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Pro Wrestling in Oshawa, Ontario
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.
The WWWF Title in Toronto
After the switch in 1984 it would continue to be defended here in the Hulk Hogan era (though not as often) but we will only be looking at the years up to 1982 when Bob Backlund made his last appearance with the title in the NWA era.
Before we look at the actual first Toronto defenses of the newly created WWWF belt in 1964, we can trace its origins here before the WWWF was actually created.
Classic Photo: Kowalski vs Schmidt 1953
Schmidt had earned a reputation as Toronto's most hated 'bad guy'. In the weeks previous he had manhandled crowd favorite and the rarely defeated Yukon Eric.
Tunney matched him next vs the Killer, said to have previously caused Whipper Watson to require an appendectomy, that Yukon Eric ear thing, and just as hated among the Gardens faithful.
The two battled it out in front of 9,500 fans who in the words of Joe Perlove 'were democratic at all times. They didn't care who maimed who.' After 26 minutes of brawling Kowalski was laid out on the mat after a Schmidt dropkick from the ramp and by the time big Hans made it back ref Bert Maxwell had counted him out.
Flashback Feature: Thesz vs Rocca 1962
After bouts in Niagara Falls Rocca made his first appearance at Maple Leaf Gardens in February 1955. He would join a short list of stars post 1940's to make his Toronto debut in a main event, taking on Toronto's hero Whipper Watson.
Over 13,000 fans turned out to see Rocca and Watson go at it for over 40 minutes before curfew ended the bout. The inimitable Joe Perlove noted in the next day recap that they changed 'rassling to wrestling' and that the fans 'saw more wrestling in the 40 minutes and 48 seconds the match lasted than they've seen in the last 3,207 tag team matches combined'.
Classic Photo: Kiniski vs Eric 1957
Yukon Eric appeared here regularly from 1949 to 1964 and was one of the most beloved stars just behind Whipper Watson.
Kiniski was an athletic powerhouse with a lengthy ring career. His debut in Toronto in 1956 at the age of 27 was the start of a 26 year run in the city. Even in the late 1970's and early 1980's Big Gene could still put on a good bout against the new stars like Ric Flair, Dino Bravo and Angelo Mosca, and was a part of several important angles in the later days of Maple Leaf.
Jack Corcoran - The Queensbury King
Corcoran said to be a 'well-known west end sportsman' wanted a big attraction for his debut as a Boxing promoter and Toronto beat out Buffalo, and New York City for the bout.
It attracted 'the largest fight crowd of the season' to see Dundee beat Gooderich in 10 rounds..
In March 1923 Corcoran refereed at the Canadian Trials at Toronto's Gayety Theatre alongside Lou Marsh and would be picked to to go to Winnipeg to oversee the national bouts later in the month. Corcoran would also ref on his early cards, often with Marsh as a ref or judge.
Classic Photo: Destroyer vs Billy Red Lyons 1983
There were other 'Destroyers' in the interim. The 60's saw Joe Christie as the 'Masked Destroyer' before he was unmasked by Johnny Valentine in 1964. There were versions on the smaller circuits and in the late '70's we had the AWA Super Destroyers I (Don Jardine) and II (Sgt Slaughter) hence when Beyer returned he demanded to be called the 'Original Sensational...'.
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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Wrestling News! Many of our local stars spent time in the U.K., while looking for info on Tommy Nelson I saw there is a fabulous resource at Wrestling Heritage site (external link opens in new window. ...Happy to have been a part of getting Billy Stack recognized for his contributions to Wrestling. On Oct 1 2106 Stack was inducted to the Clarington Sports Hall Of Fame- congrats to Billy's family and friends for this well-deserved honor
November 25 2016...Bringing the Almanac back starting with 1981 & 1982, among other planned entries
Our latest Blog entry - 4 decade Main eventer Gene Kiniski
Over 150 entries covering over 70 years of Ontario and Canadian wrestling history
Our latest Pic of the Month features Ricky Steamboat with his new U.S. Title belt.
It Happened in December!... 1952 Lou Plummer and Dick Raines beat Whipper Watson and Pat Flanagan for the Calvert Trophy Tag Title... 1957 NWA champ Dick Hutton returns to face Yukon Eric after winning the title from Thesz 3 weeks earlier at MLG... 1962 Johnny Valentine regains his U.S. Title from Bruno Sammartino... 1966 NWA champ Gene Kiniski take on the high flying Ed Carpentier in a 33 minute draw... 1976 NWA champ Terry Funk defeats Carlos Rocha in his 4th title defense here, his 5th would not end so well... 1978 It's Whipper Watson Appreciation Night and Dino Bravo claims the new Canadian Title beating Kiniski, on the same card Ricky Steamboat beast Ric Flair for the U.S. Title... 1980 Angelo Mosca defeats Hossein The Arab/Iron Sheik in a cage to regain the Canadian Title for a 2nd time... 1982 Bobby Backlund makes last appearance with WWF Title - beats Buddy Rose... 1983 Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine go at it in a dog-collar match, Piper wins...
Fun Facts ...there were a few Father/Son combinations that worked at MLG over the years, some in the same era or overlapping...Angelo Sr and Jr. Mosca...Johnny and Greg (as Johnny Fargo) Valentine...Whipper Sr and Jr (Phil) Watson...Gene and Kelly AND Nick Kiniski...Blackjack Sr and Jr Mulligan...Angelo and Lanny AND Randy Poffo...Jacques Sr and Jr AND Raymond Rougeau... and some at different times...Brother (he was the father) and Don Leo Jonathon...Bruno and Bruno Jr. (David) Sammartino...Warren and Nick Bockwinkel...Bob Sr and Jr Orton... Mike Sr and Jr Sharpe...and at least one Father-Step Daughter - Wildman Dave McKigney (aka Gene Dubois) and Rachel Dubois
Dec 30 1979: WWWF champ Bob Backlund pinned Pat Patterson...Jimmy Snuka & Ray Stevens beat Ric Flair & Dewey Robertson... Andre the Giant beat both The Destroyer and Brute Bernard in a handicap bout... Johnny Weaver put Frank Monte to sleep... Billy Red Lyons pinned John Bonello... Sweet Daddy Siki flattened John Forsythe
Red ! John Studd after cage
match with Mosca 1982