Some misconceptions about the Toronto promotion we see commonly online and in books etc.
Frank Tunney was Jack Tunney's Uncle
TRUE! Jack (John Jr) Tunney was John Tunney's son. John was Frank's elder brother who took over with Frank from Jack Corcoran in 1939. John died suddenly in Jan 1940. Frank's son Eddie Tunney later joined the office. See Smiling John: The forgotten Tunney & Frank Tunney: The Early Days
Toronto was a one city territory like St Louis or Houston
FALSE! For most of the history of the Toronto office there was a busy and vibrant circuit. Ivan Mickailoff began the weekly cards at Arena Gardens in Toronto in 1929. Right from the start he was branching out with cards around the region. Hamilton, London, Brantford, Kitchener, Oshawa, Timmins, and other towns. When businessman and boxing promoter Jack Corcoran entered the wrestling scene in 1930 he replicated the outward growth. He started to build the circuit using associates in the smaller towns.
Frank Tunney continued the circuit growth with stops in over 30 cities many seasons. He took advantage of his associate promoters setting up a strong network of former wrestlers and old-timers. Sometimes two towns a night with split crews.
By the end of the 60s and into the Sheik era, Frank was 30 years in as promoter. The roster was gone. Many of the smaller towns were now left to Dave McKigney and others, occasionally still in tandem with Jack & the Toronto office. For a time Jack even ran with McKigney before it all turned sour.With the Mid-Atlantic era (1978) and the success it brought, they went back to an office run circuit. The difference by that time was that much of our top tier talent was now imported. While many of the M-A stars stayed on past the MLG card, others continued back south. The circuit also only ran for a week a month or so though there were some spot shows on the off weeks, more so in the summer months.We looked at 'The Circuit' in Quick Bits: The Best (and rest) of Toronto Wrestling
Whipper Watson was not a good wrestler/old guy (nary a mention in the great 'wrestlers' talk)
FALSE! There are a few things to consider when looking at Whipper's career to be able to judge him fairly as a wrestler. His prime, shortened by injuries early in his career came mostly before the advent of TV. By the time Watson became the big Canadian star with CBC's TV Wrestling from Maple Leaf Gardens in the mid 1950's, his best years were mostly behind him.In his prime in the 1940's, his early years on the busy amateur circuit and his training under Phil Lawson are also worth a look to gain insight to his skills in the ring.We looked at 'The Myth of Whipper Watson' in Quick Bits: The Best (and rest) of Toronto Wrestling
Frank Tunney was complacent or unambitious
FALSE! Frank was a smart and well respected businessman in the city. His early efforts and creating key allies (Longson, Muchnick, Thesz etc) laid the foundation for over 40 years as the only wrestling promoter in town. Maple Leaf Gardens was a jewel and with a busy circuit from the 1930s to the 1960s there was no need to expand out of Southern Ontario for the most part (a few East Coast tours and others and mostly in the off-season). Frank did test Kasaboski & Northland in the 50s but opted to let it be. That was covered in Beyond the Boom in From Nanjo to The Sheik.
In those early days Toronto was a key NWA member and Frank was known for being 'easy to deal with' & 'a man of honor.' NWA head Sam Muchnick often looked to Frank as a 'voice of reason.' By wrestling promoter standards Frank was an anomaly. A nice guy, his handshake as good as gold. By his 30 year mark (1969 at age 57) Frank stepped back while nephew Jack took the reins and they started to bring in outside help. Detroit, then AWA, and finally Mid Atlantic.
Vince McMahon bought Maple Leaf
FALSE! After Frank Tunney died in 1983 nephew Jack & son Eddie took over the office. The new Maple Leaf Wrestling was formed in June 1984 during a meeting with McMahon in June 1984. The partners were 50% Titan Sports (WWF), 33.33% Tunney Sports (50% Jack, 50% Eddie) and 16.66% George Scott. The deal was such that Tunney Sports would continue to run the business but only use WWF talent. McMahon and the WWF invested no money in the partnership. We looked at that in The Canadian Heavyweight Title: The Complete History 1978-1984.
'The Maple Leaf Gardens?'
HMMM...Many people outside of Toronto refer to the Carlton St cashbox as 'The Maple Leaf Gardens.' Always sounded strange to me. For Torontonians it was 'Where is the game tonight?' 'At Maple Leaf Gardens.' Or at 'The Gardens.' I suspect it came from that and partly as the Gardens (not Garden as in Madison Square) was synonymous with the Maple Leafs who played there from beginning to end. And their history and ownership was tied to the building. The Maple Leafs. Maple Leaf Gardens. The Maple Leaf Gardens. Even the papers occasionally inserted 'The.' We mostly call it the abbreviated MLG or just 'The Gardens!
A lot of Toronto years in this photo with Flanagan & Henning alone. Flanagan came up with the Balmy Beach Club and was wrestling semi pro by 1936. He debuted at MLG in 1941 and wore many hats. Wrestler, booker & matchmaker, agent, promoter, and referee, before retiring in 1978.
Lee Henning debuted in Toronto in 1940 and finished up -wrestling! - in 1975. By the 1950s he was mostly a prelim guy testing the newcomers and such but had some bigger profile bouts, especially on the circuit. He was the opponent for Whipper Watson's debut at MLG in 1940 and notably in the later years was the opponent for Jean Ferre's (Andre) Toronto debut in 1971.
Tony Marino wrestled in Toronto from 1960-1976 while Chris Colt wrestled for Tunney from 1972-1976 and served a memorable tenure for Dave McKigney's Big Bear through to 1986.
Thanks to Roger Baker for all his contributions to the site and photo by...
Marshall and Sarah Geidlinger also have an award winning podcast about the Waterloo area and a unique one looking at the wrestling world - An Unscripted Spectacle check it out!
Can find them at https://www.bonnpark.com/ and https://anunscriptedspectacle.com/
Flair vs Race: Science & Violence
Flair wins the title from Dusty Rhodes in Oct 1981 and appears as champ for the 50th Anniversary card held in November. They pack 16.000 in for that one and the next time the two match-up was another special card. A double World title card featuring both the NWA and AWA titles. AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel defends against our Canadian champ Angelo Mosca while Flair and Race had another hard fought battle that was action from start to finish.
The main photos were taken at that bout. In the sequence the battle rages from the ring to the ramp and Race catches Flair with a piledriver after turning the tables on champ Flair, the last pic of the sequence shows Flair being restrained by Ron Ritchie and Johnny Weaver from going down the ramp after Race.
In the summer of 1983 Jack Tunney had recently taken over for Uncle Frank and took a risk promoting two big shows at Exhibition Stadium. They were packed with title bouts and topped by Race vs Flair. Both cards.
The last matchup takes place in early 1984, just months before Jack aligns with the WWF. That card stood as the last great turnout of the NWA days.11/16/1980 NWA Title - Harley Race D/COR Ric Flair est 14,000 not reported
11/15/1981 NWA Title - Ric Flair W Harley Race Att: 16,000
04/25/1982 NWA Title - Ric Flair D/COR Harley Race Att: 11,000
07/10/1983 NWA Title - Harley Race W/DQ Ric Flair Att: 20,000 est
07/24/1983 NWA Title - Harley Race W/DQ Ric Flair Att: 14,000 est
02/12/1984 NWA Title - Ric Flair W Harley Race Att:17,700
The 83 Ex shows are covered a bit at Open Air Wrestling in Toronto
-AC and photos, nostalgia by...
Quick Bits: Ali vs Inoki Closed Circuit MLG
There were several closed-circuit cards shown at Maple Leaf Gardens over the years, and at other spots around Toronto. The 1976 Ali-Inoki 'War of the Worlds' card was a rare one that included pro wrestling.
Ungerman would also present the Ali-Inoki telecast, this time alongside Frank Tunney Sports. Tunney held exclusive rights to hold wrestling at MLG which was the extent of his involvement (cut of the $), having long since removed himself from the boxing wars in Toronto.
The card was set to start at 830pm and included some bouts from New York's Shea Stadium wrestling show which had Bruno Sammartino vs Stan Hansen and a few other bouts, Andre the Giant vs Chuck Wepner in a wrestler vs boxer bout for 10 rounds, and then the Ali-Inoki from Tokyo scheduled for 15 rounds. Tickets in Toronto were priced from $8-15, a bit cheaper than the Foreman-Frazier bout which were priced at $10-20.
For comparison Tunney's regular wrestling shows were $2.50- 7.
Prior to the show in a Jim Proudfoot Star column, Gene Kiniski had predicted 'if it's on the level, Ali hasn't got a chance.' Kiniski, a pretty smart guy, predicted that Inoki 'has got to go to the canvas, that's where any wrestler would go - for the legs- if Inoki stays on his feet, you'll know he's going to get himself knocked out.' Kiniski added 'I've wrestled Inoki a few times and...he's nothing special.'
As the bout played out, it was generally viewed as a rather big disappointment after all the hype.
The next day on the front page of the Star was a pic of Ali looking down at Inoki on his back. The caption, all in caps screamed ...
About 8,000 turned up at MLG to watch it, one of 18 locations across the country to show it. Ungerman declared it 'a disgrace.' 'Never again. We blew a tube at our Hamilton location and had to refund admissions to about 1,000 people. They were lucky.'
The wrestling fans weren't quite so upset. Different expectations.
The sports world was slow to accept the combo of boxing and wrestling (known as mit-mat cards in the early days). Writer Jim Kerhaghan in the Star wrote that the Andre-Wepner bout was 'highly suspect' and after Andre got Chuck in a headlock ‘those who were watching closely noticed that Andre had his hand on Wepner's head and bonked his own knuckles.'
Classic Toronto clip: Martino Angelo & Pat Flanagan suspended in a cage
Classic Toronto Wrestling: Film from Maple Leaf Gardens Apr 1964. Manager Martino Angelo is suspended above the ring in a cage with Pat Flanagan while his charge The Beast (Yachetti) faces Whipper Watson. This was to keep Angelo from interfering in the bout. Apparently he wasn't not a fan of heights and was having some real issues so they went to the pin and lowered it.
The aftermath is fun, with Flanagan leaning into his mule kick of the old days. By this point Flanagan was a referee and TV/MLG commentator but still got back into the ring (or cage) to settle a grudge if needed. Referee is Tiger Tasker. From the Classic Toronto Wrestling YouTube channel
1961 NWA Convention in Toronto
National Wrestling Alliance Convention - 1961Meeting Location: Toronto, OntarioMeeting Dates: August 24-27, 1961
OfficersPresident: Fred Kohler (elected)1st Vice President: Dr. Karl Sarpolis (elected)2nd Vice President: Roy Welch (elected)Executive Secretary: Sam Muchnick (reelected)Treasurer: Sam Muchnick (reelected)
Membership RosterFred Kohler Chicago, ILSam Muchnick St. Louis, MOKarl Sarpolis Amarillo, TXRoy Welch Nashville, TNJim Crockett Charlotte, NCAl Haft Reynoldsburg, OHHarry Light Detroit, MIMike London Albuquerque, NMSalvador Lutteroth Mexico City, MexicoCowboy Luttrall Tampa, FLLeroy McGuirk Tulsa, OKVincent McMahon Washington, D.C.Joe "Toots" Mondt Pittsburgh, PADon Owen Eugene, OREddie Quinn Montreal, QuebecMorris Sigel Houston, TXFrank Tunney Toronto, OntarioStu Hart* Calgary, Alberta
As of September 28, 1961, Stu Hart was not listed on the membership roster of the NWA.
Haft, Quinn, Light, and Luttrall paid their dues right before the 1961 convention in Toronto.
Hart may not have paid his dues, and was considered not an active member.
Among those in attendance for the conferences were Muchnick, Tunney, Kohler, Sarpolis,
Crockett, Haft, Londos, Lutteroth, McGuirk, McMahon, Mondt, Owen, Sigel, Welch, Eddie
Graham, Bobby Bruns, Pat O'Connor, Buddy Rogers, Nick Gulas
Cowboy Luttrall, Harry Light, Eddie Quinn, and Stu Hart did not attend the Saturday
session, but may have appeared at other meetings.
In July 1961, Muchnick claimed there were 12 members of the NWA. Following the
convention, there were 18 members in total.
The NWA Membership Committee rejected the application of Danny McShain because at
the time he didn't meet the requirements of the NWA By-Laws for membership. The
committee decided he should resubmit his application, and his check was returned to him.
The Membership Committee also wanted Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle to resubmit
up-to-date applications. Sam Muchnick had accepted their applications without approval
from the membership committee, in violation of the NWA By-Laws. Barnett and Doyle were
prepared to take action against the NWA for refusing them into the organization, and
Muchnick had persuaded them not to do anything until they'd resubmitted their paperwork.
The Membership Committee was made up of Mike London, Don Owen, Morris Sigel,
Vincent McMahon, Jim Crockett, Harry Light, and Joe "Toots" Mondt.
Although, Sam Muchnick was no longer the president of the NWA and having the same
amount of responsibilities he once had, he was still being paid $15,000 a year by the
organization. In a letter to the membership dated October 10, 1961, NWA President Fred
Kohler brought up this fact, and that the money was being paid for Muchnick to book
Buddy Rogers "as world's heavyweight champion," and Pat O'Connor "as the United
States Heavyweight Champion."
At the Toronto Convention, the NWA membership agreed that Muchnick, on behalf of the
organization, would book O'Connor as the U.S. Champion - a new designation awarded to
the former World Heavyweight Champion - to any member that wanted to use him. That
meant O'Connor had a national booking schedule, similar to that of the heavyweight
champion. Muchnick, the secretary-treasurer, was then compensated by the Alliance for
booking him. There is still some debate whether or not the U.S. championship was actually
sanctioned by the Alliance. It is a slippery slope because Muchnick was being paid by the
NWA to book O'Connor, yet there wasn't a U.S. Title committee and the title didn't need
any measure of Alliance approval to change hands - like the heavyweight, junior
heavyweight, and light heavyweight titles.
Kohler, in his letter of October 10, 1961, stated that he'd heard that Muchnick wasn't even
booking O'Connor, and it was Muchnick's assistant, Bobby Bruns. The reasoning for
$15,000 annual payment to Muchnick was questioned even more.
In addition to the Barnett-Doyle and McShain applications, one came in from Jules
Strongbow of Los Angeles on October 2, 1961. Muchnick sent copies to Kohler to initiate
the membership process.
With all the power that comes with being the NWA President, Kohler called a special
meeting of the Board of Directors to Chicago on November 12, 1961 "for the purpose of
adopting a resolution to dissolve the corporation, National Wrestling Alliance," according to
a letter from NWA attorney Harry N. Soffer to Muchnick dated November 3, 1961. If a
majority of the Board adopts the resolution, it would then be voted upon by the
membership. 75% of the membership voting in affirmative to dissolve would be needed.
Kohler informed the members that if they couldn't make the November 12th meeting, they
could vote by proxy. Soffer told Muchnick, "I know of now law whereby boards of directors
can vote by proxy." Soffer also said that it would take a three-fourth vote of "all the
members" to dissolve the membership, not three-fourths of the members voting.
Soffer also said it would be better to hold such a vote after the result of the Sonny Myers
vs. NWA retrial in Des Moines, which was being staged the week of November 13, 1961.
Regarding the talk of dissolving the NWA, Morris Sigel sent a letter to Kohler (and other
members) on November 7, 1961, telling him that "Neither as a member of the Board of the
National Wrestling Alliance nor as a member of the Alliance, can I vote for its dissolution at
this time." Sigel pointed out that such an important decision should wait until all members
could be present at a meeting to discuss it. He also noted that dissolution hadn't been
brought up at the last annual convention. "Furthermore," he wrote, "has it been fully
thought out just what will be substituted in its place if we end the Alliance?"
Research by Tim Hornbaker
December 14, 2010
From 'Legacy of Wrestling' by Tim Hornbaker