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 Fred at Crystal Beach circa 1955

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

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