Last week, we asked fans to send in their memories of Maple Leaf Gardens (MLG) and pro wrestling wrestling. What we got were special memories of Christmas presents, cage matches, The Whip and The Sheik. Journey back with our readers to the heyday of wrestling at the “Mecca of Professional Wrestling.”
Platform played a part
During the 80s, MLG had a small platform connecting the dressing room area and the ring at ring level. Therefore, it was not uncommon for the match to spill out onto the ring. Before the days of backstage hardcore wrestling, to see a wrestler getting bodyslammed on this platform would make most of the audience wince. Given its size, MLG was a great wrestling venue because every seat was a good seat.
The wrestlers left their rental cars at a nearby public garage. When they would leave MLG, fans could have photos taken or autographs as it often took the wrestlers 10 minutes to get to the garage. In a moment of poor planning, I saw Tito Santana and Paul Orndorff leaving together in the same car although they had just been beating the eyelids off each other about an hour earlier! As a Montrealer, I know what it’s like to lose a great wrestling venue packed with memories, cheers, jeers, and bodyslams. Goodbye MLG.
Hogan-Kamala in a cage
I used to go to wrestling shows every month at the gardens with my father from about 1986 – 1988. I saw some great wrestling matches, but I think the match that really sticks in my mind was Hulk Hogan taking on Kamala in a steel cage. I remember Kamala had just re-entered the WWF and was getting a huge push as the big new heel for Hogan to defeat. This was also when Hogan was at the very height of his popularity, so the place was madness. After seeing the fight promoted on Maple Leaf Wrestling, I begged my father to take me, and we waited outside the Gardens from about 8AM until tickets went on sale at 10. The line-up for tickets was HUGE. It was the first time I had ever seen Hulk Hogan live, and he was bigger than life (I was only about 9 years old!!). Hulk beat Kamala that night with his patented “bodyslam, leg drop, walk out the cage” series of moves, and the place went nuts. I remember telling a friend of mine (who we had brought with us and was not a big fan of wrestling – until Hulk came out for the match) how we had to cheer really loud when he pointed to our side of the arena and posed. Thinking back now, it seems hilarious, but at the time going to the Gardens to watch wrestling was the most fun a kid could have.
My first memory of wrestling at the Gardens was in 1947. My brother took me to see wrestling for the first time. We sat in an aisle in the greys to see Whipper Billy Watson defend his world title beating Wild Bill Longson with the Canadian Avalanche. Whip had his manager/trainer Phil Lawson in his corner as usual.
The Whip was truly one of Toronto’s heroes with his history of supporting his community and its charities.
MLG on TV
I remember the MAPLE LEAF GARDEN FEATURE on MAPLE LEAF WRESTLING in the ’80’s. That was always their special match, where all the top matches were. Our first card there to watch was quite a larger than life thrill.
Because here we were in such a mecca.
Close to the action
I didn’t begin to attend WWF events at the Gardens until 1994. The Hart Attack Tour, with Bret Hart as WWF champion. Bret faced and defeated Bob Backlund in a good title defense. After his match was time for the Undertaker to continue his path of destruction, defeating Yokozuna in a casket match. I loved that event since my dad and I had floor seats which only cost a little over twenty dollars. Being that close to the action is something I have only had the pleasure of enjoying twice, both times at the Gardens.
The second show at the Gardens I attended was the In High Gear tour. The main event saw the WWF champion Diesel and I-C champion Razor Ramon. Bret Hart battled his brother Owen in a no holds barred match. I remember I got to give Bret a high five after the match, because my seats were close to the entrance way at the penalty box. The pictures I have from that event are stellar, recreating the action to perfection.
Now as I attend WWF events at Skydome. The feeling I had at Maple Leaf Gardens is missing. The Dome feels constantly dead, especially for regular non televised events. The RAW at Skydome recently was also dead, there could have been a RAW at Maple Leaf Gardens years ago. Probably the cavernesque size of the Dome ruins the feel for the crowd. As we all know by now this world revolves around the almighty dollar and many things are overlooked.
Love Brothers and the Sheik
Once again you have struck the nail on the head, I enjoyed show after show of wrestling year after year at the Gardens, I have seen a multitude of matches there and only a few hockey games. MOSCA, FLAIR, PIPER, ANDRE, THE IRON SHIEK, HOGAN, ADONIS, ETC I saw them all ringside,golds ,the best, reds everywhere……… my very first memory of wrestling at the gardens featured the Love Brothers,and the final match was between the original Sheik vs. PAMPERO FIRPO……OOH YAAAAAAA! (the originator of the that i am sure)i can remember someone threw a coke and hit the wizard ,i had to have been about 7 or 8
A spiritual experience
Well the first time I ever stepped foot into MLG was for wrestling. The first time I arrived on the doorsteps of the greatest building ever, was a spiritual experience. My anticipation was like no other. Walking into the Gardens and seeing the wrestling ring was a feeling like no other. My first wrestling card pitted me to see Andre vs King Kong Bundy in a cage. The electricity in the air was incredible. The famous ramp to the ring and seeing one of the biggest giants ever at time was like no other. Hundreds of people taking pictures. It was amazing. Wrestling at MLG represented true wrestling and not the nonsense on TV now. I doubt those days will ever be back. But they were memories which will never be forgotten.
A great Christmas present
Maple leaf Gardens was host of the very first wrestling event I ever went to. Dec.27, 1992 , 1:30 pm matinee.
I had started getting into wrestling that July, and my dad lived in Toronto at the time. So all I asked for when I came to visit him on Boxing day for a Christmas present was to go to the WWF. Me, my brother, and dad all went. It was all for all three of us the first in the Garden. Which surprised me since both my brother and dad loved hockey.
Although it was only seven years ago, I was nine and it was a huge thing for me. The main event was scheduled as The Undertaker vs Nailz, but changed the day before to Taker vs Papa Shango. Which seemed like an incredible match to me , think about it, the dead man versus the voodoo dead man. It was huge, I remember though for some reason all the front row seats were like 15 feet away from the ring, and I was only in the seventh row but it was pretty far away.
The only other time in the Garden for me was July 13th or 11th 1993, I forget, and it was also my second Wrestling event. There was a double main event, first WWF champion Yokozuna versus Jim Duggan, I remember the crowd even chanted USA! USA!. BUT DUGGAN SHOCKED everybody by waving a Canadian flag. Then the Main event was WWF Tag Team Champions The Steiner Brothers versus Money Inc.
I have since been to every WWF show in Ottawa- hull area for the past five years. The Gardens will always be the place were I saw my first ever pro wrestling event.
Robinson vs Mosca
I’ve been going to the Gardens for wrestling since the very early 70’s. Of course at that time people went to see The Sheik get beat up but that very rarely happened. His match was always before intermission & never lasted for than five minutes. He once teamed up with Abdullah Farouk who wore into the ring long tights & amateur wrestling headgear. He was a very funny man & knew how to do an interview to get the people riled up.
One night I will never forget was when Billy Robinson from England (good guy) went up against Angelo Mosca (bad guy). Robinson won & after the match Robinson took the microphone & said to the crowd that there was a punk at ringside who was calling him ‘limey’ throughout his match. Robinson challenged the fan to come into the ring. Norm Kimber quickly took the mike & said that Frank Tunney & MLG will not be responsible for whatever might happen. The punk did go to the ring & Robinson started beating on him & wouldn’t let up. This was not a setup. This was real. Finally, Dewey Robertson & some other wrestlers came from the back & pulled Robinson off this guy who stumbled out of the ring with a torn T-shirt.
In the early 80’s (I think) their was some cross promotion between the AWA,WWF & the NWA. Wrestlers from all promotions appeared on the card.
Other quick tidbits:
Flair as a good guy coming to the ring with a baseball bat to take care of the Andersons. The crowd went nuts.
Anytime Piper showed up the crowd popped like crazy.
The British Bulldogs vs The Hart Foundation were excellent matches. I remember Bret Hart getting knocked off the ring apron into the guardrail and laid there for several minutes. You knew he was legitimately hurt.
The ramp – a lot of action took place there.
I’m sure there were many others & I would like to read what other people had to say.
I remember going to the Gardens in the mid 70’s. There was a card every 2 or 3 weeks. I recall seeing Rowdy Roddy Piper make his Toronto debut against the great Dewey Robertson. Ric Flair against Greg Valentine was a standard, and I recall watching Angelo Mosca defeat The Iron Sheik in a steel cage match for the Canadian Heavyweight Championship. It was always a great time for myself and friends as we made the bi-monthly sabbatical to the Gardens. Norm Kimber announced the participants, and used to acknowledge us when we called his name. Pat Flannagan and the great Fred Atkins were the ringside officials. I will always have very fond memories of MLG…4 Life!
Robert Hungerson, CFB Borden
I had the pleasure of attending half a dozen WWF cards at Maple Leaf Gardens and by far, the greatest wrestling moment I witnessed there was a World Title match between Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter. Hogan had just won the title from Slaughter at WrestleMania… just days before the match, it was announced that there would be a special ref for the match at the Gardens: Randy Savage. Donned in a flashy black and white striped outfit, Savage played a key factor in the match after Slaughter shoved the Macho Man. Savage delivered a flying axe-handle to Slaughter and counted the 3-count on him. As he raised the hand of Hogan, it signaled ANOTHER face turn for Savage (fresh off his WrestleMania retirement loss to the Ultimate Warrior). It was one of those great wrestling moments at the Gardens that as a wrestling fan, will never forget.
I remember attending the gardens in the early 80’s…it was that point when Superfly Snuka and Ray “the Crippler” Stevens had a feud in the WWF…I had gone to MLG to watch their match and it was my first time viewing a life WWF event…a couple of weeks earlier, the two had been disqualified in a match at the gardens…in the follow up match, Superfly didn’t disappoint…even though he use to take about 5 minutes to take off his garments before the match even started, I’ve never seen anyone work a crowd like Snuka…he had the body of a god and was the most electrifying wrestler in sports entertainment (sorry Rock)…he destroyed the Crippler and did his infamous “Superfly” off the top ropes…I’ll never forget that…one thing all true MLG wrestling fans will never forget is the ramp to the ring that lay perfectly even with the ring floor…Wrestling in T.O. will never be the same.
I was so disappointed when wrestling left the old Gardens a few years back. I have so many fond memories of a night of wrestling in Toronto. I can always remember the great anticipation as I entered the Gardens of who would be on the card. I would always make a habit of picking up an NWA Stranglehold, or in later years, WWF program as I walked in. I still remember in the 70’s when you could buy wrestling promo pictures of your favourites like Bruno Sammartino, The Sheik, Chief Jay Strongbow and Ox Baker.
The arena was one of the finest to view wrestling in. I loved how wrestlers would fight on the ramp, which led to the ring. I thought that the lights turned down during each match made the bouts really come to life! Norm Kimber was a very dry, yet classy ring announcer who always hyped up the next event at the Gardens during intermissions. You always got 6 or 7 bouts at the Gardens and 3 hours seemed to always fly by quickly.
Here are my top 10 Gardens Wrestling Memories:
1976- I saw The Sheik lose to Gene Kiniski. It was the Sheik’s first lose at the Gardens in years. Special ref was Andre The Giant.
1977 – Harley Race defeated Terry Funk for the NWA World Title. This was a very special evening because a world title change doesn’t happen every year. Great bout!
1979- Dewey Robertson wins the Canadian Heavyweight Title Tournament. A super night for a great Canadian wrestler! Dewey defeated Greg Valentine with a figure four leglock to win the title.
1981- The 50th Anniversary year of Maple Leaf Gardens saw a great card in November. Ric Flair wrestled Harley Race and defeated him to retain the title. A super card with many top wrestlers.
1982 – Jimmy Valiant wins the Cadillac Wrestling tournament. Valiant beat Jesse (The Governor) Ventura in the final to win the car.
1982 – Johnny Weaver and Leo Burke start a lengthy and bloody feud in October when Burke turns on Weaver during a tag team match.
1983- Mike Rotunda wins a Canadian TV Title Tournament in August. He defeats Magic Dragon, Sargent Goulet and Don Kernodle to win the strap.
1983 – Sgt. Slaughter and Angelo Mosca feud over the Canadian Heavyweight title. Slaughter beat Mosca at the CNE Stadium in July to win the belt.
1984 – January, one of the biggest disappointments in Gardens wrestling. Mad Dog Sawyer fails to show for a highly anticipated dog collar match against Roddy Piper. Piper is forced to wrestle Kurt Von Hess. Bout lasts all of 5 minutes. Both men bloody.
1984- July , WWF makes it’s first appearance in the Gardens. Gardens is fairly full and a new era of wrestling is ushered in. Hulk Hogan rules for next 8 years.
So there you have my favorite Gardens memories. I think that I am partial to the NWA and its stars, but the WWF certainly had its share of glory in the old building.
Thanks for the memories MLG! I will miss you!
I must have attended at least 30 events held there in the 80’s. Hogan beating John Studd, Savage, Terry Funk, Kamala, tagging up with Piper against Orndorff and Adonis… The Mr. T interview… but of all the memories, my fondest would be when the JYD introduced the Honky Tonk Man to the crowd, and asked for every kid at ring-side to come into the ring. I stormed right on up in danced with the JYD. And the time Dick Slater pointed to a flag I was holding and wanted it to parade around the ring. I also remember the best tag-team tournament ever where the Killer Bees faced up against the Hart Foundation in the finals (the current champs) and knocked the stuffing out of them. Non-title match, of course. And who could forget Bundy and Big John Studd breaking Andre’s sternum. If you have and personal memories from the Gardens during that era, email me. I’d love to hear them.
- Feb11, 1999: Wrestling made Maple Leaf Gardens great
- May 8, 2013: Going back to wrestling’s debut at Maple Leaf Gardens