Int'l Wrestling - Montreal #18 Page #2

And, of course, the inevitable unmasking provided a perfect climax to the program while establishing the youngster revealed under the hood as a guy who proved he could hang with the stars at the top of the card. So, he was now on his way.  

In 1965 when Johnny Rougeau revived wrestling in Quebec with his All-Star promotion, he tended to shy away from the mask gimmick for the first few years. His initial documented foray into the realm came in late 1968 via an enhancement duo simply dubbed "Les Deux Masques" (The Two Masks). But Johnny really struck box office gold when "Mr.X" rolled into town in the spring of 1971. Managed by the hyperactive Eddy "The Brain" Creatchman, the towering X (with his trusty claw hold) steamrolled all the way to the International title by defeating no less an opponent than the then-unstoppable Jos Leduc on June 21st at the Forum. Although he only held the strap a couple of months, X helped cement new champ Carlos Rocha's reputation with local fans via an  unmasking in early 1972. The man under the hood was revealed to be Tarzan Zorra, a veteran worker who had often main evented here for Eddie Quinn back in the 1950's. American fans might know him best as Hans Mortier, who regularly battled Bruno Sammartino in the early WWWF years. 

There's also an interesting little tidbit to the Mr. X saga in Quebec. While doing some Net research last year, I came across a 1970 photograph of the distinct Mr.X costume and mask from Japan - except that it was obviously NOT Tarzan Zorra. In fact, this X was veteran Jack Pesek. In that his X pre-dated the Quebec version, this really piqued my curiosity. Well, as it turns out, Zorra was on that same Japanese tour with Pesek, wearing a basic black mask and billed under his own name. So I surmise that Zorra bought the costume from Pesek following the tour and brought the Mr.X gimmick to Quebec in early '71. Fascinating stuff. Anyway, the success of the Mr.X program spawned similar projects, including a good Rougeau program with the masked Boston Strangler, capitalizing on the hit movie starring Tony Curtis. 

If Johnny Rougeau was initially reluctant about the mask gimmick, his new promotional rivals over at the fledgling Grand Prix Wrestling company dove into it, ummm, head first. Two of the group's first imports were the original Destroyer (Dick Beyer) and The Professional (Doug Gilbert), who was one of  rookie "Giant" Jean Ferre's (Andre The Giant) first serious opponents.  Beyer's popularity, in particular, spawned a dizzying wave of Grand Prix masked "Destroyers" to the point where there were at least half a dozen floating around at various times. 

One of the early Grand Prix hit tag teams were the Green Hornets. The original team consisted of mid-carder Fernand Frechette and none other than Michel "Justice" Dubois. He was later replaced by Frechette's old regular All-Star partner Cowboy Jones. A masked Patriot showed up for a while in early 1973, and by the latter stages of that year even Killer Kowalski himself started donning a mask for no discernible reason other than his new toupee seemed to have trouble staying glued on during long matches! The UFO (Bob Della Serra) was a pretty big hit as the year drew to a close, thanks to his colourful attire (remember, this WAS the 70's) - even if his mask was so cheesy that it looked as if his mom made it for him! The blood red-garbed Scorpions started off in Grand Prix then jumped to All-Star in early 1974.  Their identities aren't known but I seem to recall that they got quite a bit of ink in the Apter mags and may have been known at some point in All-Star as the Spidermen. In any case, they wrestled like veteran enhancement talent and got some good play primarily because of a good gimmick and great (for the time) costumes. 

The Spring of '74 saw Grand Prix's fortunes begin to decline dramatically. By this time the promotion was beginning to implode due to the ongoing war with Rougeau and increasing internal dissension amongst the handful of wrestlers/investors who ran the company. They failed to follow up on their immensely successful Mad Dog Vachon/Killer Kowalski feud of the previous summer and crowds were dropping. Ironically, in a promotion which had overdosed its fans on masked men almost from the start, one of Grand Prix's last great television angles involved Edouard Carpentier's quest to unmask The Destroyer (# 567, by my count). 

Although the feud, such as it was, did briefly make the house show rounds, I suspect that it was primarily designed as a TV affair to boost sagging ratings. In point of fact, it was even acknowledged on television that this Destroyer wasn't really in Carpentier's class and it was simply a case of Edouard teaching the fellow a lesson by going after his mask. Well, finally, on the first Saturday afternoon in May, it happened! Carpentier quickly pinned The Destroyer and unmasked him to reveal none other than mid-carder Frenchy Martin under the hood! The CHLT-7 studio audience there in Sherbrooke for the TV tapings - always a hot crowd, by the way - went absolutely bananas! So did I, albeit in front of the family television set back home in Montreal. I was about 7 years old at the time and it was my first real "mark out" moment. Just like sex (well, almost), you always remember your first time). 

All kidding aside, the angle really did nothing to further Frenchy's career at the time. He'd have to go to Puerto Rico some years later in order to finally hit it big. But a few years ago, I was absolutely thrilled to discover that the Carpentier/Destroyer unmasking is actually one of the few pre-International Montreal TV episodes that is still known to exist! Thanks to my column-writing predecessor here on the Montreal board, I was able to obtain a copy of one of my most cherished early wrestling memories and can re-live those great Grand Prix times over and over again to my heart's content. 

And that's as it should be. 

At about that same period, Montreal saw its first babyface masked man in All-Star as The White Angel appeared on the scene and vowed to clean up the "sport". Of course, masked good guys had been popular for decades in Mexico and most North American fans were familiar with the high-flying antics of Mil Mascaras. Southern U.S. fans were also treated to the heroics of Mr.Wrestling (Tim Woods) and Mr.Wrestling II (Johnny Walker) in the 70's. But The White Angel was the first one in Quebec. The guy under the hood was journeyman Michel Gagnon and the gimmick might have gotten over more but for the fact that Gagnon was essentially a junior heavyweight and didn't match up very well with big guns like Abdullah The Butcher and Michel Dubois.  

By 1976, Rougeau had sold the dying All-Star (now known as "Superstar Wrestling" but with basically the same personnel, titles and TV) and the new owners began to forge more economically prudent talent exchanges with Dave McKigney's and George Cannon's troupes based out of Ontario. The breakout stars from that arrangement were the masked El Santos heel team which quickly captured the tag team titles in a tournament early that year. Using local talent under the hoods (one report has longtime McKigney veteran Duncan MacTavish playing one) and having nothing whatsoever to do with the more famous El Santo ("The Saint") of lucha libre fame, this new tag team did, however, have a link to the Mexican scene. Anyone who saw them perform would always comment on their fantastic black & white costumes. Doing a little research, I discovered that a famous lucha heel called El Cobarde ("The Cowardly One") wore the exact same mask and costume earlier in the decade. Given that our El Santos were of a larger build, it's obvious they weren't the original luchadors. It was probably an idea they picked up while one or both were touring Mexico. Nevertheless, they were one of the precious few new wrestlers to build a reputation during one of the worst down periods for the business in Quebec history.

 As an aside, for all of the language experts out there, the team was always billed as "The El Santos" which was, in fact, a double mistake. First of all, they should have been billed as "Los Santos," in the plural form, since "El" translates into "The" in Spanish. So, literally, announcers were calling them "The The Saints" all the time. A small and fussy point I know, but it always bugged me.   :)  

A year later in 1977, with Cannon's show the only remaining game in town, El Santos #1 & #2 continued on as the lead heel tag team. They alternated, at various intervals, with other masked duos such as the returning Scorpions and a smaller duo called "Los Villanos" (at least they got the grammar right this time) who showed up around 1979 with outrageously bright yellow costumes and masks that were even tougher on the eyes than those gold numbers the Conquistadors used to wear in the WWF. But neither team could match the appeal of the big boys in black & white.  

By 1980, Varoussac Promotions was formed and finally restored order to the chaotic Montreal scene. Since all three initial investors (Frank Valois, Andre The Giant and Gino Brito) were old Grand Prix alumni, the presence of masked men right from the get-go was a given. A masked Avenger showed up for while and got some choice spots on those early cards but he failed to make a significant impact. On the other hand, one of the new promotion's first imported stars was none other than our old friend Dick Beyer, the original (and greatest) Destroyer. Even though he was nearing the end of a truly terrific career, Beyer could still trade holds with the best of them and his superlative ring skills not only helped erase the memory of all those hooded jobbers from previous administrations, but also established the fledgling promotion's credibility as a major league outfit with skeptical local fans. Beyer was even rewarded with a brief International title reign in 1983 and, after a long career as a heel, wound up riding off into the sunset as a babyface in Quebec. 

As popular as Beyer's Destroyer was, by far the biggest hooded star in the history of International (and, perhaps, in the entire history of Quebec wrestling) was the famous Masked Superstar (Bill Eadie). Having established a solid reputation as a main event draw, particularly in Japan and the southern U.S., the Superstar was brought into Montreal in 1983 on the recommendation
of Dino Bravo who had worked with Eadie a few years earlier in the Carolinas. For those younger fans who only remember Eadie as the punching and stomping Ax of Demolition in the WWF, I strongly suggest you seek out some tapes of him in action as the Superstar. For a man of such a large frame, Eadie was a tremendous worker who was vastly underrated throughout his tenure under the mask. He was instantly plugged into a feud with Bravo for the International title and their chemistry with each other in the ring was absolutely breathtaking by any era's standards. Their program was an instant sensation. Managed by the effete Lord Alfred Hayes, Superstar staged titanic battles with Bravo all over Quebec for months on end.

One interesting element I noticed about Eadie during this period was that he really seemed to like Quebec. I recall a couple of interviews he did when Hayes wasn't around where he showed up wearing a Montreal tourism t-shirt and actually broke character to speak in a normal, calm voice about how he was enjoying his stay in the province and what a wonderful city Montreal was. Not exactly the mantra of a heel. I also remember that Superstar made many appearances in the smaller, outlying towns on the Quebec circuit which was something no U.S. import ever did. Hell, even local stars like Bravo and Rick Martel rarely made forays out to the regions. 

When Bravo spun off into his classic feud with King Tonga in late 1984, the Superstar entered into a thrilling program with veteran Jos Leduc. Unlike the technical masterpiece that was his series with Bravo, the Leduc matches were old-fashioned pier-six brawls with mayhem galore and big Jos shedding buckets of blood in the process. Again, Superstar matched up well with a worker who was quite the opposite of the more scientifically-oriented Bravo and their series provided great support on the card for the Bravo/Tonga main events. 

During the tumultuous year of 1985, which saw the WWF making preparations to invade the province, Eadie's Montreal appearances became more sporadic. Still, Superstar did return for one last hurrah against Bravo at the Montreal Forum on the afternoon of July 29th before 17,502 screaming fans. The day also marked the last time International Wrestling would promote on its own in that building. In a strange irony, Superstar was saved from being unmasked by another mysterious masked man who interfered and attacked Bravo. That masked man turned out to be none other than Jos Leduc! 

If Eadie's Superstar was a classic example of everything that was great about a masked wrestler, then the "Luc Poirier experiment" was at completely the opposite end of the spectrum. A muscular youngster with an exceptional build, Poirier seemingly had the aesthetic required to make it big in a mid-80's wrestling universe that was becoming increasingly obsessed with muscle-bound cartoon caricatures. But appearances can often times be deceiving. Nevertheless, the promotion was wisely thinking towards the future and was on the lookout for the next potential local star who could someday carry the company. Based on his look, they started grooming Poirier for that role. They even decided to revive Eddie Quinn's tried-and-true old "Masked Marvel" gimmick in order to help Luc test his wings. In the beginning, things looked somewhat promising. The Marvel ("Le Merveille Masquee" in French) performed adequately enough against limited competition in TV matches and his muscular build did set him apart from your average enhancement talent. 

Yet almost from the start you got that sinking feeling that this guy just wasn't going to make it. His occasional interviews, which started out shakily as all rookies do, failed to improve one iota as time marched on. Even more importantly, the progression of his in-ring abilities had stalled as well.  Soon, rumours of Poirier dogging it in training sessions began to surface and now his dedication and work ethic was openly being questioned by both  management and the fans. In October of 1984 it was decided to pull the trigger on a heel turn for the Marvel (now known as "The Mercenary") to see if that would put him over with the fans. It fizzled like a wet firecracker.

If it was instantly clear that the timing of the turn was a mistake, the company compounded the situation by panicking and by the end of the month, The Mercenary was unmasked. Given the lofty expectations going in, the Poirier project was one of the biggest flops in Quebec wrestling history. Luc went on to a brief tryout with the WWF in 1985 and disappeared from the wrestling scene entirely until he surprisingly re-surfaced over 10 years later as 1/4 of the short-lived "Truth Commission" group. 

As the end drew near for International Wrestling, an influx of masked jobbers - always a sign that a promotion is in trouble - started turning up. In another attempt to cut costs, a fellow like Verne Siebert would wrestle under his own name in one match and then don a hood (in his case as the masked "Spoiler") to wrestle again. The only masked man of any renown during those final months was Jason The Terrible who was in briefly as part of the WWC talent exchange from Puerto Rico. 

When International died in 1987 and the WWF was the lone major promotion left in Quebec, masks were pretty much already out of vogue in the Federation, save for a brief run by Andre, Eadie and Blackjack Mulligan posing as The Machines from Japan. And speaking of Japan, the great acrobatics of hooded  stars like Tiger Mask and Jushin "Thunder" Liger were missed out on by Montrealers during the 1990's, as well as the outstanding highspots of the Mexican luchadors. It took the ascension of WCW as a real competitive force to Vince McMahon for all of those great foreign masked stars to finally get some exposure here. 

Nowadays in 21st century WWE, masks are being used primarily as merchandising tools. But there's no use in pining for the old days of wondering who's under the hood because those angles are virtually impossible to execute today. The anti-climax of Kane's unmasking was a textbook demonstration of how WWE writers painted themselves into a difficult corner. Since the actual identity of Kane was well known (Glen Jacobs), the only "mystery" left was in how ugly the make-up team was going to fix him up to look. It was a one-shot shock value (if even that) and it leaves the Kane character with very few options for the future. In any case, given the new realities of masks in today's wrestling, I suppose it's all we'll be able to look forward to.


Why inter-promotional angles never work.

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