Al "Bunny" Dunlop: wrestler, referee, promoter

Al "Bunny" Dunlop was a fixture on the Toronto wrestling scene for 40 years, working as a wrestler and referee. And, for a few months in 1947, Dunlop promoted his own shows under the banner of the Atlas Athletic Club.

The first appearance I've found for Dunlop as a pro wrestler in Toronto is a 1932 match organized by Jack Corcoran at Oakwood Stadium (near Oakwood and St. Clair) as part of a YMCA fundraiser. Fifteen years later, Oakwood Stadium would become an important venue for Dunlop.

He wouldn't make it to Maple Leaf Gardens until 1934, losing to Bert Rubi in the first match on the first card presented by Maple Leaf Gardens (not the first show at MLG, but the first one that was promoted by Maple Leaf Gardens itself and not by Corcoran).

Dunlop was invariably described as fat but strong. In a 1943 profile, it was said that he had been a weightlifter before becoming a wrestler. During the day, he was a truck driver for the York Township parks department -- a job he held for many years.

He was strictly a prelim wrestler for Corcoran, and then for Frank Tunney, until 1942 when Dunlop wrestled Whipper Billy Watson in two semi-final bouts and was featured in Toronto's first ever team match -- partnered with John Katan to take on Watson and Earl McCready.

Dunlop was also in a high profile match against Joe Kayorie (who would go on to be better known as Joe "Killer" Christie), who made his Maple Leaf Gardens debut billed as a boxer with an open challenge to all wrestlers. Dunlop accepted the challenge and defeated Kayorie in under four minutes. Along with Watson and McCready, wrestlers who defeated Dunlop in Toronto included Frank Sexton and Danno O'Mahony. Dunlop and Pat Flanagan, who would also go on to become a referee, wrestled each other many times on the undercard at the Gardens.

In 1943, Dunlop got his first singles main event in Toronto, wrestling Watson (see ad at right). For the most part, however, he was still wrestling in prelims. His final regular appearance as a wrestler at Maple Leaf Gardens was in 1946.

The following year, Dunlop became a promoter, in partnership with long-time friend Dave Johnston, identified as an ex-garage operator. Dunlop and Johnston created the Atlas Athletic Club and ran shows under that banner at Oakwood Stadium.

Dunlop was originally told by Ontario Athletic Commissioner Syl Apps -- the Leaf hall-of-famer -- that he couldn't have a wrestling license, but when he argued that Oakwood Stadium was just outside the boundary of the city of Toronto in York Township, Apps relented.

The Atlas Athletic Club rans shows through the summer of 1947, featuring Kayorie, Joe Maich, Frank Hewitt, Sandor Kovacs, Bill Stack, and Dunlop himself. They were not a financial success. According to Dunlop, for one show in September that attracted 800 fans paying a $700 gate, $155 was spent on advertising and tickets, $140 went to the federal government, $105 was paid to the stadium, $85 went for police and other contract services, $60 was paid to the Diamond Athletic Club for use of the ring, $55 was spent to rent chairs, and $14 went to the Ontario Athletic Commission, leaving $86 to split between eight wrestlers and a referee. Dunlop said he lost $600 on his first four show -- that would be over $6,000 in today's dollars.

Dunlop went back to work for Tunney as a referee in April 1948. An incident involving Dunlop which is retold to this day occured at some point in the last half of the 1950s. He was working as a referee on a show that included former amateur standout (3-time NCAA heavyweight champion) and future pro world champion Dick Hutton. Backstage, someone played a rib on Hutton -- possibly giving him a hot foot. Incensed, Hutton stormed off to get revenge on the prankster and confronted Dunlop. According to the stories, Hutton tried a leg takedown on Dunlop, who had the size and strength to fight it off, grab Hutton in a front headlock, and choke him out. It significantly damaged Hutton's reputation as a shooter.

Dunlop stepped out of retirement to don the tights for two Gardens main events against Watson in 1958 and 1959. In both cases, Watson was seeking revenge for decisions Dunlop had made in previous bouts as a referee. Dunlop's final appearance as a wrestler was in 1960, taking on Terrible Ted the Bear, over whom Dunlop had scored a count-out victory in 1959.

Dunlop continued to work as a referee into the 1970s. He was the official who disqualified Tiger Jeet Singh in his February 1971 main event against the Sheik which was the first Maple Leaf Gardens wrestling show to sell over 18,000 tickets. Dunlop retired later that year.