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Pro Wrestling in Oshawa, Ontario
We continue the Almanac, this time looking at the year in Maple Leaf Wrestling 1981. It was a landmark year for the promotion with more overall shows around the region and increased attendance over the previous years.
One of the biggest shows of the era was held in recognition of Toronto's 50th Anniversary of Wrestling at Maple Leaf Gardens and saw the triumphant return of favorite Ric Flair as the new NWA World champ.
Angelo Mosca would continue his success as the new local hero and holder of our Canadian heavyweight title. He would see challenges from Jimmy Snuka and Roddy Piper as well as earning a title shot vs NWA champ Harley Race, and would also find time to lose the Canadian belt twice.
Piper would become one of the most popular (hated) regulars, and we would see the only Canadian NWA Title defense of Dusty Rhodes in a bout here in September in a busy year for the local fans.
Gene Kiniski in Toronto: Have no fear Kiniski is here
When he came into Toronto in 1956, it was with a thunderous entrance and the storm stuck around for a long time. On and off for 27 years in fact, much of those in the midst of the action at the top of the cards here.
His first appearance here came in the opening bout on the November 8 1956 card which saw a main event of then NWA champ Whipper Watson vs Mr Moto. Kiniski beat Ken Kenneth in the curtain raiser and the Whip beat Moto in the main.
Classic Photo: Ric Flair vs Harley Race
They would trade off those slow hold-in-the-air suplexes on the canvas and on the hard wooden ramp. It was always 110% when these two met.
Flair had his figure-four and Race had those falling head butts which would leave Flair a bloody mess. While Race was slow and methodical where every move counted, Flair who could do no wrong here was fast and hyper.
Johnny & Greg: The Valentines
There were a few that worked here in different eras, Warren and Nick Bockwinkel, Brother and Don Leo Jonathon, Bruno Sr and Bruno Jr (later David) Sammartino, and Bob Sr. and Bob Jr. Orton.
Others overlapped and worked on the same card at least once include Angelo Sr. and Angelo Jr. Mosca, Whipper and Whipper (Phil) Jr., Blackjack Sr. and Blackjack Jr. (later Barry Windham) Mulligan, Gene and Kelly (and Nick different era) Kiniski, Angelo and Randy and Lanny Poffo, and Johnny and Greg Valentine.
Over the course of their careers in Toronto the most successful of these father-son combo's as far as both careers standing on their own would have to be Johnny and Greg.
Genesis of a Feud: Whipper vs Kiniski
Kiniski, billed as a 'footballer of note' made an instant impact on the fans in Toronto. They hated him right away.
Publicity man Frank Ayerst remarked that Kiniski was 'sometimes referred to as Genial Gene, because he smiled once when an opponent was being carried out of the ring.' Adding that he 'is such a rugged ring operator that getting a match with him is gaily alluded to as The Point of No Return.'
Whipper Watson vs Buddy Rogers 1956
Rogers had actually challenged Watson during a card at MLG while he was NWA champ but Watson lost the title the very next day.
They would finally meet here with the title at stake in 1961 when Rogers was champ with Rogers winning via dq.
Rogers would manage 8 defenses here before losing to Thesz at MLG in 1963 while Watson as home town champ defended in Toronto 16 times in 1956 after he had won the belt here in March '56.
1982 was a busy year with 3 NWA Title bouts, 7 WWF Title bouts, and an AWA Title bout taking place at MLG. Frank Tunney saw one of the more successful years in the later era of MLW with strong attendance and a couple of 15,000+ cards for the first time in many years.
Along with our local stars we had the Mid-Atlantic and WWF stars here on a regular basis and even got a rare visit from the East-West Connection and the last appearances of AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel.
There were bloody Cage bouts, Indian Strap matches, Lumberjack bouts, and Texas Death matches filling up the cards not just at MLG but around the region. Kingston, Oshawa, Hamilton, Niagara Falls, Brantford, Guelph, St Catherines, and a return to Buffalo and Ottawa filled out the circuit.
Early TV Wrestling in Ontario
Conn Smythe, owner of the Maple Leafs had been invited to take in a Football game at a theater in New York and while not dully impressed remarked 'It was like the old flickers, but remember the handicap of making these impressions outdoors and on a cloudy day.'
By 1943 they were showing fights from MSG in NYC and in 1944 televised a bout between Bobby Ruffin and Tippey Larkin to more than 20 Hospitals in the New York area.
Most of the patients were servicemen and this was said to be the first extensive television coverage ever given a fight to that time.
Classic Photo: Assassin vs Chief White Owl
The Masked Assassin would later be unmasked at MLG by The Sheik. Under the mask was Guy 'Stomper' Mitchell who was later known as Jerry Valiant. Real name John Hill.
Chief White Owl was popular around the Great Lakes cities. Pat Flanagan is the 3rd man in the ring for the bout. Thanks to Roger Baker !
Flashback Feature: Doug Hepburn - Worlds Strongest Man
In the mid 1950's Doug Hepburn would try his hand in the squared circle after taking the country by storm setting Weightlifting records and earning the title of 'World's Strongest Man.'
He had won medals, set records in many of the lifts, and won the prestigious Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's top athlete in 1953. Some ads proclaimed him as 'the strongest man in history.'
He had overcome some serious physical issues to reach those heights and Wrestling was to be his next challenge.
A Jim Vipond column in early 1955 claimed that he had signed a 5 year contract with Frank Tunney before Christmas and that he was in training under Whipper Watson at the Queensbury Athletic Club basement gymnasium.
THANKS TO ROGER BAKER for contributions to the MLWP. Many of the Classic photos come from Roger's collections from his many years as a fan and then Professional Photog shooting Wrestling & Boxing bouts at MLG and around Ontario. We are fortunate to have his contributions to the articles as he shares his memories from the classic days of Ontario Pro Wrestling. Roger wrote many great stories for the Wrestling mags of the day that featured his photos and time spent with many of the biggest stars ever to appear at Maple Leaf Gardens. Thank you Roger!
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RIP Ivan Koloff...Koloff was a favorite during the Mid-Atlantic era here but had debuted at MLG back in 1968.
One of the all-time Canadian greats for sure...Photo from MLG 1982
Feb 17 2017...Coming soon...second part of Frank Tunney, this time The Later Days...another classic photo or two...among other planned entries
Our latest Blog entry -2 this time- a Whipper Jr show and a look at the first Sunday card at MLG
Over 160 entries covering over 70 years of Ontario and Canadian wrestling history
Our latest Pic of the Month features The Sheik vs Luis 'Ariba' Martinez in the cage August 1982
It Happened in February!... ... 1957 Whipper Watson teams with Yukon Eric to defeat Dick Hutton and Gene Kiniski in a big tag bout... 1958 Whipper and Yukon defeat Kiniski and Fritz Von Erich to win the Canadian Open Tag Titles. 1962 NWA champ Buddy Rogers defends against Bulldog Brower 2 weeks in a row... 1963 NWA champ Lou Thesz solidifies his title claim defeating Rogers in a re-match after the first win weeks prior right here.... 1971 The Sheik vs Tiger Jeet Singh sells out the recently increased seating at MLG!... 1977 Harley Race beats Terry Funk to win the NWA Title at MLG, the last time the title would change hands here... 1979 Canadian champ Dino Bravo successfully defends against Ric Flair.... 1983 NWA champ Ric Flair defends against former champ Terry Fink... 1984 The last battle of Ric Flair and Harley Race in NWA Toronto, Flair NWA champ wins the bout...
Fun Facts ......Frank Tunney had a similiar career as Jim Crockett Sr who ran the Carolinas and area for many years...And their promotions were somewhat aligned long before they actually worked together in 1978... They were born 3 years apart...Jim started in 1935 while Frank officially took over in 1939...neither was a pro wrestler...Both promoted other sports...Both were close to Sam Muchnick and served in official capacities for the NWA... Both had sons named after them...Both had family in the office, Jim eventually turned it over to son Jim Jr. while Frank let nephew Jack take control and Frank's son Eddie was also involved....Both were associated with tag wrestling being a big part of the promotion... Both later had a Tag Tournament held in their honor... Long time Crockett booker George Scott got his start in Toronto and area and later partnered up with Tunney and Jim Jr....
Feb 21 1982... Blackjack Mulligan beat Big John Studd by dq... Mid Atlantic TV champ Ivan Koloff over Jimmy Valiant by dq... Blackjack Mulligan Jr. defeated Austin Idol... Ninja & Gene Anderson beat Jay Youngblood & Johnny Weaver... Tony Parisi over Joe White John Bonello pinned Louis Laurence
Canadian Wrestling 1972