On my latest visit to see my friend Roger Baker I was able to take him a copy of Dick Bourne's new book Crown Jewel The NWA World Championship 1959-1973. One of my favorites of Roger's photos is featured in the book, a shot of Gene Kiniski (lifting his ring jacket to show the belt) facing off before a title bout with Edouard Carpentier in Toronto in '66.
Of course Toronto was a big part of that title, especially in the earlier years. Thesz was a staple in T.O. while our once British Empire champ Pat O'Connor was for a time, second in popularity to Whipper Watson. Buddy Rogers had some notable bouts in Toronto including losing the title to Thesz right here in our ring. Gene Kiniski was a top 3 maybe around here, a huge part of the boom of the '50s and returned as champ to defend 18 times in Toronto alone (busy on the circuit too). During those years 1959-1973 we saw about 58 world title defenses if I count right.
One of the most interesting chapters is Dick Hutton: Champion without a belt. Hutton, maybe the most forgotten of the early NWA champs. He had a great impact in Toronto, from his arrival in 1956 through his title win (also at MLG) and reign, his beat the yank $1000 challenge, and teaming with Kiniski and others. When he took the title from Thesz in Nov 1957 he wasn't a big hit as champ, either here in Toronto or elsewhere.
After O'Connor returned as new champ in Jan 1959 Steve York of the Globe wrote
'Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. How else can you account for O’Connor replacing Dick Hutton as NWA champion? O’Connor bounces around, has more color and is more expressive than the phlegmatic, stolid Hutton, who does everything deliberately. Besides which Pat is as good a wrestler as Hutton.'
While Hutton was champ he wore a belt, but not that belt. You can learn all about that in the book. The in depth information is as usual, very well researched, and is presented in a smooth and transitional way that you will be familiar with from all of Dick's books.
And that brings me back to Roger. We talked a while back about Hutton, the forgotten champ, the champ without a belt.
'Dick Hutton was a powerhouse of a man, he was built like a tank, weighed around 260lbs. This Oklahoma bred mat man was all business in the ring and he could stay on his feet much to the consternation of many of his opponents. Hutton could also lay a sledgehammer elbow smash to an opponent that would knock the recipient senseless!'
It's always a pleasure to sit and talk with Roger. I can spend hours and hours reading newspaper clips but to talk to a fan that was there, you can really feel the excitement of that era, and brings it alive. The biggest compliment I could pay The Crown Jewel is that it does a great job of that; it really conveys the time and the atmosphere around the NWA and pro wrestling in general.
We loved the book! I am on my 3rd go round it's so much fun. You can really tell Dick loves what he does, just spend a few minutes at the Gateway and it's wholly evident. In a recent spotlight on the book I thought the author himself summed it up perfectly.
'Our website is all about the positive, about reliving and sharing good memories,” says Bourne. 'We don’t get into any of the backstage drama. We like to try and present the history of the territory just as it was presented to us back then on television and in the arenas. It’s like back in the days when people passed along folk tales from generation to generation; we want to pass along these great stories told decades ago so that new generations of wrestling fans will know them, too, and those great names will never be forgotten.'
We feel the same way
Pick up this great book though the Gateway Bookstore