REAL NAME: Gil Hayes
5’10” 247 pounds
Gil Hayes is a matter-of-fact kind of guy, a master of the understatement in conversation, and a proud Albertan.
“I’ve seen countries around the world. Some impress you, some don’t. I’m just an Albertan that kind of likes where he is,” Hayes to SLAM! Wrestling from his Edmonton home.
During his 17-year wrestling career, ‘Mrs. Hayes’s bad boy, Gilbert’ travelled the world, and fought the best. He wasn’t the biggest of the wrestlers out there — just 5’10” and 247 pounds — but somehow managed to keep up with the big boys. “I was a small man in a very big man’s business and I had to take my bumps and bruises not just because I was a wrestler, but because I was a small guy in comparison with some of the 300, 340 pounders.”
And he always managed to connect with the fans. “You’d be in Drummheller at two o’clock in the morning on your way to Saskatoon, and some drunk would come up while you’re eating your soup and lean on your table and breathe in your face and ask for an autograph on a pack of cigarettes and you know he’s going to lose them in 10 minutes because he’s drunk,” recalled Hayes. “The everyday fan, they were ridiculous at times, but they were always there. We always used to remember how we made our money.”
In a 1997 interview with SLAM! Wrestling, Stu Hart described Gil Hayes as “a pretty good performer … Gil might have been a little bit egotistical. He liked glory. He liked having his hand raised. Getting recognition meant more to him maybe than anything else.”
Hayes laughed at Hart’s description.
“It was just Gil Hayes being Gil Hayes. I always felt that if people came to see me, whether they came to see me get a s***-kicking, or see me come out on top, either way they were coming to see me and the ones that were coming to see me get a s***-kicking, when I got my hand raised, I let them know what I thought of their attitude. Does that make me egotistical? Or does that make me Gil Hayes?,” he asked.
“I wouldn’t and never have done anything to make anyone else’s life miserable just for the sake of doing it. And it pisses me off when somebody does that because tact and diplomacy have never been my forte.”
He began his wrestling career in 1966 after meeting Gene Kiniski after a wrestling show in Fort Frances, Ontario. Hayes had been a wrestling fan since age ten. “Because professional wrestling was the first ever TV program I saw, it was just something that I wanted to do,” he explained.
Hayes began training in a local church basement, utilizing his wrestling skills from high school, and the boxing techniques he learned outside of school.
He had his first match at St. Boniface Club in Winnipeg in 1965 or 1966, and spent two and a half years in Winnipeg before going to moving to Calgary and Stampede Wrestling.
In every promotion that he wrestled in, he was just Gil Hayes. “I had a vest when I left Winnipeg and I came to Calgary. I had a vest with a G on it. Because my name was Gilbert, they just said ‘just keep your regular name if you want.’ I thought it was just as easy.”
Fans in Stampede took to Hayes, though not in a fan favourite kind of way. “I just never cared what the audience thought of my wrestling style,” he said. “Sometimes you would come out of one dressing room, when they filmed it, you would find it almost as nasty as coming out of the other one. So it was always a toss up. I just did my own thing, didn’t want to be classified as a good guy or a bad guy.”
Usually in interviews, he would credit his mother for his heelish tendencies.
“When I first started and my mom found out that I was into it, and she had been a very strong wrestling fan [for] Don Leo Jonathan, Gene Kiniski and all those guys,” he said. “Because she had been a wrestling fan, and she found out that I was into it, she said ‘you’ve got to be crazy to be doing this.’ And because she couldn’t talk me out of it, she just said ‘you’d better hit first and run like hell’ like a mother would. ”
In Stampede, he was North American champion in 1973, beating ‘Cowboy’ Dan Kroffat and losing it to Omar Atlas. He would also hold the tag titles on six different occasions with five different partners (Bill Dromo, Bob Sweetan, Tiger Joe Tomasso, Benny Ramirez, and Mr. Hito).
His favourite partner was Bob Sweetan. “When two people think along the same lines, and you wrestle long enough with that individual, you get along with him on the road, outside of the ring. But his talents in the ring and the way he wrestles, whether he thinks or not, along with his abilities add up to ‘is this the partner that you click with?’ With him, he was just as willing to take as he was to give. And I always classified him as someone my equal. He didn’t have to make any excuses for anything he did. Nor did I. And to me, that’s how a tag team should work.”
Calgary was a base for Hayes to travel the world. He was one of the first foreigners to really make it in Puerto Rico.
“I went there with stars in my eyes because it was Puerto Rico. It was in the Caribbean. It was supposed to be this fantastic, tropic island,” Hayes said. “I went there and I was never so disappointed with a people, and more you can say a race of people, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt. But it took me not very long to realize that they think differently and a very volatile people. When I went there, because of my ‘always the same attitude in the ring, I don’t give a damn what you think,’ because I had bleached blond hair, not a bad physique, and had somewhat of an arrogant nature, I felt myself to the point of having my life threatened, being chased down the street by individuals with knives. And then I found out that the promotion was very unsavory.”
The flipside for Hayes were Florida and Japan, his two favourite places to wrestle.
“I loved Florida. Florida was an absolutely gorgeous spot,” he said, recalling days sitting around in an air conditioned room, drinking cervaza Coronas all day long just to stay cool.
On the other side of the world was the Land of the Rising Sun. “Japan, Japan, Japan, Japan, you can’t say enough about Japan. Japan, the promotion in Japan I thought was the greatest because they put the bare minimum, whatever that would be, and I never have nor will I divulge what I made. Only I wish I was making wrestlers nowadays are making. But Japan would put the minimum on a contract, along with a round-trip ticket in your pocket in your hand, and all transportation and hotels paid, and the minimum was generous compared to what you’d make here. They always kept their word. They believed in a person’s ability rather than how well they could ingratiate themselves with the promotion.”
Hayes did six trips for the old International, promotion, and shared a story than means a lot to him to this day.
“I’m three-quarters of the way around the world, and it happens to be my birthday. And when we get to the arena, we are designated our dressing rooms. And the referee, which is somewhat of an interpreter, he took me off to the side and said to follow him. So I followed him underneath this dungeon-like place, all the way around to the other side, which was a half a mile, and we came into this area which was very dimly lit. And then all at once, the lights came on and there were all the Japanese wrestlers sitting around in their dressing room and they have this birthday cake. And everyone of them began to sing Happy Birthday to me. And I had no idea anything like this would ever happen, and it took me completely by surprise and literally overwhelmed me. That far away from home, and them finding out somehow that it was your birthday — and they don’t even know what they are singing, but they sing Happy Birthday to you. I thought that was pretty nice. So I have a whole lot of respect for them.”
On this side of the world, Hayes had the utmost respect for Archie ‘The Stomper’ Gouldie, whom he considered a mentor of sorts. “Even though I wrestled him, I really had to admire the individual,” said Hayes.
The Stomper was all business, recalled Hayes. “He got into the ring, did his thing, and when it was all over and done with, he was a family man. He lived out of town and he’d talk about his dog (a Saint Bernard). … He got it as a pup, and he kept talking about this pup over and over, and as it was growing and the things it was doing, I swear to God I knew the dog.”
Hayes retired from wrestling in 1981 while in Hawaii, with both knees blown. “I quit four times before I finally got out of it,” he said. “It’s in your blood. You can’t manufacture something like this. It’s there, and you have no answer for it. You could leave your wife and kids crying at the door but you’ve got to go do it because it’s in your blood.”
By his own description he went through a couple of wives “one because I was always on the road” and the second marriage ended “because I was no longer in the spotlight” and off the road.
“A lot of times when you’ve crying in bed after a match, watching a television show in a hotel room that’s a 1,000 miles or 300 miles away from home, you have icepacks, and you can’t move. And you are expected to wrestle in the next town the next night.”
Yet, he offers without question in a soft voice that “it was something that I’d do over again. I’d do it all again.”
Since his retirement from wrestling, Hayes has worked for the City of Edmonton in the streets department, and is now semi-retired from his second career. He’s also woodworker as a hobby, making old-style wooden toys like trains and puzzles that are sold on consignment.
Hayes still finds himself stopping the remote on the WWF or WCW on occasion, wistfully thinking ‘been there, done that.’
He recently ran an angle with the resurgent Stampede Wrestling in Edmonton, and will be refereeing for the promotion on occasion “just to keep my foot in the door.”
It does beg the question, will we ever see Gil Hayes back in the ring?
Hayes laughed, and truthfully answered. “If you’re looking at the size of my ego, and the complete lack of common sense, given the opportunity, I’d probably try it. But it could be disastrous, who knows!”
Memories from a daughter of a wrestler:
From the time I could walk, I remember watching wrestling and watching all the different people that came and went to watch the sport. Being a daughter of a wrestler was not easy. Being in a different country at times and being told that you have to flee the country for your life while you have no idea where your dad is (meanwhile, he lays bleeding in a friends apartment building) after being roughed up by some unruly promoters. Not knowing who your real friends are.. A lot of kids wanted to hang out with you only to get your dad’s autograph and then to dump ya.
I am not bitter at all. Ironically, it has made me a better person and more compassionate. I am very close to my dad and my brother. I love them with everything I have. We made it.. and we made it together. I am now a single mom and a hunting and fishing guide. My dad has always told me that nothing is impossible. I have two wonderful kids. .. I Love doing something that is mainly considered a man’s sport. I also am involved with homecare and work with the elderly. I am also the animal control officer in this area of Manitoba Canada. I have lots of animals on our hobby farm. I am a first aid instructor.*giggle.. should have had this as a kid.. *smile.
I guess I could write a book, but I don’t regret any of it and I am a very proud daughter.
Miss Toni Hayes
I grew up on Stampede Wrestling and remember Gil as a tough scrapper. One night he had already wrestled and was standing at the dressing room entrance watching Abdullah the Butcher wrestle. Actually, Abdullah had been ambushed by his opponent that night and was taking a terrific beating. He was bleeding from the ears and I swear it must have been a shoot as they were both going at it. As I hated Abdullah I was totally pumped by what was happening. Gil and another wrestler were getting ready to intervene when I grabbed Gil by the arm and held him back. I must have been nuts. Anyway, Gil gave me a dirty look, but I had startled him and he didn’t move. I can’t remember how the match ended, but I do remember the night I prevented a “run in”.