Billy Red Lyons was one of the biggest exports ever to come out of Canada in professional wrestling, a star particularly in Buffalo, the AWA, Texas, Toronto and in the Tri-State area of Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi. As his in-ring career wound down, he took over hosting duties of Maple Leaf Wrestling, giving him entry into even more homes every week. But today, it’s his turn to be interviewed — by the fans.
After a brief talk about all the snow around his home in Kitchener, Ontario, Billy Red and I launched into a question and answer session, based primarily on fan questions. I only mention that because I’ve talked to Billy Red many times, and some things come up from the past in the interview, and he jokes around a lot. Hopefully it gives you a decent impression of his dry wit as well as a good overview of his wrestling career.
Q: Red, was the first finishing hold that you used a rolling reverse cradle off the ropes, the same as Pat O’Connor used? [Terry Dart, London, ON]
A: Yes, right.
Q: Did you steal that from Pat O’Connor? [Greg Oliver]
A: Not necessarily. Nobody steals anything. It’s true. O’Connor wasn’t the first one to use that, but I can’t remember who it was.
Q: And why did you decide to do that? [Greg Oliver]
A: Because it was comfortable for me, and it would usually result in 1-2-3.
Q: Was the most scientific match you ever had with Reggie Parks in Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens? [Terry Dart, London, ON]
A: Not the most, but one of the most.
Q: Was Reggie hard to wrestle? He was so strong, he had that iron stomach. [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah, Reggie was in great shape. Great shape and a great guy.
Q: Tell me about Ilio DiPaolo. [Steve Johnson, Virginia]
A: He was a terrific guy, I tell you. I don’t know of anybody who ever said a bad word about him at all. Everybody just loved the guy. You couldn’t help but like him.
Q: In what way? [Greg Oliver]
A: He was just such a nice guy. He wasn’t argumentive, he never said anything about anybody. What can I say, he was just a great guy.
Q: And as a wrestler? [Greg Oliver]
A: He was a good wrestler. As you know — I don’t know if you ever saw him in person or not — he was a big, raw-boned sucker. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him. He was a big guy and became very successful with his restaurant. He was a wonderful guy.
Q: Weather permitting, you’re still going to go to DiPaolo’s next Tuesday [March 18th] for the dinner? [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah, weather permitting, I will.
Q: Hopefully I’ll see you there. [Greg Oliver]
A: Oh, are you going to go there?
Q: Weather permitting, I am. [Greg Oliver]
A: Oh good. I told them I was looking for somebody to pick up my tab.
Q: You know the food’s good, anyway. [Greg Oliver]
A: Oh, the best. Well, you’ve been there.
Q: My wife and I have gone just for ourselves because it’s so good. [Greg Oliver]
A: The whole DiPaolo family is so nice, Dennis and Michael and Barbara. They’re a very nice family.
Q: It makes you feel like home when you’re there. [Greg Oliver]
A: They sure do. They are a credit to the community.
Q: Back to the questions! What was Bill Watts like as a partner? [Steven Johnson, Virginia]
A: [Laughs] He was terrific.
Q: Why the laughter? [Greg Oliver]
A: Because him and I had a lot of fun. He was quite a guy. I guess I’m one of the first ones that nicknamed him Large William. They call him Big Bill. I said, ‘Nah, I think Large William would be better.’ We made a lot of trips together in his plane, his airplane, at that time, all over Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas. I have a lot of stories about those plane trips.
Q: Was he a good pilot? [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah, when he was awake! No, he was, he was a good pilot. I’ll tell you, Watts, he could go broke tomorrow and by the end of next week, he’d be into something, making another ton of money. He’s a brilliant, brilliant guy.
Q: And you guy see that he had the ideas for behind-the-scenes too? When you were teaming with him, he was not an owner of the promotion, right? That was when Leroy McGuirk owned it? [Greg Oliver]
A: Bill had a part of it. I don’t know how many points he had, but he had a good piece of it.
Q: So you could see his mind already working towards … [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah, he was a brilliant guy.
Q: But he wasn’t to the point where he was controlling, so he wasn’t yelling at everybody backstage, and all the stuff he became known for? [Greg Oliver]
A: He yelled at a lot of guys. But he never yelled at me, because we just got along good. If he was mad, I would say, ‘Well, what the hell are you pissed off about now?’ I’d say, ‘Oh, you’ll be over it tomorrow.’ Me and Watts got along well.
Q: What year did you start working for Bearman Dave McKigney? [Wes Maidment, Cambridge, ON]
A: I forget what year it was now, but the reason I was working for the Bearman was that I was working for [Toronto promoter] Frank [Tunney]. That year, I don’t know how many years it went on, Frank worked with the Bearman. So Frank would supply him with some of the boys. But prior to that, Bearman was always on his own and his ambition was to promote in Maple Leafs Gardens or wherever. That never happened.
Q: Bearman and Tunney had another falling out later. You said they weren’t working together, and then they were, and then they weren’t. [Greg Oliver]
A: I don’t remember. I know they never worked together, and then they did. The one or two years they worked together I worked for the Bearman, and I don’t know if they had a falling out after that or not, because I wasn’t here.
Q: So you only worked for the Bearman for a few years? [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah, then I didn’t. I worked for Frank, but during the summer, Frank didn’t have a whole lot going at that time, so I worked for the Bearman. Waldo von Erich worked for the Bearman too one summer, we both worked for him.
Q: Was Dave the character everyone said he was? [Greg Oliver]
A: Yes, he was, he was quite the character.
Q: Did you get to work against the bear? [Greg Oliver]
A: No, the bear was afraid of me. The bear would see me coming and he would haul ass.
Q: Smart bear. [Greg Oliver]
A: Yes he was, because I would have clobbered him.
Q: What happened to the Crusaders outfits? [Andrew Calvert, Toronto, ON]
A: I don’t know what happened to them. I believe I put mine in the garbage. No, I know what you mean. I forget. That was a long time ago, and it was of very little importance to me. I really can’t remember.
Q: This question is a little more complication. In the Jack Brisco book, there was a reference made to Fritz von Erich deciding NOT to put the Texas Title on Brisco due to a negative recommendation that you made to Fritz. Did you have heat with Jack Brisco? [Bruce Tharpe, Texas]
A: No, that’s silly, whoever said that.
Q: Brisco wrote it in his book. [Greg Oliver]
A: No, I never, ever said that. Never. Of course, I never would say anything about Jack, because I thought he was terrific, and he deserved to have that title. Jack, you’re sure he’s referring to me?
Q: Yeah, I remember that from the Jack Brisco book too. [Greg Oliver]
A: I don’t recall reading it. Well, I never read the book to tell you the truth. You’d have to be reading 24 hours a day now to read all these books that these guys are putting out. No, Jack and I were good friends.
Q: So you have no idea where that came from? [Greg Oliver]
A: No, I don’t. I know it didn’t come from me, and I don’t think it would come from Fritz, that’s for sure.
Q: This next question comes from Winnipeg. In 1969, you were in Winnipeg, teaming with Red Bastein against Dutch Savage and Bulldog Brown who came in from Vancouver to “defend” the Canadian open tag titles. Very odd for the AWA at the time, because the AWA working with Gene Kiniski’s promotion didn’t happen that much. Do you remember what happened with that? [Marty Goldstein, Winnipeg]
A: I can’t even remember the match? No, I don’t remember that at all. I don’t even recall working against Bob Brown. And I’m not getting soft in the head. No, I can’t remember that, because we were working out of, Red and I were working out of Minneapolis.
Q: In 1969, who would have been actually running the town of Winnipeg? [Greg Oliver]
A: Verne Gagne and Wally Karbo. Then they had a guy who took care of the town, I forget what the hell his name was.
Q: Was it still Al Tomko at that point? [Greg Oliver]
A: Al Tomko? Yes, yes that’s who it was.
Q: Maybe that’s why those guys came in, because they were both friends with Al. [Greg Oliver]
A: Maybe, I don’t know.
Q: And of course, Bulldog Brown was from Winnipeg, so maybe somebody missed a shot or something.
A: Maybe they had a couple of yoyos dressed up like Red and I. Lucky guess, I don’t know.
Q: Billy, it is a pleasure to talk to you, you were a great announcer. Let me ask you is it true that Sgt. Slaughter and Iron Sheik didn’t get along? [Michael Rubin]
A: That I don’t know. Because I was never around those guys anyway, other than a TV taping or something like that.
Q: You don’t remember seeing any heat with them? [Greg Oliver]
A: No, no.
Q: Of course, they would have been in separate dressing rooms anyway. [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah, probably, but you know, I don’t know where a lot of these rumours come from.
Q: Exactly, that’s why we’re trying to address them. [Greg Oliver]
A: It didn’t come from me, and I don’t know.
Q: Who was your favorite tag team partner? [Brandon Noyes, New York]
A: Red Bastien.
Q: Why? [Greg Oliver]
A: Because he was a great wrestler and we just got along so good. He knew every move I was going to make, and I knew every move that Red was going to make. We never, ever had a word between us. We still see each other periodically actually. He is just a super guy, Red, a super guy. I can’t say enough nice things about him. He was really a nice guy — not as nice as me, but he was a nice guy.
Q: But not as nice as you, that’s important to know. [Greg Oliver]
A: Well, you know. … Oh, one other thing that I wanted to tell you. Some turkey said that I had, I don’t know if they put it on the Internet or what, that I had a slight stroke, and that he saw me at McMaster [University hospital]. Well, if I had a slight stroke — the doctors told me about 30-35 per cent of people that have strokes like I did survive. To this day, I’ve never gotten back the use of my whole left-side. So, I think that’s pretty serious.
Q: Is that just somebody trying to be nice? [Greg Oliver]
A: I don’t think so. He saw me at McMaster Medical Centre.
Q: Are there many slight strokes? [Greg Oliver]
A: There’s lots of strike strokes, there’s lots of mini-strokes, but what I had wasn’t a slight stroke. Just for the record, anyway.
Q: I remember seeing you broadcasting in many wrestling events. Yet I cannot recall if you wrestled against Stu Hart and/or the wrestlers in his time. [Marty Goldstein, Oakville, ON]
Q: So you never wrestled against Stu Hart? [Greg Oliver]
A: Stu was quite a bit older than me. No, I never wrestled against Stu.
Q: Any of the guys from his era? [Greg Oliver]
A: Danny Plechas, Bill Longson. I can’t remember off-hand. I haven’t even thought about that, Greg, but I’m sure there’s other guys too. I’m trying to think. Would Ronnie Etchison have been from that era?
Q: He would have been a little younger than those guys, but he was certainly older than you. Sonny Myers and some of those guys. [Greg Oliver]
A: I never wrestled against Sonny Myers, though.
Q: He was a babyface his whole career. [Greg Oliver]
Q: Which wrestlers do you consider the greatest and toughest matches against you? [Marty Goldstein, Oakville, ON]
A: I’d need a week to think about that. Fritz [Von Erich] was one, my brother-in-law [The Destroyer Dick Beyer] was another, Buddy Rogers another, Kiniski. I never wrestled you, did I, Greg?
Q: I don’t think so. I would have remembered it, I think. [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah, I would think!
Q: As a broadcaster, which wrestling matches did you consider the best? [Marty Goldstein, Oakville, ON]
A: I can’t recall, since I’ve done so many. Did you say what were the great matches?
Q: Yeah, as a broadcaster, do any stand out? [Greg Oliver]
A: They were all great, because that’s why they had me broadcasting them.
Q: How was it having several promotions share the same Wrestling arena? [Courtney Marshall]
A: [There] weren’t that many, to tell you the truth. Of course, when Vince [McMahon] came along, he took over everything. As far as two different promotions using the same arena, it meant nothing to the boys — what’s the difference? They’ve got a ring, they’ve got seats, and that’s it. I wouldn’t know of any difference between factions. I think, but I’m not sure, that Vince got a lot of arenas tied up.
Q: When did Crockett Promotions come into the Maple Leaf Wrestling picture? [Courtney Marshall]
A: That was around, I believe the first part of the ’80s.
Q: I think it was around 1979 or slightly earlier. [Greg Oliver]
A: I think you’re right, because Gagne came in too.
Q: Right, but he didn’t run too many shows though. [Greg Oliver]
A: No, he didn’t.
Q: Is that just because Tunney looked weak at that point? [Greg Oliver]
A: Frank asked them to come in. He made a deal with Verne to come in. I guess the money wasn’t there so I would just assume that Verne checked out. Then Crockett came in. I don’t know how many guys were involved. I know George Scott was in on.
Q: He had a third, that’s what George told me. Tunney had the other third, and Crockett had the other. [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah, I don’t know if George’s brother had a little piece.
Q: I don’t think so. They don’t get along. [Greg Oliver]
A: No, they don’t get along too well.
Q: How powerful was Crockett when he had the Maple Leaf area under his protection? [Courtney Marshall]
A: All the boys knew it. Of course, a lot of sportswriters naturally would know it.
Q: Were you upset about Crockett keeping top talent like Ric Flair and others from coming to Maple Leaf Wrestling in 1984? [Courtney Marshall]
A: No, not really. I didn’t give a damn who they sent. I didn’t have any money involved. It didn’t make any difference to me. Mind you, all the boys would want to see them draw money, because then their payoffs would be better. But I never lost any sleep over it.
Q: Could you sense that the Tunneys were selling to WWF? [Courtney Marshall]
A: No. He didn’t sell. They just took it over. He had a choice, I guess. Vince changed the deal and Jack was told he was free to go with anyone else he wants, any other promotion. ‘Jack, you can stay with me, and get x number of dollars or a percentage.’ I don’t know, because I wasn’t in on it.
Q: Compare the energy and organization of Mid Atlantic to WWF? Could you notice a different? [Courtney Marshall]
A: I noticed that they started drawing money! That’s the only difference. Then, of course, there was a change in talent. All Vince’s talent came in and naturally, you know the rest.
Q: You never saw that it was more professional, or something like that? [Greg Oliver]
A: You could say that it was more professional, yeah, because then they had better talent and there was a lot of money behind the promotion. Everything was done in a big way, as you know, still to this day. You turn on the TV and take a look at Vince’s show, and who’s the other one, what’s his name from…
Q: Jarrett. [Greg Oliver]
A: It’s a good show, but it’s not as good as Vince’s, I don’t think.
Q: When the decision was made, do you remember any of the discussion with the boys? There were certainly some local guys, like John Bonello, Bob Marcus, the guys who worked for both promotions. Was there a lot of talk in the dressing room about the switch to WWF?
A: No, not that I recall.
Q: Why were some of the TV tapings done in London and Brantford. Vince did that there a lot of times. Why were they done in Canada? [Courtney Marshall]
A: The first couple of years, they were all done in Brantford. I guess it was a cost factor, it was cheaper to do it there and it was getting the job done. You had local TV that was cooperative and give you anything you wanted. Then the tape was bicycled around the United States. It was very successful. Then it got to a point, I guess, where they wanted to get bigger, shall we say, and they started doing it from the U.S.
Q: They’d done it that way for years before that, in Poughskeepie, New York, and Allentown, Pennsylvania. It’s the same idea, not the big towns. Then you always had the matches they taped at Maple Leaf Gardens too, where you’d get to see a little bit of the action, but not all of it. [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah, you might see a little piece of a match from the Gardens to promote an angle or whatever for the next Gardens show. Who knows, you may want to use a piece of that tape maybe in Philadelphia, or whatever.
Q: When did you leave the WWF and was it on good terms? [Courtney Marshall]
A: When did I leave WWF? In 1996 when I had my stroke.
Q: Was it on good terms? [Greg Oliver]
A: Absolutely, very good terms. I owe a thanks to Vince. He sent me a cheque every month — a good cheque every month for a year. Not too many promoters would do that.
Q: Did you ever have an actual contract with them, that you were entitled to that money? [Greg Oliver]
A: No. I never had a contract. I I just thought it was really a nice gesture on his part because there are so many promoters around the country that wouldn’t send you 10 cents.
Q: There are a lot of people who knock Vince, but there are a lot of examples of that. [Greg Oliver]
A: Vince was first-class with me, and his wife was very nice to me, and so was his son. So, no, I don’t have anything but good to say about Vince.
Q: Who did you try to emulate when you were on the microphone? [Markus von Boltenstern, Ottawa]
A: I tried to emulate Billy Red Lyons.
Q: You weren’t trying to be Knowlton Nash or anything? [Greg Oliver]
A: No. You’ve got to be yourself.
Q: I know this is not an easy one, however, I’m sure everyone wants to know; are you feeling ashamed about being associated with a sport in which a startling number of wrestlers are dying young? I know I felt kind of guilty watching wrestling ever since Owen Hart fell to his death. [Markus von Boltenstern, Ottawa]
A: Of course not. That’s like, your next-door neighbour is a drunk, he’s an alky. And you’re to be ashamed because you live next door to a drunk? That’s ridiculous. Of course not. Look at all the crooked lawyers. Well, you laugh, but it’s true. Does that mean that all the lawyers are bad because they found one rotten one in Jockstrap, Missouri, or something?
Q: What was it like teaming with Tom Jones? [Pete Jarvis, Hamilton]
A: He was a good partner. Tom was a real nice guy, and a real gentleman.
Q: And as a wrestler? [Greg Oliver]
A: He was a good wrestler, he was.
Q: In that territory at that time, did you see a lot of hassle that he got being black? Did you ever get hassle for teaming up with him? [Greg Oliver]
A: No, never. In fact, they felt sorry for Tom, having me for a partner. We got along real well. There was an incident one night. I forget the name of the town now, it was in Mississippi. It was a spot show. I was going over that night. Anyway, after the matches, we went for a place to eat — small town, and most of the places were locked up. We found a restaurant open. The place was packed and we walked in. Everybody was very friendly. We had Tom’s car, and we parked out in front of the restaurant, say, about three doors down. We came out after eating and we going to go back to the motel. We get in the car, Tom starts it up. The damn thing is ‘bing, bing, bing, bing.’ It’s running on about two cylinders. He says, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ Somebody’s been messing with Tom’s car. We went back into the restaurant and there happened to be a cop in there. We told him what happened. He said, ‘You guys just wait here. I’ll get this straightened out in short order.’ Sure enough, I guess they know who the troublemakers are in them towns. In about 15 minutes, the cop comes back to the restaurant, and he says, ‘The car’s all taken care of, Tom. Where are you guys staying?’ We told him where we were staying. He says, ‘We’ll come by and check your car every half-hour to an hour during the night. Don’t worry about it.’ The next morning, we were getting ready to leave and get in the car, and a squad car pulled up. ‘No problem with the car, is there boys?’ he says. ‘Them smartasses, that dumb man, they won’t be doing that anymore. We took care of them.’ It was kind of a funny experience, you know.
Q: They were targeting him because he was black, you think? [Greg Oliver]
A: Oh yes.
Q: It wasn’t because of you? [Greg Oliver]
A: No, they left a Cadillac for me! But anyway, yeah, they targeted his car because here’s a white and a black, right?
Q: It’s just so foreign for us growing up in Canada, we never saw stuff like that. [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah, that was the only incident Tom and I ever had.
Q: What was Leroy McGuirk’s territory like? Was that one of your favourites? [Pete Jarvis, Hamilton]
A: No, it wasn’t. The trips were long, and you’d be gone sometimes for three, four nights a week, because my family was living in Tulsa. I bought a house there. I was gone too much. I didn’t enjoy it, the trips were too long.
Q: But occasionally you went with Bill, and that make it easier with the flying? [Greg Oliver]
A: Oh yeah.
Q: You were one of the finest fellows to ever enter the ring then carry a microphone. We all all miss your wit and expertise in TV interviews. [Clay Marston]
A: That guy is a very fine guy. I forget his name, but tell him I wish him all the best.
Q: How do you wish to be remembered as an active wrestler or as an announcer? [Clay Marston]
A: I’d just like to be remembered as being alive. No, I shouldn’t say that. I would like to be remembered as both. A wrestler, number one, of course, then as an announcer, number two.
Q: Who do you consider the best two or three other wrestlers in your era? [Clay Marston]
A: I’d say Red Bastien, my brother-in-law, Ray Stevens, Buddy Rogers.
Q: What do you like / dislike about wrestling in your era as against the present period?
A: A little less grandstanding, what I mean is talking before the matches. You know how all the wrestlers seem to have the portable mic. I’d like to see a little more wrestling.
Q: You have to go to the live shows these days for that, since the guys get 15-20 minutes for their matches. [Greg Oliver]
A: That’s right. I think, going back in my day, naturally, like today, everybody thinks they’re all making a million bucks. But there are those who are making a lot of money, and those that are making a living, but after they leave the WWF, there’s not too many places to go. At least back in my day there were so many different territories. It was a better life for families back in my day than it is today. For example, if a wrestler came into the Toronto territory, for example, to wrestle, they might be here for a year, a year and a half, and they’d be home every night. So if they had their family with them, they’d see their family every night. And another thing, I’m one of the few that took my family with me; if I changed territories, my family went with me. It was hard, it was tougher — buying a house, selling a house. Of course, a lot of guys didn’t do that. I’d buy a house then sell it, buy another one, sell it, I’d buy another one, sell it. So it was tougher, but it was worth it because I had my family with me.
Q: So there’s a lot of differences between then and now. You could probably go on and on. [Greg Oliver]
A: Greg, it’s almost like night and day. Of course, I can’t speak for wrestling as a whole today, because there’s a lot of things that I don’t know that are going on either.
Q: When people ask me that question, I always compare it to hockey players. Life for Gordie Howe was very different than the life of Sydney Crosby. And it’s very similar to what you guys went through, because you were on the road all the time, you’re away from your families. Now Sydney Crosby gets flown everywhere. It’s just different. [Greg Oliver]
A: And the money he’s getting is unbelievable. But way back in those days, say in my era — I can remember Rocket Richard, and they say the most he made was $25,000 a year. But the owners of those hockey clubs, man, they probably all had pick-up trucks to haul their money to the bank.
Q: Sounds like some promoters we know, right? [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah, you’ve got that right!
Q: Which arena was your favourite for facilities and fans? [Clay Marston]
A: I would say for me there’s so many. I’d say the Buffalo Aud, Maple Leaf Gardens — Buffalo Aud was very good. The Dallas territory, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston.
Q: Was there some fans that stand out in one area compared to another? Some might have been wilder? [Greg Oliver]
A: They could be pretty wild in Texas. The Gardens, the Gardens wasn’t that bad because they had the ramp and everything. But prior to that ramp, they could get pretty raunchy.
Q: I was quite a fan when you worked for the Tunneys. There was only one channel to watch! Did you originate the sit-down abdominal stretch? Great move. [Glenn, Canada]
A: The sit-down abdominal stretch? I don’t think I originated it. Sometimes you pick up a hold from somebody else, and you end up, shall we say, perfecting it, because you have better luck with it.
Q: Billy Red, I grew up watching you on CHCH. My question is what were your first thoughts when you heard WrestleMania VI would take place at the massive SkyDome in Toronto? That was a big coup for the Toronto office, wasn’t it? [Richard]
A: Yes it was. Yes it was.
Q: Did you immediately say, ‘This is going to be a lot of work?’ [Greg Oliver]
A: Not necessarily, no. It was just another night of wrestling. You might say, “It’s another night in the Gardens,” only four or five times as big.
Q: I would like to know what Mr. Lyons’ view was on the passing of his freind, also my old buddy, The Missing Link [Dewey Robertson]. I worked out in his gym many times. He was always good to me, and wanted me to train to do some ‘rasslin! [Joe MacDonald, Hamilton, ON]
A: How did I feel about his passing? Well, I didn’t feel good about it — I don’t think anybody did. I feel sorry but angry too, because years going way back, Dewey he was smoking majiuana, for example. I got on him because I’m deadly against anything like that. “What are you doing that for?” “You’re so square,” he said, or whatever. “I’m glad I’m square,” I said. “You keep on with that shit, eventually you’re going to start graduating to stronger stuff.” “Oh no, what do you know?” I said, “All right.” We kind of had a falling out years later. That’s what angered me, was that he wouldn’t — he admitted at different times that he wishes that he had listened. Of course it was too late. He wishes that he had listened to me. But he didn’t, and as a result, you can see what happened. It was a sad ending to his life. His [ex-] wife, when I met her at the memorial service, she met me at the door of the church and gave me a big hug. “He just never listened,” she said.” After 35 years, I just couldn’t take it anymore.” It was too bad, too bad.
Q: The next question is related to that. How (and why) did “The Crusaders” come about, given yours and Dewey Robertson’s success as individual competitors? Why the decision to go under the masks? [Lee Coulter, Scarborough, ON]
A: This is a long one. He came in as the Crusader himself, and he wrestled against The Sheik in the Gardens. I think he was in two matches, so he would have been beaten twice and be finished as the Crusader gimmick — where do you go from there? So I went to Frank and I said — we’d wrestled against the Love Brothers a couple of times, I believe. I went to Frank, and I said, “I’ve got a hell of an idea here.” He said, “What is it?” “How about putting a mask on me and calling the Crusader the Crusaders?” Lord Athol Layton was doing the commentary then. I said, “We’ll get Layton to announce on TV that Dewey’s got a secret partner coming in next week to go against the Love Brothers.” Frank said, “All right, let’s try it.” I wasn’t on TV or anything, but now we come to the Gardens, right, the night of the match. I come out with a Crusader outfit on with Dewey. But I’m walking half like I’ve got a bad leg, and I’m hunched over. I get through the ropes, and I’m all bent over and everything. The people start hollering; I’m getting heat. They’re saying, “Hey, Joe Christie” or “Hey, Lee Henning.” They thought I was a goddamn oldtimer. I stood on the outside of the ring, and Dewey started the match. Naturally, John and Wes Hutchins are walking by my corner, and they’d slap me in the face. I didn’t even register it, I was just like a statue, almost. Dewey sold and sold and sold. Finally, he tags me. I used to leap over the top rope. When he tagged me, I leaped over the top rope and the people went bananas. Then we had another spot. I tagged Dewey back in. We had a highspot where we had a double knockout. Johnny Evans starts in to save Wes, and the referee comes in and stops him, of course. As he’s pushing him out, I run in, grab Dewey and throw him out of the ring to the floor. When the referee turns around, I’ve collapsed but I’ve got enough juice left to crawl over and cover Wes Hutchins. I get the 1-2-3, and him and I get the tag belts. By that time, Dewey is crawling back into the ring. I guess there were 8,000, 10,000 people there. That place went crazy. Frank came in and he said, “In all the years I’ve been promoting here, I have never heard that much noise in the Gardens.” From then on, that’s when the Crusaders gimmick started. We were running around for a year and a half, two years, I forget.
Q: People always knew you were the other Crusader. It was not like it was a secret. [Greg Oliver]
A: Oh no. As soon as I jumped over the ropes — they’d been calling me names all night, trying to figure out who I was — as soon as I jumped over the ropes, they knew who it was.
Q: And they openly knew it was Dewey as well. [Greg Oliver]
A: They knew Dewey because they had announced it on TV, and he’d announced he was bringing in a secret partner. They knew he was wrestling.
Q: It was a very unique tag team because everybody knew who you were, yet you still wore the masks. [Greg Oliver]
A: Oh yeah, they wanted us to wear the masks. And then I got us booked in Japan and things like that. We had quite a bit of fun with it. If he’d listened to me, I swear he’d be around today.
Q: What is your fondest memory of the late, great Dewey Robertson? [Dave, from Kitchener-Waterloo, ON]
A: Fondest memory? Probably back when he opened his gym, the first one. We had a lot of good times together. He still had his head on straight. He was a nice guy.
Q: The first live wrestling event I ever attended was in the early 80s at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. It was an NWA card that featured several big stars like ‘The Boogie Woogie Man’ Jimmy Valiant, The Great Kabuki, Leo Burke — and to my delight, Billy Red Lyons. On the card, Lyons was scheduled to wrestle The Great Kabuki, but when Harley Race didn’t show up to defend his NWA World Title, the main event was changed to The Great Kabuki vs. Jimmy Valiant. I can’t remember who Lyons wrestled that night, but I remember he was victorious, and it would be the one and only time I would see him wrestle live. I am wondering how much longer was Lyons an active wrestler, along with when and where the last match of his career was — and who he wrestled? [Marshall Ward, Waterloo, ON]
A: I stopped in 1983 or 1984. I can’t remember. I believe it was in Kingston, against Lombardi, Steve Lombardi.
Q: Were you an emergency fill-in? [Greg Oliver]
A: No, I was booked on the card. Pat Patterson, he was the agent. He said to Steve Lombardi, because they knew it was my last match, and Pat says to Steve Lombardi, “Now take it easy on this guy. Good guy, but take it easy on him.” Lombardi says, “Yes, okay, I will.” So now when Lombardi turns around, Pat gives me a wink. We went out and worked our match, and Steve’s tongue was hanging down to his knees. [Laughing] Patterson laughed when we came in. He said, “Son of a bitch, how old did you say you were?”
Q: One of my favourite memories of seeing wrestling at Maple Leaf Gardens is that big ramp to the ring. I don’t recall seeing a ramp like that in any of the other venues. When I watch old matches from Maple Leaf Gardens on video, that ramp is so nostalgic, and such a visually defining quality of what made wrestling at the Maple Leaf Gardens so special (in a similar way, I love that mustard-yellow floor of the Boston Gardens in the ’80s). Being there in person, I remember how great it was when the house lights came on at the end of a match and the wrestlers would walk back down the ramp, down the stairs, and through the curtain. Do you have any insight as to why that ramp was used at Maple Leaf Gardens? [Marshall Ward, Waterloo, ON]
A: It started before I got to the Gardens. The story I heard, Nanjo Singh was real hot then. Do you remember the name Nanjo Singh?
Q: Oh yeah, he took on Whipper Billy Watson? [Greg Oliver]
A: Yep. They had no ramp. Nanjo, I don’t know if he used the fire or not, I’m not sure. But anyway, he had so much heat, he had a hell of a time getting to the dressing room. One night he crawled under the ring for protection. They set the damn ring on fire. They got him out, luckily. But some nights, they would try to get him out of the Gardens, they tell me, until 2, 3, 4 in the morning. The people would be outside waiting for him. They had a stooge, “He’s going out the other door!” and everybody would go tearing around the Gardens, around to the back door. Naturally, zoom, they’d hurry up and hustle Singh out the front door, or wherever it was. Anyway, that’s the story that I got. Nanjo had so much heat that they, I don’t know who suggested it, but they built the ramp.
Q: Do you remember ever seeing a ramp anywhere else? Because I don’t. [Greg Oliver]
A: No. The only other places I remember seeing them — much smaller versions, obviously — once was in London, Ontario, and once was in Kitchener.
Q: So they would transport that around then? [Greg Oliver]
A: No, no, no. In those days, I think they had the rings stored in the arena. The rings aren’t what they’re like today.
Q: Seeing wrestling live at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium many times throughout the early ’80s, I have great memories of Billy Red Lyons, dressed in a suit, coming out before the event and speaking with fans and signing autographs. Fans, like me, were always excited to him. Throughout the night, I would sometimes catch a glimpse of Lyons standing behind the curtain either speaking with wrestlers, or watch a match through an opening in the curtain. I’ve always been curious to know what Lyons’ role was backstage at house shows like these, where there weren’t announcers or a camera crew filming? [Marshall Ward, Waterloo, ON]
A: Me making sure at times who was going to be on next, if there was change in the lineup, I’d be the guy who would tell them, make sure the guys are ready to go out.
Q: So in today’s vernacular, they call that an agent. [Greg Oliver]
A: An agent, yes and no. That was all part of the announcing, part of my job then.
Q: Hmm, interesting. That’s what guys like Pat Patterson evolved into, right? They relied on guys like him and Jay Strongbow, and all the guys that were backstage. [Greg Oliver]
A: Right. They were agents.
Q: But you were an announcer doing other duties. [Greg Oliver]
A: I was an announcer doing — I didn’t have to do a whole — I shouldn’t say that I’d done that every night, because I might be back there just shooting the shit. There might be some guy that I hadn’t seen in a long time, maybe Joe Bevins was on the card and I hadn’t seen him since California, or whatever.
Q: What year did you take over as host of Maple Leaf Wrestling? [Griff Henderson, Halifax]
A: I believe it was 1976, ’77.
Q: We’ve talked about that before, but it was essentially when Lord Layton retired?? [Greg Oliver]
A: That’s right.
Q: Do you remember all your different co-hosts? [Griff Henderson, Halifax]
A: Well, there was one, Jason Roberts. They had put him in with me. He was a good friend, well, he wasn’t a good friend, but he was a friend of George Scott. They put him in, grooming him. I’d be the colour guy, and he was going to be the announcer. I don’t know what happened, I forget now, it’s so far back, but Jason Roberts got arrested, I think it was for abusing his young daughter or some damn thing. He was a hell of an announcer, but that was the end of his career. Then Frank Thompson. Do you remember Frank Thompson?
Q: Is this Frank “Scotty” Thompson? [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah. They put him in for a while, and that didn’t work out too well. Also, there was another one, Mike McMann. He was good friends, I shouldn’t say good friends, but he was related, I think, to Frank Tunney’s second wife or girlfriend, or whatever it was. That’s how he got the spot. But they all went by the wayside, and I was still there.
Q: Do you have any of those old tapes, or very many? [Griff Henderson, Halifax]
A: I don’t have any. That’s the trouble with me, I didn’t save anything of my career. I don’t know, I guess I’m a little different, I guess. All them pictures, and writeups and bullshit, all that stuff and a buck now will get you a coffee at Tim Horton’s.
Q: Do you still keeps in touch with Eddie Tunney? [Griff Henderson, Halifax]
A: No, unfortunately. I’d like to see Eddie and I don’t know where the hell Eddie is. The last I heard of Eddie, he had a bar or something with another fella in Sarnia. But I haven’t seen Eddie since, geez, I probably wouldn’t know him now if I ran over him with a glass-bottom boat. I liked Eddie. Eddie was a good guy.
Q: I saw Mr. Lyons in Houston as a youngster in the mid-’60s and he had some great matches there. What was [Houston promoter] Paul Boesch like? [Glenn, Corpus Christi, TX]
A: Paul Boesch was a hell of a guy. I liked him anyway, and Paul treated me really good. You know that in all the years that I went in and out of Texas, I never missed a card in Houston. Paul put me on every card. And he was an excellent payoff man. You always got a good payoff from Paul. To me, he was a terrific guy, I liked him.
Q: You went to Texas a lot. We talked earlier about Lousiana and McGuirk’s territory. What was Texas like as a territory? [Greg Oliver]
A: Oh, I loved Texas. Shit, that was kind of like being on a vacation. I loved it.
Q: Is that because you were out of Dallas and the trips weren’t that long? [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah, and Fritz and I were good friends. I was looked after. You go from Dallas to Fort Worth, and then you’re back home in no time, 30-35 miles. Next day was a long one, you’d go to San Antonio. We’d stay in San Antone, and go on to Corpus [Christi], Corpus and Houston. Then from Houston we went back to Dallas.
Q: So they weren’t ridiculously long trips. [Greg Oliver]
A: No. I liked Texas. It was good for me.
Q: Okay, then I think what the fans really want to hear, Bill, is some sort of catchphrase. Do you have a catchphrase that everybody knows? [Greg Oliver]
A: Yeah, I’ve got a catchphrase. For all my fans, dontcha dare miss it!
Q: Do you still get stopped on the street for people asking you do that? [Greg Oliver]
A: Occasionally. Of course, I moved to Kitchener. I lived in Hamilton, born and raised there. Yeah, every once in a while, there’ll be an old fossil like me, he’ll walk up from behind and say, “Dontcha dare miss it!” I’ll turn around and there will be an old wrestling fan.