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A mark for an old building
by Marty Goldstein on 2001-06-01

The first live wrestling card I saw was in June 1968. The AWA show was probably promoted by Al Tomko,(Alex Turk had stopped bringing in the Vancouver talent like Don Leo or Dr.Jerry in 1966), and it ended up having a lasting impression on my life. The first,mild example: I ended up working with the opening match jobber 20 years later.

The focus of this writing is not on the card, but rather the location, the 4000 seat Winnipeg Auditorium, a downtown site 1 block from the Legislature and 1 block from the Bay. In a place like Winnioeg, that is a good location. It was an old style amphitheatre setting, yes the fans wore suits and hats just like they were going to a Leaf game in that era.And yes, they smoked in the hall. A lot.

The hall had atmosphere, the elevated seating , the stark lights over the ring. It made the bloody revenge Bill Watts exacted from Harley Race and Larry Hennig seem more ...dramatic. I was hooked.

The Auditorium was shut down 2 years later, the sound of Whipper Watson echoing in the downstairs hallways long after it had been converted to the Provincial Archives. I walked those halls when I spent many hours researching legislation for my battles with the government and the Commission. In the end, pro wrestling was deregulated in Manitoba.

When the shows moved to the Arena, the atmosphere was not as good, but the old Arena, when filled , often sounded like a Jets crowd. In the early 80's the Winnipeg Arena had a great drawing reputation ($600K/yr) with Hogan, Ventura, Adonis, Bockwinkle, Heenan, the High Flyers and again, local workers had the opportuntiy to get known by jobbing or reffing.

When forced by disputes or construction into the Winnipeg Convention Centre, you could see the boys were bothered and the matches kind of lacked some steam (part of it was due to the sterile venue, but more importantly, apparently there were no showers available for the crew).

To me wrestling was a competitor to major league sports,that didn't play to the kinds of houses, in the kinds of community halls and cattle rings that we did when I broke in with an outlaw office. But as a theatre drop-out, I knew the small halls were the only way to learn the business, including presentation and lighting and sound. For this we got no respect from the media or general public outside of our fan base. But the small buildings were fun and had real atmosphere and a small hot crowd is better than a big dead one.

Through my media and wrestling industry background, I have been able to see other cool buildings like the Stampede Pavillion, PNE Colosseum, Maple Leaf Gardens, and more recently the Staples Centre and the Pond in Anaheim. Not to mention lensing the goriest show I have ever attended,"Cage Night" at the Eagles Hall in New Westminster in July 99.

For most promotions, the lack of a mid-sized building, especially one with good atmosphere, stunts their development in the marketplace. Winnipeg had no adequate or accessible 1000-2000 seat building for years. Stampede could probably use something between Pavillion and Ogden Legion size, something like the Dallas Sprotatorium, or...

When I was a kid, John Tolos was on fire. He was a kick-ass. tanned , charasmatic Canadian who had a great tag team career with brother Chris, then surpassed it as a single. He would zip in and out of programs in Vancouver(which I saw on TV) and he was so great he also headlines in the huge market of Los Angeles (which I read in the magazines) at the same time Wilt, Roman Gabriel, George Allen, and Walter Alston ruled the sports pages. I have always said that big houses drawn by Tolos and Freddie Blassie in their early 70's blood fued were underrated in the overall history of the industry. Those 2,Black Gordman, early pictures of Mil Mascaras, are imblazoned in my memory. The territory was based out of another old 2000 seat building.

I have only seen old tapes more recently, but I am familiar with announcer Dick Lane from watching the Roller Derby. The show was based out of the Grand Olympic Auditorium. It also hosted legendary boxing matches with Jimmy Lennon. This weekend I am invited to the XPW show at the Olympic, and unless I have an unforseen obligation, I will finally get to see the old legend for myself, and walk the halls listening for ghosts of wrestling's history.

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Quotes from the boys: Ed Moretti says "Hey kid, its already ten minutes in, people are going crazy, and we ain't even tied up yet".
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