Everett Marshall vs King Kong Cox, 1940: A Real Contest?: Gary Will's TWH

In an interview somewhere, Lou Thesz once said that Toronto promoter Frank Tunney got along well with the newspapers in town because he would tell the reporters when a match was going to be a real contest. Thesz said a lot of things like that, and the truth is that in the 43 years Tunney promoted there were never any matches that appeared to be contests and none that was reported as a shoot ... with one exception.

 The last show of 1940 featured a main event between two former world champions. Everett Marshall had defeated Ali Baba for a claim to the world title in 1936, and was also recognized as champion by the NWA in 1938. In both cases, he dropped his title to Thesz. King Kong Cox had been a two-time world champion in Toronto in 1938.

The two faced each other at Maple Leaf Gardens on December 5, 1940 in front of 3,000 people. Before the main event, there had been a five-minute riot as some fans tried to get at George K.O. Koverly who had been unkind to Don Evans in the semi-final. Koverly was reported to have cuts all around his face and eyes, and even had a cigarette burn from a fan. Hamilton promoter Sammy Sobel was also said to have been injured in the melee.

The Marshall-Cox match went on for almost two hours before Tunney went into the ring around midnight to bring it to a halt. It had been a rough battle, with Cox doing a lot of biting and committing other fouls. The Globe said that "the usually unruffled Marshall was vowing vengeance when it was all over." Referee Al "Bunny" Dunlop had his shirt ripped up during the match.

Joe Perlove of the Star wrote that the bout proved that Cox, "with all his burlesquing and rough-housing, can wrestle with the best of them. For Marshall is one of the best."

The report that the bout was a shoot came a few days later from Ralph Allen's "Mostly Incidental" column in the Globe & Mail. It was mostly meant to be a humorous piece (most of it wasn't as funny as the author thought, so this is just an excerpt), but here's what he wrote about the match:

Exposes are not in this bureau's line, but this bureau, nevertheless, wishes to direct the attention of all right-thinking sportsmen to one of the most unsavory episodes that ever blackened the good name of Canadian sport. I will come to the point at once. Last Thursday night a wrestling match was contested on the level.

This match was not contested in Buffalo or California or Jersey City, New Jersey or any of those other distant spheres where the high traditions of wrestling are sometimes opposed by the baleful influences of commerce. This match was contested right here in Toronto, under the eye of a trusted Commission and in the full view of 3,000 trusting fans. The match was between King Kong Cox and Everett Marshall and -- I repeat -- it was strictly and shamelessly on the level.

It is a well-known fact that, even including a wrestling match that is not on the level, there is no more tedious and subversive spectacle in the whole program of sport than a match that is on the level. Consequently, all promoters who have the interests of the patron at heart take the most extreme precautions lest any such matches creep into the schedule to stupefy the clients, wreck future gate receipts and destroy the orderly sequence in which champions are made and then unmade.

The phrase "on the level" as it is used here does not apply to matters of honor and the law. A wrestling match that is not on the level is neither dishonorable not illegal. Indeed, the Ontario Athletic Commission, in its wisdom, refuses bluntly to recognize the other kind. The Ontario Athletic Commission calls all wrestling matches "exhibitions"; it doesn't care who wins, or how, or at whose behest.

It's unlikely that it was actually a shoot. Maybe there was some lack of cooperation, but it sounds like a regular -- if unusually long -- match from the reports by Perlove and Hal Walker at the Globe. Maybe the wrestlers didn't want to be upstaged by the semi-final. One of the preliminaries only went 35 seconds, so a long main event may have been the plan all along .

On the other hand, Marshall never wrestled in Toronto again.

-by Gary Will