Wire Fence bouts

  Before the advent of steel cage matches there was the wire-fence bout. A chicken wire type fence around the ring approx. 5.5 feet high to keep the wrestlers in. It first made an appearance in Toronto in 1942 for a Whipper Watson-Nanjo Singh bout. Their feud which lasted 25 years was in full swing after erupting in 1941. 

 Nanjo had debuted years earlier for promoter Jack Corcoran billed as a student of the famous Indian wrestler The Great Gama. In his time in Toronto he had made it a habit to scurry under the MLG ring to escape the fans wrath. Often that included throwing those old heavy pop bottles from the upper rows at the Gardens and various other items that weren't bolted down

 Due to all of the commotion Singh caused jumping from the ring to escape Watson, promoter Frank Tunney set a special stipulation for a  Feb 1942 bout. A wire fence bout described as 'a special wire enclosure around the ring,' it was to ensure that there was no escape for the hated Singh.

Main pic: Whipper vs Fritz 1960

 The two battled it out for almost 20 minutes before Nanjo flung Whipper into the cage entangling him mostly outside the ring. In those days both the ring and the apron were huge. You could walk around the ring on the apron. As Whipper tried to escape his predicament he was soon getting the ref's count to (fully) return inside the ring.

First fence bout 1942
Sam Yanaky, an area promoter who was acting as Nanjo’s ring manager attempted to stop Watson before being beset upon by the now riotous fans. In response Tunney assistant and area promoter Sammy Sobol tried to help Watson extricate himself from the fence. Singh knocked Sobol off, climbed over the fence, and promptly made a bee-line for his office below the ring. The fans were now extra hot under the collar. When Singh finally spotted a lull and tried to get to the dressing room he was met by Sobol’s younger brother (and former boxer) Eddie who took up the fight. Just another night in the Maple Leaf wrestling wars.

 Fast forward to 1948 and the fans had learned new tricks to vent their anger on Singh, including lighting papers on fire and throwing them under the ring. A recap suggested the purpose was 'to smoke him out  like a porcupine.' That led to Tunney initiating another stipulation for Nanjo-this time to protect him. Of course that was the ramp, which became  synonymous with Toronto wrestling for the next 40 years or so.

 By the late 1950s Whipper had found a new long-time feud in Gene Kiniski and they brought the fence out again. It didn't settle anything but almost guaranteed some blood flowing, not unlike the cage bouts of the 70s and 80s.

 Kiniski, like Nanjo before him (and others including Bill Longson & Hardboiled Haggerty) had also taken to finding temporary refuge under the ring until it was safe to escape down the ramp. After Tunney had announced the fence bout Whipper was said to be happy that it would keep Kiniski in the ring. Kiniski also expressed approval, hoping it would keep Whipper's rabid fans a safe distance from him. Tunney publicist Frank Ayerst in his weekly column commented that 'if they just put a lid over the ring and an arrow on top like a pressure cooker, we'll be able to tell when they're done.' Ayerst a forward thinker on the lid/roof idea

 In the 1960s Bulldog Brower was another choice for the fenced ring based on his propensity to destroy everything in his path. It didn't do much to tame the Bulldog either. He later became a fan favorite (same style!) and saw more fence bouts with now tag partner Watson.
Whipper vs Kiniski 1959. Note Frank Tunney putting up the wire fence.

 Another match stipulation that came around in the early 1960's was the manager suspended above the ring in a steel cage. Long time tough guy Martino Angelo, now manager of The Beast, was the first to be locked up to stop him from interfering on behalf of his charge. The cage was about 4x4 and was hoisted up above the ring. Angelo was not a fan of it and was lowered promptly after having a (real) near nervous breakdown.

 In that vein the wire fence evolved into the full steel cage with The Sheik entering the cage during his various feuds. In the late 1970's Bob Backlund & Superstar Graham had a WWWF Title bout in the cage. Bob Backlund and Jimmy Snuka replicated their MSG 'Snuka off the cage Superfly' here in 1982 and they often settled the Canadian Title picture with blow-off bouts and title changes in the cage.

Studd Mosca title change (Weaver helping Mosca) MLG Jan 1982

 Perhaps the biggest cage bout ever in Toronto was the 1983 NWA tag title change from Slaughter & Kernodle to Steamboat & Youngblood. In that era we had the cage in the photo above, and they kept it into the WWF years. That's the same one you see in the video of Andre-Kamala 1984.

-AC
Thanks to Roger Baker
Nostalgia mapleleafwrestling.com collection, Studd Mosca by AC
Excerpted 'From Nanjo to The Sheik: Tales From Toronto Wrestling'