Historical Summary of Wrestling in Canton

Like most cities, Canton was never the primary city for a territory nor did it have it's own television show. Perhaps it's biggest claim to fame in the wrestling world is that Jim Londos made the city his home for several years at the beginning of his career and had several matches against Ed "Strangler" Lewis in the City Auditorium.

Until the rise of the national promotions made possible by cable and satellite television, shows were run by a local promoter using wrestlers from a larger booking office in the region. Canton being the largest city in Stark County, was the main city for wrestling in the area. However, periodically during first half of the twentieth century, local promoters in the small nearby town of Massillon would run shows but generally didn't draw very well.

Matches in the 19th century were likely legitimate matches. There often would be public challenges made in the newspapers between wrestlers and their representatves with wagers between the two sides and also made by fans. There is the possibility that the matches were worked to maximize the profits on the betting.

During the first decade of the 1900s, several matches promoted by the Massillon Athletic Club were featured before and after basketball games. Matches would also be held as part of traveling theater variety shows and carnivals. It's likely the MAC matches and matches involving the traveling show wrestlers and locals were legitimate. However, during this era shows involving traveling wrestlers taking on locals usually had worked matches between a pair of the traveling wrestlers so as to make the locals think they had a chance of winning a challenge match. This sort of shady business practice was done to maximize the profits associated with the locals betting (and losing) on their hometown representative.

In 1917, we see the first results coming from Canton at the City Auditorium which had a seating capacity of several thousand. The shows were promoted by Mike Mckinney's McKinney Atheltic Club. Featuring main events with Jim Londos, Strangler Lewis, and Dr. Benjamin Roller these matches were certainly worked and are the beginnings of what we know as pro wrestling today. Interestingly, and ad for a match in Massillon in 1917 promotes it as a "real match" so there must have already been rumblings among the public that pro wrestling was no longer legitimate competition.

The first stand alone professional wrestling event in Massillon was held in 1918. They must have drawn well as they were held for only several months and then there are no records of any shows for several years.

After several years of successful cards, the 1920s saw relatively few wrestling cards. Several promoters ran cards at various venues, but usually only lasted a handful of shows due to low attendance.

In 1931 and 1932 there were sporadic wrestling shows in Canton, Massillon, Dover, Alliance, and Wooster. Often, a single wrestling match (or maybe two) would be booked on a boxing card.

Surprisingly wrestling makes a comeback in 1933 during the middle of the Great Depression. That year also begins the longest streak of shows regularly being held in Massillon (until 1937). The summer of 1933 also sees the first regularly scheduled outdoor shows. This was due to indoor arenas and entertainment halls being unbearably hot during summer months before air conditioning was widely available.

In February 1933, the first card was held at the new Shamrock Club promoted by Tax Takla. Several months later the Shamrock Athletic Club was incorporated with the stockholders being Leo Mullane, Paul McGuire, and Mary McGuire. Later in the year, Norman Ziegler become part of the promotion and wrestlers from Al Haft's Columbus promotion started being used. The club started running shows at its own venue but later moved to the City Auditorium. In the summer, the club ran outdoor shows at Lakeside Stadium at Meyers Lake in 1934 and at Dueber Park the next few years.

The summer of 1934 saw the Mullane Athletic Club run several shows at an outdoor arena on Schroyer Avenue. The club was founded by Ed Mullane and also ran boxing shows at the same location. Ed is presumably related the Leo Mullane of the Shamrock AC, but there would have likely been a strained relationship if Ed was running opposition.

Late 1935 saw weekly shows promoted by Art Baechel were held at the Trianon Auditorium in Alliance. Boxing matches were often part of the card.

In October 1936, Joe Ryan and Everett McGuire ran a single show at the auditorium using wrestlers from Jack Curley's New York promotion. The show must not have been successful, but that's not much of a surprise due to the lack of top wrestlers on the card.

After the City Auditorium was condemned in 1940, occassionl shows were held at small venues through 1941 including a short run by Billy Allen's Canton Athletic Club. There are no known shows in 1942.

Nick Billins ran a series of shows at the Lakeside Stadium in the summer of 1943 and Culp's Skating Rink during the fall and early winter.

There were no complete wrestling shows in 1944, but several matches were held as part of vaudeville shows and as part of charity events.

From late 1945 through early 1947, shows were again regularly held in Canton at the Armory. Mike Gennet's Derby Aathletic Club promoted the shows in 1945 and early 1946 while Tim Nolan & Lloyd Krumlauf's Quality Athletic Club promote dthe shows from late 1946 into 1947. Wrestling shows would be held sporadically through 1949. Late in that year Sam Caley began promoting small shows in North Industry (that also included boxing matches).

1950 saw several promoters run shows in the Canton area. Sam Caley ran a few shows at the American Legion Hall in Canton with partner Joe Nemath using Jack Pfeffer's wrestlers based in Toledo. E.C. Smalley ran a series of shows at a converted warehouse on Deuber Ave using wrestlers from Al Haft's Columbus-based promotion. Zanesville promoter Tim Nolan ran shows at an outdoor arena on Navarre using Haft's troupe. Late in the summer, the Canton Amvets took over promoting the weekly shows and held them at the Canton Armory during the winter. There was also a short run of shows in Massillon promoted by Toughy Phillips and one outdoor show promoted by Dom Dottavio. In November, the weekly shows promoted by the Amvets were discontinued due to a bus strike.

Wrestling debuted at the the newly opened (and air conditioned) Canton Memorial Auditorium in October 1951. That first show was promoted by Vince Risko and Fred Rini. Frank Masterson also ran a few shows at the auditorium in late 1951. At the beginning of 1952, Risko would become the sole promoter in Canton until the end of the 1970s.

Risko would enjoy a successful run using Haft's wrestlers until mid-1962. He would have a brief run in early 1963 using wrestlers from the Vince McMahon and Toots Mondt's booking office. There was then another brief run in 1964 using wresters from Johnny Doyle and Jim Barnett's Detroit booking office.

There would be no wrestling shows in the area until late 1966 when Risko began promoting shows again. He would once again use the Detroit-based wrestlers, but that office was now owned by Ed Farhat (The Sheik).

The first half of 1971 saw the shows move to the much smaller Meyers Lake Park Ballroom. The second half saw no wrestling in the city. The return to the Memorial Auditorium was in early 1972.

Beginning in late 1974, Risko switched to using wrestlers from Jack Cain and Tony Marion's Toledo-based International Wrestling that was running opposition to Farhat's Big Time Wrestling. When International Wrestling closed in mid-1975, Risko quickly switched back to booking shows using Farhat's group.

On a side note, in early autumn of 1976, the Memorial Auditorium was renamed the Civic Center.

Risko would continue to promote show using Farhat's wrestlers through the summer of 1977. Russ Harris with help from Walter Moore rand a show in December 1977 using Farhat's group. There were sporadic shows using the Detroit crew until it that promotion closed in 1980. The promoter of these shows is unknown.

The first of the national promotions to appear in Canton, was Georgia Championship Wrestling which was airing in TBS, the first cable superstation. The shows were promoted locally by Les Thatcher and would continue until April 1985.

The summer of 1985 saw Jim Crockett's World Championship Wrestling run shows regularly in Canton through 1986. WCW would run a few shows in Canton during the 1990s including a few TV tapings.

The World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) promoted it's first show at the Civic Center in October 1984. It would run a handful of shows through 1995. The was an eleven year gap until the WWE ran a show in 2006. Since then, the WWE has run one show per year in Canton.