A photographer/writer's memories of Kiniski in his prime
ROGER BAKER - For SLAM! Wrestling
|Gene Kiniski at a press party at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. Photo by Roger Baker.
The first time that I met Big Gene Kiniski personally was in a private area of the Maple Leaf Gardens locker room area. The ever-genial Pat Flanagan had set up the meeting for the opportunity for me to do my first ever interview and photo shoot with Gene.
Kiniski was a wrestling reporter's dream interview, never being at a loss for words, and having a natural ability to pose for the camera, and unabashedly self promote himself. He knew how to make a wrestling scribe's assignment a memorable, and very pleasant experience as well.
Over the course of a decade, I covered many of Gene's matches at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, his matches with opponents such as Whipper Billy Watson, Edouard Carpentier, Bulldog Brower and the infamous Sheik are legend to the wrestling fans who were present to witness those thrilling matches during the era of the 1950s and 1960s.
Gene had some very hard-fought battles with Johnny Valentine in Toronto, and their rivalry simmered for a lengthy duration. We met one time in the locker room in an arena in Oshawa, Ontario, when the local promoter, Pat Milosh, had invited me to attend his wrestling show.
As usual Gene was the focal point in the locker room. Recognizing me, he hauled out his grip, and pulled a recent Vancouver B.C. newspaper, and proceeded to the sports section, where there was a full-page picture of Kiniski planting one of his big boots smack on Valentine's mush; the side of Valentine's face that caught the boot was merged onto the other side of his face.
Another time, in Maple Leaf Gardens, Fred Atkins and myself were having a discussion about a young wrestler that Fred was mentoring at the time. Kiniski noticed us talking, and he came over and took over the conversation. Fred was really pissed off, knowing Kiniski, he wasn't going to play second fiddle.
Gene Kiniski was a giant among giants in the wrestling world for many years, and no doubt the stories that will be told about his exploits will be told over and over amongst those of us who enjoy and love so much the wonderful sport of professional wrestling.
Gene Kiniski Photo Gallery
Apr. 15, 2010: Friends remember Kiniski's stamina, toughness and wit
Apr. 14, 2010: Gene Kiniski dead at 81
Apr. 14, 2010: Personal reflections on Gene Kiniski
Gene Kiniski story archive
Gene Kiniski results archive
Previous SLAM! Wrestling obituaries
EDITOR'S NOTE: We've added a bunch of Roger Baker's Gene Kiniski photos to our Gene Kiniski Photo Gallery
Roger Baker was a writer and photographer for magazines like The Wrestler, Inside Wrestling, Wrestling Revue, and Boxing Illustrated from 1958 to 1973. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.