Friday, March 23, 2018

Whipper vs Fritz: Classic Photo 1960

Each Friday we will feature a Classic Photo spanning the 1940's to the 1980's
This time Whipper Watson vs Fritz Von Erich in a fence match May 5 1960 Maple Leaf Gardens 

Yukon Eric: The Sampson of the North

Flying into the front row at MLG 1954
For most of the 1950's and into the early '60's Yukon Eric would hold the esteemed spot of #2 fan favorite in Toronto, behind the main man Whipper Watson. From the big mans' debut here in 1949 he would immediately captivate the fans and spend most of his time at or near the top of the weekly cards at MLG, and in the many arenas around Southern Ontario.

As Yukon Eric he had been wrestling for several years before settling in this area including a short run with the NWA Texas Heavyweight Championship. He first showed up at MLG in the the ring before the main event on Oct 20 1949 to challenge any wrestler Frank Tunney could match him with. He claimed he had only wrestled in the lumber camps 'but talked so persuasively' that Tunney gave him a spot on the following card.

His debut at MLG on Oct 27 1949 on the undercard of a Yvon Robert/Killer Kowalski main event ended with a 90 second win over Faro Renaldi. More quick wins followed and the barefooted Eric would look to be un-beatable in his early showings using his Kodiac Krunch backbreaker to steamroll his opponents.
With Sandor Kovacs at Crystal Beach 1956

At this time the big draw was Whipper Watson vs Yvon Robert over the British Empire Title. Whipper would win the Title and successfully defend it against Robert in the re-match in November 1949. The following card, held on the last day in November saw Yukon receive his first main event taking on the equally large Sky Hi Lee in front of 8,500 fans.

He would prove to Frank Tunney he could draw on his own when Whipper was absent with good houses for 2 bouts against Fred Atkins (10,000 & 9,000) and one vs big Mike Sharpe (9,000).

Described by Jim Proudfoot as ' a large and cumbersome chap (who) can move like lightning' and '275 pounds and five feet around the chest', the papers would picture him posing with Alaskan dogs and in caricatures as a giant with an axe. Another byline described him (and in ads visually) as 'the iceberg that walks like a man'.
Squeezed by The Beast 1962

In Feb 1950 the still undefeated Eric would defeat the much hated villain Nanjo Singh at MLG. The recap the following day described him as a world’s champion in Montreal having beat Bobby Managoff in the Quebec metropolis on Feb. 15 for a 'world’s title of some kind'. This was the the Montreal Athletic Commission's International Heavyweight Championship, the highly regarded title previously held by Lou Thesz and Yvon Robert and soon to be held by the likes of Buddy Rogers and Verne Gagne.

Montreal would figure prominently again a couple of years later when Eric lost part of his ear during a bout with Killer Kowalski. In addition to Quebec, Eric would travel quite a bit through Canada and most of the upper U.S. with much of his time spent in Ontario.

Back in Toronto in March 1950 'The Sampson of the North' as he was sometimes billed would be handed his first loss by Whipper Watson. In a re-match the following month Eric would get by Watson with a dq win. They would meet quite a few times around the circuit over the first half of 1950 and while in the coming years the two would occasionally do battle, they would later form a very successful tag team.

In the many arenas around the Toronto circuit, Yukon would continue to prevail against the areas top heels and fan favorites alike. Big main events in Oshawa, Hamilton, Newmarket, Niagara Falls, London, and the new arenas in Milton and Bowmanville would contribute to his success.

He would rack up victories against the other big men. Primo Carnera, Lord Layton, and Canadian Weightlifting Champ Doug Hepburn would all see the lights after bouts with Yukon.

Midway through 1950 he would receive a NWA Title shot against visiting champ Lou Thesz which ended in a curfew draw.

In 1951 Eric would first team with Watson in a 6 man tag pitting the two (along with Pat Flanagan) against the trio of Sky-Hi Lee, Masked Marvel and Mayes McLain. The next few years would see Eric continue to dominate the cards both as a tag with Whip or solo in the mains.
Whipper and Yukon take Siki for a ride 1962

In the middle of the decade Fritz Von Erich would become one of the areas most hated wrestlers of the era. First in a team with Karl Von Schober and then with Gene Kiniski the hated duos would have wild clashes with Eric and Watson and other combinations of the favorites.

When Watson won the NWA Title here in 1956 he would defend it often on home turf. Eric would earn one of those title bouts with Whip which ended in a double count out decision.

In 1957 Yukon would meet then NWA champ Dick Hutton at MLG and again in Oshawa in 1958. Teaming with Dara Singh in 1959 he would again hold the Canadian Tag Titles after beating the Kalmikoff Brothers.

In late 1959 a battle of bear hugs would ensue against the Great Antonio, the unkempt strongman who had been putting on feats of strength displays around Toronto, including pulling TTC buses. Billed as 'The Siberian Strongman' Antonio would be no match for Eric losing in 8 minutes after falling to the ground after a bear hug and getting the 1-2-3.
Against both Gallaghers in Buffalo 1962

That same year Eric would be tested by the newest sensation on the Toronto scene, Don Leo Jonathon. Don Leo, one of the best big men ever would remain undefeated at MLG and beat Eric in a little over 14 minutes setting up a bout down the line with NWA champ Pat O'Connor.

In 1961 Eric would again be set to test another new star on the scene. the unstoppable Bulldog Brower. Yukon would lose the first bout by count-out and the two would draw over 10,000 fans for the re-match, with Eric losing once again to the now un-beatable in Toronto Brower. When the Stoufville Arena was demolished in 1987, a story mentioned one of the highlights of its long life - a 1961 bout between the two.

Photographer and writer Roger Baker followed Yukon's career closely both as a fan and as a writer for the mags. He relates a chance meeting with the big man in the summer of 1956.

'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 Chrystal Beach Park later on in the day to see his match.'

His last bout at MLG was in July 1964 and he would finish his career in Florida some months later. Sadly he took his own life in 1965 but left a strong legacy here in Toronto and ranks among the most popular ever to appear at MLG.

-Thanks! - and photos by- Roger Baker

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Argentina Rocca vs Lou Thesz 1962

Antonino Rocca aka Argentina Rocca was a huge star in the 1950's and would make quite a few stops in the Toronto area between 1954 and 1962.
Ref Joe Gollob supervising the action

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'. He added that during the bout Frank Tunney had to telephone Lou Thesz 'for some new holds'. Quite a review for two that don't seem to get their due for 'wrestling'

The two would meet in a highly touted re-match a week later in front of 9,000 spectators.  The re-match goes over 35 minutes and ends when Rocca tries a leap frog over a charging Watson only to not clear the Whip and take a shoulder to the groin.
Thesz locks Rocca up 

Ref Bert Maxwell, noting Rocca unable to get back up would raise Watson's hand. Watson, ever the sportsman refuses the win based on the low blow and the bout officially ends as a count-out win for Watson.

A re-match is touted but Rocca would first face Lord Layton in a notable bout in April. He managed to perform his noted leaps and lands on Layton's shoulders, quite a feat vs the 6'5 Layton, and wins via count-out.

A re-match with Watson occurs in May and a rougher bout sees Watson get the win by pinfall (disputed of course),

Rocca would stay on for more bouts including tags with Whipper and later with strongman Doug Hepburn to take on the Kalmikoff Brothers.

In Aug 1955 Rocca and Watson would beat the Kalmikoffs to capture the George Richards Tag Trophy.

Rocca returns the favor
The title lineage gets a bit confused as Rocca still appears but in December after he and Whipper lost a non title bout vs Fritz Von Erich and Karl Von Schober it was explained that since Rocca was busy elsewhere he had given up his share of the silverware and Whipper had taken on new partner Yukon Eric.

Rocca would return in 1958 to MLG and appear in a couple of high profile bouts vs Edouard Carpentier and then Gene Kiniski.

In 1962 after a prolonged absence Rocca returned to Toronto to face former NWA champ Lou Thesz.

Photographer Roger Baker saw Rocca during these visits and recalls for us

'Rocca was an amazing athlete, he could do a running leap say from six or seven feet, and land atop his opponents shoulders, he would then ride his opponent all the  while twisting him for a better view from the audience, he would often finish his opponent off by draping him in his own form of a bouncing back breaker.

I remember one Thursday night at The Gardens, Rocca had beaten his opponent, and was basking in the adulation of several thousand vocal fans who were in awe of Rocca's acrobatic prowess as well as his wrestling skills.'

'As a reward for the fans affording Rocca such appreciation for his in ring performance, he then proceeded to do dozens upon dozens of one armed pushups in the ring, when he finally exited the ring, he bowed to the crowd, and waved goodbye, his audience was highly impressed with Rocca's unexpected, but most appreciated post bout performance.'

The bout drawing 5000 fans went on before the semi of Bruno Sammartino vs Bob Stanlee. Tunney said it was done to ensure the fans were not fretting about the late hour and would leave before the bout. 'A switch used for cards in New York' he added. It may have been because Bruno was becoming very popular here after his series vs Buddy Rogers in the cards previous to this one.

All the same Bruno took out Stanlee with a bearhug after just 4 minutes to end the night.
Steve York in his recap the next day said fans were disappointed in the finish, hoping to see Rocca win over Thesz.

At the 19 minute mark Rocca was initiating the rolling move Roger described above when they both bumped their heads off the mat and remained on their backs as ref Joe Gollob counted them both out.

Thesz who was between NWA Title reigns would return in Jan 1963 to defeat Buddy Rogers and regain the title in this very same ring. Rocca however, would be making his last appearance at MLG. He was advertised for a card in 1971 but didn't appear.

Roger Baker covered Rocca during a comeback attempt in 1968 and took photos of him in Buffalo. He sent me over a story from The Wrestler that used those photos.

The story included Rocca's often stated claims of 'I'll live to be 150 years old' and 'I'll still be wrestling when I'm 75'. His obituary contained those claims when published just 9 years later when Rocca passed on at the age of 49.

Thanks to Roger Baker for his photos and memories of Mr Rocca!

Tiger Tommy Nelson

It was the ship that launched a thousand careers. Well, several actually, including the one of the man who would become Toronto's -and Canada's-greatest name in Pro Wrestling - Bill Potts aka Whipper Watson. He wasn't the only one. The others that accompanied the soon to be re-named Whipper on that ship in 1936 would also make an impact on the Toronto and Ontario wrestling scenes in the coming years.
vs Billy Kohnke (mat) Sept 1938

It was June 1936 and a group of wrestlers from the amateur and semi pro ranks would embark on a tour of the United Kingdom. Along with young Bill Potts, there was Ken 'Tiger' Tasker, Al Korman, and Tom Nelson.

Whipper, of course would return in 1940 and go on to be the King of Toronto for the next 30 years. Tasker and Korman would continue their wrestling careers and then go on to be long time referees. Tommy Nelson's in-ring career would end sooner but he would be a part of the office for many years to come.

Tommy was born in 1900 making him an elder statesman among the younger wrestlers he traveled with. He had formerly worked as a bus driver for the Danforth Bus Company. In 1928 he was involved in an accident at Midland and Danforth Rd when a CNR Train hit his bus injuring him and the only passenger on board at the time. The bus was completely destroyed with fire after the train hit and likely ended his driving career.

I couldn't find any mention of his earlier wrestling years but he likely came up in the same way that they all did in those days. Learning their craft at the many Athletic Clubs and amateur contests that were plentiful in the small halls around Toronto.

He would hang up the boots in the early '40s and work with Tunney in a promotional capacity right through the 1960's putting on shows in the outlying towns around Toronto.
London, England 1938

The reports say the wrestlers left Montreal around the week of June 8. The 'SS Duchess of Bedford' (Canadian Pacific) is the likely vessel as a member of Nelson's family shared some nostalgia with me and there was a postcard of the Bedford in the collection. The only outbound I could find was 3 weeks later but if it took 7-8 days its possible they went on the Bedford on or around June 8.

Nelson wrestled in England as 'Bear-Cat Tom Nelson' initially. A Poster from Centenary Hall for a bout vs Hein Stack in Oct 1937 lists Nelson as 'from USA, extremely popular here as wrestler and referee.' A later ad in December of 1937 has him as 'from Canada and ex Olympic games, the return of an old and tried favorite, back by public demand, and glad to be back.'

There is no record of Olympic involvement or at least active at any games, Olympic background was a frequent boast to push wrestlers in those days though many wrestlers participated in events leading up to -or qualifying for.

Other names alongside Nelson in those years were Ben(gal) Engbloom, the popular in Toronto amateur Finn, as well as Herb Parks. Parks was a fine wrestler in his day and he and his brother Bill (Dinty) were early stars for Larry Kasaboski's Northland group in the 1940's. The brothers later owned Sunset Park in North Bay while starring for Kasaboski until Herb disappeared on a hunting trip in 1956 and was later found drowned. Sunset Park was the inspiration for the Sunset Flip.

Nelson made it through other parts of Europe through 1939. On a physicians statement in Toronto on Feb 20 1940 it lists his past bouts and includes stops in Belfast, Edinburgh, Vienna, Budapest, Paris, London, Manchester, and finally Toronto, and St Catherines.

Opponents in Europe list Rod Fenton (later Promoter in Vancouver), Whipper Watson, Johnny Demchuck, a namesake 'Gotch', Heine Stack, and a 'Shicat' (Dick Schikat?)

His last bout in Manchester is listed as May 31 1939, He would return for a bout in St Catherines vs Lee Henning on Jan 8 and also wrestled in Hamilton 1940 as 'Irish Tommy Nelson.'

His debut at MLG came in 1940 on Jan 12 vs Pete Baltran. The write up lists Nelson as hailing from Ireland and having had won the European light-heavyweight championship back on March 13 1939. I haven't found any reports of that as of yet. In his recap of the bouts Joe Perlove called Nelson an 'undersized grappler from Ireland' in his draw with Baltran.

It's not clear when Nelson 'joined' the office in an official capacity but he looks to have been involved as one of Tunney's insiders around the late 1940's.

Nelson looks to have worked as a promoter much as Sammy Sobol and others had previously. Running the towns and reporting (and bringing the $$$) back to the Toronto office. Towns he officially ran include Stoufville, Aurora, Barrie, Collingwood, Sutton, and Bradford . Nelson also had bigger centers such as Galt (Cambridge) and Kitchener until Johnny Powers bought Tunney (and Nelson?) out around 1965.

In 1955 Nelson was announced as taking over for Roy McMahon as matchmaker for CCWA (Red Garner's group) in Aurora on Aug 29 and then promoting in Stoufville, this time with Tunney stars instead of Garner's team. Garner and Tunney looked to have had a small turf war in the area - but that's for another story.

The only mention of a Toronto-proper show under Nelson was a 1958 show held at Scarboro Arena  on Oct 4 to benefit the Scarboro Hospital Building Fund using Tunney's stars. There is a small mention later of Nelson being on the Board of the Scarboro Police Youth Club.
MLG 1940

In some towns such as Barrie, Nelson was refereed to as 'Matchmaker for the Queensbury Club' which was the Toronto office's official name at that time.

In a 1958 piece on Nelson in the Galt Evening Reporter it quotes Tommy saying ' I was wrestling on a pro card in Manchester, England in 1938. I was thrown out of the ring and cracked my spine on the exposed iron part of a ringside theater-type seat.' The writer adds

'The results was five painful months in an English hospital with the not-too-heartening news that he would never walk again. But two years later Nelson was not only walking but was back on the pro grapple beat. It was 1940 now and he was booked into Detroit. Gus Sonnenburg was his opponent, when big Gus attempted a flying tackle both gladiators went sprawling among the ringsiders. Nelson, on the bottom, found another empty iron frame with his tender spine. Another long siege in hospital followed. But this time it was the end. There definitely would be no further wrestling.'

It goes on to explain that after spinal operations they found that he shrank somewhat from the effects of the spinal knife job. In a later 1962 piece in the Barrie Examiner, it repeats the story and says his height was pared by a couple of inches as well as his weight. It says he fought at 220lbs (though he was now down to 150lbs) and from later photos looks to have stayed in good shape into his senior years.

MLG Photographer and Writer Roger Baker attended some of Nelson's shows in the early 1960's.
He recalls Nelson was 'a very nice guy who was worried for his incoming wrestlers on a particularly snowy evening in Kitchener but still kept his smile amid the pressure of the evening.' 

Roger remembers another show in Sutton when 'one of the wrestlers threw his opponent via a slingshot into one of the corner posts with such force that the ring ropes popped out of the turnbuckles. Tommy came to the ring dressed in a suit, and again under pressure got those ropes back up, and the balance of the card was able to go ahead. A part time wrestling promoter must be able to handle a litany of potential problems!"

Below is a group pic from 1958 courtesy of Nelson's family.
l. to r. top: ?, Pat Flanagan, Joe Gollob, Dara Singh, Tunney, Lou Pistocia,
l. to r. bottom: Sammy Gotter, Al Korman, Tommy Nelson
thanks to Roger Baker for ID help

Thanks to Brian Lanigan for sharing some family history and pics with me.
There are lots of gaps so if you can add anything to Mr Nelson's story please contact me.
Thanks as always to Roger Baker for his help

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Martino Angelo in Toronto

Former wrestler Martino Angelo enjoyed some success in Toronto from 1962 to 1965 as a manager the fans loved to hate.
Tough as nails

He had started wrestling in the early 1930's all over the north and northeast U.S. and had wrestled as a main event star around his local Hamilton for promoter George Hills in the mid 1940's under his real name Angelo Curto. He came in to Toronto as Martino Angelo to wrestle in Sept 1962 on the same card Johnny Valentine made his Toronto debut.

He had at one time been a top junior heavyweight holding the Midwest Wrestling Association World Junior Heavyweight title around Columbus and Dayton, Ohio in the early 1940s. He would later gain recognition as the NWA World Light-Heavyweight Champion (Hollywood, California version) in the mid 1940s battling the likes of Dangerous Danny McShain and Wild Red Berry.

MLG Photographer Roger Baker remembers Angelo

'Martino was short in stature, but he was a genuine tough guy, his facial features resembled a man who had been in many fist fights, as well as hundreds of rough house wrestling brawls.'

He and John Yachetti (wrestling as Gino Angelo) had already been travelling in other areas but Angelo first managed Yachetti - as The Beast - in Toronto in May 1963 for a bout against Gene Kiniski. Star reporter Joe Perlove referred to Angelo not as his manager but as his 'keeper' and right from the start he was a thorn in the side of whomever his charge was facing.

Roger covered this bout for a wrestling magazine. He made note of the fact that big Gene, long hated in these parts was beginning to show signs of becoming a hero. The fans actually cheered Gene against The Beast. This is the same guy they would chase under the ring and on many occasions Kiniski would be lucky to get out of the ring alive.
Helping The Beast

Roger would describe The Beast as a 'fireplug with a fur-coat' indeed! At one point Angelo reached under the ring rope and grabbed Kiniski's foot tripping him up. The Beast pounced on him and got the big win.  Kiniski then took after Angelo outside the ring and delivered a good beating, setting a soon to be standard as far as receiving his fair share of action - on the outside.

Next opponent up was Bulldog Brower, the top villain in the area in the main event no less. As with Kiniski the fans sided with Brower, not exactly cheering him but hating him less as compared to Angelo and The Beast.

Again a win with interference from Angelo and a rare loss for the Bulldog. Another win 2 weeks later vs Brower and they set a special rules match for the following week.

Angelo was to be suspended in a cage above the ring to keep him from interfering in the bout. The time Brower got the win when The Beast was kayoed outside the ring by Johnny Valentine. The equally hated Valentine had sneaked up the ramp, his arm in a cast from a recent injury, and flattened The Beast when ref Tiger Tasker's back was turned.

They repeated that stipulation for a bout with Whipper Watson in Aug 1963, Watson winning when The Beast failed to make it back to the ring after a ten count.

After Valentine had healed up (and turned good guy) he got his chance at The Beast and this time Angelo was handcuffed to 'Gentleman' Jim Hady to even it out.

Roger relates his impressions of Angelo and The Beast

'The Beast was a very compact built man, he was incredibly strong, his entire body was covered in a thick coat of shiny black hair, if he were to catch an opponent in his famed bear hug, the opponent faced the prospect of having a cracked rib or two. '

'This wrestling fan almost bumped into the Beast while he was hunched over eating a sandwich at a lunch counter in Thorncliff Mall. This would have been in the mid 1960's, can remember saying hello to him but he let me know by his eyes leave him be while he had his lunch. '
In the middle of the Powerlock 

They would continue the trend over the next year with many of same special rules for the bouts. For one they had both Angelo and Pat Flanagan in the cage above the ring, Flanagan there to make sure Angelo couldn't get to help his charge in his bout vs Whipper.

In July 1964 The Beast got a shot against visiting WWWF champ Bruno Sammartino, and yet again Angelo interfered.

In April 1965 Angelo continued his cheating ways, this time during a bout of Bruno vs Johnny Powers and would begin accompanying the soon to be star - Powers..

Roger recalls an incident around this time.

'This reporter can remember one Sunday evening at MLG when Martino Angelo was at ringside with his current charge Johnny Powers who was working as a heel. A deranged fan swung a bicycle chain at Angelo and as a result of this cowardly act Martino sustained a nasty gash to the right side of his face. The police had a hold of this fan, and I later learned that the police told Martino that they would leave him alone in a room at the Garden's with his assailant if he so wished, Martino very generously let the guy off. '

'Powers was a superb athlete, and in top shape. He once told me that as a young man he belonged to a rowing team and that he had done many hours of sculling in dirty old Hamilton bay. This no doubt contributed to the considerable strength and muscularity that he possessed. Powers enjoyed a prolonged stay in the Toronto area, and went on to become an international wrestling star.'

Thanks as always to Roger Baker
We will look at Powers in an upcoming post with more fabulous photos from Roger

*some info on Angelo from an excellent profile by Gary Howard on Yachetti on Slam! Wrestling

Monday, March 19, 2018

Lord Athol Layton

When Lord Athol Layton made his debut at Maple Leaf Gardens in November 1950 - in the main event no less - he made a big impression, literally. He was pictured in the Star in the days before the card with his arms outstretched over 6 of the Gardens ushers, towering over the other men.

Layton, billed at 6'6 was to be matched against another huge guy, the man billed as the 'Ozark Giant' (then area resident) the 6'8 Sky Hi Lee. The 'Lord' was an immediate hit, with 11,000 fans showing up to see the battle of the giants. Layton proved to be a formidable challenger for the larger Lee winning his debut by making Lee submit to a leg crab.

He was without his valet Gerald who had accompanied him in the previous weeks as Layton was introduced to the scene with bouts in Hamilton and Niagara Falls. He was brought in as a star and main-evented around the area from the start, portrayed as an English Nobleman, impeccably dressed right from the start in a suit or tuxedo type. He had the gift of gab too right from the start showing his English 'aristocracy' and quick witted in his steady voice.

His debut in Niagara Falls a few days previous to the MLG card had the reporter saying that Layton had "one of the most impressive debuts a grappler has ever made here" after downing Lee Henning.

Originally a heel, he was set to work towards Whipper Watson and his British Empire Title. After being matched against fellow heel Fred Atkins in Feb 1951 Layton announced he was looking for a bout with the popular champ. A subsequent bout vs the #2 favorite in the city Yukon Eric saw Layton surprisingly getting cheered by the crowd (Eric had just matched against Whipper). A rough bout with the Masked Marvel and his manager Mayes McLain saw the fans attack Mclain and further endeared Layton to the fans.
With Atkins 1952

As was more common in those days he would face a mixture of fan favorites and heels alike. A Sept 1951 bout against tough Mike Sharpe was said to be an elimination bout for Whipper's B-E Title. Layton would earn a bout with Whipper the following month and the two would go to a 44 minute draw when curfew was called. The rematch saw Layton with a rare loss after he attacked the refs 'Bunny' Dunlop and Bert Maxwell and got disqualified.

A subsequent re-match saw Layton appear to get the win after guest ref Teddy Thomas (a Niagara Falls/Buffalo area ref) awarded the win to Layton only to see Maxwell reverse the decision. Whipper's leg had been on the ropes during a pin and Thomas had counted the champ down. Maxwell ordered the show to go on and Whipper promptly pinned Layton.

Layton and Whipper would even be pictured together at a charity event with the caption 'Buddies yes, but only for charity.'

Layton would also see success up the road in Montreal with a big bout against Yvon Robert and alas, a team with Whipper himself.

In Toronto bouts vs fan favorites and heels alike continued with match-ups against newcomer Bobo Brazil and the hated Hans Hermann, He would team also with George 'Zebra Kid' Bollas, as well as frequent opponent Fred Atkins, for bouts with Whipper and assorted partners.

By now a regular here on the weekly cards through 1953 he would match up with Lord James Blears to create a royal tag team. They would have an extended feud with the tough Texans 'Dirty' Dick Raines and Lou Plummer. The two 'Lords' would meet their match against the superstar team of Watson and Robert but still earn a draw with the two icons of Canadian wrestling. As a team Layton and Blears would be accompanied by their 'gentleman’s gentleman' Captain Holmes and were pictured in the paper holding a trophy, said to be the Pacific Tag Title.
Popular 1961

In Niagara Falls in October 1953 he would vie for the World Title (Montreal version) against 'Killer' Kowalski and go to a 60 minute draw with the well-conditioned champ. A month later he would get the chance to face NWA champ Lou Thesz at the Gardens. Layton opined that the date coincided with Guy Fawkes Day in Britain and was a good omen for him. He ended up giving the bout via dq

Up in Montreal he would team with another giant Don Leo Jonathon to again test Whipper and Robert with a wild bout that ended in a no contest.

The tide was turning and Layton would soon be cheered faithfully by the fans as he started to team with fan favorites. In Niagara Falls he teamed up with long-time foe Sky Hi Lee to take on the hated Mills Brothers and a week later he was back battling him at MLG. In more bouts vs the Mills and the equally hated Kalmikoff brothers with partners Bill McDaniel and Prince Maiava he was settling into the fan favorite role.

A bout in Apr 1955 vs Argentina Rocca saw Layton get a cheer when he got Rocca in a headlock and dragged him over to the ropes for a photog to catch a picture. At the end of the bout with Rocca won by count-out, Layton returned to the ring and shook hands with his opponent getting another rousing cheer from the audience.

In Mid 1955 he teamed with Whipper in London to take on the Dusek brothers. Years later he would admit he was relieved to be on the good side of the fence as his kids would get trouble at school from the other kids, many of them members of Whipper's 'Safety Club.'

His friendship with Watson would continue for many years both in the ring and outside as they both worked hard to make others lives better, especially children and those with disabilities.
vs Kiniski 1961

He would also start serving as a special referee, his size and fairness deemed worthy to settle a heated feud. He was appointed in '55 for a Whipper Watson/Yukon Eric vs Karl Von Schober/Fritz Von Erich bout and would ref many bout over the next decades up to and including a 1976 bout of Andre The Giant vs Angelo Mosca.

Layton had officiated a tag bout with Whipper and Rocca vs the Kalmikoffs which led into he and Whipper teaming up at MLG vs the Russians in an all in tag bout, said to have planned their tactics while fishing at Lake Simcoe.

In 1959 he found time between battling Yukon Eric to referee an amateur bout featuring his young son John and present the trophies to the winners.

In 1961 he was hosting the TV show and gained more respect as an adept interviewer. A 1961 show earned raves on the TV page in the Star saying ''Better by far than the actual matches on the Saturday afternoon wrestling show are the interviews between Lord Athol Layton and the wrestlers. Last week, at one point, he took on all three Kalmikoffs, and later he matched words and threatening gestures with a ruffian newcomer. I'm waiting for Layton to take over the commercials." he would continue into the mid 1970's as a commentator on TV.

He would continue to wrestle regularly and saw some big main events throughout the 1960's, some vs familiar opponents like Kiniski, and testing newcomers in the early '60's such as Bulldog Brower and Taro Sakuro. A special referee assignment in 1964 saw him handcuffed to Atkins for a Whipper-Professor Hiro bout to stop Atkins from interfering on behalf of his charge Hiro. He and Whipper would also team regularly throughout the decade.
Chopping The Sheik 1969

In 1970 the 20 year veteran would interfere in a Sheik-Dewey Robertson bout and get his turn with the newest star on the scene. A huge crowd of 15,000 would see Layton batter Sheik with his judo chops before the bout even started. After 5 minutes of that Layton accidently floored ref George Kanelis who disqualified both wrestlers once he recovered. Layton had also floored Mike Loren and Jos Leduc who had rushed the ring with Mighty igor putting the squeeze on Layton to subdue the angry giant.

They would get a re-match and another with Kiniski as special referee for both and go on to a long feud that carried over through 1974.

His last main event at the Gardens was in April 1975 teamed with Mighty Igor against Abdullah The Butcher and Waldo Von Erich. He main evented in Oshawa a few months later as his career wound down. His last bout at MLG was in July 1977 teamed with veteran Lou Klein against the Kelly Twins. The guest referee shot for Andre-Mosca in Dec 1976 was his last in ring appearance here.

I asked MLG photog and writer for his memories of Layton

'The time was perhaps 65 years ago, Toronto's MLG was a hotbed of big time pro wrestling, the matches were held most Thursday evenings. Whipper Watson had been in the ring numerous times with the young English wrestler Lord Athol Layton, at stake was Whipper's coveted British Empire wrestling title. This very young fan of The Whipper remembers standing outside of The Gardens at the northwest corner of Church and Carlton, there was a large circle of fans trying to catch Laytons attention, for an autograph, and to ask whether he thought he would topple Watson in any future encounters. Layton was very gracious with his audience, and his response was a simple 'what does one have to do to in order to beat The Whipper in Toronto?'

'On another occasion many years later, this reporter was in the dressing room area on the west side of the Gardens, I almost bumped into both Bulldog Brower and Athol Layton, they had wrestled as team partners a short time earlier, and Layton was applying oil to Brower's back, I mentioned to them both that their earlier tag match was a good one, they both had big grins on their faces, it was a very nice chance meeting.'
Old friends re-united 

'On yet another occasion I was covering a heavyweight boxing match at the Gardens, the main event featured George Chuvalo vs the then ranked world title contender Ernie 'The Octopus' Terrell. It is a practise to introduce a number of personalities and fighters that are in attendance to the audience. After perhaps ten personalities were in the ring, the Announcer called in Maple Leaf Gardens wrestling great Lord Athol Layton who entered the ring to a very receptive audience. His lordship walked around the ring, arms extended, and with a very big smile on his face, the crowd loved to see him, and it was very obvious that Layton was pleased to be in the ring. This reporter was able to capture a photo of this wonderful moment, it is displayed on my wrestling wall were I often view that photo, and many others as well.'

In later years he continued his role as an ambassador for many causes. He had sat on the Ontario Advisory Council on the Physically Handicapped, worked with the Ontario Society for Crippled Children, was on the board of directors for the St Albans Boys and Girls Club, and had been an Imperial Potentate of the Ramses Shrine Temple. In July 1983 he received the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship from then Lieutenant Governor John Aird.

He was working as head of public relations for Bacardi Rum when he died suddenly at the age of 63 in Jan 1984.

Thanks to Roger Baker!

Nanjo vs Whip: A Feud For The Ages

Forget Flair vs Steamboat, never mind Mosca vs Studd, The Sheik vs Tiger Jeet maybe, but the biggest feud in Maple Leaf Wrestling history may well have been the continuing battle of Whipper Watson and arch-enemy Nanjo Singh.

From their first bout in 1941 to their last in 1966 the rivalry would carry over three decades and lead to the creation of one of the most recognizable hallmarks of MLW at Maple Leaf Gardens – the Ramp! – But more on that later.

The feud found its beginning way back in the history of MLW. Frank Tunney had taken over for his brother John who had passed away suddenly in January 1940 leaving young Frank to forge ahead on his own – with his new soon- to- be- star of the city – Whipper Watson.

Whipper, after winning a tournament to decide a number one contender for the World Title in 1941 would see his star power begin to rise. In February 1942 he would enter into a battle with the hated Nanjo Singh and take the British Empire Title from Singh in April 1942 to begin his first of nine reigns as Champion.

Nicknamed the ‘Hooded Hindu’ or ‘Hindu Killer’, or variously ‘Horrid Hindu’ or ‘Turbaned Terror’ or several other monikers, Singh had been wrestling since the early 1930’s. Said to have come from India via Vancouver he first showed up In Toronto in 1938 and was already earning the fans hatred using the feared Cobra Hold to finish off his opponents. He debuted for matchmaker Jack Corcoran (Corcoran preceded John Tunney as Toronto Promoter) billed as a student of the great Gama the famous Indian wrestler.

In those days it wasn’t unusual for the fans to engage in some ‘spirited’ involvement at the Wrestling matches with frequent riots and cases of wrestlers – and referee’s – being attacked after an unpopular decision. Some wrestlers could earn the fans wrath just by showing up, Nanjo Singh was one of those wrestlers. In 1940 after putting Ottawa native Leo Giroux to sleep with the Cobra, Singh would have to be escorted to the dressing room to escape the fury of the fans. It was one of many occasions that Singh would see this played out over his career of infuriating wrestling fans.

In addition to the Cobra which was said to be his original move, Singh would pray in the corner before a bout and use the villain tactics of eye-gouges, biting, and foreign objects to further enrage the fans. Later area heels Tiger Jeet Singh (no relation) and The Sheik (Farhat) would borrow much of the act getting mostly the same reaction at MLG.

The two would first meet in early 1941, but it was in Dec 1941 when the seeds were planted for the feud of the ages. During a bout with George Lenahan, Whipper unveiled his new finisher the Canadian Avalanche, said to be invented by Watson and his mentor Phil Lawson. Described as a standing leg lock, forward body roll, and jumping leg stretch, Watson finished off Lenahan with his new move when Nanjo watching from the sidelines tore into the ring. Singh walked right into a right cross and hit the canvas in a daze but continued to go at Watson until they were separated.

On the next card in Jan 1942 Singh would interfere in Watson’s bout vs Gus Sonnenberg. Singh was sitting at the press table for the bout and started taunting Watson. At one point in the bout Watson hit the floor and Singh attacked. In what was described by long time (and often tongue in cheek) Wrestling Reporter Joe Perlove, it was ‘just a little less than a split second’ before the fans converged on Singh for going after their hero.

Singh ended up under the ring (more on that later too) while the fans pelted him with anything they could throw. With the action on the floor referee Al ‘Bunny’ Dunlop would count out Watson costing him the much anticipated match-up with the well versed Sonnenberg.

Back in the day Whipper was a fast, high flying star on his way to becoming the number 1 star in all of Canadian Wrestling history. Nanjo, like Watson, had come up through the light-heavyweight division and was said to have (as Watson had) held a European Light Heavyweight Title prior to his arrival in North America.

Having set up the grudge bout the two rivals would meet on the next card and end up brawling on the floor before being counted out. The new game in town was now ‘hissing the Hindu’ as reported by Perlove and Singh would have to constantly battle the fans on his way in – and out- of the ring. He would also make it a habit to hide under the ring to escape the abuse which now included pop bottles being flung in from the upper rows at MLG.

At one card Singh was said to have packed the ringside with his ‘gang’, about 400 hundred supporters from the Dundas-Parliament section of Toronto – in order to combat the influence of Watson’s East end supporters (Watson was the pride of East York).

With subsequent bouts ending in dis-array, Frank Tunney would set up a re-match on Feb 5 1942 with what we would know now as a cage match. With a ‘wire enclosure’ around the ring there would be no escape for the hated Singh, constantly on the run from both Watson – and the fans. In the lead up Watson would demand Singh be searched so there would be no more coat-hangers as in a previous bout.

In front of over 6,000 fans and enclosed in the cage the two would battle it out for almost 20 minutes before Nanjo flung Whipper into the cage entangling the hero somewhat outside the ring and leading to a count out. Sam Yanaky an area promoter who was acting as Nanjo’s manager would attempt to interfere in the bout before being beset on by the now constantly irritated fans.

In response Hamilton promoter Sammy Sobol would attempt to help Watson extricate himself from the fence before Singh knocked him off the outside. Singh would once again hide under the ring till the unpopular decision died down, and in trying to get to the dressing room would be met by Sobol’s younger brother Eddie who would take up the fight. Just another night in the Maple Leaf wrestling wars

With the win over Watson, Singh earned a bout with British Empire champ Earl McCready. Whipper would not wrestle but be on hand to challenge the winner. Another Canadian star Yvon Robert would be on the card to validate his World Tile reign, as recognized in Montreal at the time. Singh would end up beating referee Dunlop’s count to emerge victorious over McCready in a bloody bout to become the new British Empire title holder.

The very next day Frank Tunney announced that Nanjo’s first defense of his new title would be against Whipper to which Nanjo was said to have agreed on the terms that he receive $1000 over the usual percentage. Tunney estimated they would draw a minimum of 12,000 to see the bout. A few days later it was announced that a special appointment of referee Fred Bourguignon of Ottawa was secured for the match-up. Bourguignon was a noted referee on the Ottawa cards and a former wrestler himself.

This bout would be especially brutal, even by the previous standards set by these two. Whipper, in a very unfamiliar role, would become just as aggressive as his hated foe, and the bout would end up a bloodbath in front of the less than spectacular turnout of 5,000 fans on hand. As with previous bouts Whipper would end up on the floor and the fans would seize the opportunity to ‘try and tear at least one leg free’ from Singh before Watson got back in and went straight to strangling his adversary.

Singh would end up being stretchered out and was reported to have gone to St Micheal’s hospital just down the street from the Gardens for treatment of facial injuries. Manager Sam was again caught in the middle when he tried to argue with Whipper after the bout and Whipper knocked him flat before the fans made his exit another treacherous route.

When the next card was announced, Singh was due to defend his title against Roland Kirchmeyer much to Watson’s dismay. Watson proclaimed he would never again wrestle in Toronto until he was given another chance at beating Nanjo. He was said to have turned down a chance to wrestle in the semi in order to appear in Montreal for promoter Eddie Quinn on that night (in reality Whip was in Hamilton taking on John Katan). Singh would use his Cobra hold to subdue Kirchmeyer only to be then matched up against former World champ Lou Thesz for the next round of battles the following week.

Thesz was undefeated in Toronto and they would play up Singh’s earlier boasts of one day winning a world title for India and beating Thesz would be the next step. Whipper would find himself matched against another former Champ – Ed Don George.

The card billed as Parade of Champions would see the famously stiff Thesz rattle Singh from pillar to post before ref Dunlop disqualified Nanjo for repeatedly kicking Thesz while he was down. The fans, so happy with the decision -and in marked contrast to previous bouts - would forget to attack Singh on his way out. Whipper meanwhile would beat Don George to set up a future meeting with Thesz.

Singh would keep busy cultivating his image as the heel of the century including attacking a radio announcer (Rex Stimers: for publicly calling Nanjo ‘punch drunk’) and being tossed out of a couple of local establishments in Toronto. In between he would take on others including Vic Christy and The Angel before being set up in a re-match with Watson. In the lead up to this one it was said that the two had engaged in a battle inside Tunney’s private office and demolished the place.

When they finally met again on Apr 30 1942 in yet another grudge bout, Whipper would emerge victorious and claim the British Empire Title, with which his name would become synonymous with for the better part of the next 25 years.

Nanjo got his re-match on May 15th getting pinned by Watson, but not before another violent outing including Nanjo snatching Whipper’s new belt (presented by Toronto Controller Fred Hamilton) and using it as a weapon on his hated rival. Whipper would get the last laugh using the ref’s belt to handcuff Nanjo and lay a beating on him much to the crowd’s approval

Prior to the May 20 card with Whipper taking on The Angel, Nanjo was at it again. This time he was picketing in front of Maple Leaf Gardens with a sign proclaiming ‘Wrestling officials unfair to Nanjo Singh’. Tunney remarked ‘He must be a cry-baby’ and wondered aloud if Singh was doing it to increase or decrease attendance for Whippers next title defense.
Sharkey taking a shot at Singh 1942

When Thursday came around, Nanjo once again got involved by hitting Watson when The Angel tossed him outside the ring. As per the norm, the Gardens faithful attacked Singh and he made his retreat again to his new home away from home – under the ring. This time Toronto’s finest went after him and escorted him safely back to the dressing room. Tunney would later admit (not without a touch of truth) that ‘He’s caused a lot of trouble but he’s also created a lot of interest and drawn crowds’.

When the next re-match came around on June 18 1942 Tunney would appoint former Boxing champ Jack Sharkey to be the third man in the ring. Tunney would note that if Nanjo gets out of hand he may be stopping a ‘lethal punch to the chin’ from Sharkey. They would also bring back the wire enclosure – the cage, but Whipper would remain champ and the feud would cool off with the two being matched against other grapplers.

Whipper would lose the title to McCready in October and Nanjo, if not enjoying the crowds approval, was certainly helping bring in the fans and thus was awarded a main vs World Champion Bill Longson only to lose to ‘Wild Bill’ in a 20 minute bout.

On Jan 28 1943 new Empire champ John Katan (had won from McCready) failed to show for his main event bout vs Watson. Nanjo got the sub and Watson got the win, once again taking the championship. The drama would play out over the next few months with Watson losing his belt to Robert and regaining it soon thereafter. While the feud would die down, both Watson & Singh would remain vital to the Toronto Wrestling scene and over the next few years would have occasional cage bouts and special referees whenever they were matched.

Fast forward to 1948, Watson is still champ five years later and had also added the tag of ‘Former World Champ’ to his resume when he beat Longson in St Louis for the NWA (National Wrestling Association) belt in February 1947. Watson would lose that belt to Thesz in April 1947 but returned to Toronto the ultimate home town hero.

Back to business in Toronto in May 1948 the next match-up between Singh & Watson would include the wire fence as well as a new stipulation of removing the curfew and time-limit. With a large crowd of 11,000 on hand, the hated Singh would end up with the win by count-out. As Whipper was being stretchered out Singh would taunt the ex-champ and the fans as usual would try to tear him apart again. When a crowd including Police and the other wrestlers on the card tried to protect Singh he dashed under the ring until they could form a wall to enable the new champ safe passage to the back. The fans would learn new tricks too including lighting papers on fire and throwing them under the ring to ‘smoke him out – like a porcupine’.
Bloodied Whip on the new ramp
ringside Dr Myron Miller on the left

After beating a visiting Gorgeous George, Whipper was awarded a re-match to regain his crown.

This time however there would a new development, one that would impact wrestling at the Gardens over the next five decades.

In order to provide safe passage for the constantly harassed Singh, Tunney announced there would be a ramp set up from the entrance way to the ring. An ‘escape hatch’ as described, it would serve exactly the purpose for which it was created. After Watson was declared the winner and new champ, Singh would attack Phil Lawson in the ring. Watson would save his manager and Singh would then hightail it across the ramp, safe above the heads of the surging ringside crowd.

The feud now in its 7th year would continue on and off right up to the early 1950’s. The newspaper ads of the time would depict cartoon caricatures of the wrestlers and in the different political climate of the day Nanjo would be depicted as a turban wearing snake going up against the crown wearing Watson.

Whipper would lose and regain his crown several times along the way and then on March 15 1956 would beat Lou Thesz at MLG to win the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) World Title. Watson would vacate the British Empire title at this point and go on to defend the NWA title on home ground 16 times over the year before losing the belt back to Thesz in St Louis on November 9 1956 . That same year Nanjo would wrestle his last bout in Toronto on April 4 losing to Pat O’Connor before an extended leave from the area.

On Jan 22 1958 Nanjo would be arrested in Philadelphia for the murder of his wife Betty who had been found beaten in their apartment above a bar Singh was operating in the city. He was eventually found guilty of second degree and sentenced to 8 years
Under the ring 1966

Just about 8 years later in August 1966 during an extended series of cards at the now defunct Maple Leaf Stadium (Ballpark on Toronto’s shores), Nanjo would return to Toronto to interfere in a tag bout between Whipper & Bulldog Brower vs Tiger Jeet Singh and Fred Atkins. The feud was on again. The following week at the top of the card, and once more for the British Empire Title (Whipper was billed as Empire champ from 1959-1967 inclusive) Whipper and Nanjo would revisit the rivalry of the old days.

While both wrestlers were nearing the end of their careers and were both up in age, they would match the ferocity of their earlier bouts albeit in a short contest when both men were counted out of the ring at the 4:31 mark. Both Whipper and Nanjo would return to Maple Leaf Stadium on September 18th for a re-match before some 6,000 fans with the bout ending in a disqualification win for Watson.

Toronto Photographer Roger Baker who covered the meeting at the Ballpark and reported on bouts for the magazines of the day remembers

“They had a showdown at the Maple Leaf Ball Park, a riot ensued as a result of Singh receiving outside assistance, I covered this event, and Singh tried to hide out under the ring because of all the heat. I went under the ring and got a shot of Singh, exhausted and scared as hell of the fans who tried to get him; they got his young accomplice and really worked him over, there were a number of Toronto's finest trying to get the fans off of the young wrestler, who had aided Singh”.

The young wrestler who was billed as Mohan Singh was said to be Nanjo’s son and Tiger Jeet said to be Nanjo’s brother. At this point Nanjo would have been about 49 years old while ‘brother’ Tiger, though he looked older, was only about 18 and could have easily also been his ‘son’.

It’s interesting to note that at this time that Tiger Jeet was the main heel in the area (under the tutelage of long time star Fred Atkins) and a similar persona to Nanjo. The cards featuring Nanjo vs Whipper were alternated with cards featuring Tiger and Fred save for the first re-appearance on Nanjo back in August.

As in the old days Nanjo could incite the fans like no other. During the riot at the Ballpark several police officers were assaulted and one 18 year old fan was charged with three counts of assault on an officer.
Nanjo snacking on Whip's foot 1966

For their 3rd bout in Oct 2 1966 Whipper would soundly defeat Nanjo and the feud would devolve with Nanjo going on to teaming with Tiger as well as Mohan Singh before making his last appearance on Nov 17 1966.

In a 1969 article with Tunney celebrating 30 years in Wrestling, he would remark on The Sheik, the new heel aggravating fans at MLG. ‘He’s the nuttiest wrestler we’ve had around here since Nanjo Singh’. Describing Nanjo as the best (therefore the worst) heel ever to antagonize an audience in the 30 year history of wrestling at the Gardens and Whipper as the all-time hero really sums up the drama played out over the decades.

Tunney goes on to say that ‘The people must have sensed that Nanjo was the genuine article. I mean he and Whip really disliked each other. There’s showmanship in wrestling but they didn’t need it. I’ve seen Nanjo go after Whip in the office after the matches were over “.

Tunney relates how he originally brought Singh in because he had heard he bit off another wrestler’s ear in Kansas City. “In fact there was only one way to cool Nanjo off and that was to let him know the cops were coming. He was scared of them. He was the greatest I ever saw.

He would do anything; you were always scared to death when he was working, for fear of what he might pull off. He’d pick up anything loose and hit his opponent with it. You’d never put up with a guy like him if he wasn’t such a big draw”.
Mohan facing camera, Ref Joe Gollub on right
Rocky Johnson in foreground, back to camera 1966

Tunney’s propensity for promoting is related in a telling anecdote: “The Late Lionel Conacher, when he was athletic commissioner, fined him $100 for some caper. We had a picture taken of him (Singh) with 10 sawbucks and it made the papers. Connie phoned up and said if he’d known we were going to get $1000 of publicity out of it, he’d have fined him a grand”.

When Whipper was hit by a car in Dec 1971 effectively ending his wrestling career, the headline ‘Whipper Watson beaten at last’ was followed by: ‘Nanjo Singh couldn’t do in a decade of trying…”

Nanjo’s name would continue to pop up whenever the stories of Wrestling at Maple Leaf Gardens would be related even making it into a 1982 article on the then current scene with his name dropped as a grappler ‘nearly forgotten about’. In 1995 in an article titled ‘First time since 1939 storied Tunney name not part of Wrestling’, Nanjo, his legacy of infuriating fans, starting riots, and being a general troublemaker, would get a fitting mention as the first name in a series of ‘detestable villains’ who had opposed Whipper over his career as the hero of Toronto.

Thanks to Roger Baker !

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Adrian Adonis & Jesse Ventura: Classic Photo

I took these in Jan 1982 when Adonis and Ventura made their only appearance as a tag team here during the NWA days. Both wrestled here a bit on their own, Adonis as Keith Franks as far back as the mid 70's and both would be in the Cadillac Tournament a couple of months after this card but this was the only time in a tag.

They were well known here from AWA TV and both were appearing in WWF rings by this time.
In fact Adonis would face Backlund (also on this card) the very next night at MSG in NYC.

The two also appeared a few weeks later in the Greensboro NC round of the NWA World Tag Team Championship Tournament - the M-A Gateway has that at M-A Gateway - World Title Tourney

The fans were mostly split as to their love/hatred of the team in a bout vs Parisi & Denucci. In the lower photo you can see Terry Yorkston doing a head slap 'doh' after the botched ending when the East West Connection stole the bout from the Italian Connection.

Blackjack Mulligan Sr & Jr 1982: Classic Photo

Blackjack Jr. helps poppa Mulligan after another tough bout vs Big John Studd. Sr. Mulligan and Studd had some tough battles here in the NWA days 1980-1982 with most ending up in bloodbaths. This one had Jr. coming in to help after Studd continued attacking Sr. after the bout was over. .

This card also marked the debut of Jr. who took on Austin Idol in a good bout. Even at this early point you could tell Jr. was going to be a star, the fans already solidly behind him.

Both Mulligans would continue in Toronto after the WWF came in, Jr. coming back as Barry Windham. Sr.'s Toronto career went way back to 1971 when he faced Lou Klein in his debut at MLG. He and Studd would face each other again in Dec 1984, Sr. teamed with Andre while Studd teamed with Patera during Sr's short tenure in the WWF.

Pat Flanagan: 'The Irish Tornado'

With apologies to Whipper Watson, Pat Flanagan may have been the most prolific and hardest working man in Toronto Wrestling history. He's at least in the top 3 alongside Whip and Fred Atkins. From his days wrestling to his later days as a referee his career spanned 5 decades.

As with most pro wrestlers of the day he would start out on the amateur circuit as a teenager under his given name of Winnett Watson. Already an accomplished athlete, by early 1936 at the age of 19 Flanagan was wrestling at the 174 pound level as a light heavyweight. A notable bout found him battling the British Empire champion of the day (amateur version) and former Dominion champ Terry Evans. Also on the circuit at that time was Cliff Worthy, a heavyweight who was also to become a longtime referee at Maple Leaf Gardens.

In mid 1936 Winnett the future 'Pat Flanagan would go over to England to join fellow Toronto wrestlers Billy Potts, Ken Tasker, Al Korman, and Tom Nelson on their tour of the British Isles.

Also appearing was fellow amateur combatant from the Toronto (and Montreal) scene Ben Engblom. It's said that Winnett Watson earned his new moniker while on this tour as Billy Potts had recently been christened the very similiar Whipper Watson.

Some years later, Pat Flanagan's mother noted that in all the confusion between the names and the fact that Pat and Whip were close, people were often asking about 'her sons' Winnett and Whipper.

In England the newly christened 'Pat Flanagan - The Irish Tornado' would earn experience alongside - and also against - Whipper and the rest of the Canadian contingent.

Upon his return in mid 1937 Flanagan would wrestle both under his true name and wrestling name around Michigan and Illinois before returning to Ontario.

The first sign of him locally as Pat Flanagan is in Hamilton in 1939. He would spend a bit more time over in England and it would be a couple of years before he made it to Maple Leaf Gardens debuting on May 1 1941.

It was said that he had been wrestling in the US since his return from 4 years in England. In addition to his exploits across Lake Michigan, he is said to have been wrestling as Mendel Singer in the New York area around 1940.

While it does appear to coincide with the dates I couldn't find any proof they were one and the same - such as a photo. Mendel Singer was billed as 'Jewish Flash' and more notably The California Dropkicker'. Flanagan in his early days was a high flyer and known for his dropkicks also.

The night of Flanagan's debut at MLG was a tournament being held to determine the #1 contender for the Worlds heavyweight title. Flanagan lost in the first round to Jack Claybourne who was later beat by the nights winner Whipper Watson. This would begin Pat's long tenure as part of the small circle of Toronto regulars that would remain loyal to Frank Tunney for the next 35+ years.

Tunney would remark about Flanagan in a 1943 piece: "Flanagan has learned to wrestle all-in style, has put on weight and is steadily going up the wrestling ladder. If nothing untoward occurs he'll be a top-flight operative in a year or maybe less."

Flanagan, like the Whip would always wrestle on the 'good side' and take on the heels. Occasionally there would be face ve face contests and Flanagan would find himself on the the other side of the ring to Watson himself on a night in 1942. As part of Army Week Tunney put on a Boxing/Wrestling show at Maple Leaf Stadium for 1500 soldiers and their friends. The most popular bout of the day was an exhibition bout between Pat and the Whip which saw 13 minutes of action before Watson pinned Flanagan under the watchful eye of referee Phil Lawson.

They also occasionally faced each other in the smaller towns (likely as a fill in for a no show) and would go on to be frequent tag partners through the 1940's. Flanagan would mostly wrestle on the undercards at MLG other than when teaming with the Whip but had his share of main events in the outside towns.
Oshawa 1948 vs The Zebra

In addition to the Toronto scene, Flanagan would frequent other towns including Ottawa (Tunney run at that time), Buffalo and Cleveland, and also make appearances in St Louis both on his own and alongside Whipper during the Whips NWA Title run in 1947. One notable bout in St Louis found Pat facing future champ Buddy Rogers.

In Aug 1947 he would appear on Pat Milosh' first card at the Oshawa Arena. Pat would go on to have the most appearances in Oshawa out of all wrestlers with about 187 bouts over 20 years (summer month circuit) appearing in 42 main events solo and as part of a tag. The two Pat's would remain close through the years with Flanagan providing help and support to the young promoter.

In 1950 Flanagan would step in as an occasional referee, a position he would fill both during his remaining wrestling years and after retiring as a wrestler.

In 1952 teaming with Whipper the two would capture the Canadian Open Tag Titles by defeating Lord Athol Layton & Hans Hermann in tournament final to become first champions. Presented with the Calvert Trophy they would hold the title for several months before losing to Lou Plummer & Dick Raines. This appears to be the only Title Flanagan would hold in his ring tenure.

Around this time Pat would start to assist Tunney in scheduling the wrestlers for the Ontario curcuit towns. He would set up the wrestlers to appear on the local cards around Southern Ontario acting as a sort of booker, a liaison between the circuit promoters and the Tunney office.
Posing for Roger 1960 

In 1959 he was the first partner to newcomer on the scene Don Jardine. The future 'Spoiler' was said to have been discovered by Whipper on a tour of the Maritimes. Jardine had been in several singles bouts before being teamed with Pat vs the Vachon Brothers.

In the 1960's Pat would mostly appear as a referee, only stepping in as a wrestler as a sub or for a no-show. He would make his last appearance in the MLG ring July 1968 vs Waldo Von Erich.

A brief note in 1961 mentions Sam Yanaky, best known as manager of Nanjo Singh, being accompanied by 'his son Pat Flanagan' in visiting an ailing wrestling fan. I am unsure if there was any relation between the two, Yanaky also promoted a bit in the Kitchener/Cambridge area

I asked Writer and MLG Photographer Roger Baker for his memories of Flanagan.

"He was a very nice guy, and he helped me out a few times to gain access to a wrestler for the purpose of doing an interview. Remember so well my introduction to Gene Kiniski courtesy of Pat, I wound up doing a 40 minute photo shoot in a private room as well as an interview with Gene, as a result both Gene and myself were quite pleased with the results."

"Another time I was working one summer as a butcher up in Jacksons Point, had only been covering the Toronto wrestling scene for about a year at this point in time, not having been to the Gardens all that summer, well guess who comes into the store to buy some steaks, yes it was Pat Flanagan. We had a very welcome conversation and I mentioned to him to let the wrestling office know that I'd be back in Sept. He promised to do just that."
Flanagan warns Thesz 1963

"I first saw him wrestle at The Gardens around 1950. Around 1956 I met Pat at The Gardens and mentioned to him that I had a couple of pictures of him that had been taken some years earlier at The Gardens, he was very pleased to hear this. A few weeks later we met again at The Gardens and I gave him those pictures that were mentioned. He was very pleased, and he said to me that so many people promise something but don't bother to follow through."

In 1973 Flanagan accompanied Whipper to the annual Easter Seals dinner of which Whip had missed the 1972 one because of his accident. In a photo from the event Flanagan can be seen helping Whip make the memorable walk up the stairs with that years 'Timmy' on his shoulders.

Around late 1976 he would officiate his last bout and retire from the ring.

When he died at the age of 68 in 1985 he was the fourth member of the old guard of MLG wrestling to pass away in the 2 years span after Tunney, Layton, and Frank Ayerst. His obituary said that he had attended Malvern Collegiate and had played football for the Junior Argonauts and Balmy Beach while in High School

Photos by - and thanks! - to Roger Baker