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The "Italian Strongman" Adolfo Bresciano was a mainstay of International Wrestling out of Montreal but because of the proximity he, like many other International stars, was way over in Toronto. Of course he was the Canadian Heavyweight Champ for several years and had wins over Nick Bockwinkel, Gene Kininski and Ric Flair to endear himself to the Toronto faithful. He was so popular here, I even remember him teaming with Bob Backlund against Bockwinkel and Stevens who were the AWA champs at the time and winning by DQ, (man, those were the days). He held several other titles during that time including the Mid-Atlantic heavyweight belt in 1975 and the NWA World Tag titles with Tim "Mr. Wrestling" Woods as well as the WWWF tag titles with Domenic Denucci in 1978. In later years he became rather "pumped up" and was not as agile as he was in the 70's although his teaming with Greg Valentine was memorable and he got quite a push in the early 90's with the WWF. Dino won the tournament for Frank Tunney's Canadian Heavyweight Title in 1978 and was presented the belt by Whipper Watson himself (we will look at the tournament in a later column) after beating former NWA champ and fellow Canadian Gene Kininski. Unfortunately as we all know, Bravo was murdered in Montreal in 1993 but will always be a fond memory of the 70's in Maple Leaf Wrestling.
Angelo "King Kong" Mosca
Big Angelo was born in Massachusetts but became a "hometown hero" by making a name for himself as one of the toughest players to ever play in the Canadian Football League (CFL). He was feared by all and was involved in several incidents that nearly put his opponents out for good including an incident in 1963 during the Grey Cup (our version of the Super Bowl) when he took out future CFL hall of famer Willie Fleming with an out of bounds and some say pre-meditated hit that earned him the villain persona that he would carry on to pro wrestling (remember the water pitcher incident with Pat Patterson?).
After winning the Grey Cup four times and wrestling in the off season he retired from football and went full time starting out in Montreal. Although usually a heel, Angelo was usually received with a mix of boo's and cheers in Toronto and was a forerunner of the style of today where the legit tough guy's are usually booed but respected by the fans - think Bruiser Brody, Flair, The Andersons et al. Mosca held the Canadian Heavyweight Title 5 times between 1980 - 1984 and the NWA Georgia Heavyweight belt among others and upon his career winding down turned to promoting in the area. He is still active in local politics and regularly appears at Hamilton Tiger Cats games in a promotional capacity.
Although he was the star of the Detroit promotion, The Sheik owned Maple Leaf Wrestling in the late 60's and 70's. He must have headlined 50 times or so and was the main draw for many years as the fans came to see him get beat by one of the locals like Layton or Mosca. The Sheik was the source of many exciting nights at the Gardens throwing fire and carving up his opponents which included all the greats at the time. Tunney stopped booking the Sheik around July 1977 with a last match against NWA champ Harley Race, although I'm not sure if there was a falling out or if it was more a case of The Sheik wanting to take more care with his own very successful promotion. I have read where the attendance was going way down but it wasn't all that noticeable at the arena. Of course with all the blood and screaming going on I didn't notice much else but the general perception was that pro wrestling was going through a "down" time in the late Seventies. As well, at this time I remember some smaller independents popping up in smaller outlets. Dave McKigney who had a pretty good persona as "The Wildman" ran some independents with guys from Detroit, including The Skeik under the banner of Big Time Wrestling. I remember a show (for any Toronto marks out there) at the concert hall at Yonge and Davenport with The Skeik vs Domenic Denucci who was known as The Italian Champion, Killer Kowalski vs. Luis "Arriba" Martinez, The Valiant Brothers , Whipper Watson Jr. (who really was Whipper's son) and some other local favorites like Cowboy Frankie Lane and Ray Yarek. So the Sheik still managed to get into Toronto from time to time and for anyone that has ever seen a card at a small hall or a bar it was even more intense than all those bloodbaths at the Gardens.
This all led into late 1977 , when faced with revitalizing Toronto, Frank Tunney brought a series of cards over the next year or so that could possibly be the best year in any promotion. World Title matchups from all three major federations at the time every couple of weeks or so, sometimes with multiple title matches on the same card and since that was my time, all my favorites. I'll look at that year in focus in a later column but anyone who was a big time mark in the late seventies, you know, Race, Backlund, Graham, Rhodes, Bockwinkel, Stevens and Patterson, Andre etc. They were all here in 77-78 and made for some exciting nights at the Gardens.
Now that I am rambling on I will wrap up this column with a mention of some of the other local heroes although I'm sure there are a thousand personal favorites.
He was always one of my favorites and did live in Toronto for a stretch. He was also under a mask at times as "Sweet Ebony Diamond" although I don't know if it was always him. I believe he did the mask thing in other parts of the country at that time, Mid-Atlantic comes to mind but like other masked characters would sometimes be a local wrestler using the persona like The Masked Assassins and I'm sure many others. Anyhow, the father of "The Rock" was always well received here and was a great worker with a lot of charisma which explains where the kid gets it from.
Abdullah The Butcher
Somewhat of a local, Abby is from Windsor, about a three hour drive form Toronto and lived here for a while. I know a little more about Abby because my father-in-law had been long time friends with Abby's late brother Harold. I will always be indebted to Harold for setting up a meeting with The Butcher in my own home. Needless to say after battening down the hatches so to speak, it was an unforgettable couple of hours ending up with a great picture of Abby holding my head in a classic "carving shot". I had that blown up to poster size and even non wrestling fans know who he is and is a testament to his legend. He had great matches here, usually working with The Sheik as an opponent or a tag partner and although he didn't always appear on Tunney's cards he would show up in the independents as he still does to this day, not bad for a sixty something !!
Tony "Cannonball" Parisi
The "Cannonball" off the top rope was one of the great finishers where he would climb the rope and jump onto his opponents chest in a sitting position. Parisi was an incredible technician and used to use bridges to tag in opponents or walk the ropes and was a perennial fan favorite in Toronto. He broke in with Gino Brito (another big favorite) in Detroit and mostly stayed local his whole career. He actually held a share of the WWWF Tag Titles in 1975 with Brito (using Louis Cerdan) after beating the Blackjacks (Lanza and Mulligan) and did show up in other areas including the U.S. and Australia. Parisi died in 2000 in his adopted hometown of Niagara Falls, On. and used to have a restaurant there that was like a wrestling museum.
That's all for this month. Hope you enjoyed visiting with the local heroes of Maple Leaf Wrestling
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