Former NWA World champion Gene ‘Big Thunder’ Kiniski answered questions from wrestling fans today from his home in the Pacific Northwest.
John Pollock: What were some of your favourite moments in Toronto?
Gene Kiniski: I have to say that wrestling in Maple Leaf Gardens had to be one of the highlights, with all the old Maple Leafs like Turk Broda, and all the great stars of yesterday. It was a magnificent place, with wonderful crowds. It was a wonderful place. One of my greatest matches was against Whipper Billy Watson and the fans tried to decapitate me. I had to protect myself. They ignited newspapers, trying to suffocate me. All in an effort to destroy this great body.
Terry Harris: Did you enjoy working for Frank Tunney? What was he like to deal with?
Gene Kiniski: Frank Tunney was one the great promoters, a good payoff man, great host, great to socialize with.
MDK: Do you think the NWA World heavyweight title carried more prestige during your days in the ring than the so-called “world” titles do today?
Gene Kiniski: The NWA championship goes back for so many years. It’s part of history. When I was NWA champ, I was the only recognized world champ. Things have changed, but during my day, it was a very prestigious title.
Devin (from ultimowrestling.com): Gene, will we ever see the demise of Sports Entertainment and the return of pro wrestling?
Gene Kiniski: I feel the trend is for entertainment. The fans want to watch it. They’ll pay for it. If they lose interest, they switch the channel. It will never go back, because a good salesman never knocks another’s product. But today’s stars don’t know how to wrestle. But they’re doing well, good TV ratings, and they seem to be selling out in the arenas. The bottom line is how much money do you bank after each match.
Terry Dart: Gene do you plan on writing a book about your wrestling days? It would be a great book!
Gene Kiniski: I’ve had many people ask to write a book about me, but it would be too time consuming and I refused to give up my time. I would be very complimentary to the fans and the people I associated with. Especially the fans who made my life so enjoyable.
Devin: Gene, what do you think of when you hear the names Vince McMahon, Eric Bischoff, Vince Russo and Paul Heyman?
Gene Kiniski: When I hear those names, these people treated me extremely well. McMahon treated me great. As far as I’m concerned, they’re high-class people in the Kiniski household.
Terry Harris: Is there any wrestler today that reminds you of yourself?
Gene Kiniski: No, I was a very, very distinct individual. Very articulate, and my style was completely foreign to what is happening now. I was exceptionally strong and my endurance was unbelievable. And I’ve had a very extensive amateur wrestling background. Often immitated, but never duplicated.
Bryce McNeil: How did it feel to be part of the main event of the first Starrcade?
Gene Kiniski: Being a referee was foreign to me, and there were two pro athletes in the ring. I let them do their thing. The fans came to see the wrestlers, not Gene Kiniski the referee. It was quite the experience for me.
Alan Omelia: What what was it like being on the road when you were wrestling?
Gene Kiniski: When I was wrestling, the only travel was done by propeller airplanes. We always had the weather to contend with, a big number of problems with the aircraft. I always carried an airline guide to switch to another plane if possible. The passengers were always getting sick and throwing up so it wasn’t very pleasant. Travel was a very boring thing. I’d rent a car for a drop-off, just to end the boredom. In 1957, the 707 Boeing jet came into being and that enhanced our travelling. We didn’t have to worry about the weather and the trips were cut down in half. Back then, you’d get to an airport and walk on the airplane. Now it takes an hour to check in, and go through security checks. It’s a pain in the ass.
Terry Cavaliere: My family used to gather together Saturday mornings to watch All Star wrestling. I want to thank you for those times. I still consider those times as some of my fondest memories.
Gene Kiniski: I think the gentlemen has it backwards. I want to thank him and his family for watching All-Star and giving me the privilege of being in their homes via All-Star Wrestling. Thank you for making my life so enjoyable. I never realized the impact TV would have on my life. I still get 3 or 4 requests a week for autographs from Canada’s Greatest Athlete. The cost now is prohibitive, so I can’t do it anymore.
John Pollock: What do you think of the career of Bret Hart?
Gene Kiniski: Bret Hart, I know nothing of him but I understand he was a big name on TV. So I shouldn’t make any comment. I know his father.
A.M.: Who was the best showman you have worked with?
Gene Kiniski: By all means, it had to be Nature Boy Buddy Rogers. The man was always in great, great shape, always had a tan and a great dresser. He was an asset to pro wrestling.
Rene: Who was your toughest match? How many times did you fight The Sheik?
Gene Kiniski: My toughest matches were against Lou Thesz, Whipper Billy Watson, Don Leo Jonathan. I think I wrestled The Sheik one time.
Terry Dart: Gene do you remember Yukon Eric running your head into an ambulance at Labatt Park in London, your head put one huge dint in the door and the fans went nuts?
Gene Kiniski: You’re going way back to the 1950s. We had a record in London. We wrestled every Wednesday. It was always a complete sellout. The fans in London were the wildest of any place I wrestled.
Mike Whelen: Hi Gene, I was wondering if Ron Morrier ever did a bad job of interviewing you?
Gene Kiniski: On the contrary. Ron was tremendous. My relationship with him goes back to 1956 in Montreal. The man read me like a book. We always had a great time on the air together.
Terry Harris: What are Kelly and Nick both up to these days?
Gene Kiniski: Nick wrestled pro for years. Kelly did also. But the type of wrestling they were doing was completely foreign to what’s on today. Nick owns two bars in Point Roberts, Washington. One is called Kiniski’s Reef and the other Breakers. Kelly didn’t want to teach school, or coach and is now working for Warehouser of Canada, a big lumber company in B.C.
Jim From Saskatchewan: Mr Kiniski, I remember when you always used to say on the TV “I’d like to say a big hello to our shut-in’s that are watching here today”. My mother used to melt when she heard that. She would say “Now there is a down to earth man”. You don’t see that anymore. What do you think changed it Gene?
Gene Kiniski: You think you’re a big star, but for $1 you can go have a coffee. I was honoured people let me in their homes via TV.
Jim Jonas: Did you ever wrestle Bruno Sammartino? What kind ofcompetitor was he?
Gene Kiniski: I wrestled Bruno on many occasions. We set a record in Baltimore. Bruno was a very powerful man. He was always a great gentlemen in and out of the ring. He was a very big asset to the world of professional wrestling.
Peter Traverse: Gene, out of all of the people you’ve wrestled who was the most fun to wrestle? What do you consider to be your biggest accompishment in wrestling?
Gene Kiniski: I really don’t know. I think I enjoyed all my matches. I think the ones that are the most fun are the ones you win. I feel my greatest accomplishment was winning the NWA championship, plus the many other titles I held in my career. I have held almost every title at one time or another.
Charles : What was it like to wrestle Carlos Rocha? Do you know where he is now?
Gene Kiniski: Carlos Rocha, if I remember correctly, he was from Portugal. He had a big following in B.C. I haven’t heard of him in 10, 15 years. He sure could draw the Portuguese fans,.
Terry Harris: Who in your opinion was the most underutilized wrestler in your era?
Gene Kiniski: By all means, Don Leo Jonathon. The man was just big, 6’6″, 300 plus pounds, very agile, like a cat in the ring, handsome. The fans loved him. He was something to behold. I still wonder to this day why he never became a world champ.
Devin: Gene, do you wish that you could have played football longer? Do you still follow the CFL?
Gene Kiniski: I enjoyed football immensely. My college & pro career. I do still follow the CFL. I wish they would play it the way it was meant to play it. I wish them well, but the game is to put money in the bank — you have to show a profit. I left in 1954, and that’s when Edmonton won their first Grey Cup.
A.M.: Where is the best place to wrestle?
Gene Kiniski: In the U.S., St. Louis by far. St. Louis is a tremendous wrestling city. It was held in high esteem by promoter Sam Muchnick. Here in Canada, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, London, Ontario and of course, St. John’s, Newfoundland. I’d have to say too, and be wrong not to, if I forgot Japan. The fans in Japan are the greatest in the world.
Devin: Gene, can you believe how much money some of the wrestlers are making these days? Are they worth it?
Gene Kiniski: Anything you make you deserve. If the fans don’t want to see them, then don’t buy a ticket. I only hope that they put a lot away for their old age.
Gus: Gene, can you settle a bet for me? Do you think you could take Bronko Nagurski in a no-holds bar free for all. There’s beer and freezies on the line here. Thanks.
Gene Kiniski: Bronco was a good friend of mine. I used to always rib the great Bronco. Very gentle, shy individual. Bronco could have made so much money if he went on the banquet circuit. He was the epitome of a great athlete. Bronco would never stoop that low to fight just to fight. I have to be diplomatic. I’m a football fan, and I loved Bronco Nagurski.
loner64: What do you think of the business now? Back then? Also who do you like watching in the ring now? Do you have Any plans to do anything in or outside the ring in the near future?
Gene Kiniski: No. I won’t compromise my freedom. I do a lot of TV, radio, newspaper interviews. What is happening in wrestling today, I don’t think I could add anything to it. I would distort the TV picture for them.
A.M.: Who is the best promoter you know?
Gene Kiniski: Sam Muchnick in St. Louis.
TERRY DART: Gene do you remember the time in London when you did the weather forcast before Ward Cornell interviewed you on the sports and was your brother a weatherman, and your mother Julia a mayor in Edmonton?
Gene Kiniski: That’s right. Ward Cornell was the most beautiful man in the world. He had me on many Wednesday nights. The person who asked it sure has a great memory. Having me on the show helped sell out every Wednesday in London, Ontario, Canada.
Jeff : Why do you think there are a lot of Canadian wrestlers in the business today? Is it something to do with the weather?
Gene Kiniski: I think that the universities and the high schools had advanced amateur wrestling. They thought they could make a good payday, and like the glamour. If they feel they can make a living at it, go for it.
Tom: Hi Gene, My father is a huge fan of yours. He used to own the “Corner House Grill” at Main and Danforth back in the mid to late 60’s. Do you remember dining there with some of the other wrestlers after your matches in Toronto?
Gene Kiniski: Toronto had many tremendous restaurants. I was in Toronto every Thursday night. I was wondering if he was the one that served the fantastic tomatoes, and who refused to give me the recipe.
Vince Degiorgio: Do you still truly feel as if you are Canada’s greatest athlete of all time?
Gene Kiniski: I was being interviewed by Dick Beddoes, on a Hamilton TV station, and he said tonight we have Canada’s Greatest Athlete with us. The phone lines lit up, and they wondered what made me the Greatest. Beddoes’ rebuttal was this: You have to wrestle Kiniski first, they if you can play basketball, hockey, golf, tennis, then you are a great athlete. You’d be lucky to lace on your boots. By referring to myself as Canada’s Greatest Athlete, it stimulated the audience. They hated that. I used to rub it in their face.
Christy T.: Who was the biggest influence in your career?
Gene Kiniski: I have to say my amateur coach Lou McGrill in Edmonton. Then the football coach at the University of Arizona, Bob Winslow. Tremendous man, he did so much for me.
The Kid: What advice do you have for people who want to be wrestlers now?
Gene Kiniski: Make sure that is your goal. Get yourself in tremendous shape. Do not neglect the most important part of your body — your neck. That is the only place to you can sustain a serious injury, You have to be very articulate, you have to believe in yourself or the fans won’t believe you. Remember that the fans come to see you, and that for every dollar they spend, they should get a $10 value.
MDK: When did your career officially end, and what did you do after you retired?
Gene Kiniski: I didn’t actually retire. My last match was in Winnipeg in 1994. I went on sabbatical and never came back. I’m 72 now. If my knees were good, I could still wrestle. I love the outdoors, I keep myself in good shape. I do a lot of reading. I socialize about twice a week. I will not compromise my freedom, and I do what I want to do.
Moderator: What was your worst experience wrestling?
Gene Kiniski: What always bothered me was audience participation. They bought a ticket to see me, not for them to participate. It cost me nothing but money from lawsuits. I always had to retaliate. I’ve been hit with chairs, stabbed. The lowest part of my career was in Fresno, CA, when a fan threw acid on me. I’ve had so many lawsuits, it’s unbelievable.
Moderator: We are out of time. We would like to thank everyone for their participation. Here’s Gene’s sign-off….
Gene Kiniski: I would like take this opportunity to thank my fellow Canadians, and world wrestling fans for allowing me in their homes via the Internet. May the best things that happened to me in this life be the worst things that happen to you, your family and friends. Thanks for making my career so enjoyable.