Spotlight: Boxing Day Cards in Toronto

  A big part of the Toronto history were the Boxing Day Cards held on or around Dec 26. They started them early on in 1930 and had them most years to the end of the NWA days in 1984. I attended a couple in the early 80s, the crowds in a festive mood and more importantly for the younger fans, often no school the next day. It was touted as family fun, a way to enjoy and extend the Christmas Holiday.


In the early days before Jack Corcoran and the Queensbury Club took over Maple leaf Gardens Ivan Mickailoff was the big promoter in town. He caught on early with a Dec 26 1930 card that featured 'a delighted mob' to see Count Zarinoff beat Freddy Meyers in the main. Local star Stanley Stasiak and the Maleciewicz brothers Joe & Al were also present. In the recap it mentioned 'that on the evening after Christmas, when everybody was broker than- well, mining brokers- for the first time in Losh! these many moons, customers with cash dough in their hands were turned away from a Toronto sporting box-office.' This was Arena Gardens where a packed house was about 9,500 fans. 

Main pic Boxing Day Toronto 1957 by Wilf Long

In 1935 Jack Corcoran's Dec 26 card at the Gardens drew 7,500 to see Dan O'Mahony defend his world championship vs Lou Plummer in the main. That one also memorable for long time wrestler/ref Al 'Bunny' Dunlop being fined his entire purse for abusing ref Cliff Chilcott in an opener. Star sports editor Lou Marsh recapped that the fans 'apparently went home well pleased.' 

Boxing Day 1952 held on Dec 27 featured Lord Athol Layton & George Bollas (the unmasked Zebra) vs Whipper Watson & Yukon Eric. This was in the days that Layton was still a bad guy. They drew 9,000 to that one.

In 1952 the fans got a treat when two masked men went at it. Red Mask beat Masked Marvel to reveal one Frank Valois. Red Mask lost his own mask a few months later to none other than Lou Thesz- revealing Dutch Hefner.

In 1956 Whipper Watson, fresh off a Hawaiian vacation (with Frank Tunney along no less) returned just in time to face Buddy Rogers on the Dec 27 card. They returned to Dec 26 the following year with a main of Whipper vs Hardboiled Haggerty. Another big part of the Boxing Day cards were the little people, fun for kids of all ages. That started in the 1950's and continued right up to the end. 

1956

1962 had a memorable night with recent arrival U.S. champ Johnny Valentine finally meeting Whipper. one on one. Valentine had been pummelling all competition in front of the Toronto fans. A new favorite Bruno Sammartino, and long time bad guy Gene Kiniski were also on the card. A couple years later Valentine, again the champ, would lose that title to The Sheik on a Dec 27 show. 

That 1964 card was also memorable for being the first time Tunney held wrestling on a Sunday. They had just changed the laws here to allow sporting events on that day. In a Joe perlove bit in the Star that day, in his inimitable way with words said...

'Tunney's humanitarianism emerges because he is getting many fathers out of the house. Ah there's the essence. A stroke of genius. Fathers by the hundreds, he hopes, will heap econiums and other such like huzzas on the graying head. For after three straight days of home and mother and kids with noisy Christmas presents, father has to be tickled dizzy to flee into the night. Even to see the Sheik.'

1970 Click to enlarge
Joe was mostly right. There was 9,000 fans which was one of the larger turnouts of the year. Dave McKigney (as Jean Dubois) also brought Terrible Ted the bear to the festivities. Nothing says holidays louder than a wrestling bear. 

As far as the Boxing Day attendances, they had always been decent in the days of weekly cards. Anywhere from 5-10,000 expected. In 1970 with the Sheik era moving at full steam, they drew 16,000 to see Sheik beat Lord Athol Layton. That made 47 straight bouts for him without a loss. The next year they did 15,000 with the same main event. 

If you were in attendance for the Dec 26 1976 card you were lucky to see a rare Sheik title change. He had recently lost the U.S. title to Thunderbolt Patterson but regained the title for a late Christmas gift.

I was in the seats for the 1981 version held on Dec 27. John Studd defended the Canadian Title vs Bad Leroy Brown while Andre the Giant almost killed Killer Kahn (again) in the semi. Ivan Koloff, Ron Bass, Jay Youngblood, Jake Roberts, and Blackjack Jr filled it out. Decent card overall but not life changing. It was busy though with 13,989 announced. 

The 1982 version was a big disappointment. Andre teamed with Salvatore Bellomo to face Mr Fuji & Mr Saito in the main with Leroy Brown vs Angelo Mosca in the semi. I remember that one more for missing the last bus home and having to hitch. Different times...

They finished out the NWA era with a matinee Dec 26 card in 1983 featuring Roddy Piper & Dory Funk Jr facing the Assassins. Not a great card with the quality diminishing from what we were used to. This was about it for me. 

1983

In the WWF years they continued with the tradition drawing a rare full house of 17,500 in 1987 (Hogan & Bigelow vs DiBiase & Bundy), 15,000 in 1988 (Savage vs Bad News Brown), but only 7,500 in 1989 (Ultimate Warrior vs Dino Bravo), and 8,500 in 1990 (Hogan & Tugboat vs Earthquake & Dino Bravo). The final Boxing Day card at MLG in 1993 had 7,000 to see The Undertaker vs Yokozuna.

Merry Christmas Happy Hanukkah & Happy Holidays to all the fans and faiths worldwide. Special shoutout to Roger, Gary, and Griff, and their families. Will maybe watch some wrestling on Boxing Day.

-AC