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Pro wrestling is alive and well in Toronto

Posted by Bryan Smith / November 11, 2011

Wrestling TorontoMany doen't know this, but Toronto's professional wrestling scene is one of the best around.

The city that we call home is no stranger to the pro wrestling. In fact, the history of this business in Toronto goes back generations, to the days of legendary grapplers like Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, The Sheik, and Gene Kiniski. And as decades have passed and the industry has consistently changed and evolved, Toronto has remained a hotbed for homegrown talent, indie promotions and international events.

One person who has seen this firsthand is Arda Ocal. Fans of WWE Raw (the flagship show of World Wrestling Entertainment, which airs every Monday night on The Score, are probably already familiar with Ocal. He hosts "Aftermath," a sort of post-game analysis for all things related to the WWE. On top of that, he has been a player in the local indie wrestling scene since 2005, bringing his presence and expertise to organizations such as Maximum Pro Wrestling and, most recently, Squared Circle Wrestling. The latter serves as a showcase for students of Squared Circle Training, Ontario's most prestigious wrestling school.

Wrestling TorontoThis Saturday, Nov. 12, Squared Circle Wrestling will be holding an event at the Trio Sportsplex in Vaughan. Ocal will serve as the ring announcer for the night's action, which will see up-and-coming talent like Sebastian Suave, Anthony Fiasco, "Textbook" Tyson Dux, and RJ City take to the ring. The SCW may not be as big as WWE, but Ocal feels that its growth and success is just another reason why the pro wrestling scene in Toronto is nothing to sneeze at.

"Simply put, wrestling fans in Toronto have, over generations, seen some classic matches and events," says Ocal.

Ocal has had a passion for wrestling all his life, something which becomes clear when you chat with him about it. He has an almost-encyclopedic knowledge of the business, especially when it relates back to Toronto, and he truly believes that this city has played an important role in its evolution.

Wrestling Toronto"In the wrestling business, Madison Square Garden is the most prestigious venue of all time, but I'd argue that Maple Leaf Gardens isn't far behind," says Ocal.

Wrestling Toronto"Over the years, practically every major player in wrestling performed there. The Original Sheik, Lou Thesz, The Iron Sheik, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan - legends of the industry."

If you want an idea of how huge pro wrestling can be in Toronto, consider this: the WWE's single biggest annual show is Wrestlemania. Wrestlemania X-8, which was held at the Rogers Centre in 2002, attracted the largest paid crowd to the venue, with over 68,000 fans in attendance. The previous record was - surprise, surprise - Wrestlemania 6, which took place in 1990.

Even more astonishing is the fact that, with all of the big names that have wrestled in the WWE over the years — legends like Hogan, Ric Flair, The Rock, and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, just to name a few — the most decorated superstar in the history of the company is Edge. Born in Orangeville, his dream was to become a pro wrestler, and he trained in Toronto under wrestling greats Sweet Daddy Siki and Ron Hutchinson. When a severe neck injury forced him to retire earlier this year, he had held 31 championships in the WWE, more than any other superstar.

"Edge is a great story. He won free training by submitting an essay, and became one of the greatest wrestlers of all time," says Ocal. "Years later, after he retired, he paid it forward, and picked who he thought wrote the best essay to receive free training at Squared Circle Training."

In addition to Edge, names like Christian, Val Venis, Bobby Roode and Gail Kim have all been trained in and around Toronto, and each has achieved various degrees of success in the WWE and beyond.

It remains to be seen whether or not any of the wrestlers from Squared Circle Wrestling become the next big thing in the WWE. If you're at the Trio Sportsplex on Saturday night, however, you'll get a close look at an industry with deep roots in Toronto that continues to thrive.

Squared Circle Wrestling photos courtesy of Steve Argintaru. Maple Leaf Gardens wrestling bill and Kiniski vs. Layton photo courtesy of Roger Baker.

Discussion

15 Comments

Thomas James / November 11, 2011 at 10:20 am
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Awesome article! Some people may call Toronto the "worst sports city in North America" but despite that we have such a rich history in pro wrestling. Arda is great at what he does, his passion shines through
Helen Smith / November 11, 2011 at 10:24 am
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I was at WrestleMania 18!! I still can't believe we cheered for Hogan so much.. are we "bizarro land" like everyone says?? LOL
hpo / November 11, 2011 at 11:37 am
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A great story about Edge is that he was actually in the stands as a young teenager at Wrestlemania VI in Toronto and could actually be briefly seen in the Hogan-Warrior match; then 12 years later he would be wrestling at the Skydome himself!

I love professional wrestling and I am really glad that indy feds continue to operate in the GTA, despite its drop in popularity and with many of its former fans moving on to mixed martial arts.
Ish replying to a comment from Helen Smith / November 11, 2011 at 02:06 pm
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i think i was the only one cheering for the rock that night
Jeromey replying to a comment from Helen Smith / November 11, 2011 at 03:17 pm
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Oh Helen, I remember that so well! Hogan has credited that night as the night Hollywood Hogan died. The NWO was gone from WWE after that and the Red and Yellow came back out for the first time since he left the WWE.

We truly are the bizarro world of wrestling. Canada cheers for the bad guys just because we can! And sometimes it drastically alters the "storylines".
Brad / November 11, 2011 at 03:27 pm
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Lots of great talent here, just wish the shows were in the city more often, and not in the afternoon.
Fight! / November 11, 2011 at 06:35 pm
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Fight! hosts live events in Downtown Toronto, you can see alot of Canda's top Up and Coming Stars battle it out!
Phil / November 11, 2011 at 09:29 pm
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What a great article! I never knew about these local events and am now curious to go see them.

I also cheered for Hogan at WM18. It was the return of a legend to the stage that help create him. What a night!!!
EK / November 11, 2011 at 09:43 pm
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I went to high school with that wrestler in purple in the first picture! He always wanted to get into professional wrestling, it's nice to see him at it.
Jenny Samson / November 12, 2011 at 11:24 am
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Glad that Arda was a part of this, he's Mr. Wrestling in Canada as far as I'm concerned!!
Kg / November 12, 2011 at 04:18 pm
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Great article, horrible spelling/grammar.
HWB / November 15, 2011 at 09:47 pm
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Fine article but you can't write about wrestling in Toronto and not mention Whipper Billy Watson, a true icon, and promoter Frank Tunney
jade / January 19, 2012 at 01:58 pm
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im trying to go back to canadaian wrestling but i cant over a neck injury so should go back to canada and live with my grandma or should i stay with my mom in boring old ohio or the united states
Scott Simpson / December 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm
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HWB is right about the article overlooking Watson and the Tunneys. Toronto has never been lacking in pro wrestling action. Even while Tunney ran the Maple Leaf Gardens office, renegade promotions operated in the suburbs. And in the post-Hulkamania WWF/WWE era, indie outfits flourished in the 1990s. This seems to be an Arda Ocal article...nothing wrong with that, I suppose.
sal / March 26, 2013 at 12:47 pm
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Toronto is actually the best and most loyal city in the world when it comes to pro wrestling look at the pops and reactions and the sold-out crowds that happened when a promotion comes to toronto its not a shock we had 2 wrestlemania's in the first 18 ever, toronto just aboloutley love pro wrestling but for some reason the promotions like wwe and tna dont come here alot they love chicago (which is also a great wrestling city) and tna go their live every week

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