 during the first fence bout (early cage match) in Toronto Sobel tried to help Whipper Watson who was getting the worst of it vs Nanjo Singh. Sam Yanaky, another area promoter who was acting as Nanjo’s manager attempted to stop Watson from escaping the ring before being beset upon by the now riotous fans. In response Sobel attempted 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) Eddie who took up the fight. 

In a bit from 1948 it mentions Sobel as having '40 years around wrestling mats.'  When he passed away in Jan 1958 it said he had promoted wrestling 'for 30 years, the last 20 in this district (Niagara Falls).'

Lots to fill in on Sobel, if you can help please contact me 


Phil Lawson

    Phil Lawson is mostly known as Whipper's trainer and manager but he was a real powerhouse in the city running shows and training upstarts for many years. He had come from Byng Inlet to Toronto in his youth and was an accomplished amateur himself. He won both City and Ontario championships after starting at the YMCA as a kid around 1910. In 1921 he won the noted Provincial Light Heavyweight Title in boxing, and in 1926 the Canadian Lightweight Championship in Wrestling. 

 Lawson took over training for the YMCA in 1926  and started working with Whipper as early as 1931. Officially he became Whip's manager in 1940 but he had already being using his specialized training regimens from the time a teenaged Watson had first found the sport.  By the 1930's he was solidly entrenched in the sporting scene for both wrestling and boxing. Besides Watson, Lawson trained Oshawa favorite Billy Stack and worked with many others that frequented the MLG cards. Lawson was also very tight in the wrestling/boxing office of Jack Corcoran prior to- and after -the Tunney's taking over. He was later described as 'the eyes, ears, and sometimes mind of Tunney' as they built a modest start in wrestling to one of the most successful on the continent. 

Lawson had a lot of influence within the office, and was helped by his outgoing personality. He was once described as 'an outgoing character, confident and aggressive, bouncing off the walls in the office, and sometimes volatile.'  He was a health nut who preached clean living and vigorous exercise. Said to charge at everything he did, 'if he went out for coffee he banged doors as he went and he dog-trotted to the bistro.' 

Phil & Whip in The Hanger 1942
The local scribes frequently reported on the strange workout sessions that Lawson was putting his star through. Lawson would have Whipper carry him on his back up the Scarborough Bluffs and other unorthodox regimens. One of the strangest is 'The Hanger' a noose like contraption that was to strengthen the neck muscles. It must have worked, Whipper bumped up his weight by 40lbs from his amateur days.

When Frank Tunney introduced the ramp in 1948 to protect Nanjo Singh from the fans, Lawson was right in the middle of it. Tunney had announced there was to be a ramp set up from the entrance way to the ring. An ‘escape hatch’ as described, it served exactly the purpose for which it was created. After Watson was declared the winner and new British Empire champ, Singh attacked Lawson trying to rip his tailored suit off. Watson saved his manager and Singh then hightailed it across the ramp, now safe above the heads of the surging ringside crowd. 

Lawson as an in ring manager got pulled into the action a fair bit for the times. He could take the bumps and would really fly when tossed by one of Whipper's foes.

In May 1949 Lawson died unexpectedly at the age of 48 after having recently suffered some heart trouble. He was memorialized as an 'imaginative man, with a lovely wit.' It went on to say that the local scene 'has been struck a shrewder blow than anything (Fred) Atkins ever presented the Whipper.' His passing certainly left a void in the local scene. As a result Whipper himself took on an increased role alongside Tunney as the promotion moved into the boom of the 1950's. 

'Few men in the sports scene will be more sincerely mourned than the likeable chattery voice of Tunney enterprises...' - Daily Star May 31 1949


Lots to fill in on Phil's story...more on Whip & Phil and the early days at The Myth of Whipper Watson

Nostalgia mapleleafwrestling.com collection 

MLG Film 1962-1964

I converted some 8mm film and uploaded it to our good friends youtube page at the 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
All rights reserved. 

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 
1962/05/30 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 
1962 same as reel 1
--Whipper Watson vs Sweet Daddy Siki  
--Kleen vs Stanlee 
--Bruno Sammartino vs Ivan Kalmikoff
--Whipper Watson vs Bulldog Brower

Bert Maxwell, Tiger Tasker, Joe Gollob, Cliff Worthy, Pat Flanagan, Bunny Dunlop, Billy Stack  
Announcer Gerry Hiff       
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. 

Other Toronto film here under the tag Film


Oshawa Wrestling History: Whip and Togo set Oshawa on fire

 'Used to be a time when people were happy to see three good fights. I remember three shows 
at the old Oshawa Arena where Whipper Billy Watson and The Great Togo brought 
in 10,000 people and boy was it hot in there...you couldn't breathe'
Pat Milosh 1985 reflecting on Oshawa wrestling history 

   In the summer of 1953 Whipper Watson & Great Togo start a feud that revitalizes the Oshawa wrestling scene. The two set attendance records helping to make it the most successful season in the towns rich wrestling history. The first bout set it on fire. The feud - not the arena. In fact the Oshawa Arena did burn down that season, right before the last card of the year a few months later. The feud may have had something to do with it.

Headline June 24 1953

 Whipper was well into his long tenure as the British Empire champion while Togo had previously starred at MLG performing pre-bout exhibitions of strength and breaking bricks and planks with his bare hands.

 The first bout set the tone with the often (though not always) rule-abiding Whipper going berserk and attacking Togo with a chair. This was after the two had upset the announcers table and brawled into the first rows of the crowd. The chair shot opens a huge cut on Togo's head that later requires stitches and it sets off a mini-riot. Amid the chaos the police, ushers, and even young promoter Pat Milosh battle to separate the two and to keep the fans away from Togo.

 The following week saw Togo matched with Timothy Geohagen whom he dispatched quite easily sending Geohagen in for medical attention. That card drew 2,500. A week later the re-match for Whipper-Togo II has the eager fans lined up outside. 3,000 of them, a new record. The previous reported high had just been set earlier that month when Gorgeous George's visit drew 2,750 fans to see him take on local favorite Pat Flanagan.

 Average attendance in those years was 500-1,300 a week with occasional spikes. It started picking up in 1952 and by the 1953 season 21 cards drew almost 50,000 fans. Don Leo Jonathon, Bobo Brazil, and a hot tag scene including Canadian champs Plummer & Raines and the Lords, Layton & Blears helped fill up the seats.

Headline July 6 1953

 Whipper and Togo end their second bout much like the first one, with the fans on the verge of rioting. Whipper is disqualified after slugging ref Bert Maxwell and doesn't take the loss well. Either do the fans. This time Milosh had extra police in place and they, along with the ushers, Milosh, Bobo, and Geohagen, got it under control.

Ad for Aug 18 1953

Milosh gets into the action
 For the third bout a week later they again break the attendance record, somehow cramming 3,300 fans into the Arena. That holds until 1956 when 4,600 packed the outdoor Kinsmen for Hardboiled Haggerty vs Yukon Eric. And that one wouldn't be broken until the WWF years in 1985 with 5,000 at the Civic to see Andre, Bravo, Hart/Neidhart, and Randy Savage.

 Special referee Geohagen was assigned and the OAC (Ontario Athletic Commission) Commissioner Merv McKenzie was in attendance surely to monitor the proceedings. After a rough bout with each taking a fall they took the fight outside the ring where it ended, the winner unclear but the fans happy.

 The red hot Togo tears it up all over the circuit with mains in many of the towns. A battle in Niagara Falls vs Ilio DiPaolo ended with the fans tossing chairs and the police again having to separate the wrestlers and keep the peace. 

 In Oshawa in the coming weeks he faced Geohagen again and then Don Leo Jonathon in a wild battle that had both on the arena floor fighting up the aisle as they were counted out. Togo pictured in the paper the next day with another huge cut in his head. Milosh ran another Watson-Togo series at the end of the summer with a high of 3,000 in attendance.

Headline Sept 16 1953

 The season had been one of the hottest since the first pro card in Oshawa in 1929. So it was somehow fitting that on the morning of the last card of the season, the Oshawa Arena burned to the ground. Promoter Milosh is relegated to start the 1954 season at the Bowmanville Arena just east of Oshawa, before moving the cards to the Kinsmen baseball stadium directly adjacent to the old Arena.

 Togo returns again that year too, soon with brother Tosh in tow. They team up vs Whipper & Flanagan and despite the rain on many of the outdoor nights, drew well again (1500+). The Togos go on to have a good run on the main circuit in Ontario holding the tag titles and facing all sorts of teams including the rough Lisowski's and the strength of Claybourne & Lindsay.


Photos & nostalgia mapleleafwrestling.com collection

Smiling John: The forgotten Tunney: Gary Will's TWH

Frank Tunney was Toronto's greatest wrestling promoter and one of the most successful and respected promoters in the world.

But if it hadn't been for a fluke illness, he may never have had the chance to rise to that level. When Tunney took over the wrestling operations of the Queensbury Athletic Club -- the main Toronto booking office -- from Jack Corcoran in 1939, he was the junior member of the new promoting team. The head matchmaker was his older brother, John Tunney.

It isn't clear exactly when the Tunneys started to work for Corcoran. Frank would say in later interviews that he was working in the office as a teenager at the time of the first Maple Leaf Gardens show in 1931. A story in the Star at the time said the Tunneys became involved in 1933. But whatever the date was, John and Frank spent years helping Corcoran behind the scenes.

Corcoran was reported to have caught pneumonia in March 1939, and Toots Mondt -- who was or had been a partner in the Toronto office (more about that another time) -- came up to run the Gardens show on March 16, which featured a world title bout between Jim Londos and local star Vic Christie.

 The following week, it was announced that John Tunney had become the head matchmaker. Attendance through the rest of 1939 averaged 3,000-4,000 per show, and John brought in Wild Bill Longson (an immediate hit), Bronko Nagurski, Frank Sexton, and Lou Thesz for their Toronto debuts in the fall of that year.

According to the attendance figures in the Globe, John Tunney's biggest show was on Thursday January 12, 1940. The main event was Longson vs Jumping Joe Savoldi with Gus Sonnenberg on the undercard. It drew 6,000. It would also be John's final show at the Gardens.

He started feeling sick the next day, but -- against the advice of friends -- decided to work through what seemed to be a bad cold. On Monday, he made the drive to Ottawa to oversee a show there. "Upon his return, he was ordered to bed by the family physician and his condition was not considered even remotely serious," reported the Globe.

Tunney remained at home -- his house was near Danforth and Woodbine -- but things took a sharp turn for the worse on Thursdsay, the day of his next scheduled Gardens show. He died early that morning at age 32. The Star said it was influenza and the Globe added that he had suffered a heart attack. The Gardens show that night was cancelled.

"The entire sports community is prostrated by this blow which took away one of its youngest, most pleasant and most promising promoters," wrote the Star.

Tunney's wife had given birth two weeks earlier to their fourth child and was herself in the hospital suffering from complications. Among the couple's other three children was their oldest son, Jackie.

John Tunney was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery. Frank immediately became Toronto's head promoter. John's son, Jack Tunney, would go on to work for his uncle Frank starting in the early 1950s and took over the business with Frank's son Eddie Tunney after Frank's death in 1983.

-by Gary Will

MLG Footage 1948 Whipper vs Longson

Clip of a 1948 Longson-Whipper World Title bout from MLG. Whipper's manager Phil Lawson is there in the opening frames. He was a constant companion in the ring and around the office but passed on just a year later. 

Ref is The Little Flower of Uxbridge Bert Maxwell, perhaps Roger's second favorite ref... Great find to go along with the 1957 Footage.

At right Whip & Phil, Bert & Bill..

Thanks to Gary who had posted this link some time back at the MLW Archives group on Facebook.
'Not quite as old as the Angel footage (here on Youtube - MLG 1940 footage), but this is a rare look at Whipper Billy Watson in his prime, wrestling for the National Wrestling Association world title at the Gardens against champion Wild Bill Longson on April 22, 1948. This drew a reported 11,000. Watson had been the champion the year before. The National Wrestling Alliance -- the one that we all came to know (there had been an earlier promotion with that name) -- was formed three months later but it would take almost another year-and-a-half before Tunney joined in late 1949.' - Gary Will - Facebook

Buyout Footage Historic Stock Footage Archive  *Buyout Footage Historic Stock Footage Archive  

Frank Tunney: The Early Days

A look at the early days of the promotion under the Tunney's.Not a definitive history. Intended in a respectful manner to add info that is not readily available. For corrections please contact me. More in depth issues such as Tunney's involvement in the NWA can be found at other sources, notably the Legacy of Wrestling site linked on the left sidebar.

Tunney Family

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.
with French Angel 1942

Thomas 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 is not clear when Thomas Sr settled on the Markham farm as both John and Thomas were listed as born in Scarborough. The Tunneys had 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 in later years 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 fair amount of tragedy in Frank's family as the years went on.

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 a not 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 gave 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 lifesaving 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'. In that same article it says Frank started as secretary to Corcoran and later got brother John a job.

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 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 including the Night Of Champions cards in 1983 and the 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 early 1900's 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 said he had been handling duties for Corcoran for 6 years placing him in the office about 1934. It should be noted that 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 says he came to Toronto to take a 20$ a week job. A later article put it at 15 a week. In his 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 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 experience on the lake 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, 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 was also involved in owning and 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 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 says his father Thomas was second cousin to Gene Tunney boxer. There is nothing definitive to indicate that is true, many Tunney's purport to be kin to Gene although it is possible, both families following a similar path from Ireland. John as well as Frank and Jack did all 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 US 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 (Lakefield -north of Peterborough- for one) but never got close to Toronto that I can see. 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. Supposedly 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, Franks 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."


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 would bring some success, there were many problems from the start and on through the years. Illnesses and problems with the commission and other promoters took its toll.

Tunney worked with - and against - his counterpart in Montreal, Eddie Quinn. Quinn, like Tunney 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 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 both a Canadian and a world champ. After Quinn moved in to Ottawa, Tunney didn't return to the nations capital for another 30+ years putting on shows starting again in 1982.

Tunney also had issues with promoter Howard Darwin in Ottawa -also involving fighter Robert Cleroux. Darwin who was promoting both 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 also 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 would 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 appeared to be 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, first with Perlove then with Ayerst. 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 last point is notable as Joe Perlove, Deacon Allen, Corcoran, and many of the others were all involved with Horse Racing in some respect, either writing, betting, owning, 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 the 1950s 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 50s through the M-A era in a future piece.


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