Red Garner: The Pride Of Langstaff

    Edwin 'Red' Garner certainly deserves his place in the history of professional wrestling in Canada for his tenure as an amateur, pro, and promoter for over 30 years in Southern Ontario.

    Red's story goes back to about 1932 when he started showing up on Toronto's busy local amateur boxing and wrestling scene. At 17 years old and 126 lbs Red learned the ropes out of the Premier Athletic Club, one of the many clubs in Toronto. The city was full of contests at all sorts of venues. Amateur mostly, some mit-mat (boxing & wrestling), and some that were a mix of the pro and amateur styles.

    Maple Leaf Gardens had been open for about a year with Jack Corcoran running pro cards there. Ivan Mickailoff, the man who started the regular weekly cards in the city was holding court at the Mutual St Arena.

    Around 1933 Garner began wrestling on shows for the West Toronto Wrestling Club out of Mavety Hall (later West End Theater) at Mavety and Dundas St. Now up to 150 lbs Red began moving up the ladder to main event bouts which lead into appearances on the cards at Mutual St. Amateur star Ted McKinley became one of Red's early allies. McKinley was a regular on the scene in the early 1930's earning a Silver medal in the 1934 Commonwealth Games in the Bantamweight division. McKinley was often billed as a Canadian Champion.

    In 1937 Red suffered a serious injury with dislocating a neck vertebrae and there was a benefit card held for him at the Mutual St Arena. The main event featured McKinley vs another regular Ernie Hughson. Others appearing included Sam Gotter who later worked with the Toronto (Tunney) office and refereed at MLG. 

   Garner recovered and joined the Army in 1940 to train soldiers in physical fitness and athletics. He appeared regularly on the weekly shows for the Crawford A.C. held at Foresters Hall at College and Yonge, and was busy organizing and wrestling on the many mit-mat shows around the area.

    In 1946 Red traveled to Mexico and spent nearly a year there, appearing in a Welterweight Tournament held at La Arena Coliseo. The following year he appeared on several cards in Oshawa for Pat Farrell who pre-dated Pat Milosh as head of the Oshawa scene. 

Turn to Promoting, Moto, Wally, & Dave    

    The promoting side for Garner began around 1948. Red started with shows near his home at the Richmond Hill Arena every Tuesday evening.
Oshawa 1947

    As the early 1950's began Red was also running cards at the Thornhill Market, Weston Arena, Lakeshore Arena, and Newmarket Arena. 

    Shows in Richmond Hill were billed as 'Professional Light-Heavyweight Wrestling - coolest spot in town - Wrestling On Ice.' Other wrestlers now appearing included The Black Knight, Juan Lopez, and Roy Hassan/Hassan Bey (Georgio Stefanides - later a referee at MLG). Garner also travelled a bit up the road to both Ottawa and Montreal and other towns in Quebec before coming up with a new angle to help himself get over.

    Friends had told him he looked Asian so he took up Sumo and studied the style and costumes of Japanese Wrestlers in order to turn into Mr. Moto, dreaded Japanese heel. In his new persona Red spoke in broken English and made up a phony story about his Japanese ancestry. The first appearance of Mr Moto was in Ottawa in 1952. As Mr Moto he faced a young Buddy Rogers in Montreal that same year.

    Red set up a gym in his garage in Richmond Hill and started to train wrestlers to use on his cards. Joe Greenfield, Norm Alexander, Bill Clubine, Harold Van Dyke, Stoney Brooks were all trainees that worked on the local scene. Al Korman who later refereed at MLG and Mike Scicluna aka Baron Scicluna were other early trainees. Most notable were Wally Seiber and Dave McKigney, two newcomers who would each make ta big impact on the Ontario Wrestling scene.

    Wally, from Holland Landing progressed first into Waldo Von Seiber, and then later teamed up with Fritz Von Erich as cousin Waldo Von Erich. He became Waldo away form Toronto but both Wally and Fritz had appeared on the same cards around Toronto in those early days. McKigney too created his own legacy by using a wrestling bear as early as 1957 and later becoming The Canadian Wildman. At this time McKigney was billed as Jean or Jacques Dubois -the Flying Frenchman. Along with McKigney and Seiber, others on the cards included soon to be Garner regulars, Ed Gori Mangotich, Ron 'Wildcat' Osborne, Tom Sullivan, Al Wallace, Ivan Klimenko, Jack Flicker 'The Aurora Madman', Billy Foster (Georgetown Lacrosse Star), and Les Lyman. Mangitoch made several trips across to the UK and became quite a star there in the 1960's.

    Scarborough's Les Lyman, often billed as a Canadian champ, was promoting around Toronto at the Scarborough & Lakeshore Arenas and the two were sharing talent and resources. One of Red's trainees 'Jumping' Joe Greenfield also emerges on the scene and becomes family when he marries Ed's daughter Phyllis in 1953.
Fighting from the knees 1952

    In the late summer of 1953 Red along with Ed Mangotich described as 'the biggest Toronto villains' were invited to Quebec to wrestle on shows for Promoter Sylvio Samson. Samson, similar to Garner, was promoting shows in competition with the big players in Quebec, Eddie Quinn and others. Garner saw action alongside Dr Jerry Graham, the Lortie's Bob, Donald, and Ray, as well as the Quebec version of the Wrestling Bear, Gorgeous Gus (handled by Billy Fox).

    Waldo Von Seiber also made some of those shows with partner Kurt Von Seiber as would another prominent Ontario name, Joe Maich. Maich was another notable amateur turned pro who promoted for many years in Brantford and area along with his boxer brother  Don. Red showed up on their shows from time to time in Simcoe, Delhi, and the other spots they were running.

    Back in Ontario under the banner of Central Canadian Wrestling Alliance (CCWA) Red expanded out into the smaller towns across the Southern part of the province. Stoufville, Georgetown, Port Perry , Cobourg, Peterborough, and Lindsay were all popular stops. Former wrestler Toar Morgan who had settled in Lindsay also promoted some shows in that area in a partnership of sorts. Locally the troupe filled Lakeshore Arena for weekly shows in the mid 1950's and other spots, East York Arena, Scarborough Arena. In 1955 they started in Aurora on Monday evenings at the Aurora Arena for a season lasting usually 4-5 months.

Family Affair

    It truly was a family affair for Red. Along with son-in-law Joe Greenfield who wrestled and refereed,  Joe's brother Pal and Ed's son Ed Jr trucked the ring and bear trailer around to the different venues. Ed Jr billed as 'Red Jr' also wrestled a bit on his Dad's shows. Red's daughter Phyllis (Joe's wife) helped man the box office. One night Red got into it with a fan and Phyllis hit the guy over the head with the moneybag and it split open sending cash all over the Arena floor. Another daughter Betty was married to wrestler Stoney Brooks, a regular on the circuit for many years. Joe's son ( Red's grandson) Edwin remembers that when he was a kid that the ring was set up in Garner's backyard for the wrestlers to work out and train for the upcoming shows.

    In the summer of 1955 Red promoted a series of cards at the Port Perry Arena. Baron Von Seiber headlined most of them with other names such as 'Langstaff Jumping Jack' Tommy White, Irish Jack Phelan, Sylvain Richard, Calvin Cosburn, and Joe Greenfield, billed 'Langstaff Scissors King'.
Garner also featured the fabulous midget wrestlers who were very popular in those days. A two card series in Stoufville in 1957 featuring the midget stars drew 3,000 people over the two cards. Red also ran weekly shows in the winters at the Thornhill Farmers Market between 1955-1958.

Tied in the ropes circa 1952

    In the mid 1950's Red was also visible in his local area as Manager of the Langstaff Bantam minor hockey team. His son-in law Joe servde as coach. Red (and Joe) continued that involvement through the 1960's and when mentioned in the hockey news section was usually preceded with 'Well known Wrestler Red Garner...'.

The Big Circuit  

  In 1956 Red made it to Maple Leaf Gardens using his Mr Moto persona. He teamed up with a Mr Hito (Mamoru Noguchi), both using a sleeper hold as a finisher, and proved very successful in taking on the teams of the day. Bouts against the Lewin Brothers Mark and Donn, Pat Flanagan and Billy Stack, and the Brunetti Brothers Guy and Joe ensued. On Oct 4 1956 Moto and Hito interfered in then NWA champion Whipper Watson's bout vs Mighty Ursus to earn the wrath of the new champ. Hito was up first the following week only to lose via dq, then both Moto and Hito were to take on Watson in a handicap bout. Both ended up disqualified but they had earned their success at the top. Moto got his shot at Watson alone also only to lose by dq after both Hito and Whipper's pal Tim Geohagen interfered in the bout.

As Moto (right) 1956

    On the Oct 25 card they beat the Brunetti's by dq and appeared to take the Canadian Open Tag Team Titles. The brothers argued that they can't lose the belts via dq (many belts were lost by dq in those days) leaving both teams claiming the titles. They met in a re-match a few weeks later which ended in a draw. It appears the earlier dq win was discarded as the Brunetti's kept the titles until losing to the Miller Brothers (Dan & Bill) in Feb 1957.

    On Thursday Nov 8 1956 Red as Moto again faced Watson with Wee Willie Davis appointed as special referee. Watson wins the bout clean and Red earns another spot in history as being Whippers last opponent as NWA champ. The next day Watson loses his belt to Lou Thesz in St Louis ending his reign.

    The success at MLG that year and into 1957 leads Moto and Hito to travel. In Winnipeg they faced other heel teams, Fritz Von Erich and Karl Von Schoberg and the Kalmikoff's. One bout in Montreal pitted the two against the star pairing of Edouard Carpentier and Verne Gagne while another put them up against Dick The Bruiser and Killer Kowalski. Red made his last appearance as Moto at MLG in Jan 1957 but continued to show up elsewhere through 1958, solo and with Hito. The Moto character, sometimes as the Great Moto continued into the late 1950's on Red's shows around the area.

    I asked Roger Baker if he had ever attended any of Red's shows.
'I did see one of his shows in Toronto back around 1957-1958, he had it staged in an old Toronto movie theater called 'The Runnymede' this was down on Runnymede Street near the intersection of Runnymede and College. It was the first time that I got a to see how a small 'Indy' promotion was staged. Garner wore many hats that evening, including being the announcer, as well as the referee, and wrestling with the mask on as well. He was very adept in all his roles that evening. 

Can remember only the name of one wrestler who worked on that show, his name was Killer Joe Conroy. Several years prior I was invited to second some wrestlers who appeared on a show in Scarborough, one of those wrestlers was Killer'Joe, and I can recall him telling me that he was going to live up to his moniker that night. Being a young guy at the time and not having been clued in, this big brawler had me on edge.'


    The intimidating Killer Conroy returned on Red's shows under several aliases including Mr X, The Masked Marvel, and bearded 'Russian' Ivan Volkoff. Conroy, who retired around 1970, later was the doorman at Kelly's bar at Shuter and Dundas and had quite a reputation. 
Kudo on the mat 1960

    Another promoter coming on the scene by the name of Gus Marmon, another former amateur star,  put on shows under the name Olympic Wrestling Club. Marmon had a partnership of sorts with Garner, hitting many of the same towns with many of the same wrestlers as was appearing on Red's shows as well as Red himself. Red at this time had taken a job with the Toronto Library and started to wrestle under a mask to avoid being recognized.

    A 1960 Cobourg ad has  'Channel 11 in Kingston for a new ‘Live Wrestling Show starting June 11 Featuring International TV Stars, Ali Pasha, Cowboy Carlson, Danny Shayne, The Blonde Bomber, Kudo'. Unsure if that ever got off the ground but the promotion continued. Along with the smaller towns in Ontario Marmon held some shows at the Lansdowne Theater in Toronto in 1961. Along with Killer Conroy, others on these cards included the Jennings Brothers (including Wilf the Wolf Jennings who later worked for McKigney and and Tunney) Tony Manousos, and Garner regulars Orlando and Osborne. Headlining these shows was The Great Kudo.

The Great Kudo   

 This was the new masked persona for Red - The Great Kudo - and he wrestled barefoot. Kudo made his debut around 1960 on the circuit shows before showing up at MLG in February 1962.

    After a few bouts Kudo was matched up against the newest Toronto star Bruno Sammartino and the two got embroiled in a lively feud. During one bout Kudo's manager Sam Sullivan (Gus Marmon?) got involved with Bruno outside the ring, and a near riot ensued.
As Kudo vs Bruno MLG 1962

    Roger Baker was at ringside and taking photos on that night.
'As I recall it was a very rough match and both wrestlers got involved with some rowdy ringsiders who tried to beat up Garner's manager for this appearance'.

    Bruno went on to win the WWWF title and when he made his first Toronto appearance as champion, his opponent again was Kudo.

    Red hung up the boots soon thereafter as the ring was taking its toll on both his body and his family life. In an 1981 article he remarks 'I was too old, too tired, and it was too hard to keep in shape' and how he 'wanted to spend more time with Dorothy and the kids.' He worked up to be a Chief Librarian in Toronto before retiring in 1980. In 1981 he became restless and took on a job driving the kids favorite, the Bookmobile.

    Red passed away in 1994 and while most remembered in the wrestling community as the trainer of Waldo and Dave among others, he certainly had a major impact on the local scene. He also likely inspired McKigney to branch out on his own as Dave started promoting around 1964, filling in where Red once filled the smaller arenas.

-AC

Thanks to E Greenfield for his help and photos 
Thanks to Roger Baker
Some info on Ted McKinley here Ted McKinley

Enjoying retirement with Dorothy




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Angelo Mosca in Toronto



MEAN & NASTY  Angelo Mosca was already a well known star by the time he first appeared at MLG in 1969. He was in the middle of his second go around with the Hamilton Tiger Cats and near the end of his Hall of Fame career in the Canadian Football League.

  He had started wrestling in Ottawa in 1960 on a part time basis while earning his reputation as 'Mean and Nasty' on -and off- the football field. He had been in some trouble while at University of Wyoming  in 1958. They cancelled his athletic scholarship for 'scholastic deficiency and disciplinary reasons.' He had also been sent away from Notre Dame for similar infractions. 

  Just around the start of his wrestling career he was in Montreal playing for the Ottawa Shaffers in the Eastern Canada Senior Basketball playoffs (alongside some other CFL'ers earning extra money), Mosca slugged the referee and was promptly suspended. He had taken a kicking and kneeing penalty earlier in the game and took it out on the ref with a right to the jaw. The coaches hauled Mosca off and convinced the ref not to call the game. Once he had visited the dressing room and returned he ordered Mosca to the showers. Mosca then hit him with a left to the jaw. His own teammates dragged him to the dressing room and he left the arena while the ref threatened to charge Mosca with assault. That was the end of the playoffs for Mosca who stuck to causing trouble on the field and in the ring.  

  When he finally made his Toronto wrestling debut years later it was the Sheik era in the city. Mosca got his chance vs Sheik in June 1971, his first main event at the Gardens.

MOSCA GIVES SHEIK TROUBLE
Angelo Mosca, evidently so unnerved at hearing Torontonians actually cheering for him, erred on a flying tackle, wrapped himself around a ring-post and ultimately, lost his wrestling assignment against the Sheik last night. In the autumn, Mosca is a 270 pound lineman with Hamilton Tiger-Cats and seems to rate the most verbal abuse when the Toronto Argonauts are hosting other Canadian Football League teams at CNE Stadium. He forgot however that a Maple Leaf Garden's wrestling crowd would throw roses to Adolph Hitler had he ever faced The Sheik. 
Allan Ryan Globe and Mail June 21 1971

 Mosca gave The Sheik trouble but still notched another mark on Sheik's unbeaten streak, then at 49 wins 0 losses and 7 double dq/double countouts. That marked his last appearance at MLG for a time but he remained an regular around Ontario. He spent a few tours with Wildman Dave McKigney as well as the crossover WWA (Indianapolis/Michigan) cards held around the southwestern portion of the province. He had a tough main event feud with Stomper Archie Gouldie over the Wildman's North American Heavyweight title in summer 1971. At the end of that summer Mosca got into an altercation with a man after leaving a restaurant in downtown Hamilton. The other guy filed charges for assault after he was left with a 'bump on the head and torn clothes after a scuffle' with big Ange. The following year he retired from the field and turn to wrestling full-time. 

  In late 1975 he returned to MLG, this time as a full out heel playing up his football reputation. In Dec 1976 he faced Andre the Giant in the semi final bout under a rare Sheik title loss (to Thunderbolt Patterson). 

BIG ANGE RETURNS
Angelo Mosca weighed 285 pounds when he played defensive tackle for Ottawa and Hamilton. Now, as a pro wrestler, he goes 310. He's on the Boxing Day card at Maple Leaf Gardens Sunday evening up against Andre the Giant. 'I'd done a bit of wrestling when I was playing but I got very serious about it after we won the 1972 Grey Cup in Hamilton, and I retired from football.' says Mosca, who maintains a home in Mississauga, even while travelling all over the continent. 'It's certainly better financially. I'm getting up close to six figures a year.' Naturally Mosca in a villain, as he was in football. 'There's no dough in being a good guy.' he argues.
Jim Proudfoot Toronto Star 24 Dec 1976

  When Frank Tunney turned to use the AWA stars in Fall 1977 the stage was set for the now 'King Kong' Mosca to return and this time he stayed. In the AWA he was a heel with the fans chanting 'Ping Pong' in deference to his new nickname. For his first card back Mosca arrived at MLG with AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel and Bobby Heenan and the night was memorable for another reason. There was no ramp. For the first time since 1948 the memorable ramp to the ring was absent. They ran rope where the ramp usually was, with regular steps up to the ring. It was never revealed why the ramp was out but as far as we know it never happened again. 

THE MEANEST MAN SAYS HE IS -NOW
Now that he is the heavyweight wrestling champion of Georgia, Angelo would welcome the kind of disaffection which in football, was so completely undeserved. He worked Maple Leaf Gardens , on Frank Tunney's Sunday night show, and he confesses to having developed villainous impulses since he left the refining influences of the Tiger-Cats. 'Even in the Yamaha snowmobile commercials, you get the impression I'm a pretty tough character,' Mosca boasts. 'I am. Well let me tell you I haven't been uunder $65,000 a year since I left football. Best money I ever made in football was $23,000. That was in my last three seasons with the Ti-Cats.' The heavyweight champion is in heavy demand.
Milt Dunnell Toronto Star July 28 1978


  He worked his way up the cards facing the top stars of the AWA & WWWF including Chief Peter Maivia and AWA British Empire champion Billy Robinson. For a May 1978 card Mosca was acknowledged as the Empire champ having beat Robinson in an AWA proper bout. That title different from the Empire title Whipper had held here back in the boom days. In July 1978 he made his first appearance as a fan favorite facing champ Bockwinkel in the co-main alongside a Backlund vs Superstar Graham  WWWF Title bout. Almost two months later he got a re-match with Bockwinkel, this time they were the main event over a title bout between Backlund and Gorilla Monsoon.

THE CANADIAN TITLE YEARS

  On his next return here the Mid Atlantic era had begun. By early 1980 he was firmly seated to become the main local star on the scene. Previous local stars Dino Bravo and Dewey Robertson, had both finished their main event runs, Bravo had left in 1979 while Dewey was soon to go. With the launch of the new Canadian Heavyweight Title in Dec 1978 we now had a local title that Mosca went on to hold through 5 reigns.

I'M NOT JUST A PRETTY FACE IN THE CROWD
Angelo Mosca said with mock solemnity at a lunchtime tete-a-tete yesterday. 'When I'm wrestling in the southern states, they bill me as King Kong Mosca. Up here in Canada, the promoters don't bill me as a villain. They are aware of the real me-gruff, rough, but lovable. What does the future hold? If you look after yourself, you can last for a long time in wrestling.' he says. 'But I'd like to become a wrestling promoter somewhere down the line. And I'd like to get back into doing television commercials.' 
Jim Coleman Toronto Sun July 23 1980

  Around the time Mosca first won the Canadian title he was also a vicious heel in the WWF, appearing there regularly while holding the strap (he was photographed backstage with the belt but as far as we know never defended the title there). There was no mention of Toronto while on WWF TV, but the magazines ran stories on him where they had observed the personality change depending on the location he wrestled. Mosca replied with, 'I wrestle the same way everywhere. The fans can decide to cheer or boo.' He did and they would. He was back in the WWF gunning for Backlund’s crown and prone to some serious fits of violence. He was managed there by Lou Albano and appeared both on the WWF TV tapings and at the big shows around the Northeast.

  This was a bit of a conundrum for the Maple Leaf fans as we got the WWF TV show here at midnight Saturdays on WUTV Buffalo. When he later almost killed Pat Patterson with the water pitcher it left many of us scratching our heads. 

  While Canadian champ, Mosca challenged NWA champ Harley Race. This card was moved to a rare 1:30pm afternoon start as the Maple Leafs were in a playoff series with the New York Islanders (we lost!). Both Mosca and Race were counted out after a tough brawl with very few wrestling holds.

  His new-found popularity as the star of Toronto wrestling attracted some mainstream coverage which had been minimal in the recent past. All three Toronto dailies, the Globe, the Star, and the Sun featured full page articles on the wrestling revival, with more coverage than had been seen in many years. Big Ange was the star of several features both in and around Toronto and in other towns on the circuit. On the May 20 1981 episode of the Global Network’s That’s Life, one of the stories was a 'visit with Angelo Mosca.’ On one afternoon in London for a card, he appeared on CFPL radio’s Sports Call and people were calling in for 2 1/2 hours to talk to him. The Toronto Star also ran a full page feature looking at his wrestling and football careers with a photo from a recent MLG bout vs Ivan Koloff.

ANGIE STILL HEARS THE CHEERS
'I built this image,' says Mosca, his face a bloody mask after his bout with arch-rival Ivan Koloff, 'of a guywho loved to be hated and now it's different. All of a sudden, it changes. People Like me, really like me. That's the way it goes in this game. One night you're the good guy, the next you're the villain. It gets confusing. 
Kevin Boland Toronto Star June 18 1981

 At the big 50th Anniversary card on Nov 15 Mosca faced Studd in front of 16,000 noisy fans. Our Canadian Title took 3rd semi behind Andre vs Kahn, and the main of Flair vs Race. There was two referees and they brawled their way to the floor where Studd had enough and fled to the dressing room. It left Mosca the winner but not the champ. Mosca eventually regained the title a few months later in a cage bout.




   

 The memorable title win came in Jan 1982. After a bloody Johnny Weaver-Alfred Hayes cage bout they left the cage up for a Canadian Title bout Studd vs Mosca. The two faced down on the ramp as Mosca waited for Studd to climb the stairs. Mosca attacked and the bout was on. It ended with Studd pinning Mosca. It appeared that way anyways. Ref Terry Yorkston, inside the cage as was the case here, gets hit, and in a daze (Yorkston played the semi-buffoon type well) awarded the victory to Mosca. The fans went wild when Mosca grabbed the belt to celebrate but the celebration didn't last long with Studd viciously attacking the new champ. Weaver (bandaged up from his bloody cage bout) along with John Bonello returned to the cage to help Mosca. Both end up taking a beating from Studd before helping Mosca get the upper hand. A bloodied Studd emerged from the cage and took a lot of abuse from the fans on his way down the ramp. Mosca, bloody and beaten emerged from the cage as the new champ to begin his fourth reign with the title. . 

  In April 1982 the feud between Canadian champ Mosca and Studd continues with Studd announcing he was bringing a mystery opponent to 'permanently maim the champ.' Studd had hyped it for the two weeks previous to the show. Fans were talking and many names were being brought up as to who could be the mystery opponent set to meet Mosca on the Apr 4 1982 card. One of those names was Andre the Giant. Andre was still a few years away from his first heel turn in North America but at the time it seemed like a good idea. When the time came it wasn't such a big name. When Norm Kimber announced Tarzan Tyler, the crowd was disappointed to say the least. Tyler was a ways past his prime by this point and mostly unknown to the younger fans. He had appeared here sporadically from 1964-1978 and was a fine wrestler in his prime but... Special ref Sonny Fargo had been assigned to officiate and the bout was generally a letdown since it had been so highly touted. Mosca didn't have much trouble defending his title.

 A big card at two weeks later was a double world title night. Flair vs Race and Mosca vs Bockwinkel. The AWA champ was making his first appearance since 1979 and had a good tough bout with Mosca. Big Ange battered the champ and looked to be on the verge of winning when John Studd charged the ring and attacked Mosca. He and Bockwinkel laid a beating on Mosca until he was able to fight back and chase them from the ring. Official decision was a dq win for Mosca.

A feud with Gene Kiniski in June 1982 was better than expected. Kiniski, who went way back here (debut 1956) was still as ornery as he was back in 1966. Stomping and snarling he was a good opponent for Mosca in a short run. Kiniski had held versions of the Canadian title across Canada in his earlier days and they played up the mutual football backgrounds a bit. 

At the big Night of Champions card in July 1983 Mosca faced One Man Gang in front of anywhere from 16-22,000 fans at the old Exhibition Stadium. At the follow up two weeks later in front of 10-14,000 Mosca lost the title to Sgt. Slaughter.

  In early 1984 Mosca beat Sgt. Slaughter to regain the Canadian title and promptly disappeared. He was said to be upset with the low drawing cards in Toronto as the NWA days came to a close. He took the belt and went to Florida for an extended trip often managed by JJ Dillon. As per usual he was a vicious heel -and did defend the title a few times- while the fans up here were left scratching their heads, again. 

BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER
'We (Sr&Jr) spend 1 1/2 or 2 hours in the gym together working out and in some mat training. Then we drive or fly to the town where we have our matches, then back home to Charlotte. We don't live together. Junior's not married yet, but I have a very understanding wife,' explains Sr. 'The best thing about wrestling is working with this guy right here,' says Junior, thumping his father on his hammy thigh.' 
Alison Gordon Toronto Star May 20 1984

  His son Angelo Jr. debuted here in 1984 after Sr. had been stripped of the title for not appearing. 'Injury' was the wrestling reason and they held a tournament for the vacant title in which Jr. would compete. Junior was a good athlete cut from the same cloth. He had attended a Ti-Cat camp for high school players in 1977 (at 17) but in June 1981 he had been cut trying out as a defensive guard at the BC Lions camp, effectively ending his pro football aspirations. He went on to earn a degree from Concordia University before trying out pro wrestling. After Jack Tunney had switched exclusively to WWF in July 1984 Sr. stayed on for a bit and also announced while Jr. got his brief run with the WWF here. When done both father and son appeared on the Wildman's Big Bear circuit in and around Toronto. 

MOSCA MANIA

  By 1985 Sr. was planning to bring the NWA back to Ontario. In Feb 1986 he ran a show at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. While Hulkamania  may had taken over Toronto, there were still a lot of fans from the NWA days. Sr., with a long history in Hamilton, announced the show to be dubbed 'Mosca Mania.' Jr. appeared in an opener. The card did well drawing 12,000 fans with a gate of $140,000 to see a main of NWA champ Ric Flair vs Dusty Rhodes. Mosca Jr. teamed with Vic Rossitani against the Kelly Twins. 

  At the time Mosca was 50 years old, mostly retired from the ring, and doing TV ads and running several different business ventures around town. A few days after the show in Hamilton he was in Toronto doing a TV commercial for Lite beer and said he made 25k in what was his 14th or 15th commercial since he had done the Schick Razor 'Tell it to my face' campaign some years before.

MEAN ANGELO MOSCA MEANS TO KEEP RAKING IN BIG BUCKS ON TV
It's not only amazing that Angelo Mosca is making a fortune doing TV commercials, but he's making them, period. Don't get me wrong: Mosca's good at them -he has charisma and style- but as the former villainous Mr. Mean of the Hamilton Tiger Cats and, more recently, the villainous King Kong of pro wrestling, Mosca's always held that butts were made for kicking, not kissing.'
Earl McRae Starweek June 15 1985

 Angelo Sr. was a guest star on the popular Night Heat TV show, and in June of that year was elected to the CFL Hall Of Fame. In Nov 1986 he was alongside Whipper Watson when Whipper received an award from the Canadian Children's Foundation. Mosca accompanied Whip as he carried a child on his shoulders, as he had done at the many Easter Seals dinners.  

Did you know.....The CFL Hall of Fame induction class of 1987 included another wrestler. 
Dick Huffman, a star with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Calgary Stampeders, had wrestled at MLG and around the area in 1956. Maple Leafs - Ti-Cats owner Harold Ballard also in that class.

  A month prior to the first Mosca Mania card, he had met with CFL commissioner Doug Mitchell to discuss becoming a goodwill ambassador. The reports later said  that the CFL missed the boat by not using him as he was a born promoter and 'mouthpiece.' Sr. teamed with former teammate Len Chandler to promote the show with corporate sponsor Amstel Brewery on Feb 2 1986. It was a huge success with over 12,000 fans and a gate of $140,000. A dollar from each ticket went to the Spinal Cord Society and the fans were treated to a great show.



  The main event brought Toronto favorite Ric Flair back for the first time since May 1984 to defend his NWA Title against Dusty Rhodes. At that time Flair was a heel while Rhodes was a fan favorite but the fans didn't want any of it. Flair had long been beloved here and during the Flair-Rhodes bout the fans started cheering Flair. They reversed roles with Rhodes 'second' Baby Doll Roberts interfering. Flair took the win to a huge ovation and the card which also featured the Road Warriors, Jimmy Valiant (always hugely popular here), Abdullah The Butcher, Sgt. Slaughter and a host of local guys was declared a huge success. Longtime MLG ring announcer Norm Kimber, recently let go by the Toronto office, did the introductions for the night.

MOSCA MANIA A HIT
Every now and then the wrestling world has a brainstorm which produces a card that leaves audiences shouting for more. A classic example was yesterday's Mosca Mania, which attracted some 12,000 fans to the Copps Coliseum here. No One left the building disappointed. 
Sam Scrivo Toronto Sun Feb 3 1986



  At the time Mosca had declared that he was seeking to become the exclusive promoter at Copps, similar to how the Tunney's had exclusive use of MLG. He also owned the syndicated TV rights for the TV show Pro Wrestling Canada which was produced by the great Milt Avruskin. They showed NWA bouts which were sometimes up to a year old and did voice-overs on the bouts. PWC ran from May 1986 to Oct 1986 on the CTV Kitchener affiliate channel 13 locally but that channel wasn't available to all in the Toronto area.

  Mosca later told a reporter that he couldn't get the show on in Toronto and that's what killed it. Doug Bassett, head of the CTV had told him 'it wasn't family oriented television.' At that time they had WWF, International Wrestling from Montreal, and the Maple Leaf WWF shows on TV in Toronto. While the WWF was tame, the International show was a harder style, a throwback to the 70's with bloody bouts and great brawls. If Mosca had been able to last, the Montreal based stars may have appeared here. Bravo, Abdullah, etc. but he would have had to run the Gardens or the EX. MLG was still exclusive so it was limited venues outside of summer months.

EX VILLIAN CHARMS 
'He (Mosca) is president and promoter of Pro Wrestling Canada, with shows on 10 TV stations in the east and two in the west. He stages live shows in Kitchener, Ottawa and Toronto (Varsity Arena), when he is not busy lifting trucks in Chevy commercials.' 
Milt Dunnell Toronto Star Nov 30 1986

 He never promoted any shows at Varsity Arena or Ottawa as far as we know. Outside of the Hamilton shows and one in Kitchener the only others of record were a TV Taping, and a card in Peterborough on Feb 17 with Tully Blanchard vs Barry Windham as the main 

  The TV show later appeared on TSN as well as CTV and is a good show to seek out. Mosca not the greatest announcer (whole other article) but Avruskin one of the best. Sr. presented another card in Kitchener on Nov 23rd 1986 with a main of Nikita Koloff vs Wahoo McDaniel as Mosca Mania II. This one was a reverse of the first one, several no shows and most of the cast filled out with locals. Only 1.500 showed up, most of whom went to see the Road Warriors. Hawk never showed and was replaced by manager Paul Ellering. Jr. took on Siki and then it was back to the circuit for both Jr. and Siki. Despite the setback it was not to deter Mosca from staging another Hamilton show in Feb 1987.

  Unfortunately he ran it on the same night as big WWF show at MLG featuring Roddy Piper vs Adrian Adonis in a 'retirement bout and Savage/Steamboat. Mosca in turn had  Flair vs Nikita Koloff but only drew 3,000 compared to the 17,000 at a packed MLG. On Mosca's show Blanchard battled Rhodes and they reversed roles too with the fans booing Dusty. A fan told me he had 'stickered' the MLG bathrooms prior with notice of the upcoming Hamilton card but it didn't seem to help much. There were rumors of bad payouts on shows (heard years later), and then he sold his interest in it and that was the end of Mosca's promotional tenure.

  Both Moscas were featured on the popular CTV show Lifetime which ran the same night as a big WWF show at MLG. Sr. continued to show up in  TV commercials, and various ventures capitalizing on his name. Remember the Peach Pages?; a business directory he started with a partner in 1989. In recent years he has revisited his old Canadian title belt at tribute and fan events in the area, sometimes accompanied by a still fit (and very friendly to the fans) Junior. 

-AC

Photos, nostalgia,  mapleleafwrestling.com collection
Mosca Mania items from Eric Peddle collection
Pics from 1978 out of 'Alias King Kong Mosca' Canadian magazine
The Sheik Streak by Gary Will is at The Sheik's unbeaten streak: 1969-1974: Gary Will's TWH




Toronto's own world title 1938: Gary Will's TWH

Toronto promoter Jack Corcoran created his own world title in 1938. Montreal-based world champion Yvon Robert came to town in February and defeated local star Vic Christie at Maple Leaf Gardens.

After the match, Robert was presented a new championship belt by Princess Baba, daughter of the White Rajah of Sarawak (Malaysia), who was something of a celebrity at the time (she was married to wrestler Bob Gregory, who was the special referee for the match).

In his first defence of the belt -- against Christie on March 3 (see ad above) -- Robert was said to have suffered a broken collarbone in the first fall and was unable to continue. That made Christie the world champion ... in Toronto.

 Corcoran did a good job of giving the belt some credibility by giving Christie victories over former world champions Dan O'Mahony (twice) and Ed Don George.

Christie lost the belt to the Masked Marvel on June 9, and Marvel continued to show that the title was no joke with wins over ex-world champs Robert, George, and O'Mahony. In Montreal, Robert reportedly defeated Marvel on September 14, but that was never acknowledged in Toronto.

Marvel dropped the title to Mayes McLain on September 29 and was unmasked as Ted Cox. Cox would come back to regain the belt on November 10, but Corcoran's enthusiasm for his world title seems to have faded significantly by this point.

A defence of the title in December wasn't even billed as the main event. That slot went to a match between Robert and O'Mahony.

 Cox's last defense was a draw against Steve Crusher Casey on December 15.  At the time, Casey was recognized as world champion in Boston.

After that, Cox left the area for several months and the title wasn't mentioned. When he returned in May, he was called a world title claimant, but was never again recognized as champion.


TORONTO: WORLD TITLE
38/02       Yvon Robert
                Billed as champion on arrival
38/03/03  Vic Christie
                Awarded title when Robert cannot continue after breaking
                his collarbone in the first fall 38/06/09Masked Marvel (Ted Cox)
38/09/29  Mayes McLain
38/11/10  King Kong Cox [2]
39/01       ABANDONED 
                Cox is billed as world title claimant, 39/05


-by Gary Will




1952 Canadian Open Tag Titles: Tournament

Poster from Day 2 

  Amid the boom of the 1950s Frank Tunney would introduce the first tag titles in Toronto. The Canadian Open Tag Titles. The winners were to be decided in a four card tournament at MLG in Aug 1952. The top seeds were the teams of Whipper & Pat Flanagan, Lord Layton & Fred Atkins, and Yukon Eric & Johnny Barend.

  Whipper & Flanagan would win the tourny on Day 4 defeating Lord Layton & Hans Hermann (who had replaced an injured Fred Atkins). Whipper and Flanagan would hold the titles until December that year losing to Lou Plummer & Dick Raines. Whipper would go on to be a 11 time co-holder through the run of the titles which were retired in 1961. The International Tag Titles would replace them from 1961-1977, Whipper in on 9 of those reigns too with partners including Bruno, Johnny Valentine, and Mark Lewin.

  The winners received the Calvert Trophy (no tag belts back then) which lasted until demolished by the Mills brothers and replaced by the (former wrestler and clothier to the athletes) George Richards Trophy in 1954.

52/08/07 MLG Att: 6500 Canadian Open Tag Title Tournament - Day 1
Fred Atkins/Lord Layton W Ray Villmer/Warren Bockwinkel
Yukon Eric/Johnny Barend W Dan O'Connor/Jim 'Bull' Wright
Masked Marvel W George Scott
Sonny Kurgis vs Tiger tasker

52/08/14 MLG Att; 6000 Canadian Open Tag Title Tournament - Day 2
Whipper Watson/Pat Flanagan W Roberto Pico/'Wee' Willie Davis
Hans Hermann/Lee Henning W Bobo Brazil/Sandor Kovacs
Masked Marvel vs Sonny Kurgis
Warren Bockwinkel vs Abe Zvonkin



52/08/21 MLG Att; 6500 Canadian Open Tag Title Tournament - Day 3
Whipper Watson/Pat Flanagan W Hans Hermann/Lee Henning
Fred Atkins/Lord Layton W Yukon Eric/Johnny Barend
Masked Marvel W Warren Bockwinkel
George Scott D Tiger Tasker

52/08/28 MLG Canadian Open Tag Title Tournament - Day 4
Whipper Watson/Pat Flanagan W Hans Hermann/Lord Layton to capture the Canadian Open Tag Titles
Presented the Calvert Trophy emblematic of the championship
*Hermann subs for Fred Atkins, said to have separated his shoulder earlier in the week
Masked Marvel W Sandor Kovaks
Ray Villmer D Jim 'Bull' Wright
Johnny Barend W Dan O'Connor
Tiger Tasker D Dave Simms

-AC

Photo and nostalgia mapleleafwrestling.com collection


Frank Ayerst: Matt Wise




   Frank Ayerst is an interesting name from Toronto's wrestling history. He was the epitome of the writer types that Tunney kept close to the office and eventually went to work for Tunney as his publicist.

Ayerst had been the secretary for MLG's Marlboro's Athletic Organization when it was formed in 1937 and worked closely with Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe. For a couple of years at the onset of the 1940's he had also worked at MLG tracking goals and assists during Leafs games.

He had written writeups in the programs of the wrestlers of the day as early as 1935. In the 1940's in his role as a sports writer for the Star, he would report the occasional wrestling results before joining the office in 1947. At the turn of the 1950's he would variously be referred to as Tunney's 'poll-taker', and the 'voice of Wrestling HQ' and would stay with Frank T for 17 years.

After long time ring announcer Bill Smith passed on in 1950 Ayerst would take over from 1950-1955. Later in the decade his weekly columns with bits about the  upcoming cards (mostly for the purpose of advertising the card) including snippets from the wrestlers and other info were a regular entry on the sports pages.

He would contribute to the wrestling programs into the mid 1960's. One of the pages was 'Grappling Gossip' written by Frank but sometimes credited to 'Matt Wise'. It would include real type info about the wrestlers and tidbits such as their hobbies or interests, family life, or recent trips and bouts elsewhere. Fritz Von Erich flying his own plane to bouts, stuff like that. 

I asked MLG Photog and writer Roger Baker for his recollections of Frank

'Yes I do remember Frank Ayerst from a period in the early 1960's, saw him in the back of Tunney's office occasionally when I would be picking up my own working pass.

About all that I can remember of him was his immaculate personal grooming, always wore a dark, well made, suit of clothes. He looked very sharp in the ring when he was announcing the matches, and the columns that he wrote for the Toronto news papers were well done, and often left readers with interesting pieces of information on the wrestlers.'


He looks to have left the office around 1964 and later worked for the Provincial Department of Tourism. He passed on in 1984. If you can add info on Frank please contact me

Gary has Ayerst in his Announcer piece here Toronto ring announcers, 1929-1986; Gary Will's TWH

-AC


Almanac: 1956

 

Part of the Almanac

The 1950's had seen an upswing in the local wrestling scene that was at it's peak by 1956. Whipper Watson, as British Empire champ was into his 2nd decade as the top star and others had helped push it along as the 1940's turned into the '50's.

Yukon Eric (MLG debut 1950) had taken the #2 spot among the fan favorites while Fritz Von Erich (MLG debut 1955) was fast becoming one of the most hated heels.

Fritz, along with his tag partner Karl Von Schober were creating all sorts of havoc for the popular stars since they had regained the Canadian Open Tag Titles in Dec 1955 from Whipper and Yukon. Fritz now one of the most hated in the area since Nanjo Singh.

Some big debuts at MLG in 1956 including Dick Hutton, Gene Kiniski, Edouard Carpentier, and the return of Pat O'Connor would help make 1956 one of the most successful years of Maple Leaf Wrestling.

Over 300,000 fans attended the 50 MLG/East York Arena cards over the year, lets take a look at this year in MLW history.

January 

The year kicked off with the hated Germans taking on Whipper and Eric in front of 10,500 fans. The two teams went to a curfew draw when the bout was stopped at 11pm after 34 minutes of action. At that time cards were held weekly on Thursday night and the following week the two went at it again. This time with all-in rules, all four in the ring at the same time and special referee Joe Louis assigned to keep peace along with regular ref Bert Maxwell.

Also on the card was Hardboiled Haggerty, proving his mettle by taking on both Chief Big Heart and Bob Liepler.  After the Whip-Yukon tag bout Haggerty came to the ring to challenge Watson. The fans booed him down so he attacked Whipper who fought back and the two brawled right down the ramp steps into the hallway.

The following week after beating two men again, Haggerty went after Watson before his and Yukon's bout, this time ripping his robe. An enraged Whipper proceeded to rip most of Haggerty's street clothes off him before he retreated to the safety of the back. Haggerty, built up strong was now ready to face Whipper on the Jan 19 card. In a wild bout Haggerty met the ring post once too often and was eventually counted out by ref Al 'Bunny' Dunlop.

The two had been brawling outside the ring when Haggerty slammed Whipper on the photographers table, The crowd rushed up and the Police along with several wrestlers from the back tried to stop a full scale riot from breaking out. Haggerty, like many before him attempted to escape the fans wrath by escaping under the ring. Whipper took chase and Dunlop managed to drag him back to the ring where he proceeded to count Haggerty out.

Dunlop over the year was frequently the target of fans who believed he supported the bad guys too much, Any time Whipper was in action especially,  the fans were high strung to any mis-deed against him.

New to the scene were the Smith brothers, John and Al who ran their record to three in a row beating the fast young team of Johnny Foti and Johnny Barend. After their wins the Smith's would perform a  Russian style dance in the ring.

Haggerty, now said to be being advised by Fred Atkins got another shot at Watson, this time with a wire fence around the ring and Lord Athol Layton as a special referee. Watson pins him to end it once and for all.

At the same time a bit of controversy hit the headlines when Doug Hepburn, the famed weightlifter turned wrestler (see a feature on Hepburn on this site) decided to call it quits. He claimed he had only made 15k the previous year, far less than the 50k Frank Tunney had predicted. As per Tunney 'why, he's barely started. He has to build up a following and he's done well for the time he's been at it.'

February

The Ice Follies were in town so the action moved over to Whipper's home turf at the East York Arena for the first card of February. Whip took on Fritz Von Erich with another former boxing champ Jack Sharkey officiating. Sharkey was in town for the annual Sports Celebrity Dinner.

After Sharkey disqualified Von Erich for hitting him, Von Schober acting as a second charged the ring in his civvies and attacked Watson. Flanagan and Ilio DiPaolo rushed from the back and together they all chased their foes from the ring.

The Smiths ran up another win and set themselves up for a main event against Von Erich and Von Schober. In this era heels vs heels and good guys vs good guys happened quite a bit. The fans would usually take one side, often in the case of two heels - the one they 'hated least.'

For the tag bout held the following week back at MLG the fans took the Smith's side who surprised the Germans with a pinfall win. The bout was a non-title affair. The following week in a title bout, Von Erich pinned brother John to end their title aspirations.

Also returning to the area was the popular Pat O'Connor who put on a show in beating Liepler. He was said to use holds that hadn't been seen in these parts and beat Liepler with a type of leg-shoulder stand.

In a feature article by Jim Vipond, O'Connor was said to have spent 11k in travel costs in the previous year while making about 40k.

At MLG he was found working out in the basement where they kept the ring between cards. MLG photographer Michael Burns took a pic of O'Connor performing a neck bridge while Vipond sat on his belly and put his typewriter on Pat's chest using him as a desk.

After beating Nick Roberts with a clutch hold described as an 'intricate weaving of legs' O'Connor earnrf the main event against Haggerty.

O'Connor gets the win by dq after Haggery had spent most of the 32 minute bout trying to defend against the super fast O'Connor's sliding leg scissors and dropkicks.

Also returning was Hepburn, said to have wanted to try it again. He took on the tough Martino Angelo while another newcomer footballer Dick Huffman of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (CFL) took on Maurice LaPointe.

It was also announced during the card that Whipper was to get a long awaited title shot at World champ Lou Thesz on March 1.

The two were no strangers to bouts at MLG. Since Thesz had first come in with the NWA (Alliance) Title in 1949 he had faced Watson 4 times over the coveted title. Thesz had defended 17 times here between 1949-1954. His bout against Watson marked the first time in almost 2 years since he had last defended at MLG.

Thesz claimed to have 'been forced' to take the match, which was set for no curfew. Watson was claiming to be in the best shape of his career having trimmed down, to which Thesz countered with 'I'm in top shape too, I never let myself get out of condition.' It was played up however that Thesz had a bad ankle, having been injured in a recent bout.

March

Over 15,000 fans filled MLG for the bout, which had Sharkey again as a special referee. At one point in the 23 minute match Watson had Thesz in his Canuck Commando sleeperhold but Thesz was able to get his foot over the bottom rope forcing Sharkey to make Watson break it.

Later in the bout Thesz had a headlock on Watson and Whipper threw Thesz into the ropes to break it. On the return Whipper tried to leapfrog the champ but Thesz's shoulder hit him with a low blow. Watson rolled out of the ring in pain while ushers and fans rushed to see his condition. Sharkey dropped down to check on him and returned to the ring and told announcer Gerry Hiff to award the bout to Watson as Thesz was disqualified.

Afterwords Thesz claimed the title couldn't be won on a dq and NWA President Sam Muchnick in attendance agreed, saying it had been written into the NWA by-laws in 1953. Tunney said he felt Watson was the champ but as an NWA member would abide by the constitution. Whipper claimed victory and Sharkey stood by his decision to declare Whipper champ.

Thesz called out Sharkey as a 'homer', that he had just looked at the 15,000 people and made a popular decision. He said he had lost a bout the same way to Leo Nomellini in San Francisco but didn't lose the title.


Another article claimed Muchnick told Tunney 'if you advertise him (Watson) as the champ I'll throw you out of the NWA. Tunney was the NWA vice-president at the time. It was reported that Thesz had matches booked in Los Angeles on March 14 and Long Beach on March 15, but the California promoter had  agreed to release Thesz from those commitments so 'he may meet Watson here March 15 to settle the issue.'

It was made for the 15th as the following week's card (8th) was booked for the small East York Arena that 'wouldn't hold a tenth of those who would want to see it.' A photo in the paper had Watson, Thesz, Muchnick, and Tunney all hovered over a contract in Tunney's office.

The following week Watson took on John Smith at East York with Smith hoping to throw a spanner in the works of Watson's next try at Thesz a week away. Even with brother Al's interference Watson defeated John with a corkscrew hold after just 8 minutes.

For the Title re-match Jack Dempsey was assigned as special referee. Again over 15,000 packed the Gardens to see the highly anticipated re-match. This time Watson made good to win the title in front of the hometown crowd. Watson avoided Thesz' step over toeholds and got the champ in an arm claw. Thesz seemed hurt and tried to escape the ring.

Whipper kept the hold and took after him, slamming him on the ramp with Thesz' arm underneath him. Thesz lay prone on the ramp while Watson and Sharkey stood over him. It was obvious Thesz couldn't continue. Watson climbed back over the ropes, Dempsey counted 10 and Watson was declared the new champ. Thesz then made his way back to the ring and sat down while Watson and Sharkey looked over him. He refused their help and waited for MLG physician Dr Myron Miller to attend to him.

A few fans rushed into the ring and a couple got their photo taken with Watson while he took in the applause. The lady who ran Whipper's fan club escorted him from the ring ans the fans celebrated. 'The Leafs, in their Stanley Cup winning nights never had it so good' was one description.

Thesz later said that about Whip that 'the man is in better shape than I've ever seen him. He's one rough baby now.'Muchnick also chimed in with 'if Thesz wasn't disqualified, then Watson is the champ. Good luck to him.'

Roger Baker 
'Lou Thesz the standout N.W.A. Champ... had the pleasure of seeing Thesz wrestle a number of times at the Gardens. He was the consummate professional wrestler, no showboating, he went about his wrestling without any theatrics, a few of Thesz's matches that I saw come to mind. On March 15th. 1956 Whipper Billy Watson challenged Thesz for the title in an epic match that was held in the MLG. Whipper had been training for this title clash at Cowboy Luttrell's gym in Florida for the upcoming event and when he entered the ring to square off with Thesz it was obvious that The Whipper was ready He entered the ring at a trim 227lbs, the lightest that he'd been in years.

'This young future wrestling reporter was seated at ring side, and watched up to that point in time one of the greatest matches that I would ever see. The special referee for this match was the former heavyweight boxing champ Jack Dempsey. Thesz and Watson had wrestled several weeks earlier at the Gardens and Thesz kept his title amid much controversy at the conclusion of this match.'


'At the start of the rematch Whipper was the aggressor and punished Thesz with a vast number of holds, including hammer locks, head locks, step over toe holds, as well as Whippers latest submission hold called the cork screw in which he twisted Thesz's hand so severely that his arm curled up to his chest. 


In his pain to escape the hold Thesz climbed through the ring ropes to what he thought was the safety of the ramp. Watson was not to be undone of his opportunity to dethrone Thesz and followed him out to the ramp and gave Thesz a very hard body slam on the ramp. Thesz's arm was behind his back when he was slammed, in the meanwhile Dempsey was counting to ten, Watson reentered the ring to beat the count, and Thesz was counted out while still on the ramp. Watson was declared the winner, and loser Thesz had to be tended to by the ringside doctor Myron Miller.'


In Thesz's book Hooker he had this to say :
Whipper Billy Watson wore the belt for several months in 1956, but it was strictly a caretaker-sort of deal. I had fractured an ankle while skiing in California and, with the aid of Novocain, had wrestled on it for five weeks to protect my title. I badly needed some recovery time, so I "deposited" the belt with my close friend Frank Tunney, the promoter in Toronto, because I could trust him. I hobbled into Toronto, shot my ankle with Novocain immediately before the match, and then worked a one-fall, 35- minute match with Watson that I "lost" when I was counted out of the ring. It took my ankle seven months to fully heal, a stiff price to pay for my obstinacy. Once it had healed, though, Watson came to St. Louis for a rematch and dropped the title back to me.'

Title change: Mar 15 Whipper Watson W Lou Thesz to win the NWA World Title

As it was in later era's Watson was said to have assumed the champ's bookings. He also vacated his British Empire Title and a bout was to be held between two top contenders to claim the title which was Toronto's main prize.

The following week Watson makes his first title defense at MLG facing Gorgeous George. The bout was already signed before Watson and Thesz had their re-match. That begins a series of 17 title bouts for Watson in his own backyard.

A week later former World champ Bill Longson was in to test the new champ. Though Longson was near the end of a celebrated career he was the one Whipper had won his first World Title from in 1947. Longson also had been a huge star here prior to Whipper gaining hold, helping Frank Tunney in his first few years after taking over on his own in 1940.

The piledriver, Longson's feature hold was said to be banned by the Ontario Athletic Commission and it was suggested that Longson was acting as Thesz's 'policeman' in trying to wrest the tile back. The bout ended in just over 13 minutes when Watson used his Canadian Avalanche to finish off Longson.

Pat O'Connor took on Lord Athol Layton for the vacant B-E Title and took the bout - and the title - after Layton was counted out. Rushing out of the back came none other than Whip's long time rival Nanjo Singh who loudly challenged the new champ to a bout.

Prior to the Watson-Longson bout Watson presented the B-E belt to O'Connor who took the mic for a few words. 'This has been my life long ambition. My next one is that crown you're wearing.'

Title change: Mar 29 Pat O'Connor W Lord Layton to claim the vacant British Empire title


April 

O'Connor would take over the top spot while Whipper traveled with the title. His first challenge against Singh was touted as a big challenge for the young scientific star, the fans here still remembered Singh and his trail of violence throughout the previous decades.

O'Connor tamed him in a quick bout despite Singh using his teeth to try carve him up, and 'Nanjo the Banjo' almost ended up under the ring as he had often before the ramp was built (for him, no less). Singh went on to challenge O'Connor to a re-match but that was it for his return to the Toronto mat wars for a bit.

On that same card Fred Atkins and Hard Boiled Haggerty took on Johnny Barend and Pat Flanagan. Atkins pinned Barend after roughing him up leaving the young star 'worse for wear.' Atkins, as is well known was a true rough customer. Atkins and Haggerty teamed again in a losing cause against O'Connor and Roy McClarity with the winners said to be top contenders for the Canadian Open Tag Titles as held by Von Erich and Von Schober.

On the April 19th card Whip returned to take on the rugged Hans Schmidt with Jack Dempsey again as special referee. Hardboiled Haggerty who had previously beat Billy Stack and Scotty Thomson in a handicap bout interfered on behalf of Schmidt getting him disqualified. That led to an all out brawl with Watson, Dempsey, and an incoming Lord Layton against Haggerty and Schmidt.

That set up a rare occurrence. A handicap bout pitting NWA champ Watson against both Haggerty and Schmidt. The title wasn't at stake for the bout with the rules stating Whipper had to face one at a time, no tagging, and beat both or lose the bout. Watson first pinned Schmidt then went to a curfew draw with Haggerty.

On the same card Dick Hutton madeake his MLG debut and present his 'Beat the Yank' campaign offering $1000 to anyone who can beat him in under 20 minutes. Against any 'amateur, professional, midget, or giant in the world' is how it was presented. His first opponent was to be Donn Lewin (later the masked Executioner here). He beat Lewin with his signature hold the abdominal stretch and kept the money.

May

After another bout with Haggerty on May 3 winning by count-out Watson hit the road again for the remainder of the month.

Hutton continues his winning ways taking care of Donn's brother Mark Lewin in another $1000 challenge match. (Will just note that Donn as the 'Executioner' was wrestling here in 1983 while Mark showed up here as late as 1986 on the Wildman's circuit, still in great shape 30 years later).

Von Erich and Von Schober return to defend their tag laurels against O'Connor and McClarity while Hutton continued to look strong defeating not one but two challengers in one night. Both Larry Hamilton and Abe Zvonkin submit to the stretch in consecutive bouts. The Zvonkin bout an 'extra' challenge for Hutton. On the next card he does the same beating both Bill Melby and Ian Campbell.

Another new tag team on the scene was the Gallagher Brothers Doc and Mike. Doc had been on the scene for a while and now joined by Mike they made for a formidable addition to the already busy tag scene.

Vipond covered Watson's NWA title travels in a column and described Whipper working his way through the South, into Texas and over to California. He said Whip had been studying the 'racial problem' in the South was upset at wrestling in a 'double auditorium',  with the black people segregated behind a curtain from the white fans.

B-E champ O'Connor faces a tough test when Wladek 'Killer' Kowalski became his next challenge. Kowalski 'The Polish Giant' was well known to Toronto fans as one of the toughest and most aggressive wrestlers to ever appear at MLG.

He didn't disappoint, manhandling the much smaller champ and using his arsenal of knee drops, one with O'Connor's leg over the rope, nearly breaking it. O'Connor fought back and twice nearly pinned him, the ref Bert Maxwell claiming he only hit 2 on the count. The fans solidly behind O'Connor gave the ref an earful with one elderly gent claiming of Maxwell 'he's a washout.' They battled till the 11pm curfew and the fans let Kowalski have it on the way down the ramp.

For a change Fritz Von Ulm came in as a German good guy beating Larry Hamilton with a headlock typ move that Globe reporter Steve York coined a 'Hohenzollern Twist.'

Next up for O'Connor was Karl Von Schober in a bout at East York (Opera at the gardens) with the winner to meet Watson. The champ made short work of Von Schober.

On that same card a battle of the giants between Sky Hi Lee and Lord Layton ended in a draw.

June

'Two of the top ring craftsmen in the world will try their talents against one another in feature wrestling match at Maple Leaf Gardens tonight' said the headline for the Watson-O'Connor bout.
Whipper was at his best to match holds with O'Connor in a wild 40 minute bout in front of 10,000 fans. At one point Whipper was in full control, using many of O'Connor's moves to stun his challenger. The fans booed. Watson. Yes you read that right. 'We want Pat' filled the arena.

At that point the tide turned and Watson went on the defense. Star scribe Joe Perlove said that it was what the wrestlers call 'a wrestler's wrestling match.' Near the 40 minute mark O'Connor appeared to pin Watson when the lights when on, the bell rang, and ref Joe Gollub declared it a draw. On the way back to the dressing room a fan threw a newspaper at Watson.

The no curfew re-match a week later saw Whip get the decisive win after O'Connor missed a dropkick. Again some fans cheered O'Connor and booed Watson.

There was a photo in the paper of Whip with San Francisco Promoter Joe Malcewicz taken during his travels through California. Malcewicz had wrestled here in the '30's.

In a non title bout near the end of June O'Connor fell to Hutton via count-out. Hutton, till now popular with the fans (said to be #3 behind Whip and o'Connor) became a heel when he used some questionable tactics on the champ but got the win and kept his $1000.

 For the June 28 card Frank Tunney lined Whipper up for a formidable challenge against his pal and frequent tag partner Yukon Eric. Whipper, now down to a trim 229 lbs was giving up about 60 lbs to the powerful challenger.

The two had battled before in this era of face vs face bouts but this time the NWA Title was on the line. Whipper did not have an easy time, eventually winning by count-out after which Yukon returned to the ring and proceeded to heave Watson through the ropes. The fans were said to appear bored at times as Whipper was unable to use his variety of holds on Eric 'like trying to apply a hold on an oil barrel' as one report put it.

July

Next up for Whip was Hutton with both the NWA Title and Hutton's $1000 at stake. Frank Ayerst in his column joked that Hutton had displayed the currency on his chest so long 'people think it's a birthmark.' The bout went 22 minutes before Hutton was counted out by ref Bunny Dunlop so he kept his money again and Whip kept the title. Hutton was stretchered out, one of the helpers was wrestler Dan' O'Connor who may have been working for Tunney in some capacity.

New on the scene was Dick Beyer, college star out of Buffalo making his MLG debut against 'Mr Canada' Sammy Berg. Beyer, of course went on to be 'The Destroyer' and returned to the Toronto mat wars in the late 1970's, another whose longevity matched his talents in the ring.

The following week O'Connor (who was said to have wrestled in Newfoundland the night before) took a shot at Hutton but it ended in a curfew draw.

Edouard Carpentier made his MLG debut on the same night dazzling the fans with his vast array of acrobatic moves in beating Donn Lewin. Joe Perlove claimed Carpentier had been on the French gymnast team in the past Olympics and 'if he didn't win a gold medal he must have lost to a chimp.'

Also new to the scene was yet another brothers tag team, the Brunetti's Guy and Joe, a fast pair that were quickly gaining fan support. Billed as Italian tag champs they reached the main event on July 19 meeting the Gallagher brothers. The Brunetti's edged the Gallagher's to the delight of the fans.

The summer circuit was in full swing, In addition to London, Tunney's stars travelling the smaller towns that were mostly promoted by associates including Pat Milosh (Oshawa), John Katan (Hamilton), Sammy Sobol (Niagara Falls), and Tommy Nelson (Galt, Cambridge etc). Others were busy too, The Maich brothers in the Brantford corridor, Red Garner in Richmond Hill and area, Larry Kasaboski's Northland and others across the province.

The small town cards gave fans the chance to see the top stars in their hometown arenas.

Roger Baker
'It was in the summer of 1956 the place, Crystal Beach Ont. which is situated on the shores of Lake Erie, it was a wonderful spot to come for a visit and enjoy all that it had to offer. Wrestlers also visited in the summertime to enjoy an outing on the famed beach, these wrestlers would almost always be appearing in a town or city that was not to far off, Buffalo, St.Catherines, Welland, Niagara Falls.

'It was a sunny Saturday morning, a wrestling card was taking place later in the day, it was an afternoon show that was being held in the fabled Crystal Beach Park, The main event was a tag team match that featured Yukon Eric his partner Sandor Kovaks vs. a very young Nick Bockwinkle and his partner Johnny Barend.'


'Earlier that day I was walking on Derby Rd. taking in the sights what with all the restaurants there was no shortage of interesting subjects to admire if you happen to be a twenty year old fellow with a sharp eye for detail. Who do I see sitting on a bar stool at the front of the restaurant? it was Yukon Eric, on the table in front of him was a plate stacked hi with jumbo pancakes, also beside the pancakes was a large jug of as I soon learned his own favorite syrup which he brought along to enjoy on his pancakes.'


'I couldn't resist and walked over to Yukon and introduced myself to him, and let him know that I was one of his many fans, he was wearing jeans, and a large plaid short sleeved shirt, one could not help but to notice lust how massive he was, his arms looked like tree trunks, and his chest according to Yukon himself was sixty inches around, his arms were over twenty inches in circumference.Eric explained to me that because of wrestling being the main focus on him, that his huge muscular development received less attention.'


'I thanked Eric for chatting with me while he had his pancakes, and assured him that I'd be at the Crystal Beach Park later on in the day to see his match.'


Whipper returned to face Hutton again on two consecutive cards, both ending in count-out victories for the champ after the 20 minute challenge mark. Steve York in the Globe remarked 'this is getting monotonous.'

August

Carpentier returned to beat Angelo Savoldi and was then matched against O'Connor in the August 9 main event. Over the 26 minute bout the 9,000 fans were spontaneously clapping along with the fast pace of the action. O'Connor got hit by a knee and was flattened when ref Gollub called it a win for Carpentier. Capentier embraced O'Connor after the bout amid a few fights in the crowd.

Despite the good nature of the main event here were a few fights in the crowd and several fans were ejected. Ike Eakins was almost attacked after his tag bout with Fred Atkins against Guy Brunetti and Pat Flanagan. A fan ripped off his (own) shirt and adopted a stance like a boxer on the ramp facing Eakins. The police swooped in and escorted him out, but not before he raised his arms and got a big cheer form the crowd. The fan managed to swoop back in during the intermission and was seen signing autographs for other rowdy fans.

About the O'Connor-Carpentier bout Hal Walker called it 'reminiscent of such heroes of the past as 'Gentleman' Jim Browning, Ray Steele, and the like.' There was no mention of O'Connor's B-E Title being at stake.

The following week the Brunetti's got a shot at Von Erich and Von Schober and their tag titles. In an action packed 25 minutes the high flying Brunetti's took the win when Guy pinned Fritz and captured the titles.

Fans rushed the ring and 'chaired' the new champs on their shoulders while trampling all over the fallen Germans. Even George Richards got mobbed when he tried to enter the ring to present the tag trophy bearing his name to the brothers.

Title change: Aug 16 the Brunetti Brothers W Fritz Von Erich and Karl Von Schober to capture the Canadian Open Tag Team Title

Another ethnic tag new to the scene was Mr Moto and Mr Hito. Moto was later played by 'Red' Garner but pictures used for these two showed the U.S. based pair.

On Aug 23 Tunney signed a big bout with Carpentier against the equally high flying Antonino Rocca. Rocca was hugely popular in Toronto also and had been here quite frequently the previous year battling Whipper and others but this was his first appearance in 1956. The two put on a show drawing at the 11pm curfew after 31 minutes of furious action.

Whipper returned on Aug 30 and was originally scheduled to meet Carpentier who was injured the previous night in Brampton. Carpentier appeared at ringside on crutches, said to have suffered a torn knee cartilage. Whip faced The Mighty Ursus instead getting a relative easy win.

September

The Brunetti's won the rematch with Von Erch and Von Schober on Sept 6 and that marked the last appearance of the German tag team. Von Erich returned in mid 1957 to cause a whole lot more trouble with new partner Gene Kiniski.

Watson took on Haggerty yet again, this one almost resulting in a title change before ref Gollob noticed Whipper's foot on the ropes.

On the next card Haggerty teamed with Hutton to take on the Brunetti's. Ref Bunny Dunlop got a kick to the head and was unconscious while other ref Bert Maxwell counted down Guy Brunetti (after a double teaming) and awarded the bout to the Hutton and Haggerty. After the bout had ended the Brunetti's called foul and challenged their opponents to come back in the ring. They refused to give up the trophy and a re-match was signed

Title change: Sept 20 Hard Boiled Haggerty and Dick Hutton W the Brunetti Brothers to capture the Canadian Open Tag Team Title 

That card also marked the debut of another long time Maple Leaf star - 'Red' Lyons -earning a draw with Shaq Thomas. Later Billy 'Red' Lyons became the voice of MLW, a staple here into the late 1980's.

The Brunetti's earned the titles back in the re-match after ref Gollob awarded them the bout when Hutton and Haggerty refused to return to the ring. This time the bad guys refused to 'return the trophy' so since the trophy hadn't actually changed hands the first time it was all back to normal.

Title change: Sept 27 the Brunetti Brothers W Hard Boiled Haggerty and Dick Hutton to capture the Canadian Open Tag Team Title 

October

A show at East York on Oct 4 saw Whipper again beat The Mighty Ursus. Prior to the bout while Watson was waiting for his challenger, Mr Hito and Mr Moto entered the ring to challenge any and all wrestlers. They then set upon Whip before he and ref Dunlop disposed of them. They took seats at ringside and rooted for Ursus until it was over and then rushed the ring. Watson, aided by Pat Flanagan ran them off in front of the small arena crowd of 1,000 fans.

That set up a Watson-Hito bout back at MLG on Oct 11. Watson won by dq when Moto interfered.
Special referee assigned was Wee Willie Davis who had wrestled here through the past decades was actively appearing as a contestant on the TV show '$64,000 Question' and had won himself $8k so far. He had answered a question by smelling flowers blindfolded and identifying them so Watson presented him with some flowers before the bout.

The following week Whip was back, this time to face both Hito and Moto in a handicap bout.
Davis, now having achieved the $18,000 level on the show, again was the ref and this time NWA President Sam Muchnick presented him with flowers. Also in attendance was Montreal Promoter Eddie Quinn. They along with 10,000 fans and fans at home watching on TV saw Whipper get the win when the Moto-Hito team was disqualified.

Buddy Rogers would also make his return having been absent since 1951. He took on Pat Flanagan.

A note in the paper said that Whipper, the last passenger on a flight from Columbus to Cleveland took the only vacant seat. He received a smile of semi-recognition from a lady across the aisle and smiled back. He realized his travelling companions were Mrs Elanor Roosevelt and her secretary. As he settled down for a snooze he heard a man behind him whisper 'that's her bodyguard.' When the plane landed the rest of the passengers stood back and let 'bodyguard' Watson to fall in immediately behind Mrs Roosevelt and her companion.

Another note had the Brunetti's in Tunney's office recalling their College football days at the University of Utah with their frequent opponent at the time - Gene Kiniski, who played for the University of Arizona. Kiniski was likely booking himself in with Tunney to make his MLG debut a month later.

Hito and Mito then took on Brunetti's on the Oct 25th card and took the tag titles when Joe attacked ref Maxwell after some chicanery by the Japanese team. The brothers again disputed that the titles cannot change hands on a dq so it was again somewhat left up in the air. The rematch a week later didn't settle it either ending in a draw.

Also on the card was a 'sizzling' 30 minute draw between Hutton and Ilio Dipaolo. Steve York wrote that 'by the time an opponent does fulfill the requirement (beating Hutton in under 20) the bill will have been eaten by moths or will come apart at the folds.'

Title change: Oct 25  Mr. Hito and Mr. Moto W the Brunetti Brothers to capture the Canadian Open Tag Team Title

November-December

Watson faced Moto on two consecutive cards, winning both. The next night (Nov 9) after the second bout Whip lost the title back to Thesz in St Louis making the Nov 8 defense his last at MLG. Kiniski made his debut on the same card flattening Ken Kenneth.  His only loss in the first weeks was a dq when he wouldn't stop attacking Shaq Thomas after beating him in 54 seconds.

'Wee' Willie Davis was the ref for the St Louis Whipper-Thesz bout which saw Whip get counted out after 37 minutes while Davis was disabled after getting knocked over. Whipper had Thesz down for some ten seconds before the Missouri Athletic Commissioner got in the ring and restarted the bout with a new referee.

After a tussle both men were outside the ring where Watson was counted out after 10. Thesz got a 20 count and returned on the 15. Whipper protested and asked for a rematch 'preferably in Canada' while Thesz pushed for a bout in San Francisco (near his California home) or Toronto or Montreal. Tunney said he was due for a return challenge within 30 days at a location suitable for Whipper and added 'we're working like heck to on a rematch at the Gardens.'

Whipper promptly left for his Florida home for a well deserved rest after a busy schedule as champ. He said he was still being asked to wrestle in Hawaii, even without the belt. He ended up going to Hawaii in December alongside Tunney.

Tunney got the rematch for Thesz-Watson and it was set for Nov 22 at MLG with Jack Sharkey as special ref. The two went to a draw at the 11pm curfew with Thesz stalling for time at the end, said to be tired out with Watson holding the upper hand. The two shook hands after the bout leaving Whipper strong in his hometown. While Watson was done with his World title days he would continue to be the top dog here through the 1960's.

Gene Kiniski continued his winning ways beating Billy Red Lyons with a big backbreaker and was set to dominate the scene in the new year.

Hope you enjoyed this look back at the Maple Leaf wrestling year 1956
Thanks to Roger Baker !

-AC
__________________________________________________________________________

In 1956 there were 50 shows at MLG/East York and an estimated 100-200 shows around the circuit including Oshawa, Hamilton, London. The MLG shows which listed attendance (approx 43) added to 306,000 fans. Biggest crowds were 15,000 for the two Thesz-Watson - dq and title win for Watson -bouts. Quite a year !

Recognized Titles

NWA World : Lou Thesz, Whipper Watson
British Empire Title: Whipper Watson, Pat O'Connor
Canadian Open Tag Titles : Fritz Von Erich and Karl Von Schober, Guy and Joe Brunetti, Hard Boiled Haggerty and Dick Hutton, Mr. Hito and Mr. Moto
*based on actual Toronto and area appearances with title at stake

World Title

56/03/01        Lou Thesz LDQ Whipper Billy Watson
56/03/15        Whipper Billy Watson WCOR Lou Thesz, to win the title
56/03/22        Whipper Billy Watson W Gorgeous George
56/03/29        Whipper Billy Watson W Wild Bill Longson
56/04/19        Whipper Billy Watson WDQ Hans Schmidt
56/05/03        Whipper Billy Watson WCOR Hardboiled Haggerty
56/06/07        Whipper Billy Watson D Pat O'Connor
56/06/14        Whipper Billy Watson W Pat O'Connor
56/06/28        Whipper Billy Watson DCOR Yukon Eric
56/07/05        Whipper Billy Watson WCOR Dick Hutton
56/07/26        Whipper Billy Watson WCOR Dick Hutton
56/08/02        Whipper Billy Watson W Dick Hutton
56/08/30        Whipper Billy Watson W Mighty Ursus
56/09/13        Whipper Billy Watson W Hardboiled Haggerty
56/10/04        Whipper Billy Watson W Mighty Ursus
56/10/11        Whipper Billy Watson WDQ Mr. Hito
56/11/01        Whipper Billy Watson WDQ Mr. Moto
56/11/08        Whipper Billy Watson W Mr. Moto
56/11/22        Lou Thesz D Whipper Billy Watson

Notable MLG Debuts

Billy Red Lyons
Gene Kiniski
Dick Beyer
Dick Hutton
The Brunetti Brothers
The Gallagher Brothers
Edouard Carpentier

Right A bit of fun with ratings from Toronto Aug 1956. Click to enlarge