Whipper Watson versus Gene Kiniski. In every ounce of life, there are rivals. Businesses compete with pricing and monopolizing, branding, and expanding, all just for the sake of competition and profit. McDonald’s versus Burger King. Pepsi versus Coke. Politics are constant rivals looking to gain the power of control as they gain support from dedicated followers of their cause, platforms, and personal views.
With sports, it is no different; the rivals within the divisions and leagues can cause tension within the fandoms who all clash over their opinions of whose team is better. The Toronto Blue Jays versus the New York Yankees, Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Montreal Canadians, Chicago Bulls versus the Boston Celtics.
Even when our minds get extended into disbelief in the world of fiction, there are rivals. Batman versus Joker. Rick Grimes versus The Governor. The Avengers versus Thanos. No matter what we do, no matter where we go, rivalries are everywhere in every aspect of life. So why should professional wrestling be any different? I’m sure with all the wrestling history available to us today we could think of thousands of rivals worth talking about.
Ric Flair versus Harley Race, Hogan versus Andre, Stone Cold Steve Austin versus Vince McMahon, and WWE versus WCW versus ECW just to name a few. Let’s strip it down even further and ask, what if we only talked about Canadian wrestling? Not just one Canadian versus someone of another country’s origin.
A Canadian versus Canadian rivalry within the squared circle. We could name Bret Hart versus Owen Hart? The Fabulous Rougeaus Brothers versus The Vachon Brothers? Sami Zayn versus Kevin Owens? This one rivalry that lasted well over thirty years. This one Canadian versus Canadian rivalry is the definition of good versus evil in Canadian wrestling.
Whipper Billy Watson versus Gene Kiniski
Whipper Watson, a Canadian wrestling legend from East York, Ontario, established such a career that you couldn’t talk about Canadian wrestling without his name being brought up.
Whipper is without question on the Canadian Mount Rushmore of wrestling. He’s ranked number one in the book “The Canadians” by Greg Oliver for a reason. Debuting in the famous Maple Leaf Gardens on October 3, 1940, his career only took off as he teamed with Frank Tunney to create and maintain a dedicated following within Maple Leaf Wrestling.
According to the research of the mapleleafwrestling.blogspot.com team, Whipper Watson was the top drawing match from 1942 – 1951, and from 1955-1960. His career from the 30s all the way till his accident in 1971 is still talked about today as some of the most influential to any Canadian wrestler, let alone pro wrestling itself.
He’s a 9x British Empire Champion, NWA Champion, and 15x NWA Canadian Open Tag Champion with names like Antonio Rocca, Bulldog Brower, and Yukon Eric as his tag partners. He has even teamed with famous names like Bruno Sammartino, Ilio DiPalo, and Johnny Valentine!
A major moment in Canadian Wrestling history is when Whipper Watson ended Lou Thesz’s six-year reign as NWA champion on March 15, 1956, a major point in wrestling history that’ll forever belong to a Canadian.
On the other side…
Gene Kiniski, “Big Thunder” born in Edmonton Alberta Canada, but claimed Vancouver as his home later in life, is by far on the Canadian Mount Rushmore of wrestling. Calling himself Canada’s greatest athlete, he even inspired Bret Hart with his Canadian flag jacket he wore everywhere around the world.
Once retiring from the Canadian Football League, Kiniski was trained by Rod Fenton and made his in-ring debut on February 13, 1952. Coming home to Canada in 1956, Kiniski debuted for Frank Tunney’s Maple Leaf Wrestling.
To this day, Gene Kiniski is known for being one of the best heels to ever be in the business; he’s also known as being one of the best talkers in the wrestling business. Canada’s Greatest Athlete is a former AWA World Heavyweight Champion. He’s won tag gold with Don Leo Jonathan, John Tolos, and even Fritz Von Erich in Toronto.
Gene Kiniski won the NWA World Title in 1966, only to lose it three years later to Dory Funk Jr. In 1969, he was the top drawing match in Maple Leaf Wrestling when he faced The Sheik. Fifteen thousand people showed up to see it!
The Biggest Canadian vs. Canadian Rival Of All Time
So How Does this make them the biggest Canadian versus Canadian rival? The rival between Gene Kinisiki and Whipper Watson is by far the biggest draw ever for Maple Leaf Wrestling promoter Frank Tunney.
The rivalry can go back to January 1957 when Canada’s Greatest Athlete teamed with Buddy Rogers to take on Whipper Watson and Pat O’Connor. By this time in his career, Whipper Watson had been wrestling for over twenty years, but with CBC Television, the two Canadians gained exposure to wrestling fans sparking even more interest in seeing the Ontario hero, Whipper Watson take on the toughest man out of western Canada, Gene Kinisiki.
Over their careers, the Whipper Watson and Gene Kiniski feud had over 250 matches against each other that went all across Canada. It also dominated the Ontario wrestling circuit. There wasn’t a city the two Canadians didn’t have a match in. Toronto, Hamilton, London, all the A towns, all the B towns, even the C towns.
They wrestled in Calgary, Vancouver, and even on the East Coast of Canada. On the NWCA Podcast Gene Kiniski episode, the wrestling history duo even show an article that Kiniski was knifed by a fan after a British Empire Championship match against Whipper Watson in the Garden Auditorium. That just shows the heat Gene had within this rivalry.
In 1957 alone, the two warriors of the squared circle faced off ninety times against each other! Ninety times in just one year! That’s almost twice a week; on average, they wrestled against each other. In 1959, Whipper Watson and Gene Kinisiki had forty-one matches against one another.
The rival was so hot promoter Frank Tunney even used former boxing heavyweight champions like Jersey Joe Walcott as the referee just to sell how intense the rivalry has become between the two men.
Frank Tunney even used two radio DJs from CKEY in Toronto, Bill Brady and Al Boliska, with each one teaming on an opposing side with NWA president Sam Muchnick in the front row.
Right after, the two Canadian athletes went toe to toe for the British Empire Championship. Although Kiniski won, the NWA president restarted the match, and the Canadian hero Whipper Watson was supreme!
Thanks to wrestling historians from mapleleafwrestling.blogspot.com, they show that in 1960, Whipper Watson versus Gene Kiniski was the top drawing match of that year. Ten thousand people showed up to Maple Leaf Gardens to see it! Come 1966, Gene Kiniski would cement his legacy as one of the best NWA World Champions of all time. His singles career would bring him glory, and fame, and cement his legacy as one of the best Canadians to ever be a pro wrestler.
Come 1970, Whipper Watson started his fifth decade of wrestling! In 1971, the wrestling scene around the world would suffer as Whipper Watson was hit by a drunk driver ending his in-ring career. This, however, did not stop the rivalry between the two Canadians.
When Frank Tunney announced a new belt for Maple Leaf Wrestling, “The Canadian Heavyweight Championship,” a tournament started. The final match for the championship was On December 12, 1978. A young Quebecer named Dino Bravo was in the finals against Canada’s biggest bad guy, Gene Kiniski.
Of course, sitting in the front row was Gene Kiniski’s biggest rival of his career, Whipper Watson. Dino Bravo ended up becoming the inaugural champion and it was only fitting that Whipper Billy Watson would present the title to the new champion.
After all the years, after all the matches, after both cementing their Canadian legacies separately, they’ll always forever be intertwined. You can bring up any rival you want, but can you even discuss a greater, more impactful, more meaningful wrestling rival in Canada between two Canadians? Even In 1996, both Whipper Billy Watson and Gene Kiniski were both inducted into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame 1996.
This will forever be the greatest Canadian versus Canadian-rival in Canadian wrestling history.
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