REAL NAME: Mervyn McKie
BORN: September 20, 1941 in St. Vincent
Chances are that anyone who has been to an Ontario independent show over the past 20 years has seen or met Big Mac. After all, he’s the guy who has been hauling the ring to and from shows. But Mac has a rich in-ring history of his own, so he’s worth talking to.
At just 5-foot-5, Mervyn McKie was never going to be a top of the card performer in the 1970s, but he was okay with that. Instead, he carved out an interesting career in the squared circle, balanced off by regular jobs at home, and a family.
Born on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in 1941, McKie felt the urge to travel, and headed to England when he was 15 years old. There, he got interested in professional wrestling, attending the many shows promoted around Britain. He finds it ironic that some of the imported names he saw then — Dominic Denucci, Tex McKenzie — would later become his friends.
Aside from a new love for pro wrestling in England, McKie also found love in the form of Edalyn, who was from Barbados, and whom he would marry and have four children with. Edalyn had a sister in Canada, and they decided to move. “We thought there would be more opportunities here,” said McKie.
Sponsored by Edalyn’s sister, they settled in Toronto and McKie found work running “automatic screwing machines” for a company that made old ringer washing machines. He started attending the wrestling cards at Maple Leaf Gardens. “I used to buy the cheap tickets up in the rafters, and as the show went on, I would work my way down to ringside,” he confessed.
McKie, who, in his own words was “grossly overweight,” headed for Mack’s Gym, run by Mack Miya. He quickly took to the bodybuilding culture and whipped himself into shape. It wasn’t long until he was offered the chance to be schooled in pro wrestling in the gym’s back room on Tuesday nights, where prying eyes wouldn’t be able to see the secrets of the squared circle.
His primary trainer was George Wolf, who worked as an ambulance driver, and used to work as a pro wrestler. “I really got my bum stretched,” laughed McKie. “They put all these shoot moves on me.” The goal, of course, was to see if McKie was tough enough to come back for more. He would learn from the occasional active pro, like Stan Stasiak, who would come by the gym for a workout as well. None of the others training with him really made it in pro wrestling for any length of time, said McKie.
In 1974, McKie got his big break, traveling up to Larry Kasaboski’s northern Ontario territory as Sweet Daddy William — “because I was inspired by Sweet Daddy Siki.”
A “smaller” name than Siki meant a lot to McKie’s career as well. “There was a guy by the name of Don Serrano who was out of New York. He wasn’t very big [5-foot-7], and that’s who inspired me to get into the business,” he said. “When I started, I was one of the smallest guys in the business.”
Down in Windsor, promoter “Crybaby” George Cannon gave McKie the nickname that would stick with him the rest of his life. “He thought I looked like a big McDonald’s, I don’t know,” laughed McKie. He actually believes that it had more to do with the irony of his small frame and major muscles rippling once the ring jacket came off.
Big Mac would also work for The Sheik out of Michigan, in Montreal for the Rougeaus, and he was a regular on the TV tapings for Maple Leaf Wrestling. He also did a brief tour of England for Dale Martin Promotions, while on vacation from his day job back on, and worked a tournament in Germany.
McKie is matter-of-fact about his career. “My job was to make the other guy look good,” he said.
The ability to work both sides of the fence helped him, he believes. “One minute you’re a babyface, one minute you’re a heel,” he said. “I got more work than some of the guys because I could switch so easily.”
His favorite memories are working with the likes of Pat Patterson or Gilles “The Fish” Poisson in Montreal, and teaming with Vince (Cool Cat Jackson) Bright against the masked El Santos (Duncan McTavish and Terry Yorkston).
He has fond recollections of many of the wrestlers as well, and feels particularly close to Bob Clark, Joe and Bob Marcus, Ricky Johnson, and the Wolfman Willie Farkus, who was a regular traveling partner. “He used to wake me up at 5 a.m. every morning. ‘Mac, go jogging,'” he chuckled. “I used to have to translate for him in restaurants.”
Farkus gives Big Mac a lot of credit for achieving what he did at such a small size. “He worked hard, very hard,” said the Wolfman. “He listened to, and didn’t talk back.”
“Mac was a good little wrestler. He was well trained. He knew a lot of moves. He was always there when you needed him,” said Clark, who befriended Big Mac when they were both wrestlers for Cannon, and later booked him in his promotion. “The size didn’t matter, but he was always there trying to do his best.”
Throughout much of his wrestling career, McKie kept another job, whether it was working as a bouncer, or his many years at McDonnell Douglas, the aerospace company which later merged with Boeing. As an airplane technician, McKie helped build wings for planes until accepting a severance package in the early ’90s.
In 1987, while on hiatus from McDonnell Douglas, Big Mac went on a lengthy tour of Canada’s east coast with Dave “Bearman” McKigney, which lasted from March to September. When the opportunity arose to do the same trip in 1988, he said no, because McDonnell Douglas had started up production again. It was during that summer’s tour in Newfoundland, on July 4, 1988, that McKigney died along with Adrian Adonis and Pat Kelly when their van left the road.
A few weeks after McKigney’s funeral, McKie was offered a chance to buy the Bearman’s wrestling ring. He jumped at the chance.
“Willie [Farkus] and I were going to open a wrestling school,” he said, adding that it just never came to be. Instead, McKie found himself promoting in a lot of McKigney’s old towns in Eastern and Northern Ontario, along with his business partner, Elma Hodgson, who served as his advance woman, doing the advertising, booking the arenas. The two are still friends to this day — a rarity, perhaps, in promotions — and can often be found together at shows.
“I enjoy working with him,” said Hodgson. The ring’s historical value is a draw, she believes. “There’s quite a bit of rings out there, but the thing is with Mac’s ring is he’s got the old, original Bearman’s ring. People know that.”
McKie’s shows have helped a lot of talent get work. Names like Edge, Christian Cage, Joe E. Legend, Scott D’Amore, Otis Apollo, Turbo Ned Tyson and Steve Ocean fought on his cards. He’s been renting out his ring for decades as well, though there is less work these days because making a ring isn’t the hush-hush secret that it once was.
“Soulman” Ricky Johnson has worked in the Bearman/Big Mac ring countless times, and knows Big Mac well. “Mac is a fixture in Ontario wrestling. He was a job guy, but he never complained about being a job guy. He knew his role, as my nephew would say, and he accepted it. He was well-accepted, obviously — everybody likes Mac. He was a small guy. His talent wasn’t what held him back, it was his size that held him back, and that’s the truth,” Johnson said. “Mac is very likeable. Nobody doesn’t like Big Mac. Honestly. I’m proud to say he’s been my friend for 32 years.”
“Bloody” Bill Skullion, an Ontario hardcore legend, has been renting Big Mac’s ring for years. Having been trained by the son of Whipper Watson, Phil Watson, Skullion has a lot of respect for the people who helped pave the way. On one occasion, he had Big Mac manage him in a match against Notorious T.I.D., who had Otto Baun in his corner. “We set up for the drop toe hold into the flaming chair but the chair was dented and really beat up. I had so much colour [blood] that I didn’t notice all the lighter fluid pouring onto the canvas. When I lit the chair the canvas went up in flames too, burning a huge hole in the middle of it. We still did the spot before building staff hit the ring with fire extinguishers. Elma was furious but Mac just had this huge smile on his face like it was the old days again.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Big Mac and other wrestling stars from the past will be appearing at the Titans in Toronto III dinner on Saturday, September 27th, at The Factory (Dufferin and Steeles). For details on the dinner, and how to order your tickets before it is too late, CLICK HERE.
Greg Oliver has known Big Mac for more than 20 years, and can’t believe he hasn’t gotten off his butt to do a story on him until now.