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Whipper Watson, 2-time NWA champ and British Empire champ

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Whipper Billy Watson

Real name: William Potts

The pride of East York. Toronto's top wrestling star from the 1940s through the 1960s. Two-time world champion, defeating Wild Bill Longson and Lou Thesz. Lost the title to Thesz both times. Frequent British Empire champion.

Wrestled in England in 1936 along with fellow Canadians Al Kormann and Tiger Tasker. Began wrestling at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1940, starting a long relationship with promoter Frank Tunney. Through the 1940s, there were two dominant stars in Canadian wrestling -- Watson in Toronto and Yvon Robert in Montreal. They were almost the same age, they both became world champions, and they were both huge draws in their respective hometowns. The two were frequent opponents but got together to win the Canadian Open tag title in Toronto in 1953.

Other than his world title victories, Watson's best-remembered match may be the bout against an aging Gorgeous George at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1959 where George lost and had to have his head shaved in the ring. Two years later they tried again with the stipulation that if George lost, his valet Cherie would have to have her head shaved in the ring. George lost and his valet lost a bit of hair before the chivalrous Watson put an end to the shaving. Watson and George faced each other eight times in singles and tag matches between 1948 and 1961.

To review Watson's career in depth would require writing the history of Toronto wrestling from 1940 to 1971. His first Maple Leaf Gardens match was against Lee Henning in 1940 (Henning may be the only wrestler who had a longer run at Maple Leaf Gardens than Watson, but he was a prelim guy and not a main eventer). Twice challenged Wild Bill Longson for the National Wrestling Association world title in 1942 and won the title from Longson five years later. Wrestled Lou Thesz for the world title 11 times at Maple Leaf Gardens between 1947-1965 and won the title from him in 1956.

His most notable feuds in Toronto were with Nanjo Singh (29 singles matches between the two, with several more tag matches where they were on opposing teams) and Gene Kiniski (24 singles matches and many tag bouts), but there were many others. Was the first man to cleanly defeat The Sheik at Maple Leaf Gardens, pinning him in a 1965 match. His final shot at the NWA title in Toronto was in October 1966 against Kiniski.

Mostly wrestled in tag matches in the late 1960s and 1970s, although he did have a return series of bouts against The Sheik at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1969-70, which Watson always lost by DQ or countout.

Continued to wrestle in Toronto until November 1971 (age 55), when he nearly lost his left leg after being hit by a car on an icy road (ironically, Yvon Robert had died just a few months earlier at age 56).

A celebrity in Toronto, Watson was perhaps known as much for his charitable work as for his wrestling. He was director of the Ontario Society for Crippled Children, and for 37 years (until 1982) was a prominent figure in the Easter Seals campaigns.

At age 49, Watson -- a devoted admirer of John Diefenbaker -- ran unsuccessfully in the 1965 federal election as a Progressive Conservative in the York East riding of what is now Toronto. He had promised to retire from wrestling if he won. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1974 and in 1987 became one of the first 20 recipients of the Order of Ontario. He dropped the puck to open the Toronto Maple Leafs' 1989-90 season and soon after went on an extended vacation in Florida. While there, he suffered a heart attack and died in February 1990 at age 74. Long-time rival Kiniski was one of Watson's eight pallbearers.

His son Phil Watson (named, I assume, after Phil Lawson who got a 13-year-old Watson started in wrestling at the YMCA and later became his manager) wrestled and promoted wrestling shows. He worked for Frank Tunney in 1971 as Whipper Watson Jr., and worked on various independent shows through the 70s and 80s. Whipper's other son, John, also wrestled briefly.

"Whipper Billy Watson, debonair Canadian stuntman and movie player, swung back into the wrestling spotlight by taking on burly Krusher Korman as Lane's London [England] Club. Watson picked the tough Jewish campaigner up in a whiplock and sent him crashing through the ropes to win the match." (From THE RING, May 1938)

"[Frank Tunney says] that he hopes to bring Watson along in a spot where fans here finally will have a home town product to receive their cheers in the main bouts. It would be the first time in local mat heavyweight history for, though Earl McCready and Jack Taylor were Canadians, they were Westerners. Watson needs no experience, in view of his overseas background in England and South Africa so perhaps he has arrived home as the answer to a promoter's prayer." (From THE GLOBE & MAIL, December 19, 1940)

"Whip Ends Nine-year Reign of Lou Thesz as Ruler of NWA Matmen
...The end of that long reign came after 30 minutes and 33 seconds before about 15,000 folks at the Gardens last night, with the most important modus operandi being a corkscrew hold. Clutching on to Thesz' left hand and bending it back so there appeared to be grave danger it would break off at the wrist, the Whipper was pulled to the ropes by Thesz, who sure knows the ropes (yipe). Thesz fell out of same with the Whipper still clinging to ruddy hand. On the ramp Thesz busted loose but the Whipper grabbed him and body-slammed him to the hard, resounding boards. Thesz seemed to land on his elbow, which is hardly any way to land at all, and was still there nursing his wounds when the Whipper leaped back into the ring and special referee Jack Dempsey arrived at the fatal number -- 10."
(From the TORONTO STAR, May 16, 1956)

"More Canadians are probably familiar with Whipper Watson than with any other wrestler alive. Bill stands about 6 feet, his best wrestling weight about 230 lbs. Fast and colourful, his bag of mat tricks includes the Irish whip, Canadian Avanlanche, Canuck Commando Unconscious hold, and the corkscrew. The Whipper is very civic minded and is always the first to assist in fund raising drives and other such worthwhile endeavors. An accomplished after-dinner speaker." (From CANADIAN TV WRESTLING ILLUSTRATED, 1957)

"About 1,000 people paid tribute to Whipper Billy Watson last night at a fund-raising dinner for the Canadian Children's Foundation. The former wrestling champion was given the Promise of Hope Award for his "outstanding contribution to the health and welfare of children." Watson, 71, who has already received such honors as the Order of Canada, said in an interview that "the most important thing is that I'm with my friends here tonight." (William Clark, TORONTO STAR, November 20, 1986)

"Pottsy played a little football for Balmy Beach, competed in marathon swims at the CNE, and had no lack of social companions. "The girls certainly liked him," recalls Jack Prior, a retired Simpsons executive. "But even then, he never drank or smoke. He was a fitness fanatic." (George Gamester, TORONTO STAR, March 12, 1987)

"He became a millionaire through judicious investment of his ring earnings, and paid his own way to spread the word across Canada on the plight of the physically disabled. His persona in the ring was the same outside it: a good-hearted giant with a matinee idol's looks and a name that was a household word. The late wrestling promoter Frank Tunney once estimated that the crowd-pleaser drew 5 million fans to Maple Leaf Gardens alone." (Walter Stefaniuk, TORONTO STAR, February 5, 1990)

Prominent Titles:

  • National Wrestling Association World champion, 1947
  • National Wrestling Alliance World champion, 1956
  • 9-time British Empire champion (Toronto), 1942-67
  • 13-time Canadian tag champion (Toronto), 1952-60
  • 7-time International tag champion (Toronto), 1961-68

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