Almanac 1981

January - March

1980 had ended with Angelo Mosca regaining the Canadian Heavyweight Title from Hossein the Arab/The Iron Sheik in a cage bout. Mosca's first appearance of the new year would be in Kitchener on Jan 10 for a tag bout with Blackjack Mulligan against Hossein and Bobby Duncum. The next night wrestling returned to Maple Leaf Gardens with Mosca making his first title defense against Ivan Koloff. The champ would be disqualified and take the loss but keep his belt. On the same card former champ Hossein teamed with The Destroyer to take on George Wells and Don Kernodle.

At a TV taping in Niagara Falls two days later Mosca would appear in two bouts. He would tag with Ric Flair against Koloff and Roddy Piper and take on both 'Silent' Brian Mackney and Charlie Fulton in a handicap bout.

Mosca would also appear in the WWF over the year during his title reigns- but as a hated heel. He would be managed by Lou Albano and appear both on the TV tapings and at the big shows around the Northeast. The Canadian Title belt stayed at home on these trips which saw Mosca get several shots at WWF champ Bob Backlund at Madison Square Garden and other cities, shots at I-C champ Pedro Morales, win a $10,000 Battle Royale in Landover, MD, and have a rare match against Andre The Giant at a TV taping in Hamburg, PA.

At MLG on Feb 1 Koloff got his re-match but Mosca defeated him a no dq bout. On the same card former partners Ric Flair and Greg Valentine continued their long running feud that had raged through most of 1980. The next day at a TV taping in Brantford Mosca took on Hossein in a dark match which ended in a double dq. By this time the circuit was back in full swing and Mosca would face former champ Hossein both in London and Kingston during February.

Dave 'Wildman' McKigney would start up his pre summer tour in March using The Sheik (Farhat), Wolfman Farkus, George 'The Animal' Steele, Chris Tolos, Danny Johnson, and Vic Rossitani. Others included those who were also currently working on Tunney cards, Brian Macnee, John Bonello, and Frankie Laine. 'Cowboy' Frankie Laine would also run some shows in his home area of London using the same guys.

Mosca would face Jimmy Snuka on two consecutive MLG cards, the second one drawing more than 12,000 fans. It may have been helped by the fact that the semi was Andre The Giant vs Hulk Hogan. Andre and Hogan were taking their WWF feud on the road and this would be Hogan's only appearance during the NWA days before returning in Aug 1984 after the WWF came in.

The Snuka feud had started on the Feb 22 card when Mosca had opponent Hossein in a sleeper hold when Snuka charged the ring and attacked Mosca. Their first bout on Mar 8 would end in a win for Snuka when Mosca couldn't make the ten count after being thrown out of the ring. This re-match saw Mosca get the win by count-out after a 25 minute bout. When Norm Kimber made the announcement for the next show, Mosca would be rewarded with an NWA title shot.

In addition to the towns around Toronto Tunney would go into Ottawa for the first time in many years. Verne Gagne's AWA had run several shows in 1980 with mixed results, some of those featuring former Canadian (Toronto) champ Dino Bravo. Bravo was supposedly banned by Tunney from working in Ontario but appeared nonetheless - billed as 'a' Canadian champ.

Tunney's return to the nations capital included Andre and a Canadian Title bout with Mosca pinning Hossein. The paper didn't publish attendance but it was good enough to return for several more shows over next few months.

On the TV side we would continue to see George Cannon's 'Superstars of Wrestling' show which by this time was taping in Windsor, ON. Cannon wouldn't run live shows here but his TV was great - and popular. The Destroyer and Hossein would appear while at the same time working on Tunney shows. Other TV shows on a Saturday besides our own Maple Leaf included Tomko's All-Star, the Mid-Atlantic Championship show, and later the WWF midnight Championship show.

Cannon would run live shows in Detroit that also included Bravo and former Toronto regular Hartford Love among others. Supposedly these shows had the blessing, if not direct involvement of Tunney as they tried to revive wrestling in the Motor City. Even the programs for the live event were the same design as the MLG ones. Same publisher and some of the same photos were used. Gino Brito was also said to be part of the promotional side.

April - June

Mosca would continue to win leading up to his NWA Title bout against Harley Race on April 12 at MLG. This would be Mosca's only shot at the NWA crown in Toronto. While he wouldn't challenge for the WWWF/WWF title here he did receive 3 shots at Nick Bockwinkel's AWA crown between 1978-1982. The other big bout on the card was U.S. champ Roddy Piper losing via dq to Ric Flair. This card was moved to a rare 1:30 pm start instead of the usual 7:30 as the Leafs were in a playoff series with the Islanders and if they went to a 4th game it was scheduled for Sunday night at MLG. The Leafs were swept in 3 games.

The next night in Brantford Mosca teamed with Flair against Snuka and Piper. They would prove to be a good team and would occasionally team up in the smaller towns over the year. Another card in Kingston a day later saw Mosca defend against Snuka with Flair taking on Piper in a U.S. Title bout. On another visit to Kingston in the summer Mosca made the sports pages in a full page article looking at his wrestling and football careers.

On the May 20 episode of the Global Network's 'That's Life' one of the 3 stories was 'a visit with Angelo Mosca.' He was already a big star due to his Hall of Fame football career but his hometown wrestling exploits really brought him back to the forefront in the sporting world. On one visit to London, ON 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.

A card in Buffalo on May 23rd would see a rarity for a Maple Leaf show - a Battle Royale featuring Jimmy Valiant, Dewey Robertson, Greg Valentine, Rocky Johnson, and others with Valiant winning it. They never had one at the Gardens - ever. At least during the NWA days. In 1985 the WWF ran one and there were lots on McKigney's circuit but not at MLG.

After another feud with Jimmy Snuka that went around the horn, Mosca would be attacked by Mr Fuji at the May 24 MLG show. Mosca was facing U.S. champ Piper and though Piper's title was not at stake it was billed as 'Battle of the Title Holders.' The ref had been knocked out and Mosca was on the verge of victory when Fuji stormed the ramp and threw salt in Mosca's eyes enabling Piper to turn over on Mosca. The ref awoke and saw Piper pinning Mosca and awarded him the victory. Former Canadian champ Dewey Robertson ran out and explained what had happened and the decision was overturned.

Mosca would face Fuji at the next card winning by dq. On the same card Flair beat M-A Champ Ivan Koloff but it was a non-title bout. Mosca would team with Flair again the next day at the TV tapings in Dundas against Koloff and Tim Gerrard, and again on the Tuesday at the Oshawa show. There they beat Koloff and Fuji. On the last day of June they teamed again for a TV bout to beat Fuji and Piper.

The last MLG card held on June 28 saw Mosca pinning Fuji and Flair winning his bout with U.S. champ Piper - by dq. Tony Parisi was special ref for that one after teaming with Bruno Jr against Laine and Kurt Von Hess.

July - September

On July 12 at MLG Fuji finally defeated Mosca in a Texas Death Match to win the belt. Mosca was counted out of the ring. It would turn out to be the shortest of the Canadian Title reigns as Mosca would win it back on July 26.

Title change: July 12 Mr Fuji W Angelo Mosca to win the Canadian Title 
Title change: July 26 Angelo Mosca W Mr Fuji to win the Canadian Title

In late June Mosca was the subject of a full page feature in the Star. It looked at his current days wrestling, along with his football days and early life. It included a photo from the bout vs Koloff in January. A couple of weeks previous, his son -and future wrestler- Angelo Jr. was cut from training camp for the CFL's BC Lions.

'International Wrestling' out of Montreal would run Ottawa for several shows in July/August featuring Bravo, Raymond Rougeau, Mad Dog Vachon, Sylvain Lefebvre, and Michel Dubois. They would draw between 2500-4,500 across the shows with one card seeing Bravo win their International Title from Dubois.

Roddy Piper had been tearing up the area and would be 'rewarded' with a bout against Andre at MLG in August. Piper was billed as '230 lbs - with his bagpipes.' Andre would manhandle the much smaller Piper before flattening him for the 1-2-3 in front of nearly 12,000. On the same card Mosca would defend against Ray Stevens.

The next night in Hamilton only 1500 came out to see Mosca team with Andre against Koloff and Stevens.

Tunney would continue to run Buffalo during the year, with Norm Kimber and all of the regular stars making the trips and the same feuds as Toronto for the most part. There was some involvement with the WWF on these shows as they held the rights to promote at the Aud at his time. Austin Idol would make his first area appearance on a Buffalo card facing veteran Steve Bolus but would not come into Toronto until 1982.

Harley Race had since traded the NWA Title with Tommy Rich and then lost it to Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes would make his only appearance as NWA champ in August to face John Studd at MLG. Rhodes was a popular star here dating back to the late 1960's in his early days as Dusty Runnels and then his tag with Dick Murdoch as 'The Outlaws.' The card would bring the highest attendance of the year with an announced 17,811 on hand. It would stand as one of, if not the best- houses of the era. Mosca would defend against Greg Valentine in another bout in what would prove to be his last defense of his first

The whole card was special, with Flair and Jay Youngblood taking on NWA champs Ole Anderson and fill-in partner Mr Fuji in a repeat of the Buffalo show a day previous. Other bouts had Canadian champ Mosca beating Greg Valentine, and the Russian team and Mid-Atlantic Tag champs Nikolai Volkoff and Chris Markoff versus Robertson and Tony Parisi. Gene Anderson wouldn't appear in Toronto in 1981 but did work Buffalo 3 times. He was replaced by Mr Fuji on the Toronto shows (and one Buffalo show) and also on a card in St Catherines when Fuji replaced him for a bout with Jay Youngblood.

Jay Youngblood was fast becoming a favorite here working his way up the card and would occasionally appear in the main events in the smaller towns. He would also appear in tags with regular partner Johnny Weaver as well as Parisi and Pat Patterson in good veteran/rookie type teams.

Parisi would continue to tag with newcomer Bruno Sammartino Jr. and the popular team was quite a hit with the fans. Somewhat of a wrestling 'family' connection, Parisi had once been billed as Bruno Sr's 'cousin' in the 60's.

In addition to Niagara Falls, Brantford, Dundas, and Hamilton, TV tapings would be held at Guelph's Memorial Auditorium. In this era they would have the stars do 2-3 bouts each vs prelim guys, a tag of stars vs prelim, and a match between two stars or teams. There was sometimes a 'dark' matches as well for the fans at the tapings. Each Saturday on the show they would usually end it with footage from the previous MLG show often picking up the main event in progress.

With the success of the circuit shows the stars would also return to Oshawa for the first time since late 1979. Oshawa had long been a mirror type town to Toronto and was run by Pat Milosh for over 40 years. There would be 4 shows held between May and July and the fans got to see some different match-ups from the ones at MLG.

One tag bout in May saw former footballers Mosca and George Wells team to defeat Snuka and Stevens. Wells played for both the Argos and Ti-Cats and after the 1972 season stayed in Toronto to train at wrestling with Whipper Watson Jr. (Phil). At the time he mentioned one day wanting to wrestle former Ti-Cat great Mosca. He did at least once in 1975 in California, and appears the Oshawa tag was the only time they teamed.

John Studd, fresh off his NWA title shot would beat Mosca for the Canadian Title in September at MLG. Of all the opponents for Mosca - Studd would be one of the best matched. Both big and strong and able to go toe to toe. There wasn't much 'wrestling' with these two but they would have good slug-fests with blood on both sides. On that same card Flair teamed with Wahoo McDaniel against Ole Anderson and Piper. The Wahoo-Piper feud was about to get a lot more heated.

Title change: Sept 20 John Studd W Angelo Mosca to win the Canadian Title

October - December

One week Wahoo was wrestling Jacques Goulet on the Mid-Atlantic show when Piper came out and distracted Wahoo. On the other side of the ring Abdullah The Butcher jumped in and started to carve up Wahoo with his trusty fork. It was one of the most exciting moments of the era, and there were a lot of them, especially on the M-A show.

The ensuing feud would come to Toronto on Oct 4. Wahoo would team with now ex NWA champ Dusty Rhodes against Piper and Abdullah. The wild bout would end in a draw as curfew was called. The now very popular 'Big Bad' Leroy Brown would meet Ole Anderson in the other big bout getting the win by dq. Another bout had the seemingly un-beatable Killer Kahn laying out Johnny Weaver. Kahn had earned a reputation after 'injuring' Andre The Giant in a WWF bout earlier in the year. That feud would also make an appearance here on a big card to be held in November.

Midget star of the 1940's and '50s Major Tom Thumb (Billy Bowman) dies in Brantford in October and earns an obit in the Star. He was 65 and was said to be one of the first midget stars in pro wrestling.

With the Studd vs Mosca feud continuing, and Killer Kahn running roughshod over his opponents, a big card was set to commemorate 50 years of wrestling at MLG. The card to be held on Nov 15 was almost 50 years from Nov 19 1931 when Jim Londos and Gino Garibaldi wrestled for the World championship at the then 7-day-old Gardens. Over 15,000 had attended that first event and over 16,000 would return to see the 50th Anniversary show.

In this era there wasn't a lot of print devoted to pro wrestling in the city. In the 1940's and '50's wrestling would get a mention nearly every day in the sports section. By the 1980's there would a tidbit or two before the card, the ad, and then a small writeup or just the box score version of the card the next day. For this show there was quite a bit of media prior to the card. All 3 of the daily papers would have features and the card was heavily promoted on TV and Radio.

It would prove to be one of the best cards of the year with the Gardens at an increased level of excitement to see a big NWA Title bout between the new champ Ric Flair (huge fan favorite here) and ex champ Harley Race. Flair had been on a Buffalo card in October to face Ole Anderson in a strap bout but this was to be his first title defense in Toronto. This was the 2nd of 6 bouts these two had here over the NWA title between 1980 and 1984 and as usual was a great, non-stop battle. They would battle all over the ring, out to the ramp, and back again. They would exchange suplexes on the hard wood ramp and Race would cut himself open dropping his falling head-but on the champ.

The fans, already huge Flair supporters, were solidly behind the new champ when Race appeared to get the pin. The crowd was stunned until ref John Laing came out and informed bout ref Terry Yorkston that Race had pulled the trunks to win. An argument ensued and Flair got behind Race, throwing him into the ropes and then a fast roll up and the win. Race was angry and attacked Mike Davis and Johnny Weaver who had come into the ring to congratulate Flair. Race turned on Flair and gave him a piledriver leaving him flat on the mat. Race laid on a couple of his vicious knee drops by which time Weaver had picked up the NWA belt and swung it around in the air until Race retreated. The wrestlers then helped a bloody and beaten Flair down the ramp as the crowd went wild.

The card had already been one for the ages by the time of the main. In a bout that was billed as a 'Super Grudge match' Andre was enraged from the start. He was getting the better of Kahn when he pushed the ref out of the way and other wrestlers on the card came out to pull Kahn out of the ring to save him. Both were disqualified but Andre had earned his revenge.

Another bout had Canadian champ Studd getting counted out in his bout against Mosca. Mosca was beating Studd on the floor outside the ring when Studd took off for the dressing room not to return. 'Outlaw' Ron Bass vs Mike Miller, Johnny Weaver vs Charlie Fulton, and Tony Parisi and Mike Davis against Doug Vines and Izzy Slapowitz rounded out the card.

Leroy Brown would get a shot at Studd and his Canadian Title on the next card. Brown had little wrestling skills but he had a whole entrance and seemed to be bouncing around for such a super heavyweight type. The fans here loved him. Studd got the win though and it was announced he would meet Mosca on the first card of 1982 to be held on Jan 17

On the same card the beginnings of the Weaver - Lord Alfred Hayes took root with a bout between the two veterans. Andre would get another shot at Kahn in a Mongolian Stretcher bout. This time he earned the actual W in a short and violent bout in front of a strong 14,000 fans.

Flair would appear in Buffalo in December facing Ray Stevens but he wouldn't come back to Toronto until 1982.

Ed 'Red' Garner, longtime wrestler and promoter, was featured in an article in the Star looking back at his long career.

In 1981 there were 21 MLG Cards with estimated attendance of 200.000. Includes reported totals and estimated on the cards that weren't. Biggest crowd of the year was the Aug 30 show with 17,811 for NWA champ Dusty Rhodes vs John Studd, second was Nov 15 50th Anniversary with Flair vs Race drawing 16,000 There were at least 42 Circuit shows and TV Tapings over the year from recorded results to date.

Recognized Champions 1981

NWA World : Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair
Canadian Heavyweight : Hossein The Arab, Angelo Mosca, Mr Fuji, John Studd
U.S. : Ric Flair, Roddy Piper
NWA Tag : Ole Anderson & Mr Fuji *Gene Anderson was replaced by Mr Fuji for area appearances
Mid Atlantic : Ray Stevens, Ivan Koloff
Mid Atlantic Tag : Chris Markoff & Nikolai Volkoff
Mid Atlantic TV : Greg Valentine, Ron Bass

*based on actual Toronto and area appearances with title at stake

MLG Debuts 

Bruno Sammartino Jr
Wahoo McDaniel
Hulk Hogan
Killer Kahn
Ricky Harris
Jake Roberts
El Toro
Goldie Rogers
Nikolai Volkoff
Bad Leroy Brown
Terry Lathan
Jim Dalton
Deke Rivers
Ken Hall
Mike Miller
Ron Bass
Izzy Slapowitz
Doug Vines
Mike Davis
Sgt. Slaughter (had previously appeared as Super Destroyer II)
Frank Monte (had previously done TV bouts)

World Title

NWA World
81/04/12 Harley Race DCOR Angelo Mosca
81/08/30 Dusty Rhodes W John Studd
81/11/15 Ric Flair W Harley Race