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. 


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 reported 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, have asked around but...

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 World 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. With the advent of TV he also becomes a regular commentator on the various Toronto shows through the 1970's. 

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 a 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.


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