I was at a wrestling show on Sunday in Toronto that I could walk to from my home. At the Destiny card, I reconnected with a number of friends. At one point, someone mentioned that there had been eight different shows in Ontario — including the tribute to Tiberius King/JT Playa Jesse Scott in Niagara Falls — within a three-hour drive on Saturday night.

At the risk of sounding like Old Man Greg, it wasn’t like that back in my day.

Before Ontario wrestling was deregulated, the Ontario Athletic Commission no longer demanding its pound of flesh, it was rare to have more than one show on a night in the 1980s, into the early 1990s.

I bring this up because there was really one wrestling ring to book easily during that time period, and it belonged to one of the first behind-the-scenes friends I ever made in pro wrestling.

Big Mac.

“Mac” — who was actually Mervyn McKie — died on Monday, April 15, of heart failure, so he is very much on my mind.

When I heard the news, I called his daughter, who picked up the line saying, “Greg Oliver, you were on my list.”

Fact is that there is a long list of people to call about Mac’s death. He was beloved.

There is not one Ontario wrestler from the 1970s to the mid-1990s who didn’t take a bump in the ring that Big Mac set up and took down. The ring itself had even more history, since it had once been owned by “Bearman” Dave McKigney. Promoters wanted the ring because it had history. Retired wrestler Mike Van Etten wrote on Facebook that Mac “was a great friend to all the boys. Even though his ring was the stiffest around, guys loved to work in it. Mac was always available to chat and give pointers.”

If only a ring could tell stories …

Mac could though. And did.

My profile on him from 2008 was both long overdue and spot-on. Go read BIG MAC COMES WITH A RING COMBO for details on his wrestling career.

He and his business partner, Elma Hodgson, opened the door to a teenage Greg Oliver, writing a wrestling bulletin called The Canadian Wrestling Report, and from there, I was truly hooked. Others like Ricky Johnson and referee Wayne Cashman became friends too (and Wayne’s kids, who were just a little younger than me, Justin and Bryan Cassibo).

I’d know going to any show that Big Mac was almost certainly going to be there, and, since he brought the ring, he could not only get me in but he would vouch for me with his peers. It’s tough to really explain what that meant in comparison to the openly discussed wrestling business of today. He was sticking up for me, he saw something in me, and in return, I knew that I couldn’t betray his confidence, report on the things that I saw (like how to set up a wrestling ring!).

He was a mentor to me, and to many others. I’ll lift this Facebook post from retired wrestler turned promoter “Go Time” Chris LaPlante as an example: “Thank you for everything you did for me and welcomed me into professional wrestling. All the pointers for wrestling and knowledge given when I became a promoter. What you helped implement for me is still being used today. Thanks for all the laughs, the stories, your wisdom and being a great human being. Rest in peace Mac McKie you will be missed. The world lost a great one.”

In the 1980s, Mac would wrestle on some shows. At that point, as a tall, geeky kid, I was taller than he was (supposedly 5-foot-5, c’mon!), but he was still built … though he was a little softer around the edges than he’d been in his weightlifting heyday. “You wouldn’t believe a guy his size could lift what he did. Unbelievable,” Bernie “The Cat” Livingston once told me. If he wasn’t wrestling, Mac and Elma would be at the table with the ring bell, holding court, smoking (back when you could do that indoors), telling stories, when the action wasn’t going on.

Big Mac mugs for the camera at Titans in Toronto in 2008. Photo by Andrea Kellaway, www.andreakellaway.com

Big Mac mugs for the camera at Titans in Toronto in 2008. Photo by Andrea Kellaway, www.andreakellaway.com

Eventually, Mac just wasn’t able to do it any more, both in wrestling, giving up setting up the ring, and in real life. Elma died. Then Mac’s wife, Edalyn, died, and that gutted him. In June 2022, his son, Vance, died at the age of 47, another blow.

Mac himself had a few health scares. There was a triple bypass heart surgery about eight years. Then this past November, he was hospitalized and doctors cleaned out an artery on his neck and inserted a stent.

His death on Monday was a surprise, said Val McKie, the sole daughter of Merv and Edalyn, along with three sons: Vincent, Victor, and the late Vance. After the surgery in November, “I just thought I had a few more years with him because they went in there and cleaned up his arteries,” she said.

Pre-pandemic, Mac had come out to numerous events I helped organize, like Titans in Toronto dinners or barbecues at wrestlers’ homes. Seeing him interact with his grandson — Val’s kid — at Bernie Livingston’s pool party was pretty great, even if he could barely get around without a walker.

In the end, it’s fair to say that Big Mac was never the star of the show, never the center of attention except in his matches (which he usually lost), but he was always happy to be there, understated in his stories, never braggadocios. There was nothing he loved more than sitting near the ring watching his wrestling family.

I’ll miss you, Mac. Say hi to all of our common friends up there.

TOP PHOTO: The Wolfman Willie Farkus, Justin Cassibo and Big Mac at a familiar spot at the announcers table. Terry Dart Collection


Big Mac comes with a ring combo