Excited for Survivor Series and a slew of other shows coming to The Six next weekend? I am too. But this will hardly be the first time that Toronto has played host to wrestling history.
Thirty years (technically 30 years and about two months) ago, I attended my first wrestling show in Toronto and immediately got the sense that this wasn’t the type of die-hard crowd that could be replicated in just any other city.
In front of (a reported) 64,000 fans at the now-defunct Exhibition Stadium, WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan bested rival “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff on an unusually-chilly August night. The main event was part of a stacked card known locally as “Wrestling Hulkamania Night” but later marketed as “The Big Event” for home video release and such.
Sitting some 12 rows back from ringside, my brother, father and I saw all kinds of legends in person for the first time, including Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, The Junkyard Dog and, my personal favourite at the time, the 400-plus pound King Kong Bundy. That one show began a three decades long love affair with professional wrestling … and even led me to create my own website a few years ago that celebrates wrestling merchandise and memories.
Years ago, Toronto was called “The Mecca” of professional wrestling by no less an authority than Gorilla Monsoon — and for good reason. While no one will ever confuse Canada’s most populous city with, say, New York or Chicago in terms of churning out classic wrestling moments, Toronto has had more than its fair share. For example:
- Toronto was home to Maple Leaf Wrestling, for decades a thriving regional promotion under the leadership of the Tunney family; one of the few territories to be purchased by Vince McMahon during his national expansion. And even today, it’s not unusual to see independent shows in the city promoted by Smash Wrestling, Destiny Wrestling, Magen Boys Entertainment and other groups.
- Toronto was the proving ground for legendary performers such as Whipper Billy Watson, Tiger Jeet Singh, Dewey Robertson (a.k.a. The Missing Link), Billy Red Lyons, Dino Bravo, Waldo Von Erich, The Tolos Brothers and Jimmy Valiant, among numerous others.
- Toronto had several world championship changes over the years, including the NWA, WWF and WCW titles. The city even hosted an NWA World Title match between Lou Thesz and Buddy Rogers that, because of its political ramifications, led to the formation of what is now known as WWE!
- Forget Goldberg and The Undertaker — Toronto had one of the most impressive streaks in wrestling history. From 1969 to 1974, The Sheik was undefeated in Maple Leaf Gardens, competing in more than 120 matches over that time. It took fellow WWE Hall of Famer Andre The Giant to end The Sheik’s streak on August 11, 1974.
- Toronto hosted WrestleMania VI and WrestleMania XVIII, as well as WCW Mayhem, SummerSlam 2004, WWE Roadblock 2016 (at least, the first Roadblock of 2016) and about a half-dozen Ring of Honor pay-per-views. That’s on top of the aforementioned Big Event, The Cadillac Tournament in 1982, Maple Leaf Wrestling’s Night Of The Champions in 1983 and The Frank Tunney Memorial Tag Team Tournament in 1987.
- Toronto (and the surrounding area) is home to dozens of top wrestling stars. The obvious names include WWE Hall of Famers Trish Stratus and Edge and the previously-mentioned Whipper Billy Watson and Tiger Jeet Singh, but other notable hometown heroes include Christian, Sweet Daddy Siki, Test, Gail Kim, Michael Elgin, Angelina Love and The Wolfman. And don’t forget “Canada’s Greatest Athlete” from nearby Hamilton, Ontario — Iron Mike Sharpe!
Armed with my own memories of the Toronto wrestling scene (for example, waiting near the “secret entrance” of Maple Leaf Gardens back in the day before the wrestlers entered the arena from their rental cars) and conducting weeks of research on such sites as Gary Will’s Toronto Wrestling History and, of course, SLAM! Wrestling, I created a list of the Top 50 Toronto Wrestling Memories. Top 50 lists have been a staple of my site for over two years, so I figured it was the perfect time to put my Toronto trivia to the test and dazzle people with the useless knowledge I’d collected over time.
Unfortunately (or fortunately…. depending on how you look at it), many people pointed out faults in my list. When you’re ranking virtually anything in wrestling, this tends to happen, but the Toronto history buffs were amongst the most vocal I’ve ever come across. Among the criticisms of my Top 50 list:
No mention of Jim Londos, the World Champion who sold out Maple Leaf Gardens in the 1930s and received Hulk Hogan levels of popularity during his Toronto forays.
No mention of the various Ring of Honor shows in Toronto that featured such stars as Kevin “Owens” Steen, Jay Lethal, El Generico (a.k.a. Sami Zayn), Austin Aries, The Young Bucks, Tyler “Seth Rollins” Black, Christopher Daniels and Adam Cole.
No mention of the Andre The Giant-Kamala steel cage match from Maple Leaf Gardens that was documented for years in the opening of the Coliseum Home Video releases.
No mention of the WCW shows that ran in what is now the Ricoh Coliseum during the early 1990s (to be fair, I’ve written about these shows on my site, but they weren’t that memorable).
So what did make the final cut? I won’t share the entire Top 50 with you (you can check that out here), but the ten biggest moments, in my mind, were:
10) Bret Hart outsmarts Bill Goldberg by wearing a steel plate on his chest (Monday Nitro, March 29, 1999)
9) Triple H defeats Chris Jericho to win the WWF Undisputed World Championship (WrestleMania XVIII, March 17, 2002)
8) Randy Orton defeats Chris Benoit to become the youngest World Champion in history (SummerSlam, August 15, 2004)
7) Whipper Billy Watson shaves the head of Gorgeous George (Maple Leaf Gardens, March 12, 1959)
6) Bret Hart defeats Chris Benoit to win the WCW World Title Tournament (Mayhem, November 21, 1999)
5) Lou Thesz defeats Buddy Rogers to win the NWA World Championship, leading to the formation of the WWWF (Maple Leaf Gardens, January 24, 1963)
4) Andre The Giant ends The Sheik’s undefeated streak in Toronto (Maple Leaf Gardens, August 11, 1974)
3) Hulk Hogan defeats Paul Orndorff (The Big Event, August 28, 1986)
2) The Rock defeats Hollywood Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania XVIII, March 17, 2002)
1) The Ultimate Warrior defeats Hulk Hogan to hold the WWF and Intercontinental Championships for the first time in history (WrestleMania VI, April 1, 1990)
Whether you agree with the list or not, it goes to show that there’s more to Toronto — wrestling’s Mecca — than one may think.
Canadian Bulldog has been writing about professional wrestling since 2002, and has been a loyal reader of SLAM! Wrestling since long before that. He invites you to check out Canadian Bulldog’s World for more stories on wrestling merchandise and memories.