Fred Atkins


   If there were a Hall of Fame for the MLG stars and you picked the first stars to be inducted, Fred Atkins would be a shoo-in on the first vote. His career in Toronto lasted five decades while Atkins served as one of the trusted few in promoter Frank Tunney's inner circle. 

Starting down under in the early 1940's he was soon recognized as Australian Champion. In 1946 he faced Jim Londos in front of 14,000 fans and was then said to be offered $9380 to wrestle in five contests in San Francisco by wrestler and promoter Joe Malciewicz.

Main pic early promo circa 1947

He eventually did come to the U.S. for a six month tour. They followed his progress in the Australian newspapers, one update reporting him at 41 bouts with 41 wins. Upon his return to Australia it put him at 78 bouts with only one loss - to Sandor Szabo - and that he was next returning to the U.S. to take part in an elimination tournament for the World Title. In 1947 he headlined in Vancouver for a time battling Szabo and Joe Savoldi in big bouts before moving East for good.

In 1948 he wrestled his first bout in Toronto and got the win vs Jack Moore. In a Star item before the following card it read 'Promoter Tunney is looking for an opponent for Atkins. A number of the big mat-men have hinted to Phil Lawson (Whippers manager but also a force in the office) that they will 'be busy' while the Anzac wrestler is around.' It set the tone for the rest of Atkins career, known as a tough no-nonsense type both in -and out of- the squared circle.

Atkins and his wife bought a house that same year in Crystal Beach, Ontario in which he lived for the rest of his career. As with many wrestlers at the time, the location served as a central point for Atkins to work regularly around the Great Lakes including Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit. 

In September 1948 prior to facing the #1 villain Nanjo Singh in the main event at MLG. it was reported that Atkins was looking for a 'clop at Whipper Watson.' First though he was to team with Whipper who was by now established as the main matman in Toronto. He tags with Whip against Sky Hi Lee and The Mask and then they add Pat Flanagan for a 6 man bout vs Hi Lee, The Marvel, and Nanjo. Main events continued including a big win over the 320lb Ben Morgan.

Two Toughs in Toronto: Fred teams with Hardboiled Haggerty 1955

In a 1949 bit in the Sydney Herald they reported that Atkins was expecting to meet Whipper for the title at MLG and noted his record since leaving Australia a year prior includes more than 50 wins 2 draws and 1 dq. It added that Atkins had 'packed MLG five times' and that he and Mrs. Atkins were living at Crystal Beach.

In March 1949, billed here as Australian Champ, he faced Whipper and won the British Empire Title. In an update in the Star Atkins was threatening to take the belt back to Australia and that Whipper and manager Phil Lawson were chasing Tunney for a re-match. Atkins wins the rematch by dq then takes on big Mike Sharpe. He faces Whipper again and then they meet in an 8 round special rules with Strangler Lewis as ref. That one ends in a draw after 65 minutes of action.

A non-title loss to Ray Villmer follows as well as a partnership with 'Wee' Willie Davis in which the two second each other for bouts. In June 1949 he and Whipper have a 10 round match with gator/bear wrestler Tuffy Truesdale as the perfect referee. The bout has 8 minute rounds and goes the distance ending in an 80 minute draw. Atkins loses the title back to Whipper in Hamilton in August.

In Oct 1949 Atkins gets a shot at World Champ Lou Thesz in a highlight of the early years. Atkins  controls the bout and has a good showing despite being disqualified for trying to erase part of Thesz's face with his elbow.

Atkins also makes an impact in the smaller towns. In Oshawa he was in many main events in the early years and goes on to headline the town over 40 times. A couple of fans have told me that while he was a bad guy type the avid fans respected him for his ability and toughness in the ring. 

At the onset of the 1950's he alternates between main events and opening bouts around the area. He is used as a tester of sorts for newcomers, and often to set the tone for the evening festivities. After a 1951 bout with Steve Stanlee the recap reported Stanlee had made one mistake; 'getting rough with Atkins, he'd have been better advised to snarl at a lion.'

'Ferocious Fred' as the papers were now calling him tagged with newcomer Lord Athol Layton, initially a hated heel with his manager/valet Gerald. Their partnership proved tumultuous as the two engaged in a few instances of tag rivalry after bouts. Layton soon crosses over to become one of the most beloved in the area but Atkins remains nasty both here and at home in Australia.

In 1957 Dick Hutton beats Lou Thesz at MLG to gain the NWA World Title. It was reported after (and in later years) that Hutton had trained with Atkins previous to the bout. One report said Hutton spent 8 weeks with Atkins. That Atkins got Hutton's weight down through his extreme conditioning regiments. Atkins claimed Hutton was an 'alcoholic for cake' so he 'ran him through the sand until he dropped, then insulted him till he got up and ran some more.' It may have been to give Atkins a hometown rub, more likely it may have been a legit situation to get Hutton in shape. How much help he could have been in a 'pro wrestling' bout is the question but there is no doubt Hutton looked a lot trimmer by the time of the Thesz bout. Whipper also lost a ton of weight and muscled up before his title win back in 1956, maybe running the sand at Crystal Beach. 

On a trip back to Australia in 1959 the papers reported he was 'back for the first time in 9 years' and he would face Stanlee in his first bout back home - in the main event. 

Back in Toronto in 1960 an item mentioned Atkins had logged 23,500 miles in one week. He was in Cleveland on a Tuesday, it took him 7 hours to drive to Chicago where he boarded a plane to Los Angeles, where he transferred to another plane bound for Honolulu. There he caught a jet to Australia. Having lost a day due to time differences, he arrived in Sydney Monday. He wrestled there that night, and in Melbourne Tuesday, Brisbane Wednesday, and Sydney Thursday. Friday morning he headed back to Crystal Beach. Gaining back the day he lost, he hit Buffalo on Saturday. Total distance covered: 23,500 miles.

In the early 1960's he also began training others and managing officially. Luke Brown (as Man Mountain Campbell) was one of the early trainees.

In 1963 a MLW Program mentioned a giant 7 foot 300lb Japanese star about to invade the area. With Atkins at his side, the young Giant Baba appeared in Toronto and around the region. Professor Hiro was another protégé. A couple of years later a young Tiger Jeet Singh would train under Atkin's tutelage and go on to become a huge star in Toronto and Internationally. Atkins tagged with his young star into the late 1960's as his own career was winding down.

Oshawa 1951

It was at this time Atkins turns to refereeing. He wrestles his last bout at MLG in July of 1971 and stays on as a ref until the early 1980's. As a ref he had several run-ins, one notable with Chris Tolos apparently spitting at him. In the winters he also worked for the NHL's Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs as a conditioning expert though the 1970's.

In what is a common thing now, Atkins in the 1971-72 season was the only full time conditioning coach employed in the NHL at the time. He also went on road trips with the Sabres that year to keep an eye on the players (!). In 1973 Sabres Coach Roger Crozier credited Atkins regiments as being the key to their success. In 1982 former Sabre and then Detroit Red Wing Jim Schoenfeld credited Atkins with saving him from surgery (through recuperative training) and later listed him as one of his biggest influences on his career.

In 1980 Atkins was splitting his time as a referee and as conditioning coach for another year with the hometown Leafs. An article at the time said the players were talking about 'Freddie's killer sessions, endless repetitions of push-ups, leg stretches, and situps. It went on to say that Ian Turnbull, then star defenseman with the Leafs once challenged Fred (at age 70 then) to an exercise showdown. Fred won in a walk, and Turnbull strained his back missing a few games

Whipper Watson in 1983 had this to say about his old foe. 'Even today I would say that Fred Atkins would defeat 90% of the wrestlers in the business, he was the toughest, best-conditioned wrestler I ever saw.'

-AC

Nostalgia and photos mapleleafwrestling.com collection

MLG and our photos 2012



     On a visit back to Toronto in 2012, we made sure to drop in to the old MLG and take some pics of the Wrestling exhibits at the now Loblaws food court.

The group in charge of the re-do had contacted me for some of my wrestling photos for use under the glass on the tables, so it was fun to be able to see them as part of the large array of images from the history of MLG (and a couple that weren't!). 

Mine are the Adonis/Ventura, Backlund, and Mosca/Studd in these shots. There were others, Koloff, Studd, Youngblood etc. Not all of them were there so they are maybe in another spot around the giant grocery store. 

The Cornette- Eaton-Condrey pic has no connection to MLG other than the title belts they are holding were made by Alex Mulko who made our local belts and many more. The Flair with the red U.S. Title (also a Mulko) is from a Mid-Atlantic arena. Still, only a wrestling nerd would notice that. 

The other pics include the remaining interior wall on the South side that they kept intact, as well as the Wood St entrance where the fans would congregate and meet the wrestlers arriving by car or having walked over from one of the hotels. Great memories.

-AC

















Martino Angelo


   Former wrestler Martino Angelo enjoyed some success in Toronto from 1962 to 1965 as a manager the fans loved to hate.

He started wrestling in the early 1930's all over the north and northeast U.S. and had wrestled as a main event star around his local Hamilton for promoter George Hills under his real name Angelo Curto. He came in to Toronto as Martino Angelo to wrestle in Sept 1962 on the same card Johnny Valentine made his Toronto debut.

He had at one time been a top junior heavyweight holding the Midwest Wrestling Association World Junior Heavyweight title around Columbus and Dayton, Ohio in the early 1940s. He later gained recognition as the NWA World Light-Heavyweight Champion (Hollywood, California version) in the mid 1940s battling the likes of Dangerous Danny McShain and Wild Red Berry.

MLG Photographer Roger Baker remembers Angelo from his days here.

Tough as nails
'Martino was short in stature, but he was a genuine tough guy, his facial features resembled a man who had been in many fist fights, as well as hundreds of rough house wrestling brawls.'

He and John Yachetti (wrestling as Gino Angelo) had already been travelling in other areas but Angelo first managed Yachetti - as The Beast - in Toronto in May 1963 for a bout against Gene Kiniski. Star reporter Joe Perlove referred to Angelo not as his manager but as his 'keeper' and right from the start he was a thorn in the side of whomever his charge was facing.

Roger covered this bout for a wrestling magazine. He made note of the fact that big Gene, long hated in these parts, was beginning to show signs of becoming a hero. The fans actually did cheer Gene against The Beast. As was mentioned earlier, in those days they cheered the one they hated less.

At one point Angelo reached under the ring rope and grabbed Kiniski's foot tripping him up. The Beast pounced on him and got the big win. Kiniski then took after Angelo outside the ring and delivered a good beating, setting a soon to be standard as far as receiving his fair share of action.

with The Beast MLG 1965
Next up was Bulldog Brower, the top villain in the area and in the main event no less. As with Kiniski the fans sided with Brower, not exactly cheering him but hating him less as compared to Angelo and The Beast.

Again a win with interference from Angelo and a rare loss for the Bulldog. Another win 2 weeks later vs Brower and they set a special rules match for the following week.

Angelo was to be suspended in a cage above the ring to keep him from interfering in the bout. The time Brower got the win when The Beast was kayoed outside the ring by Johnny Valentine. The equally hated Valentine had sneaked up the ramp, his arm in a cast from a recent injury, and flattened The Beast when ref Tiger Tasker's back was turned. 

They repeated that stipulation for a bout with Whipper Watson in Aug 1963, Watson winning when The Beast failed to make it back to the ring after a ten count.

After Valentine had healed up (and turned good guy) he got his chance at The Beast and this time Angelo was handcuffed to 'Gentleman' Jim Hady to even it out.

Roger relates his impressions of The Beast

'The Beast was a very compact built man, he was incredibly strong, his entire body was covered in a thick coat of shiny black hair, if he were to catch an opponent in his famed bear hug, the opponent faced the prospect of having a cracked rib or two. This wrestling fan almost bumped into the Beast while he was hunched over eating a sandwich at a lunch counter in Thorncliffe Mall. This would have been in the mid 1960's, can remember saying hello to him but he let me know by his eyes leave him be while he had his lunch. '

They continue the trend over the next year with many of same special rules for the bouts. For one they had both Angelo and Pat Flanagan in the cage above the ring, Flanagan there to make sure Angelo couldn't get to help his charge in his bout vs Whipper. As we can see on the MLG film it was reported at the time that Angelo was afraid of heights and soon after they are raised in the air Flanagan starts beating on him. So they lower the cage. After the bout it was said that he really was afraid of heights and suffered a bit of an episode up there hence the quick way out (to be lowered because of Flanagan beating on him).

Trying to undo the Powerlock MLG 1965. Also ref Cliff Worthy in one of his last bouts

In July 1964 The Beast got a shot against visiting WWWF champ Bruno Sammartino, and yet again Angelo interfered. In April 1965 Angelo continued his cheating ways, this time during a bout of Bruno vs Johnny Powers and began accompanying Powers.

Roger recalls an incident around this time.

'This reporter can remember one Sunday evening at MLG when Martino Angelo was at ringside with his current charge Johnny Powers who was working as a heel. A deranged fan swung a bicycle chain at Angelo and as a result of this cowardly act Martino sustained a nasty gash to the right side of his face. The police had a hold of this fan, and I later learned that the police told Martino that they would leave him alone in a room at the Garden's with his assailant if he so wished, Martino very generously let the guy off. '

 'Powers was a superb athlete, and in top shape. He once told me that as a young man he belonged to a rowing team and that he had done many hours of sculling in dirty old Hamilton bay. This no doubt contributed to the considerable strength and muscularity that he possessed. Powers enjoyed a prolonged stay in the Toronto area, and went on to become an international wrestling star.'

Main pic with Johnny Powers at MLG 1965
Thanks as always to Roger Baker and photos by..

-AC

*some info on Angelo from an excellent profile by Gary Howard on Yachetti on Slam! Wrestling

Pat Flanagan: 'The Irish Tornado'

   With apologies to Whipper Watson, Pat Flanagan may have been the most prolific and hardest working wrestler in Toronto Wrestling history. An argument could surely be made, along with Whipper,  Fred Atkins, and Lord Layton. If you recount Flanagan's days as a wrestler on the busy training grounds in Toronto, to his later days as a referee, his career spanned 5 decades.

Main pic vs Masked Marvel Oshawa 1949

Pat started out on the active amateur scene under his given name of Winnett Watson. By 1936 he was already an accomplished athlete at the age of 19 and was wrestling around the city as a light heavyweight of 174 lbs. A notable bout found him battling the British Empire champion and former Dominion champ Terry Evans. 

1937

In mid 1936 Winnett went over to the U.K. to join fellow Toronto wrestlers Bill Potts, Ken Tasker, Al Korman, and Tommy Nelson on their tour. Also appearing from the Toronto (and Montreal) scene the noted Ben(gal) Engblom. Potts meanwhile had recently become Whipper Watson so Winnett became Irish Pat Flanagan. Of course that would help later when they hit the Emerald Isle. 

Some years later, Pat Flanagan's mother noted that in all the confusion between the names and the fact that Pat and Whip were close friends, people were often asking about 'her sons Winnett and Whipper.'

In England the newly christened Pat Flanagan - The Irish Tornado earns his experience alongside - and also against - Whipper and the rest of the Canadian contingent. He returned to the U.S. in mid 1937 wrestling under both Winnett and Pat around Michigan and Illinois before coming home.

The first sign of him locally as Pat Flanagan is in Hamilton in 1939. He returns to England and it was a couple of years before he finally made it to Maple Leaf Gardens debuting on May 1 1941. It was said that 'he had been wrestling in the US since his return from 4 years in England.' 

In addition to his exploits across the lake, he was said to have been wrestling as Mendel Singer* in the New York area around 1940. Mendel Singer was billed as Jewish Flash and The California Dropkicker. Flanagan in his day was a high flyer and known for his dropkicks and mule kicks. 
* not sure of that

The night of Flanagan's debut at MLG was a tournament being held to determine the #1 contender for the Worlds heavyweight title. Flanagan lost in the first round to Jack Claybourne who was later beat by the nights winner  Watson. That began Pat's long tenure as part of the inner circle of Toronto regulars that remained loyal to Frank Tunney for the next 35+ years.
 
Portrait from Pat to Pat circa 1948
Tunney remarked about Flanagan in a 1943 piece: 'Flanagan has learned to wrestle all-in style, has put on weight and is steadily going up the wrestling ladder. If nothing untoward occurs he'll be a top-flight operative in a year or maybe less.'

Flanagan always wrestled on the good side (as Watson did) and took on the heels. Occasionally there were good guy contests and Flanagan could find himself on the the other side of the ring to Whipper. In 1942, as part of Army Week, Tunney put on a free Boxing/Wrestling show at Maple Leaf Stadium for 1500 soldiers and their friends. The most popular bout of the day was an bout between Pat and Whipper which saw 13 minutes of action before Watson pinned Flanagan under the watchful eye of referee (and Whipper's Manager) Phil Lawson.

They also occasionally faced each other in the smaller towns (often to fill in for a no show) and went on to be frequent tag partners through the 1940's. Flanagan mostly wrestled on the undercards at MLG other than when teaming with Whipper, but had his share of main events in the outside towns.

In addition to the Toronto and area scene, Flanagan frequented Ottawa, Buffalo, and Cleveland, and also made appearances in St Louis. Notably alongside Whipper during Whipper's NWA Title run in 1947. One notable bout in St Louis found Pat facing future champ Buddy Rogers.

vs Zebra in Oshawa 1948

In Aug 1947 he appeared on Pat Milosh's first card at the Oshawa Arena. Pat (F) made a lot of appearances in Oshawa, the most of any wrestler with about 200 bouts over 20 years -summer month circuit. He also appeared in over 40 main events. The two Pat's remained close through the years with Flanagan providing help and support to the young promoter.

In 1950 Flanagan stepped in as an occasional referee, a position he filled both during his remaining wrestling years and after retiring. In 1952 teamed with Whipper, they captured the Canadian Open Tag Titles by defeating Lord Athol Layton & Hans Hermann in tournament final to become first champions. Presented with the Calvert Trophy they hold the title for several months before losing to Lou Plummer & Dick Raines. This appears to be the only title Flanagan held in his ring tenure.

Around this time Pat starts to assist Tunney in scheduling the wrestlers for the Ontario circuit towns. He sets up the wrestlers to appear on the local cards around Southern Ontario acting as a sort of booker, a liaison between the circuit promoters and the Tunney office.

In 1959 he was the first partner to newcomer on the scene Don Jardine. The future Spoiler was said to have been discovered by Whipper on a tour of the Maritimes. Jardine had been in several singles bouts before being teamed with Pat vs the Vachon Brothers.

By the 1960's Pat is mostly appearing as a referee, occasionally stepping in to wrestler as a substitute. He makes his last appearance as a wrestler at MLG July 1968 vs Waldo Von Erich.

A brief note in 1961 had mentioned Sam Yanaky, best known as manager of Nanjo Singh being accompanied by 'his son Pat Flanagan' in visiting an ailing wrestling fan. I am unsure if there was any relation between the two, Yanaky also promoted a bit in the Kitchener/Cambridge area and owned the Corner Cupboard restaurant out there.

I asked Writer and MLG Photographer Roger Baker for his memories of Flanagan.

'He was a very nice guy, and he helped me out a few times to gain access to a wrestler for the purpose of doing an interview. Remember so well my introduction to Gene Kiniski courtesy of Pat, I wound up doing a 40 minute photo shoot in a private room as well as an interview with Gene, as a result both Gene and myself were quite pleased with the results."

'Another time I was working one summer as a butcher up in Jacksons Point, had only been covering the Toronto wrestling scene for about a year at this point in time, not having been to the Gardens all that summer, well guess who comes into the store to buy some steaks, yes it was Pat Flanagan. We had a very welcome conversation and I mentioned to him to let the wrestling office know that I'd be back in Sept. He promised to do just that.'

'I first saw him wrestle at The Gardens around 1950. Around 1956 I met Pat at The Gardens and mentioned to him that I had a couple of pictures of him that had been taken some years earlier at The Gardens, he was very pleased to hear this. A few weeks later we met again at The Gardens and I gave him those pictures that were mentioned. He was very pleased, and he said to me that so many people promise something but don't bother to follow through.'


In 1973 Flanagan accompanied Whipper to the annual Easter Seals dinner. Whip had missed the 1972 one because of his accident. In a photo from the event Flanagan can be seen helping Whip make the memorable walk up the stairs with that years 'Timmy' on his shoulders. In late 1978 he officiated his last bout and retired from the ring. Below with Mosca in 1978.


When he died at the age of 68 in 1985 he was the fourth member of the old guard of MLG wrestling to pass away in the 2 years span after Tunney, Layton, and Frank Ayerst. His obituary noted that he had attended Malvern Collegiate and had played football for the Junior Argonauts and Balmy Beach while in High School.

-AC

Thanks to Roger Baker
Photos mapleleafwrestling.com collection
More on the 1952 Tag Tournament

Doug Hepburn: Worlds Strongest Man

Pro Wrestling has seen it's share of Football players and Strongmen over the years. In Toronto we saw our share of both dating back to the very early days of Pro Wrestling.
With the Red Cross ladies 1955

In the mid 1950's Doug Hepburn would try his hand in the squared circle after taking the country by storm setting Weightlifting records and earning the title of 'World's Strongest Man.' He had won medals, set records in many of the lifts, and won the prestigious Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's top athlete in 1953. Some ads proclaimed him as 'the strongest man in history.'

He had overcome some serious physical issues to reach those heights and Wrestling was to be his next challenge.

A Jim Vipond column in early 1955 claimed that he had signed a 5 year contract with Frank Tunney before Christmas and that he was in training under Whipper Watson at the Queensbury Athletic Club basement gymnasium (below Maple Leaf Gardens). It said he was enduring 3 hour workouts 4 days a week alongside another of Whipper's proteges' the Toronto Argo's Gil Mains. He was said to be making his debut in 4 or 5 weeks after performing some feats of strength on upcoming cards. Mains was said to be progressing faster as he had an amateur wrestling background (he would debut at MLG in May 1955).

Teacher Watson spoke highly of his charge saying he thought Hepburn to be 'a much stronger and more agile wrestler than Yukon Eric' and that he may soon pose a threat to all of the strongmen of wrestling. Hepburn was said to weigh in at 295lbs with a 21 inch neck and 57 1/2 inch chest.

Another column spoke of Hepburn attempting to wrestle previously under San Francisco promoter Joe Malcewicz. After enduring endless elbow smashes and other forms of wrestling indoctrination Hepburn had left discouraged.

His first appearance in the ring at Maple Leaf Gardens had come on Nov 11 1954 when he performed in front of 9,000 fans there to see the Whipper Watson & Paul Baillargeon tag vs The Great Togo and Tosh Togo. Hepburn did a clean press with 320lbs, benched 450, and then crumpled a can of tomato juice with his bare hands.
With Whipper 1955

After training with Whipper he returned on the Mar 10 1955 card to lift a a group of Red Cross girls on a table. Before the feat he tore a license plate in half and did the same with a pack of cards. He then tore the cards halves into halves again. Then came the big event.

The platform weighed 200 lbs and the girls were said to be 115 each. First they sat 8 girls and Hepburn stood under the beam it was rested on and lifted it off with his back. Then they added 4 more girls and after only getting three corners off was able to lift the whole platform up. He got quite a hand from the crowd and was said to have lifted about 1580lbs total. He had done similar stunts in the past including lifting 6 Vancouver Canuck hockey players the same way

In between he was pictured around town performing other strongman acts including carrying a field gun barrel weighing upwards of 600lbs at HMCS York after nine men had lifted it into the air to shoulder level. He would get lots of press posing with local stars and in one photo with former wrestler and 'Big and Tall' founder George Richards, he would 'test' one of Richards mohair jackets by pulling it apart (or failing to).

Photographer and writer Roger Baker observed Hepburn up close one day at the YMHA at Bloor and Spadina.

'I do remember seeing Hepburn wrestle at The Gardens back in the early fifties, also remember the hype that he received leading up to his match with Yukon Eric. One memory of Hepburn stands out in my mind very clearly, it happened in 1955 at The Y.M.H.A. The facility had a room devoted to bodybuilding, as well as weight lifting. There were perhaps twenty five of us young muscle heads who had gathered in the weight room to see the mighty Doug Hepburn honor us with what we hoped would be an exhibition of his incredible feats of strength.'

'Hepburn did not fail to treat his eager audience to an amazing thirty minutes of his prowess handling of the bar bells, and dumb bells. He had us all gasping as he did the overhead press, the bench press, the dead lift as well as barbell curls. Considering that Hepburn had a clubbed right leg since he was a child, made his exhibition of strength all that more impressive. Hepburn's visit to our weight lifting room at the Y.M.H.A. was talked about for months afterwards.'

His wrestling debut came a week after the Red Cross stunt against Frank Marconi. The bout was quick. 2 minutes and 39 seconds. Marconi was left a 'helpless heap of humanity' after Hepburn snapped a series of holds then grabbed Marconi in a reverse bear hug and 'squished a couple of times' and dropped him to the canvas. Marconi was carried out on a stretcher.

The debut was successful but the next night Hepburn was pulling out from Mutual onto Carlton St in front of a stopped eastbound streetcar and got hit by a westbound one which threw it against the stopped one. Damage to the 2 streetcars was estimated at 45$ while damage to Hepburn's car was about 700$. There was no word of damage to Hepburn.

He continued to appear on the weekly cards making short work of opener types including Mike Paidousis, Alan Garfield, Pete Manganoff, and stalwart Lee Henning.

By May he was moving up and faced Jan Gotch on the undercard of a Whipper-Pat Fraley main. Next up was Pat Flanagan whose haymaker was said to just bounce of Hepburn's midsection.
With Whip and Miss Toronto 1955

He was the feature of Milt Dunnell's Star column in June and was described as starting to get a cauliflower ear from wrestling. Dunnell claimed Whipper and Tunney had offered to back Hepburn against Russia's 10 leading weightlifters, for each Russian to do his specialty and then Hepburn to do all 10 at the same time. Hepburn claimed his appetite had been exaggerated in the past and Whipper agreed saying he was not eating more at one time than Sky Hi Lee who once ate five steaks and three dozen eggs, and followed it up with a light bulb! Hepburn, Whipper claimed, had not eaten more than one steak and three dozen eggs, and the eggs were scrambled so it was really only a snack.

Another item a short time later had Hepburn issuing the challenge to the Russians. He mentioned that the Canadians should be doing more to help their homegrown athletes. 'Just one Alberta oil well would bring in enough dough to support, train, and feed Canada's top athletes. But do you see governments or associations or anyone in Canada going out of their wat to help our athletes? You sure don't.'

By June he was in the semi main event at MLG vs Karol Kalmikoff. Hepburn had Karol in his reverse upside down bearhug when 'brother' Ivan came out and got his partner disqualified. In the main Whipper faced Ivan and Joe Perlove remarked the next day that 'one would imagine' Whip and Hepburn would likely be teamed the next week vs the brothers as 'yous guys don't know Frank Tunney.'

As predicted Hepburn would then team up with trainer Whipper to face the Kalmikoffs and return over the next few months to work with different partners in mostly tag bouts.

They would also team Hepburn up with the high-flying Antonino Rocca for a pair of bouts vs the hated Russian team which resulted in a dq win and then a draw.

Hepburn would appear on the circuit cities as well and keep busy in Niagara Falls, Hamilton, Oshawa, and other towns often working in the main or teaming with Lord Layton, Ilio DiPaulo, and others. An Oshawa bout saw him take on both Kalmikoff's in a handicap bout. He won.

There were later other handicap bouts around the region with Hepburn beating two at a time including an MLG bout where he beat Firpo Zbyszko and Mickey Gold in a bout that 'had the fans in laughter' due to the antics of Zbyszko trying to match strength with Hepburn.

Another handicap bout vs Pat Flanagan and Tommy O'Toole was notable as Flanagan, who started off against Hepburn, got upset with O'Toole for coming in and attacking Hepburn from behind to break the holds. After Flanagan (a fair minded sportsman) told O'Toole three times to mind his own business, he grew disgusted with his partner and tagged him in to face the irate Hepburn. It was all over less than a minute later when Hepburn put his upside down bear hug on and finished it off.

His finisher which had previously been suggested as a 'Vancouver Vise', or a 'Squamish Squeeze' was now referred to a the 'Grizzly Crunch.'

He would also see some action in the West wrestling on some cards in Stu Hart's Stampede area as well as on cards in BC and Winnipeg.

At the October 6 card ring announcer Jerry Hiff read aloud a telegram said to be from Winnipeg where Hepburn was accepting Yukon Eric's challenge to a bout. A previous recap had referred to Hepburn as 'Canada's Yukon Eric' and they had been comparing the two since Hepburn had debuted.
Battle of the strongmen

The bout was held on Oct 27 got a lot of press with billing as the biggest attraction in years. They would battle it out in front of 10,000 trading strength moves until Hepburn captured Eric in his reverse bearhug. Eric grabbed at the ropes and when ref Bunny Dunlop kicked at Eric's hands the two fell back with Eric on top and Dunlop counted him down. The crowd was said to have been pleased with the bout which saw Hepburn throw a couple of dropkicks and edge the barrel chested Yukon Eric in bodyslams.

He would return to the West for much of late 1955 and early 1956 wrestling regularly in his home area of Vancouver and area.

An item from Vancouver in Jan 1956 proclaimed 'Big Doug Hepburn gives up wrestling.' 'Wrestling is too tough for me' he said in an interview. He said he had made about 25k and netted 15k the first year while Tunney who holds his five year contract said he'd hit 50-60k next year, and 100 k in three years. 'Its a rough business and it's not for me, I just haven't the temperament for it. I've had my nose smashed, my leg hurt, and the boys have been just beginning to turn it on. Right now I'm going to sit tight for a while and maybe get together a touring show troupe featuring a strong man act.'

Frank Tunney responded by saying 'He's a slightly mixed up young man, a bit of a boy who acts first and thinks later.' Tunney says he missed bouts in Vancouver and that he fells he can straighten Hepburn out. Annis Stutjus the former BC Lions coach who had brought Hepburn to training camp for the inaugural season in 1954 remarked 'He came out and then he quit. And you know something? He could have been one of the best. But somebody made a crack to him one day and he never came back.' Tunney added 'Why, he's barely started. He has to build up a following and he's done well for the time he's been at it.'

March 1956 would see Hepburn's last Toronto bout vs Seelie Samara. He would continue to wrestle somewhat regularly in BC up to about 1960

He was said to have had personal troubles in the 1960s but by the end of the decade he had a new venture. An ad in the star in 1969 was looking for distributors for the Doug Hepburn exerciser, 'a portable gymnasium for home or office.'

He was never far from the Sports pages, for each year with the announcement of the Lou Marsh Trophy winner he would get some print, and still does to this day.

By the late 1970's he was said to be in the health food business.

As late as 1998 he made the Star in an 'After the Cheering' column. The column kicked off with 'Don't make us laugh, Hulk Hogan. Take a hike, Hercules. The worlds strongest man is a Canadian - and 72 years old.' There is just a bare mention of him having being 'disillusioned by the hokum when he tried professional wrestling.' It goes on to describe him as 225 pounds and having invented a coin operated arm wrestling machine which he hopes to market worldwide.

On Nov 30 2000 he earned a well placed Obituary in the Star having passed on at the age of 74. It described him as having tried his hand at a variety of occupations including poet, inventor, dietitian, cabaret singer, and rambling storefront philosopher. There was no mention of his pro wrestling career.

-AC

Les Lyman


      Les Lyman was a promoter/wrestler active around Toronto from the 1950's through the early 1960's. I'm not sure when Les started wrestling but by the time he settled in as a regular at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1960-61 he was already fairly long in the tooth.

Main pic: Lyman attacking Alfie Richards (George's brother and perhaps Blackjack Richards?) on the mats at the YMHA Toronto 1956

The first signs of him in the area are alongside Red Garner on Red's shows around the Toronto outskirts in 1950-51. It's likely Lyman came out of the busy amateur scene as Red and many of the pros did.

By 1953 he was promoting shows at East York Arena, the same spot Frank Tunney occasionally ran when MLG was unavailable. The wrestlers were a mix of guys who worked on both Garner and Tunney shows around the region.

Those early cards featured young Sandy Scott and his billed brother/cousin Joe (not George AFAIK), Wilf Jennings (McKigney ref later), and big Jim 'Killer' Conroy. Others names included Jack Sibthorpe, Ivan Klimenko, Kenny Evans, Paul Penchoff, Al Kendall, George & Bob McKeague, Ronnie Kopac, and the usual masked gimmicks Masked Marvels, Red Mask etc.

Sometimes they would mirror the action over at the Gardens. During the big Red Mask angle on Tunney's cards which ended with Lou Thesz unmasking the villain to reveal Dutch Hefner, Lyman too had a Red Mask headlining his cards. That gimmick proved popular, there was even a Red Mask on the popular car racing circuit around Toronto.

He promoted under the banner of  International Wrestling Association and occasionally branched out to other spots, Scarborough Arena, Lakeshore Arena, etc. He may have been running cards (TBD) in Kingston, Cobourg, and other eastern spots also. He and Garner had an ongoing partnership of sorts that lasted throughout the '50's. Besides sharing talent, much of it homegrown that Garner had trained himself, Lyman appeared on Garner's cards too, often as Canadian Heavyweight Champion.
1954

Sometimes referred to as the Scarborough Strongman and variously billed from Scarborough or East York, in 1954 as Canadian champ he faced Quebec star Sylvain Richard at the Thornhill Market. Was also often billed as undefeated and a year later a byline listed him as 'having an enviable record, among his victims Baron Von Seiber, (later Waldo Von Erich), Tiger Jenson, and Sandy Scott who wrestled at MLG a few weeks back.' 

He lost his Canadian title to Seiber in 1957 on Garner's circuit and was described even then as 'aging.' He was one of Waldo's early opponents and carried on a feud over several years with the up and coming star.

In 1960 he made his MLG debut against Bob Nandor in the opener. He remained a regular through 1961 and but for a few occasions, always worked in the opening bout. His last MLG date was teamed with Tony Marino against the Kalmikoffs, that one in the semi of the night but Lyman still took the fall for his team.

Photographer Roger Baker used to work out at a YMHA gym in Toronto and remembers Lyman and associates from there. The photo of Lyman vs Alfie Richards was taken by Roger in 1956 as they worked out on the mat at the facility and he also attended some shows.

-AC

Thanks to Roger Baker
If you can add to the story of Les Lyman please comment or contact me

Make Believe Gardens Classic Matchup: Bravo vs Valentine 1979


   We are back to visit Barry Hatchet's fine Make Believe Gardens for a classic bout from 1979. Dino Bravo and Greg 'Hammer' Valentine had some great bouts in Toronto over our Canadian Heavyweight Title. This could be any one of 3 where Bravo was champ at introductions. Valentine would eventually beat Bravo for the title in April but would lose it back in June.

  Bravo had recently turned back the challenge of Ric Flair and had tagged with Ricky Steamboat against the team of Flair and Valentine before starting this series.

  Both Valentine and Bravo's careers had a lot of parallels. Singles titles (but not the big one), great tag teams - and titles, and a similar style. Valentine, while not as popular as Flair was becoming, was still a 'favorite heel' for many, and Bravo was at the height of his popularity here. Their bouts at MLG were tough and scientific and bloody all at the same time.

 Thanks again to Barry "Kicking ass is my business...and business is good!" Hatchet for this classic bout!