There was a time when World Wrestling Entertainment relied on people in different towns to help with local promotion. In Winnipeg, that man was Bob “Doc” Holliday, who died early on December 28, of cancer.
“Doc Holliday’s family sent me a note today from his cellphone to let me know his battle with cancer has ended and he is finally at peace,” posted long-time friend Glenn Johnson to Facebook.
Holliday’s region for WWE (then WWF) was throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and North Dakota.
Like so many, Holliday jumped ship to the expanding World Wrestling Federation, in late 1985, thanks to his close friendship with Blackjack Lanza, who had been an AWA star, and was then working behind the scenes with the WWF.
In the November 2, 1986, Winnipeg Free Press, Holliday summed up his take on pro wrestling: “What wrestling is, is a good time. People have always had a good time at wrestling. They can come to a match and yell and scream and get all their frustrations out and you can’t always do that at a football or baseball game.” Another time, in August 2003, he said WWF was “one of the greatest indoor shows in the world.”
But where to start when talking about who Doc Holliday was? So many stories.
Holliday had the kind of twinkle in his eye that he would have the gall to throw a 40th birthday party in his St. Vital backyard for himself … when he was 39. That was on July 1, 1981, though he was born June 28, 1942 in Winnipeg.
Or he was the kind of guy to post a “Beware of Dog” sign on his door as Mad Dog Vachon used to come to his backyard, to lay out and suntan. Then, years later after Mad Dog lost his leg after he was struck by a car, Holliday organized a Winnipeg salute to Vachon: “A Mad Farewell to a Favorite Dog.” There was another tribute to Mad Dog in February 2002, at the Franco Manitoban Cultural Centre, promoted by Joe Aiello, where Holliday was again in the mix, making a presentation to Vachon alongside independent promoter Tony Condello.
But what did a local wrestling promoter do for WWE?
It would be arranging the arenas, the publicity in the newspapers, radio and TV, setting up promotional interviews, and everything related to the shows themselves, from the ring setup to finding a cheap guitar for Honkytonk Man to break over someone’s head. He knew how to take care of the wrestlers, said Aiello, who is a long-time Winnipeg radio personality.
“If you talk to any professional wrestlers that made their way through Winnipeg, when Bob was promoting, they’d tell you it was one of their favorite stops just for the fact that he always lined them up with massage, chiropractic care, physio, whatever they needed, Bob had it set up here for those guys,” recalled Aiello, who kept in touch with Holliday and would meet up with Doc and Condello a couple of times a year.
“One of the few satisfactions of living a hectic schedule travelling all over North American was that we ate at the best restaurants,” said Nick Bockwinkel in June 2005. “When you were booked in Winnipeg, you ate at Rae and Jerry’s.” R&J’s, as it was referenced locally, was a steakhouse near the Winnipeg Arena.
It would be Holliday who would organize wrestler visits with sick children or appearances around town.
“I will say this, a lot of people wouldn’t realize this, he always went beyond the call of duty to get merchandise and tickets to people of need that were wrestling fans. And he’ll probably hate me for telling you that,” said Aiello. “He did so many things behind the scenes that I don’t think a lot of people do. If I ever had some family come to me and say they couldn’t afford to go to a show and their mother or father had cancer or something, and this was kind of an ideal thing, Bob would just make sure there was tickets at the box office and merch and that kind of stuff. He was so good with that kind of stuff. He was a good man.
Holliday often did the ring announcing too — and did so for Tom Burns-promoted boxing shows in the early 1980s in Winnipeg as well.
Given the weather in the prairies, Holliday had snowstorm cancellations that southern promoters didn’t have to worry about, or, if ticket sales were weak, he’d have to explain why a show was cancelled — that happened with a 1995 WWF tour that was supposed to go to Dauphin, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan outposts Selkirk, Prince Albert, North Battleford and Yorkton. He could blame someone else though, and did, as he did in The Selkirk Journal on October 23, 1995, talking about future dates: “I don’t know why not but that’s not up to me, it’s up to the powers that be in Connecticut.”
One of the big moments was the final wrestling show at the historic Winnipeg Arena, before it was demolished in late 2006. That was in the summer of 2004. The final Monday Night Raw and then Smackdown at the arena, on July 5 and 6, were packed houses and Holliday and WWE were presented with plaques to mark the occasion from Winnipeg Enterprises. Given his connections in town, Holliday was given a tour of the in-construction replacement arena, the MTS Centre. In an email to this writer in 2010, Holliday lamented the success of the new venue. “Getting dates in the MTS Centre’s tough. The building is so busy: third in North America; 19th in the world, and that doesn’t include the Manitoba Moose games.”
Holliday was a gatekeeper for WWF interviews and tickets, and since he worked for the Sun, the Free Press had limited, if any access — though would accept the ad buys. Free Press wrestling columnist Shane Minkin would reference Holliday as a “WWF mouthpiece”; “Cyrus” Don Callis, when he had a Winnipeg Sun column, would take light jabs at Holliday.
Doc himself gave as good as he got; here’s a line from a Gordon Sinclair Jr., column in the Free Press, on October 13, 1988:
Broadcaster/pro rassling mouthpiece and Red Top Drive-in groupie Bob Holliday speaking on what he thinks of his fellow citizens: “Winnipeggers are small ‘c’ conservative, big ‘C’ Cheap.”
Holliday was a source for stories. There was Hulk Hogan in agony with back pain, lying on the ground in The Keg restaurant in Brandon, where a waitress was asked to walk up and down the Hulkster’s spine. Or Hogan on bass guitar as Mean Gene Okerlund sang at the Polo Park Inn’s cocktail lounge. Or getting knocked down by Jerry Blackwell. Or the time Mad Dog Vachon fed him Ex-Lax.
Holliday could take a rib with the best of them. After Owen Hart‘s death, he shared a tale with John Gleeson of the Sun:
“Owen was the king of the ribbers. He pulled jokes on everybody in the WWF including me,” Holliday said.
One time he had the Winnipeg-based promoter chasing a fictitious reporter from “Prairie Home Living Magazine” who was supposedly hassling wrestlers about being uncooperative.
He even called Holliday on the phone, disguising his voice and impersonating the make-believe troublemaker.
“Everybody was in on it, and he had me going for two days in St. Albert and Saskatoon.”
Ed Willes in the Sun on March 15, 1992, quoted Holliday:
“I don’t do anything I don’t enjoy,” says Holliday, the CJOB everyman who, appropriately, has a strong Runyonesque aspect to his personality. “And in the 11 years I’ve been involved with wrestling, I’ve only met three guys I don’t like. They’re the greatest bunch of guys I’ve ever been associated with.”
It wasn’t just the big names. Holliday promoted under the Keystone Wrestling Alliance name in 1989, aiming to run sold shows at fairs and schools. He had the trust of people in town, and when former NHL tough guy Ted Irvine vouched for Holliday to his son, the future Chris Jericho had a good in to work shows. The 17-year-old Chris Irvine was a part of Holliday’s ring crew. Holliday recalled to SlamWrestling.net’s Jon Waldman in 2001 that, “when (Jericho) wasn’t riding in the back of the van, setting up or taking down the rings, he was picking the brains of the legendary Baron Von Raschke.”
Jericho wrote about those early days with the Keystone Wrestling Alliance in his first book, A Lion’s Tale — working the ring crew with Caveman Broda, some of the characters on the summer tour of northern Indigenous reservations in Manitoba, the ribs, and lessons learned. That included being smartened up to the business. “The idea that when Hulk Hogan won a title it was actually given to him by the promoter didn’t compute. I was crestfallen,” he wrote.
“Doc was WWE’s local promoter when I was cutting my teeth with SLAM! Wrestling too many years ago. Always a gentleman and accommodating to all of my time with the superstars,” recalled Jon Waldman. “I remember in particular my first interview with Chris Jericho. Because I was ‘Internet media,’ considered a lesser body at the time compared to the paper reporters, I was given less time with Chris. Naturally, of course, two wrestling and hockey guys chatting went long. Doc gave us the ‘wrap it up’ signal. Chris rolled his eyes and Doc gave a sly smile. Holliday was always happy to chat with me directly though and we shared some good laughs at those events.” (Holliday once promoted Jericho as “the biggest Manitoba export since The Guess Who.”)
Vern May, who became wrestler/author Vance Nevada, was 16 when he boldly asked Holliday for a press pass to go to a WWE show in Winnipeg. “I had the opportunity to interview the likes of Jim Brunzell and Bret Hart — the latter interview was later published in New Wave Wrestling magazine and became my first paid writing gig,” recalled May. “In 2002, he also afforded me an opportunity to make a dream come true for my daughter and put me high on the ‘world’s greatest dad’ list for the moment. My daughter Katie was a huge fan of Goldust and Bob arranged for her to meet him backstage at a Winnipeg house show. She was starstruck and without words.”
Irvine was hardly the only hockey connection. It was Holliday who arranged for then-Winnipeg Jets general manager John Ferguson — a notoriously tough hockey player before that — to referee a cage match in the AWA between World champ Rick Martel and Boris Zukhov. The publicity worked, as the photo from the cage match went out via Canadian Press and ran in newspapers across the country.
In the Winnipeg Free Press on June 17, 1987, columnist Gordon Sinclair shared a good example of the kind of publicity Holliday could get:
The Mounties, trendy types that they are, have come up with something new in their attempts to always get their man. Local pro ‘rassling’ rep Bob Holliday tells me that when the grapplers piled into the Winnipeg Arena a few weeks back, the RCMP showed up with a camera crew and a whole bunch of words they wanted to put into the performers’ mouths. The Mounties had arranged for the ‘rasslers’ to do short Crimestopper TV spots for rural Manitoba. Good guys Brutus Beefcake and The British Bulldogs were among those who volunteered to do their bit for law and order. But, surprisingly, even the villainous Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Jimmy “The Mouth of the South” Hart helped out.
Hey, maybe they’re not such bad guys after all — the turncoats …
Not everyone was a fan of his, admitted Holliday in 2010 to this writer: “I have a lot of enemies who would love to see me dumped, but I produce. Hell I even had a 15 minute meeting with Vince an hour prior to Raw in Sioux City last year.”
His job with WWE ended in 2013.
Holliday is in at least seven hall of fames, according to a 2020 story when a street was named after him in St. Vital. One of them is the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, where he went into the media wing in 2019. Writing about hockey was one thing, but it was Holliday’s focus on the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and local senior leagues that set him apart from those who wanted to write about the WHA or NHL’s Jets. In another capacity, Doc was a key figure developing the St. Vital Minor Hockey Association. “Everything I’ve done in my life, I never did it for personal recognition. I just did it,” he said in 2020.
Another honor is being a part of the St. Vital Bulldogs Canadian Senior Amateur football champions, in 1968 and 1969, getting him inducted with the team to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame; then in 2012, he went into the Football Manitoba Hall of Fame Inductee in the builder/media category. Wrote Holliday on Facebook in September 2010: “I wasn’t a very good athlete. I only played one year of organized football and now I find myself in two hall of fames: two years ago I went into the Manitoba Sports hall of Fame and two weeks ago into the Manitoba Football Hall of Fame, both on the executive side of things of course.”
There is little question that Holliday was St. Vital — a part of Winnipeg in the southeast part of the city — through and through. He was president of the St. Vital Historical Society and managed the St. Vital Museum. He grew up on Sadler Avenue in St. Vital, moving there when he was four years old. It was a two-acre homestead where the family raised chickens, pigs and rabbits. Water and sewer service didn’t arrive until 1958. Holliday attended Glenlawn Collegiate from 1957-1960.
St. Vital had a small newspaper, the Lance, and Holliday’s journalism journey started there. He moved on to the major papers in town, including the defunct Winnipeg Tribune, but, upon retirement from the big-leagues, leaving the Sun in 2007, was back writing a weekly column for the Lance. It was all under the Bob Holliday Media Services banner. He did plenty of radio too, working as a news and sports reporter, and a talk show producer, at CJOB, from 1981-91.
May shared a love of history with Holliday. “It was a great pleasure to connect with Bob outside the realm of wrestling as well after his retirement from wrestling and indulge in his interest in local Manitoba history — arranging for an off-season visit to the Souris Hillcrest Museum,” recalled May. “Truly a one of a kind gentleman in the wrestling world that will not be replaced.”
But it was on the crime beat at the Sun, from 1991-2007, that he excelled.
“Doc was an excellent crime reporter, partly because he had so many trusted sources on both sides of the law,” recalled former Winnipeg Sun City Editor Doug Lunney.
The key, said Aiello, was Holliday’s ability to network, to stay in touch, to make friends.
“The joke around town was everybody loved Doc, right? He was spicy and he had an opinion and he wouldn’t be afraid to tell you. Yet, he had friends on both sides of that ledger,” said Aiello. “He had guys that he wrote stories about that loved him, and he was in tight with his photography and stories with the cops too. That’s the magic of Bob. He had friends on both sides of the iron.”
After the street was named after him, Holliday addressed those friendships: “I’ve met some many good people in my career, both crooks and cops and I’m still friendly with them and I can walk proudly.”
The Manitoba Police Association annual magazine, chronicling the activities of the province’s municipal police forces, was produced by Holliday. He served on the Winnipeg police advisory board for a time as well.
Holliday detailed his fight with cancer with Sun readers. It started in 2001, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He went to the US for treatment initially. At the five-year mark, he wrote in the newspaper: “I documented my cancer fight in a weekly column in the Sun and it was great therapy. I continued to be surprised and humbled that five years later so many people stop and ask me about my health.” He credited WWE’s Ed Cohen, who had also been battling cancer, for being a good friend through it and an inspiration. (Cohen died in 2018.)
One of his last public appearances was on December 2, when Holliday received the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal for Manitoba, to mark 50 years of volunteer and community work, from Premier Heather Stefanson, Lt. Governor Anita Neville and MLA Jamie Moses.
On his Linkedin profile, Holliday provides an appropriate ending:
Best of advice ever received came from the Dean of Sportscasters, Cactus Jack Wells who told all rookies to “always take your job seriously, but never your self.”
Bob Holliday died in hospice care, at St. Boniface Hospital, at 3:30 am local time in Winnipeg, on December 28, 2022. Funeral details are not known at this time. He had no children of his own by was loved by his nieces and nephews.
TOP PHOTO: Bob Holliday and former NHL star — and Chris Jericho’s father — Ted Irvine in July 2020. Facebook photo
- Dec. 28, 2022: Guest column: Sun colleague remembers ‘colorful’ Doc Holliday
- Dec. 29, 2022: JBL on Doc Holliday: ‘Bob was special’
BOB HOLLIDAY PHOTO GALLERY