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Frank Tunney



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Frank Tunney

Toronto promoter for many decades and president of the NWA in 1960-61. He began working for Jack Corcoran's Queensbury Athletic Club in the 1930s along with his brother John. The Tunneys bought the promotion from Corcoran in 1939 with Johnny Tunney as head matchmaker until his sudden death in January 1940. Frank took control of the promotion after his brother's death and promoted shows in Southern Ontario until his own death at age 70 in 1983.

Frank had worked in partnership with his friend Vince McMahon Sr. for many years in upstate New York. I believe he was officially the vice president of the WWF at some point.

He scored the promotional coup of an AWA vs WWF champion vs champion match on March 25, 1979 when Nick Bockwinkel and Bob Backlund wrestled to a double countout. Ricky Steamboat successfully defended his NWA U.S. title against Ric Flair on the same card.

This was actually not the first meeting between two reigning world champions that Tunney had booked. In 1946, he promoted a match between NWA champion Wild Bill Longson and Massachusetts-based world champion Frank Sexton. It went to a 58-minute curfew draw.

Some of the largest crowds Tunney drew to Maple Leaf Gardens included 16,000 to see Al & Tiny Mills defend their Canadian Open tag title against the Canadian dream team of Whipper Billy Watson and Yvon Robert in November 1953. The Mills Brothers also drew 15,000 to see them wrestle Watson and Hombre Montana that year. Other big crowds included 15,000 to see Watson defend his world title against Wild Bill Longson in 1947 and two houses of 15,000 for main events with Lou Thesz defending his NWA world title against Watson in 1956 -- including the show where Watson won the belt in March.

Those records were beaten after the Gardens was expanded and a sell-out crowd of 18,000+ (with thousands more reportedly turned away) came out to see The Sheik vs Tiger Jeet Singh in February 1971. Here's the complete card of the record-setting show (NC=no contest, W=win, D=draw):

U.S. TITLE (held by Singh):
Tiger Jeet Singh NC The Sheik
Whipper Watson & Haystack Calhoun W Skull Brothers
Love Brothers W Lou Klein & Murray Cummings
Fabulous Kangaroos D Sweet Daddy Siki & Luis Martinez
Tex McKenzie W Man Mountain Cannon
Mighty Igor WDQ Mitsu Arakawa
Mighty Ursus W Mike Loren
Fred Atkins D Ivan Kalmikoff
Dewey Robertson D Joe "Killer" Christie
Mary Jane Mull vs Linda Klein (women's exhibition)

Their follow up match the following month was also a sell out.

Went into partnership with Jim Crockett in 1977, after The Sheik's run as a major draw had ended. Ric Flair became the dominant local attraction in the late 70s. George Scott would also become a partner in the promotion.

After Tunney's death in 1983, the office was taken over by his nephew and former assistant, Jack Tunney. Frank's son Eddie Tunney was also a co-owner.

The WWF held an event called the Frank Tunney Memorial Tag Team Tournament (actually a rip-off of an NWA event honoring Jim Crockett Sr.) in March 1987. They credited Tunney with bringing tag team matches to North America, which is what Tunney himself claimed when he presented his first team match in December 1942 (Whipper Billy Watson & Earl McCready vs. John Katan & Al "Bunny" Dunlop). The 1987 tournament was won by the Killer Bees: Jim Brunzell & B. Brian Blair.

"When the sickness of [Jack] Corcoran forced him to retire, Frank was right there to take over with no break. At this time, the mat sport was at its lowest ebb with meagre crowds and even thinner "gates." Within two years, Maple Leaf Gardens was jam packed and the turnstiles whirled a merry tune to the clink of money falling into the cash register." (From WRESTLING, May 1951)

"The best spot for wrestling in the United States and Canada must go to Toronto, Ontario. They have their shows on Sundays and draw wrestlers from every spot in Canada and the United States. Frank Tunney is the promoter. They draw between 12,000 and 14,000 people on Sunday evenings these days." (From THE BIG BOOK OF WRESTLING, December 1971)

"Frank Tunney was one of the brightest, most innovative promoters I ever met. We spent time together whenever possible, Hawaii, California, New York and Toronto. He was the matchmaker and promoter for my matches with Buddy Rogers and Bruno Sammartino. Frank wanted me to have the record of defeating both of them. It took some very slick maneuvering to make this come to pass. But he was up to the task. Believe me, everybody respected Frank Tunney." (LOU THESZ, interviewed by J. Michael Kenyon, 1997)

Frank Tunney, among the promoters I wrestled for, was one of my favorites. I found him to be a good man, a decent man, an honest man. I thought he was a fair man whose word was good. I do not have one bad word to say about Frank Tunney. He always treated me well and was a good, good man. I had great respect and liked him a lot. (BRUNO SAMMARTINO, Prodigy chat, 1997)

"Hangman Howard Cantonwine and Count Zarinoff changed a Toronto statute. Fans took to throwing pop bottles when these two met so they, the referee and Tunney himself had to seek refuge under the ring. A new law ordered drinks served in paper cups at sports events." (Jim Proudfoot, TORONTO STAR, July 27, 1995)


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