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Canada has a long and varied history with professional wrestling, from the Hart's and Kiniski in the west to the Rougeau's and Emile Dupree in the east, however few have reached the pinnacle of Toronto promoter Frank Tunney. From the thirties to the early eighties Frank Tunney brought the worlds greatest wrestlers to Maple Leaf Gardens and showcased countless world title matches and the great feuds of the day. Sadly neither Mr. Tunney or the Gardens are still with us but the memories of a great promotion live on to this day.

Frank Tunney took over the Toronto booking office in the late thirties and ran under Tunney Sports and continued to promote until his death in 1983 at which point his nephew Jack took over the reigns and went on to align himself exclusively with the WWF in July 1984. At this time the Toronto promotion or Maple Leaf Wrestling as it was later called basically ceased to exist. Gone were the days of homegrown talent supplemented by a steady stream of World Champions and stars from all corners of the globe to be replaced by the oncoming Hulkamania.

Mr. Tunney was a past president (in the 60's) of the NWA and also was a vice president to Vince McMahon Sr. in the WW(W)F as well as having close ties with Japanese promoters. This meant non-stop action in the Gardens every two weeks or so. It wasn't unusual to see two world title matches on the same card during this time and Frank pulled off his share of promotional coups including WWWF champ Bob Backlund against then AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel with a classic Steamboat vs. Flair match for the NWA U.S. Title on the undercard (March 25, 1979).
 

Another classic match that took place on Jan 24 1963 directly led to the WWWF being formed after the great Lou Thesz beat then world champ Buddy Rogers and the Northeast promoters refused to acknowledge Thesz as champ. There was no shortage of homegrown talent however with the likes of Tiger Jeet Singh, Bulldog Brower, Dino Bravo, Tony Parisi, The Sheik and Dewey Robertson (later the Missing Link) among others who either started at the Garden or put in lengthy runs as regulars in Maple Leaf Wrestling. At one point Dino Bravo's Canadian Heavyweight Championship was recognized by the NWA, WWWF and AWA and made for some more great inter-promotional angles and matches. In the wrestling boom of the 50's and 60's, Maple Leaf Gardens would routinely sell around 10,000 seats for a card, the 70's would see an upturn to 17-18000 during the great run by The Sheik (Ed Farhat) and later with Bravo and the most popular wrestler ever in Toronto - Ric Flair- during the early days with Greg Valentine as his partner and their subsequent feud. The Gardens was quite a place in those days, comparable with Madison Sqaure Garden in atmosphere. When I started attending in the mid 70's a majority of the crowd would be "the elderly". Did I mention Screaming Elderly? You couldn't hear yourself think above all the caterwauling and general mayhem going on when the Sheik or Flair came in and put the later days of the Hulkster to shame. There were altercations with the fans on a regular basis including one night when a 70-year-old lady whacked one of the Privates (Don Kernodle, I think) with her cane on the ramp leading to the ring, and even the wrestlers were laughing with us. In those days even though Tunney was adamant about keeping kayfabe, the heels and the faces would arrive within minutes of each other at the back entrance of the Garden and would talk to fans and pose for pictures before scattering when their "arch enemy" drove up. 

The areas biggest prize was the Canadian Heavyweight Championship going back to the 30's and through the years was held by Johnny Valentine, (1959) Killer Kowalski (1961), Greg Valentine (1979), Hussein the Arab (Iron Sheik) (1980), and Bravo (1978 & 1979). It was abandoned in 1984 when Jack Tunney joined the WWF. The title was resurrected in 1998 and continues to be recognized to this day in the Canadian independent scene. Not to be outdone we also had our own version of the NWA U.S. Title with such greats as Bruno Sammartino (1962), the Sheik (1974,75,76), Bobo Brazil (1977) and many others until it was merged with the Mid Atlantic area U.S title in 1978.   More...

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Old School Tape Review 4

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