Int'l Wrestling - Montreal #6 Page #2

The main Quebec promotion in the mid-1960's was Johnny Rougeau's "All-Star Wrestling" group ("Les As De La Lutte" in French). Initially following the traditional booking path of mixing local names with well-known American veterans, the atmosphere generated by Expo'67 saw Rougeau initiate the angle of "Quebec vs. The World" in which the greatest wrestlers from around the globe would come here to challenge the local superstars. On October 23rd, 1967, five days before Expo closed, The Sheik - billed as hailing from Syria - defeated Gino Brito in a tournament final for the All-Star International title, thus ushering in the new promotional direction.

To say that the concept was a smash hit would be an understatement. Quebec wrestling fans really connected with it and Rougeau responded with an almost Vince McMahon'esque success rate of creating new "foreign" characters to invade All-Star rings. The year of 1968 saw Montreal-born Oreal Perras become "The Russian Bear" Ivan Koloff and engage in a feud with Rougeau which broke attendance records at the Montreal Forum and electrified the province. As if to prove it was no fluke, Rougeau's next creation was an Ontario-born fellow named Larry Shreeve, who was soon transformed into "The Madman From Sudan" Abdullah The Butcher, probably the most successful heel character (at least in terms of longevity) in Quebec wrestling history.

Holding All-Star titles in the ensuing years were a virtual United Nations roster which included Fritz Von Raschke (Germany), Danny Lynch (Great Britain), Mr.X (France), Carlos Rocha (Portugal), "Tiger" Jeet Singh (India), the Castillo brothers (Cuba), Don Serrano (Mexico) and countless others.

In the early 1970's, Rougeau's group became embroiled in a colossal 5-year local promotional war when Maurice and Paul Vachon launched their own circuit called "Grand Prix Wrestling". From its inception, Grand Prix took Rougeau's international wrestling formula even further. Starting with the opening credits of their TV show, which featured wrestling action super-imposed over a carousel of world flags, Grand Prix was specifically designed to be identified with the post-Expo image. Their first breakout star was the 7-foot tall "Giant" Jean Ferre from France, who would go on to become one of pro wrestling's greatest attractions as Andre The Giant.

Sadly, by mid-1975, the fierce promotional feud had destroyed both the All-Star and Grand Prix companies. Although this was more a result of the division of talent rather than a waning of interest in the "international" booking concept that had been working so well, the result was that the major league wrestling scene collapsed in Quebec and would not fully recover for another five years.

During this period, several promoters shuffled in an out, attempting to pitch their tents in Montreal, but none could revive the scene.

In 1980, out of the ashes of the mess that had been created, former Grand Prix wrestlers Frank Valois, Andre The Giant and Gino Brito invested in a new promotion called "Les Etoiles De La Lutte" ("The Stars Of Wrestling" in English). Renamed a few years later as, simply, "International Wrestling", the new group, right from the start, felt there was still a lot of life left in the formula of bringing global stars in to challenge Quebec-based wrestlers. Reviving the dormant International heavyweight championship, Valois and company basically combined the strong points of both the former All-Star (solid in-ring workrate and straightforward storytelling) and Grand Prix (colorful aesthetics and multi-ethnic local stars) promotions to form, in essence, a super-league.

As was the case a decade before, the formula clicked with Quebec fans. One of the first successful foreign "invaders" was veteran British wrestler Billy Robinson. Long a scientific stalwart in Verne Gagne's AWA, Robinson became the top heel here in 1982 along with his manager, fellow Englishman "Lord" Alfred Hayes, who helped immensely with getting Robinson over because of His Lordship's unique fluency in speaking French with an acute upper class British accent in interviews.

However, the most successful example of the foreign challenger during the reign of International Wrestling had to be King Tonga. Although younger fans may only know him as the somewhat flabby Meng from WCW, or Haku in the WWF, Tonga was an excellent worker in 1984. Coming straight from wrestling in relative obscurity out of Puerto Rico, Tonga quickly became a superstar in Quebec and his long feud with top babyface Dino Bravo was one of the best that the promotion ever presented. A thrilling title match at the Forum on December 23rd, 1984 drew over 19,500 fans and was a true classic.

Despite the fact that the "Quebec vs. The World" model had run like a well-oiled machine for almost twenty years, the promoters of International Wrestling probably never ever believed that the battle would actually come to a resolution, much less one in which "The World" would end up being declared the victor.

By 1985, ominous clouds were forming over the territorial system that had organized the pro wrestling scene in North America. Vince McMahon's WWF juggernaut was expanding across the continent at a rapid pace. Local promoters, most of whose television shows were still using dated

1970's-style production values, just couldn't compete with the WWF's well-polished presentation and were being squeezed out of existence. International Wrestling made a valiant attempt at a compromise in mid-1985 by striking a then-unprecedented co-promotional deal with McMahon for a series of cards at the Forum.

Now it was "Quebec vs. the WWF" and all seemed fine - at first.

The initial card on August 26th, headlined by a tag team match pitting Dino Bravo and King Tonga against Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik, was an enormous success, drawing 21,000. The next five inter-promotional cards did almost as well and it seemed as though International Wrestling would avoid the fate of its territorial cousins, but the WWF had other ideas.

In hindsight, it's a certainty that Vince McMahon only chose to co-promote with International Wrestling in the first place as a way to gain a foothold in Montreal, and in the Forum specifically. He could have gone to war, as he had with other local promotions in the States, but Quebec wrestling over the years had been a unique and tricky market in which to succeed and McMahon cleverly chose to piggy-back the WWF on the built-in appeal of International Wrestling in order to introduce his new brand of "sports entertainment" to the fans here.

Therefore, after six successful inter-promotional Forum cards, the WWF voided the deal and basically forced International Wrestling out of the Montreal Forum and back to its original confines in the considerably smaller Paul Sauve Centre. With their major revenue source gone and their local superstars signed with the WWF, International Wrestling was suddenly regarded as "minor league" in Quebec and the promotion folded six months later. Astonishingly, it took Vince McMahon less than one year to vanquish one of the most unique, locally entrenched and successful wrestling promotions of its time, and with it went the actual concept of "international wrestling", as Quebecers had come to know it.

More than 14 years after the demise of the International Wrestling promotion, it is almost impossible to surmise with any sense of certainty whether or not the post-Expo'67 wrestling formula, which was so popular, will ever make a comeback here. Quebec fans have definitely embraced the WWF's brand of entertainment over the years and, indeed, most who are fans nowadays aren't even old enough to remember pre-Hulk Hogan wrestling.

Still, hope springs eternal. Jacques Rougeau has had some significant, though sporadic, success with his "Lutte Internationale 2000" promotion. He even drew 3,500 to an October card in Chicoutimi, an attendance figure that is absolutely astonishing for an independent show in a non-major city nowadays. Whether or not Rougeau has a real shot at reviving the local scene may come this December 30th when he plans to shoot the works and hold a card at the huge Molson Centre in Montreal.

Until then, through the wonders of recollection (and video tape trading), we still have those great memories of when wrestling in Quebec truly was international.


Wrestling mimics hockey as Dino Bravo and Rick Martel fuel the bitter rivalry between Montreal and Quebec City in 1983-84.

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