Sunday, July 08, 2018

1982 Tournament Coda: What if Toronto?

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway
with Andrew Calvert, Maple Leaf Wrestling 

I'm not normally into fantasy booking, although one can't help but wonder what a tournament in Toronto would have looked like in 1982 when the NWA World Tag Team titles were up for grabs in tournaments being held in many cities across three different promotions.

I'm referring, of course, to the nearly 5-month long multi-city tournament for those vacant tag team titles that we recently covered in a 12-part series. And by all accounts, Toronto was supposed to host one of those regional city tournaments, but did not. (We discuss all of this in Part Eight - Lost Tournaments of our 12-part series on that 1982 extravaganza.)

Andrew Calvert, of the excellent Maple Leaf Wrestling website, and I began an email exchange while I was working on that series imagining "what if" a tournament had been held in Toronto. I asked him to come up with an imaginary bracket based on who was regularly working Toronto at the time, figuring in some "special appearances", too, similar to the other tournaments.

We kicked it around and here is what we came up with:

In addition to the tournament matches, the card would feature three other main event bouts, all apropos of the times:

  • NWA World Championship: Ric Flair vs. Harley Race
  • WWWF Championship: Bob Backlund vs. Greg Valentine
  • Canadian Heavyweight Championship: Angelo Mosca vs. Ivan Koloff

What a card! And it very easily could have been put together in those years. Obviously a 10 match card would be somewhat out of the ordinary, but as long as we're fantasy booking this, might as well have both the NWA and WWWF champion make a title defense, as both champions regularly appeared atop Toronto cards in this era.

Let's take a look at the tournament teams:

Gene Kiniski/Kelly Kiniski
Former NWA World Champion Gene Kiniski was a fixture in Toronto and one if its biggest all-time stars. His son Kelly was just getting started in the business and would work much of 1982 for Jim Crockett Promotions learning his craft. We obviously would want this rare father-and-son pairing in the tournament.

Rick Martel/Tony Garea
An extremely popular tag team in the WWWF at the time and widely known to Toronto fans as they saw WWWF TV in their market. This would be one of the "outside" special guest teams, similar to what we saw in the other city tournaments.

John Bonello/Tony Parisi
As Andrew described them, this would be a good "local team." Both were local favorites, Parisi was in nearly every opener, and Bonello was the popular local youngster.

Adrian Adonis/Jessie Ventura
Coming off a big win in their Toronto tag-team debut over Tony Parisi & Dom Denucci earlier that year, they were familiar to Toronto fans as they had AWA TV in the Toronto market for years. Adonis and Ventura legit appeared in the tournament held in Greensboro, NC in February and were presented on Crockett TV as an AWA representative in the tournament. They got over huge in their first Toronto appearance as a team and would have made a great team for this tournament.

Dino Bravo/Ricky Steamboat
The two popular stars had teamed in Toronto before. Bravo was a former Canadian champion who had just returned after a two year absence. Steamboat had become a huge star in Toronto over the years that Jim Crockett Promotions booked talent into the Toronto office. A perfect babyface team for the tournament.

Ole Anderson/Stan Hansen
According to Andrew, Stan Hansen never wrestled in Toronto, but it seemed to me that this would have been the perfect time for him to make that debut. The Anderson/Hansen team were the only team to wrestle in all of the legit tournaments, and I would hate for that streak to have been broken here. And of course they wound up winning the whole thing.

An alternate plan was to have The Destroyer (Dick Beyer) team with Ole instead. Beyer was regular in Toronto and a heel the fans loved to hate (similar to Kiniski). According to Andrew, the fans would have loved this team.

Blackjack Mulligan Sr. and Jr.
A second great father and son duo for this tournament.  Blackjack Jr. (Barry Windham) made his Toronto debut in February of 1982 and got over with the Toronto fans in a big way. Mulligan Sr. was also a favorite in Toronto.

John Studd/Sgt. Slaughter
Studd was the #1 contender to the Canadian title and U.S. Champion Sgt. Slaughter always a huge (hated) favorite in Toronto.

As far as how the tournament might play out:
  • Martel and Garea would advance over the Kiniskis, which could be booked in such a fashion that it was Kelly Kiniski's inexperience that resulted in their first round defeat.
  • Ventura and Adonis would dominate Bonello and Parisi, establishing them as the top heel team quickly since they would be going to the finals. 
  • Bravo and Steamboat would go over Anderson and Hansen in one of the most competitive bouts of the entire tournament, a match that would be hard to pick if you were filling out your brackets early.
  • Slaughter and Studd would defeat the Mulligans with heavy heel tactics. This would be one of the more heated matches in the tournament since there were established singles-issues with all of these four men. 

The semi-finals would provide two excellent match-ups:

  • Ventura and Adonis would use every dirty tactic possible to go over Martel and Garea in what would amount to a WWWF vs. AWA match-up. (There was some thought to having the Kiniskis advance to face Ventura and Adonis, a heel-vs.-heel match up, which might have been a ton of fun. In the end, we settled for the more traditional approach here.)
  • Likewise Sarge and Studd would be taking every shortcut in hopes of getting to the finals, but Steamboat and Bravo would rise to the occasion and advance.

In the finals:
  • It would be a dream final, and many fans would cheer for the popular "bad guys" Adonis and Ventura in the match-up against Steamboat and Bravo. Eventually, the "good guys" would prevail (as they almost always did in Toronto tournaments of that era, according to Andrew.)

Your Toronto Tournament Winners: Dino Bravo and Ricky Steamboat!

Oh, what could have been!

Andrew posted this video, Johnny Weaver explaining the NWA World Tag Team tournament structure on Toronto's Maple Leaf Wrestling TV show. Even though Weaver mentions they were hopeful for a tournament to be held in Toronto, it never happened.

Special thanks to Andrew Calvert for his input in coming up with this fantasy tournament in Toronto. For more information on the history of wrestling in Toronto and the Maple Leaf Gardens, visit the Maple Leaf Wrestling website.