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SLAM! Wrestling Canadian Hall of Fame: Tony Condello

REAL NAME: Tony Condello
BORN: August 8, 1942, Calabria, Italy
5'6", 200 pounds
PRO DEBUT: 1958 - Winnipeg (Brooklands)
GREATEST MATCH: Lansdowne, ND - Lost to Nick Bockwinkel
TRAINED BY: Alf Wuhr

  Tony Condello is a wrestling icon in central Canada. Though not well known in international circles, Condello's involvement with the sport has certainly been a storied one, and well worth being covered. While he himself would not endorse this "propaganda", he certainly deserves to be recognized for his accomplishments.

  Condello started wrestling in 1958 with the Brooklands wrestling club in Winnipeg. At that time, there were a number of local wrestlers in the area, in fact, the city was home to half a dozen clubs which were each running a weekly program at one point. The Westbrook club was considered one of the most solid clubs as each of the wrestlers was very skilled. In fact, among those in the roster at the Westbrook club were two fellow Winnipeggers Bobby Brown (later the "Bulldog") and Al Torres (who saw fame locally and in California as Kurt Steiger).

  During his early years, Condello would wrestle for a number of the local clubs, winning the Madison Wrestling Club middleweight tag-team titles on two occassions with partner, Guy Vinci, with whom he formed the tandem of the "Flying Italians".

  In the late 1960's, Al Tomko, local wrestler and promoter, bought out the Madison Club (allegedly under the instruction of Verne Gagne) in order to remove any competition for the incoming American Wrestling Association cards. At first, this was not negative on the top local wrestlers, as they were receiving regular spots on the bigger show, opposing well-known stars, and garnering greater exposure. Condello was one of the Canadians who was able to cash in, frequently touring the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota, & Wisconsin. In fact, one of Condello's most memorable matches was against the Vachons on a St. Paul T.V. taping in 1969.

  However, after the initial wave of Canadian expansion, the AWA focused more on its own talent, leaving many solid wrestlers without an avenue to ply their trade.

  It was this plight of the wrestlers which prompted Tony Condello to start promoting. In 1972, Condello started signing dates, and ran his first tour of the northern Manitoba Indian reservations (a tour which he has run annually since that time) as well as signing a number of dates across the province. It wasn't long before fans started to take note of what he was doing. Using himself and local standout, Fred Peloquin, who wrestled as the Mad Dog, as the headliners for these events, Condello attests that they performed before many sellout crowds.

  In 1974, after hearing about the success that Condello was having in rural communities in the province, Verne Gagne moved his show out of Winnipeg and into the smaller towns as well. Though his shows initially outdrew the smaller local cards, the growth was not sustainable, and return dates to these communities were sporadic. This move, however, started friction between Gagne and Condello which still exists to this day.

  Over the next ten years, Condello continued to promote and wrestle in Manitoba. During this time, he became involved with a number of people, who would train under him, work with him, then parlay that experience into opening their own promotion. Such was the case with Ernie Rheault (later promoter for Central Canadian Pro Wrestling) and Walter Shefchyk (who would open New Brand Wrestling). To his credit, however, he would also work with some talent which would go on to bigger and better things, the names on this list include Ron Ritchie, Kerry Brown, & Dave Kochen (aka Buddy Lane, AWA).

  In 1986, Condello sought to gain greater recognition by importing talent from other regions. Instantly a deal was struck with Eddie Sharkey in Minnesota to import some of the wrestlers that he had in his Pro Wrestling America circuit to make appearances in central Canada. This partnership, which ran simultaneously with a fresh new block of TV programming, would see such names as Ricky Rice, Derrick Dukes, The Terminators, Chris Markoff, and Buck Zumhofe, enter the territory. It was around this time that Bulldog Bob Brown returned home from Kansas City and appeared on a Condello card at the Winnipeg Arena in a wild bout against the late Bruiser Brody.

  Condello used his experience with Sharkey as an indicator that there was room for import talent if he could locate the right combination of talent that people knew and a price that could be afforded and ventured west to strike a deal with Stu Hart. Tony recognized the viewership of Stampede Wrestling by Winnipeg audiences and made a deal with Hart to co-promote two cards in Manitoba. If these cards were successful, Stampede wrestling would move into Manitoba regularly. The two cards, which were run in Winnipeg and Brandon, drew poorly, and losses were great.

  Following this lengthy stretch without a financial winfall, Condello changed his promotional tactic. Retaining his TV timeslot, Condello looked to the U.S. to find programming to fill it. At first, he aired tapes of the Universal Wrestling Federation, with plans to market that product in his home region, but the group merged with the NWA before that become a reality. His next step was a joint NWA-AWA TV program. This program was successful, as it gave fans in this region greater awareness of wrestlers that they could not see on TV otherwise.

  In late 1988, Condello imported the top stars of the NWA for two cards. Ric Flair, Barry Windham, Lex Luger, Sting, The Midnight Express, and Rick Steiner were among the standouts on these tremendous cards. However, the fans did not respond to the product.

  In 1989, Condello returned to the airwaves with a renewed commitment to the local scene, promoting West Four Wrestling Alliance cards. Ignoring outside influences from other promoters, talent was brought in from all parts of Canada and showcased on his new format. Among those featured early on: Timothy Flowers, Akam Singh, Chi Chi Cruz & The Frog, The Natural, & Lenny St. Clair.

  This revitalized commitment to the talent available in this region show tremendous growth of the company from 1989 to 1992. By this time, Condello was regularly featuring cards with such stars as Chris Jericho, Lance Storm, Gerry Morrow, Bobby Jay, Gene Swan and E.Z. Ryder.

  However, with growth, some of the Manitoba wrestlers grew disgruntled and left to work with other promoters. This progression led to Condello having only three Manitobans left on his roster by 1994 (Chi Chi Cruz, The Natural, & Jethro Hawg). The timing was perfect to change gears and move ahead with the product. Changing the name of his promotion to the International Wrestling Alliance, Condello ran his first T.V. taping under that banner at the Walker theatre. This taping featured Adam Impact (Copeland, now in the WWF); Johnny Paradise (now Johnny Swinger, WCW); Kerry Brown; Dr. Luther (of FMW fame); Rick Titan, and many more.

  The IWA has promoted a number of cards across Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan since that time. Most recently, Condello's fair-haired boy, The Natural (Don Callis) has been signed by the WWF as "The Jackyl". This has reduced Condello's schedule somewhat as he now only promotes when Callis is available. Condello is certainly a Canadian wrestling icon.

This bio was written by central Canada's leading wrestling expert, Vern May of Canadian Wrestle-Media.


Stories & Links

  • Tony Condello Career Record
  • February 23, 2014: Condello wrestling documentary a winner
  • March 2, 2012: Condellos team up in showbiz
  • August 11, 2009: Condello in good health, good humour taxed but intact
  • February 7, 2008: Wrestlers brace for Northern Manitoba “Death Tour”
  • Oct. 24, 2004: Condello always an innovator
  • Jan. 17, 2001: IWA aiming to be ab-original
  • Feb. 25, 2007: Wrestling's toughest tour - northern Manitoba
    Memories

     I remember wrestling with Tony Condello on one of his infamous northern Manitoba tour where we slept in school gyms. We pulled a rib on him by filling a condom with white shampoo and put it on his pillow. when he awoke he FREAKED, and the boys had a good chuckle
     Bobby Jay, Local Winnipeg Wrestler
     Back in1992 when I was training at Tony's old school on Corydon Ave. I was getting blown up real quick, so Tony told me to run around the block five times, little did I know that the block was a MILE LONG! It nearly killed me but I did it anyway. I can honestly say I've never met anyone who knew Tony, that didn't like him.......
     Tod Bullet.....local Winnipeg wrestler
     Tony is one of those promoters you never forget. You have not become a wrestler in Canada until you work a tour with Tony. He truly is one of the last great promoters in the country. It is an honour every time I lace em' up for him.
     Steve Stryker