Sunday, December 05, 2021

Johnny Weaver's Important Role in Toronto During the Mid-Atlantic Years

by Andrew Calvert
Special to the Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Johnny Weaver made his Toronto debut amid a flurry of re-organization for the territory. It was late 1978 and Frank Tunney had left his brief AWA association behind. A new partnership with Jim Crockett Jr. & George Scott was soon to revitalize the area, and Weaver remained a regular through the end days of the NWA in the city. 

He later took over the booking for the twice monthly shows at MLG and often the small circuit, but in the beginning he made his mark as a popular veteran, a man of 1000 holds type. The first time I saw Weaver at MLG he worked circles around his opponent, not an imposing figure but well versed and smooth in the ring. A local newsletter even asked 'why is Johnny Weaver wrestling in prelims?'

One of those early bouts was against Rudy Kay, of the wrestling family 'the Cormiers' out of New Brunswick. Weaver and Rudy and Kay's brothers -wrestling as Terry Kay and Leo Burke- were to be a big part of the scene a few years later. 

In Toronto we saw a good mix of talent from all over the wrestling world and often had rarer teaming's or bouts that you may not find in other cities. Both at MLG and on TV. Weaver, who regularly teamed with Mid Atlantic regulars Tony Atlas & Jay Youngblood, also teamed here with some of our local guys. Dewey Robertson, Tiger Jeet Singh, Dino Bravo, and Terry Yorkston were some of the pairings on the circuit and on TV. Weaver also teamed up on occasion with popular Billy Red Lyons (now full time announcer, mostly) in a great pairing of classic era stars. 

Since he appeared mostly in the openers or mid card we saw Weaver a lot when other wrestlers were needed ringside. A few times he got mixed up in Ric Flair bouts. At the 50th Anniversary show in Nov 1981 he came out to help NWA champ Flair after opponent Harley Race had attacked Flair after being pinned. Weaver, for his trouble, got a face full of the NWA title belt as Race swung it around the ring. After more wrestlers came out to help, a bloody Weaver assisted Flair down the ramp to the dressing rooms. 

At the Return of Champions Exhibition Stadium card in July 1983 Weaver was assigned as a special referee for the main of (now) NWA champ Race vs Flair. Flair came off the ropes all set to hit Race with an elbow but Race leaped out of the way and Flair caught Weaver flush, knocking him down. Flair quickly locked Race in a figure four and had him tied up and thrashing around when Weaver raised his arm. The crowd went wild thinking that Flair had taken back the belt -however, Weaver was signifying that Flair was disqualified for hitting the referee. The crowd wasn't happy, and either was Flair. When Flair argued with him, Weaver hit him hard with his own elbow. Flair went through the ropes and returned with the timekeeper's hammer, and as Weaver started to argue with Race, Flair started chasing Weaver back across the field with the hammer. Keep in mind Flair was a fan favorite here, a huge fan favorite!

On another card Angelo Mosca was attempting to win his Canadian Heavyweight Title back from Big John Studd in a steel cage bout. The bout ended in a melee with Mosca winning, but on the receiving end of a Studd beatdown inside the cage. Out came Weaver, running into the ring to save our beloved new champ, and WHOMP. Studd flattened him. Mosca soon regained his wits and he and Weaver gained the upper hand. Weaver had been in his own cage bout earlier vs Lord Alfred Hayes and was already bandaged up as he carried Mosca down the ramp. 

In mid 1982 Weaver entered into a long series with Leo Burke. The two had a bit of a history already, They had been tag team partners in the early 70's in Mid-Atlantic, where Leo had wrestled as Bobby Kay. In 1972 Weaver went on a tour of Leo's home turf on the East coast teaming with Leo against Freddie Sweetan, Mike Dubois, and others. Weaver returned again in 1975. They tried it again in Toronto only to have Burke quickly turn against Weaver. Burke was now also the North American champion, adopted in from Calgary (but not explained). The two started a long feud over the title, trading it back and forth, also involving Rudy & Terry Kay, Leo's brothers. 

By this time Weaver was handling the booking of the cards. He was well respected by his peers and was said to always 'have a dip of Skoal' in his lip. Along with his long feuds vs Hayes and Burke, Weaver also teamed with some up and comers. Kelly Kiniski, Keith Larsen, and Buddy Hart (Bret) were regular partners in good veteran-rookie type teams a 'la Weaver & Youngblood. That team too was very popular. In the 1982 Cadillac Tournament Weaver & Youngblood drew each other as seeds for the first round matchup, and went on to have an exciting scientific type bout. As Norm Kimber announced 30 seconds left in the bout, Weaver trapped Youngblood in his sleeper. Time would run out and referee Tommy Young gave a referee's decision to Weaver. The two shook hands, to the delight of the fans. It was a great way to kick off the tournament and one of my favorite matchups of the era.

Andrew Calvert's "The Canadian Heavyweight Title: The Complete History 1978-1984" is proudly featured in the Mid-Atlantic Gateway Book Store