January - February
It had been a while since Frank Tunney had seen MLG filled up for his regular Sunday night cards but 1980 would see a turnaround and an increase in fans that would stretch into the next couple of years. The partnership with the Mid-Atlantic folks was proving to be a hit and would see dividends in the coming year of 1980.
The last card of 1979 on Dec 30 had proved to be a sign of things to come. The card drawing over 14,000 fans to see the co main event of Dewey Robertson and Ric Flair take on Jimmy Snuka and Ray Stevens and WWWF champ Bob Backlund against Pat Patterson would segue into an exiting year on the Toronto scene.
Ric Flair and Canadian Champ Dewey Robertson had teamed up as a result of their mutual hatred for Jimmy Snuka and Ray Stevens
and their manager Gene Anderson. Back on Dec 9 1979 in a battle of the U.S champ (Snuka) and Canadian champ (Robertson), Ray Stevens had interfered on behalf of Snuka to beat down Robertson.
The first card of 1980 Jan 13 would feature a return tag bout between the teams. This time the fan favorites would get the win. Manager Gene Anderson, half of the Minnesota Wrecking Crew would continue to be a thorn in the side of the faces over the next few months, constantly interfering on behalf of his charges.
After Flair had pinned Snuka to end the bout the heels were leaving the ring when Robertson drop-kicked Stevens over the top rope landing in the crowd. Some fans started attacking Stevens yelling 'kill him, kill him' cutting him in the face, leg, and arms. Stevens fought his way up onto the ramp when another fan jumped on the ramp to confront him. Stevens knocked him out with one shot and then started kicking at people who were at the edge of the ramp until he could make his way to safety. That guy had to be removed on a stretcher. The brother of another fan who was said to have had an epileptic siezure during the fracas said that the police treated it as a 'bloody joke.' The story in the paper the following day quotes a Metro Police Officer (when asked why there was no action taken) as saying " What do you want us to do? Get on the radio and say ' Suspect last seen running down Church St in mauve trunks." Stevens was charged by one of the fans and reciprocated by charging the fan back. Tunney was quoted as saying that Stevens would win the case due to the circumstances.
The "Original Sensational" Destroyer (Dick Beyer) had returned to the area in 1979 and would appear on many cards throughout 1980. He had appeared here as Dick Beyer debuting at MLG in 1956. In his last appearance of that era on Aug 26 1961 he teamed with Billy Red Lyons against the Kalmikoff's. Beyer was still a fine wrestler and good interview and one of his first interviews was alongside the now interviewer/commentator Billy Red. Lyons and Beyer were brother-in-laws at that time, their wives were sisters, but that didn't stop Billy Red from asking Beyer if he wore the mask 'because he was so ugly.'
On that Jan 13 card The Destroyer got a shot at WWF Champ Bobby Backlund. The masked man would battle Backlund for over 26 minutes before both combatants were counted out of the ring in a memorable bout.
Also on the card was former WWWF Champ Pedro Morales, who was spending some time in the Mid-Atlantic region, as well as Toronto veteran Sweet Daddy Siki. This would mark Siki's last bout at MLG during the NWA days. As with Beyer he had a long history here debuting at the Gardens in 1962.
The TV Tapings were continuing in Hamilton as well as Brantford but they were also holding tapings in Guelph at the Memorial Arena. While the TV was mostly squash style they would usually include at least one arena worthy bout such as Flair vs Snuka that took place the day after the Jan 13 MLG card.
On the Ontario Circuit, Dave McKigney was working with The Sheik to run some off-season shows in London, ON. Featuring the feud of The Sheik vs Chief Jay Strongbow, The Davidson Brothers (Rick & Scott), Wolfman (Farkus), MIghty Igor, Don Kent and the young tag team of John Bonello and Randy Scott who were holding the WWS Tag Titles (Detroit). Bonello and Scott were both local wrestlers who would prove to be very popular with the fans, Bonello would show up on Tunney cards later and then become a referee. Scott was related by marriage to Carlos Colon (Carlos Belafonte when he wrestled here in the early 70's) who married Scott's sister.
Blackjack Mulligan and "Big" John Studd began a long running feud culminating with Studd under a mask as Masked Superstar #2. The Texas Street Fight on Feb 10 was one of the wildest bouts in recent history in front of a packed house of 16.973 fans. This was Mulligan's debut in Toronto and the fans loved him. The rules were 'no rules' and Studd used both a wrench he had been hiding and a chair from ringside to attack Mulligan leaving him bloodied. Mulligan would use his boot to do the same to Studd and in the end got the pin but after the bout Studd would take a chain out of his boot and use it on Blackjack leaving him collapsed in the middle of the ring and Blackjack had to be helped out.
Flair would beat Snuka again on the same card but was denied the U.S. Title after Anderson tripped Flair with his cane as Flair had Snuka up in one of his long hanging suplexes. Snuka hopped on Flair for the pin but the ref saw the indiscretion and disqaulified Snuka.
The Destroyer got another title shot, this time against Canadian champ Robertson and further offered $1000 if Dewey could break his figure four- cleanly. Robertson did get out of the hold several times but did so using the rops as leverage or reversing it. Dewey held on to his title - barely - after getting caught in an airplane spin and using his feet to rebound off the top rope to get the pin.
Also on the big Feb 10 card Ricky Johnson (Rocky's brother) made his only MLG appearance giving veteran Chris Tolos his last MLG win.
Ricky would also be seen on the independent circuit through the decade and acquire quite a fan following.
The Masked Blue Demons defeated Klondike Bill & Nick DeCarlo. Supposedly under the masks the Demons were the unlikely team of Gene Anderson & Billy Red Lyons. Not sure how accurate that is.
Robertson, as Canadian champ would also work as a 'tweener' type in the South (Mid-Atlantic) area coming to the ring with the belt and taking on the faces of the area while maintaining his clean image in Toronto.
For a time he had a loose association with Buddy Rogers who had returned to wrestling in the area, again this was only in the Mid Atlantic proper.
Later in the year after returning to the role of good guy (Mid-Atlantic), Dewey would team up with George Wells and win the Mid-Atlantic Tag Titles.
In another return veteran star Chris Tolos would start to appear on Gardens shows in addition to his circuit show appearances
March - April
March would kick off on the 9th with Robertson successfully defending against Greg Valentine and the now very popular Jay Youngblood pinning Stevens.
Another Texas Street Fight with Death Match rules went on with Mulligan and Studd and again would end up in a bloody battle with Mulligan again getting the better of Studd.
A Blue Demon returned, this time teamed with The Destroyer, was it Billy Red or someone else under the mask?
The newly formed tag team of Ricky Steamboat and Youngblood would debut to defend their NWA Tag belts against Valentine and Stevens on Mar 30.
These teams had met several times through the Mid-Atlantic territory and there was no love lost between them.
We had only previously seen the popluar team on our TV show that included some Mid-Atlantic TV footage each week.
The villains attacked the champions before the bell and controlled most of the bout but after 30 minutes of action Valentine had Youngblood up in a suplex when Steamboat dropkicked Valentine and Youngblood fell on top with a cradle for the pin.
U.S. champ Jimmy Snuka defended against Angelo Mosca. Big Ange was accompanied to the ring by Canadian Champ
Dewey Robertson to offset Snuka's manager Gene Anderson. Still, it took several tries to keep Snuka in the ring as he kept trying to get
away from the former CFL star. After some ferocious action, Mosca had Snuka in the back-breaker and was about to force a submission out of the champ when Anderson managed to interfere with his cane yet again and got Snuka disqualified.
Mosca, having played the heel most of his career was now hearing the cheers and beat Snuka and Anderson in a handicap
match on the next card. In a sign of things to come Snuka was using his "Fiji Body Drop" -later known as The Superfly.
On the day of the Mar 8 card there was a feature in the Star with a photo of Flair vs Snuka from the Feb 10 card and a look at the current scene with a nod to Flair. It also covered the Stevens vs the fans incident and the amount of violence in the sport, real or percieved. Tunney is quoted as saying 'the average gate at the Gardens is about 10,000. When I first got into the business, we were a sell out. Now you can't get 'em away from the TV unless they smell blood.' Sharing the page with the story was a look at the amount violence in amateur hockey, mostly the parents.
On the Indy circuit, the war between The Sheik and Mighty Igor came north. Cage matches and bloody battles would
rage throughout the region with an especially bloody match in Scarborough around the end of March.
The Sheik would also be seen teaming with Don Kent in a violent feud with the big Davidson Brothers who had lost a loser leaves town (Detroit) match against Bonello and Scott. Igor would gain the coveted U.S belt in May from The Sheik while over in Detroit local veteran Cowboy Frankie Laine would team with George "The Animal" Steele to take the tag belts from Bonello and Scott. The young stars would regain them in a match again in Detroit.
Former Canadian Champ Dino Bravo was busy working his way up the ladder in the AWA. Bravo would be billed as Canadian
Champ in the Winnipeg area and earn bouts with AWA Champ Nick Bockwinkel. Bravo would also slam Crusher Blackwell several times in his $$ challenge but would always be denied the cash. In one contest Blackwell repeatedly splashed Bravo untill he had to be carried out on a stretcher.
It should also be noted that Bravo evidently did not wear a title belt while being billed as Canadian champ in Winnipeg.
Mosca would also spend time in the Winnipeg area, this time as a fan-favorite (no more ping-pong cheers!) including teaming with Mad Dog Vachon to defeat AWA Tag Champs Jesse Ventura and Adrian Adonis in a non-title affair
On the Apr 13 card NWA champ Harley Race would come in to take on Robertson. Our Canadian champ had Race in a figure four when curfew was called at the 32 minute mark, As he had done with Bravo previously , Race left Dewey looking strong in front of the hometown crowd. Andre The Giant would take out Ox baker, while Mosca would suffer a nice cut on his head but still manage to beat both Snuka and Anderson (whom he pinned) in the handicap bout. Hossein The Arab/The Iron Sheik made his T.O. debut destroying Ron Ritchie in a little over 3 minutes. He would use both names here, sometimes as above or just as Hossein The Arab.
At the TV tapings in Brantford on Apr 14 Andre would stay on to face John Forsyth and Tim Gerrard in a handicap bout and then in the 'dark' match team with Mosca to defeat Ox baker and Snuka. Attendance at the Tapings which featured 10 bouts was a meager 550 fans.
On April 30 the AWA presented a card in Ottawa, ON drawing over 5,000 fans to see Nick Bockwinkel defend his belt successfully
against Greg Gagne. Local promoter Ray Boucher was listed as running the show. Other matches included TTC Verne Gagne & Mad Dog Vachon defeat Adrian Adonis & Jesse Ventura and Quebec area favorites Johnny War Eagle & Gino Brito. Dino Bravo was scheduled to be on the card but was reported as being unable to wrestle due to his being suspended from wrestling in Ontario (as a result of being stripped of the Cdn Title previously). Bravo had originally been suspended by Ontario Athletic Commission Chairman Jim Vipond for being an 'immature and irresponsible person' after no showing for Tunney, As for Tunney he said that he 'had no concerns if he's (Bravo) allowed to wrestle in Ontario again, but he'll never wrestle for me again.' Of course Bravo would return for Tunney in 1981.
May - June - July
On May 4 the new NWA tag champs Valentine and Stevens would lose by dq to Steamboat and Younblood while Robertson would team up with Mulligan against the Masked Superstars I & II.
The Masked Superstar (Eadie) and II (Studd) would appear the next night in Niagara Falls in singles bouts against the same opponents.
Also in the Falls Morales would team with Billy Red to make a bit of a veteran dream team and beat The Destroyer and The Scorpion, another masked wrestler who saw different people under the mask.
Robertson loses the belt to Hussein The Arab/The Iron Sheik on the next card.
Hossein also holds the Mid-Atlantic belt so becomes a double titleholder. Both victories were achieved with his 'loaded boot.'
Mulligan beats Superstar II in a Texas Death Match and unmasks him to find John Studd.
It wasn't much of a surprise to the fans and would wrap their feud- for now. The bout goes 6 falls with Mulligan winning 4-2.
On the last fall II can't answer the ref's count and gets unmasked by Mulligan. In a Toronto Italian language paper they would often have the ads for the cards in Italian.
The one for this show had Nick DeCarlo's picture, the only time he would make an ad.
He was being billed as Tony Parisi's protege but had been around a while by this point.
He teamed with Bob Marcus against Brute Bernard and Bill White in the opener. Mosca beat The Masked Superstar in his bout. They all hung around for a card in Dundas, ON the next day with the exception of Hossein.
Title change: May 25 Hossein The Arab W Dewey Robertson to win the Canadian Heavyweight Title
Dewey would get his re-match on the next card and go down for a pin while Flair, now U.S. Tile holder would take out Jimmy Snuka. This card would see over 14,000 fans as the success of the year continued.
On the Ontario circuit, the Bearman (Mckigney) had his summer tour on the go with the regular cast of characters including
Danny Johnson, Vic Rossetani and The General. They would hit Georgetown in a homecoming for Randy Scott who would get a write up in the local paper.
The International Tag Champs (Japan) "Jumbo' Tommy Tsuruta and "Giant" Baba came in to take on the rough and tough team of Bruiser Brody and Scott Irwin.
Frank Tunney had booked the Japanese stars as part of their North American tour. They also participated in a tag tourney in Detroit during the tour on the 28th of June.
The Japanese stars had won a tourny in Detroit to claim the Detroit Tag titles that had been held by Bonello and Scott.
The two local wrestlers would also participate in the tourny though they were still tag champs at the time.
This is a rare occasion of a kind of crossover in this era between Tunney and McKigney though in Toronto Baba and Tsuruta were defending their Japan based TTC.
Here on the 29th the champs got the first fall on a dq after the heels tied Tsuruta up in the ropes and refused to stop beating on their victim.
The champs took the second fall and the match when Tsuruta executed a perfect flying body press off the top turnbuckle to pin Irwin.
This would be the only MLG appearances for Brody, Irwin, and Tsuruta. Baba had been a regular here in 1963-64 alongside his mentor/manager Fred Atkins.
Also on this card were Dory Funk Jr. vs Abdullah the Butcher in an exciting match that saw the former NWA champ lift the massive Abdullah up in a vertical suplex and slam him hard to the canvas.
As with most of Abdullah's matches it would end with both men brawling outside the ring to a bloody finish.
Abdullah was accompanied to the ring by Ernie Ladd. Steamboat & Youngblood took on Stevens and Snuka in one of the best tag bouts of the era which ended in a draw.
A Japanese film crew was in to tape the final four bouts. When they broadcast it later in the summer it started off with an aerial zoom in over the city ending at MLG.
The crowd was only 11,841 perhaps due to the steady rain all day. That same night McKigney ran Keswick, ON north of the city and sold out the Arena with 1,500 fans to see a main of Sheik vs Igor.
On June 11 the AWA would return to Ottawa drawing just under 4,000 fans to see the team of Verne & Greg Gagne
defeat Nick Bockwinkel & manager Bobby Heenan after Greg put Bockwinkel to sleep with his sleeper hold.
Other matches would include Dino Bravo (who did appear as scheduled this time) who was counted out with his opponent Crusher Blackwell after
Bravo chased Blackwell into the dressing room.
Another great feud comes to town on July 20 when former partners and now arch-enemies Ric Flair and Greg Valentine met up.
It was an exciting fast paced match that saw Flair retain his U.S. title. For the finish Valentine had tried to suplex him in from the apron but Flair shifted his weight to get the pin.
Valentine had spent a lot of the bout repeatedly beating on Flair's broken nose rendering the champ a bloody mess.
After the match, both competitors bloody and exhausted continued to fight down the ramp while other wrestlers tried to
break them up.
This same card saw Mosca win the Canadian belt from Hossein and begin a successful run as the main face in the area.
His first title reign would be short however, with Hossein winning the belt back on the next card.
Mosca would win the belt by using the ropes for leverage to leave Hossein's manager Gene Anderson to dispute Mosca's claim to
the belt and promise to regain the title.
Rocky Johnson returned to the area under a mask as Sweet Ebony Diamond. Rocky had wrestled here regularly early in his career debuting in the area in the mid 1960's with his debut at MLG in 1966.
He took on veteran Swede Hansen and got a huge ovation from the crowd for his exciting style. This card would also have George Wells making his MLG debut teaming with Parisi against The Destroyer and David Patterson.
Wells was a former CFL player who had originally trained with Whipper Watson Jr. while playing for the Argo's in 1973. At that time he was supposed to debut for Tunney but never did.
Title change: Jul 20 Angelo Mosca W Hossein the Arab to win the Canadian Heavyweight Title
The next day at a TV taping in Dundas new champ Mosca teamed with former champ Robertson and Flair in a rare six man tag against Hossein. Valentine, and Hansen.
August - September
A card in Buffalo on Aug 9 saw Steamboat and Youngblood with a re-match against Snuka and Stevens and Canadian champ Hossein take on Sweet Ebony Diamond.
This was the first time Tunney had gone into Buffalo in some kind of arrangement with Vince McMahon (Sr) and the WWF who owned the wrestling rights for the Memorial Auditorium.
The Buffalo cards would take a while to draw the fans with the first two drawing about 8,000 and they would continue into 1981.
This was the same night as the big Showdown at Shea card in NYC featuring the culmination of the Sammartino-Zbyszko feud.
Back in Toronto the next night saw the reformation of The Crusaders tag team for one night. Robertson and Billy Red Lyons
teamed (without the masks) to beat Swede Hansen and David Patterson. Lyons had been inactive for three years before this bout, as he handled the TV commentary for the Maple Leaf show.
On the same card newcomer Ron Ritchie received plenty of support in an exciting match with local favorite Tony Parisi. The veteran Parisi got the better of the young star and the fans appreciated the scientific display between the two fan favorites by cheering at the end.
The Flair/Valentine feud that was still heating up the tv screens and arenas neared an end as Flair trounced his former partner in a Texas Death Match.
They would go once more in a tag match in September before Flair would start his ascent to the coveted NWA World Tilte. As mentioned above Hossein would re-capture the Canadian Title pinning Mosca after 14 minutes of action.
Title change: Aug 10 Hossein The Arab W Angelo Mosca to win the Canadian Heavyweight Title
There would be a huge build-up to the Aug 24 card that had now former tag champs Steamboat and Youngblood getting a shot at new champs Snuka and Stevens in a steel cage bout.
The MLG cage in this era was sides only- no top. This usually led to the excitement of one competitor climbing the cage only to be brought thunderously down at the last moment. The champs would retain the titles in the cage.
The next night in Guelph however, the fan favorites would get revenge teaming with Mosca to beat the champs and their manager Gene Anderson in a six-man tag. Mosca would also team with Flair around the area and again on the Sept 6 MLG card when they beat Hossein and Vaelntine.
On Sept 28 in the Star as part of a story on the Maple Leafs training camp it mentions the players talking about Fred Atkins 'killer training sessions' and how star defenceman once challenged Atkins to a showdown. Turnbull ended up hurt and the 'old man won in a walk.' Atkins was still reffing for Tunney while working as a conditioning coach for the Leafs that year.
On the last card of September Valentine got the better of Flair while Tiger Jeet Singh won by dq over Canadian champ Hossein in a short 3 minute bout.
Bobby Duncum made his MLG debut ending in a no contest against Mosca when ref John Laing disqualified both wrestlers.
The next night in Kitchener Flair beat Duncum and both would go again the following night in Buffalo in a tag with Flair and Mulligan against Duncum and Valentine.
October - November
Another busy circuit trip in October saw a Buffalo-MLG-Gulph trip Mulligan, Duncum, Valentine, Hossein, and Mosca making all three cards.
Also appearing all three cards and for the first time were the 'Sheepherders' tag team of Butch Miller and Luke Williams.
This was long before they were a comedy type duo in the WWF, they had been a hardcore type of team in Quebec in the 1970's and were now settled in Mid-Atlantic territory for a time.
A note in the business section of the Star on Nov 1 listed the a new corporation consisting of Frank Tunney Sports Ltd, Jim Crockett Promotions Inc, and 410430 Ontario Ltd (George Scott) combining to to create a new business called Frank Tunney Sports Promotion, to stage wrestling events at Maple Leaf Gardens and, in the summer months at other Ontario locations. This was the legal culmination of the agreement between Tunney and Crockett that had been in effect since Oct 1978.
Flair received a shot at Hussein's belt at MLG on the Nov 2 card and won via count out setting up a shot at Harley Race and the NWA World Title otwo weeks later.
The buildup to the Hussein-Flair match promised that the former U.S Champ would "try his best to dethrone the Iron Sheik
and send him back to Iran where he belongs." In a good bout Flair ended up with the advantage and Hossein took off to the dressing rooms.
The Masked Superstar now on the good side of the fence, teamed with Paul Jones to face Snuka and Stevens which ended in a draw. This night also marked the first appearance of "Rowdy" Roddy Piper defending his newly won Mid Atlantic TV Title
against Frankie Laine. The next night in Kitchener Flair and Superstar teamed to beat Stevens and Snuka in a non title bout.
Anyone who saw the Flair/Race wars through the years can attest to the drama and emotion these two ring warriors could deliver.
The ramp played an important role in their Toronto match-ups with both competitors delivering their long slow suplex's to the hard wooden base. Race would drop his falling head butt ending in another bloody night for Flair.
This was the first of their 6 bouts against each other in Toronto over the NWA Title. The next night in Niagara Falls, the iron man Flair would go again against Valentine.
The Falls would see several shows over the summer with decent cards featuring most of the stars from the MLG shows but would only draw about 900-1000 fans.
The year ended in another busy month in December with the two MLG cards featuring Hossein and Mosca fighting over the Canadian Title.
On the Dec 7 card Mosca would batter Hossein and win by count-out after chasing him back to the dressing room. The next MLG card on Dec 28 featured a cage bout to keep them in.
Mosca won to re-gain the Title moving into the New year.
Title change: Dec 28 Angelo Mosca W Hossein The Arab to win the Canadian Heavyweight Title
In 1980 there were 19 MLG Cards with estimated attendance of 200.000. Includes reported totals and estimated on the cards that weren't.
Biggest crowd of the year was the Feb 10 show with Robertson vs The Destroyer with 16,973, second was the May 25 show with Hossein vs Robertson drawing 14,834.
There were at least 35 Circuit shows and TV Tapings over the year from recorded results to date (Tunney shows only).
Recognized Champions 1980
NWA World : Harley Race
WWF : Bob Backlund
Canadian Heavyweight : Dewey Robertson, Hossein The Arab, Angelo Mosca
U.S. : Jimmy Snuka, Ric Flair, Greg Valentine
NWA Tag : Ricky Steamboat & Jay Youngblood, Ray Stevens & Greg Valentine, Ray Stevens & Jimmy Snuka, Paul Jones & Masked Superstar
Mid Atlantic : Ray Stevens, Ivan Koloff
Mid Atlantic TV : Masked Superstar, Roddy Piper
International Tag : Giant Baba & Jumbo Tsuruta
*based on actual Toronto and area appearances with title at stake
Sweet Ebony Diamond (had previously appeared as Rocky Johnson)
Billy Starr (had previously appeared at TV Tapings)
80/04/13 Harley Race D Dewey Robertson
80/11/16 Harley Race DCOR Ric Flair
80/01/13 Bob Backlund DCOR The Destroyer
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