When “The Whip” came to Perth on June 29, 1967, he was in the twilight of his career. His downward journey over the previous few years had carried him from the boisterous crowds of more than 10,000 at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, to a few hundred polite souls at Perth Arena.
A Perth Courier advertisement of June 29, 1967, announced wrestling at the Perth Arena for Friday, July 7, with the main event featuring “Whipper Watson,” who would have been 52 years of age at the time. His opponent was “Giant Masked Yankee”, apparently a journeyman wrestler about whom little is known. Other matches featured: “Pro Women Exhibition Judo, Fabulous Moolah vs Joyce Grable, and The Midgets Tag Team Bout.”
Although professional wrestling is for the most part entertainment, many of the participants have legitimate amateur and Olympic wrestling backgrounds. Injuries are commonplace, and can be severe. Watson was no exception, and suffered a host of injuries in 35 years on the road.
Watson was born as William Potts on June 25, 1915, in East York, Ontario, and was the best known Canadian wrestler of all time — until Bret Hart came along. He was most commonly promoted in Canada as “Whipper Billy Watson,” although the names “Whipper Bill Watson” and “Whipper Watson” were also used. The nickname “The Whip” was bestowed by a British newspaper, referring to a move where he would bend over and toss his opponent over his back.
According to wikivisually.com, “Watson got his start by skipping piano lessons one Saturday to attend a wrestling session at the All Hallows Anglican Church gymnasium in Toronto. He continued wrestling training with Phillip Lawson at the Bowles Athletic Club, and later the Central YMCA. Watson started his career using his real name Bill Potts in early 1936, at British Consols Stadium in Toronto, on cards which were advertised as amateur wrestling. In June of the same year he went on a tour of the United Kingdom with several other Toronto wrestlers.”
Watson was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, and their website elaborates on his UK touring: “The wrestling of England often involved hard-nosed shooting and he (Watson) was sidelined for six months with a fractured shoulder and numerous broken ribs. It was on this tour that William Potts became Billy Watson. Booked by former Olympic Gold Medalist George de Relwyskow, Watson traveled through England and Ireland. He was one of the best wrestlers in the world.
“After four years abroad, Watson returned to Canada, and he began wrestling at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto under 27-year-old promoter Frank Tunney. Watson made his Gardens debut in the opening match of the October 3, 1940…
“From that point on, Watson was positioned as a legitimate main event performer, a position that was cemented during Watson’s feud with Nanjo Singh, which began in January 1942. Watson soon became a crowd favourite and within a few years was a mainstream celebrity and one of Toronto’s most popular citizens. Frank Tunney estimated that Whipper Watson drew more than five million people in main events of shows in Toronto…”
A search of records reveals that wrestling was also promoted at the Perth Arena on July 10, 1958, and the bouts included: “4 man midget tag team match, TV Midgets;
Special Attraction Wrestling Bear 450 lbs. take on two leading heavyweight wrestlers; plus two other outstanding heavyweight matches.” Some local residents also recall a match at the Perth Arena in the mid-1970s.
According to CBC archives: “After working tirelessly for the disabled, Watson became disabled himself in 1971.” A collision with a streetcar severely injured his legs, ending his wrestling career. He told CBC Radio in 1977 that his injuries brought him closer to disabled children by helping him truly understand their needs. Watson died in his sleep Feb. 4, 1990 after suffering a heart attack.
And so, Perth was fortunate to see the legendary “Whip”, the warrior and the kind-hearted man, who put on a display for us to the best of his ability at the time.
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