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Gene Kiniski

Gene Kiniski under the Maple Leaf Gardens ring.
Toronto Telegram file photo
REAL NAME: Gene Kiniski
6'4". 272 pounds
BORN: Edmonton, Alberta
ALIASES/NICKNAMES: Big Thunder, Gene Kelly

Gene Kiniski was a gridiron star for Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL when a knee injury in 1953 forced him out of football, and somehow, into pro wrestling. Sports columnists loved him.

 Jim Coleman wrote in 1968 that "When a columnist runs into a dull, uninspiring day, the gloom can be dispelled quickly by placing a long-distance telephone call to Gene Kiniski, the sweetest Canadian this site of Guy Lombardo's musicians."

 Trent Frayne wrote in 1969 that "As an entertainer Kiniski is one of the world's most successful in his game, a big, quick, furious, exciting performer with a big round tough-looking kisser who comes on like a demented storm trooper."

 He rose to the top of the wrestling world, holding the AWA World title briefly in 1961 and the NWA World title for three years, from 1966 to 1969.

 Kiniski moved to Vancouver in 1962, where he became a co-promoter of All-Star Wrestling during its heyday in the late 60s/early 70s. He retired from the mat game at 62.

 Both of his sons, Kelly and Nick Kiniski, had short stays in the pro wrestling world, but never really made it big. His mother was Julia Kiniski a long-time Edmonton Alderman. There were six Kiniski kids.

 Kiniski has done spot work in TV and film over the years, including the films Paradise Alley and Double Happiness.
"Long hair was an occupational hazard"

GENE KINISKI STORIES
  • Gene Kiniski Career Record
  • April 15, 2010: Friends remember Kiniski's stamina, toughness and wit
  • April 14, 2010: Gene Kiniski dead at 81
  • May 24, 2008: Kiniski ends Hall of Fame induction on high note
  • March 1, 2006: Health lessons from Gene Kiniski
  • Aug. 2, 2004: Newton inducts Class of 2004
  • July 28, 2004: Kiniski, Rheingans entering Newton hall
  • Nov. 10, 2000: The Gene Kiniski chat transcript
  • Mar. 16, 2001: Wrestling With The Past catches up with Gene Kiniski
  • June 15, 2000: 2nd-gen grapplers reflect on their Dads

    Memories

    Kiniski was a big, hungry high school kid that I was coaching wrestling a bit and was helping with junior football a bit up in Edmonton. This kid come up and says 'Is there a chance of you working out with me little a bit?' So I had this big, hungry Gene Kiniski wrestling with me. He became one of the biggest box office attractions in wrestling.
    Stu Hart from a Nov. 1997 interview with SLAM! Wrestling
    "...the guest whgo were guaranteed to be non-conformists were those zanies from the world of professional wrestling.

    Gene Kiniski, a former Edmonton football player who had become the designated world champion of the wrestling circuit, always was helpful. One night, while we were on camera, I asked him to comment on an article on Canadian football which had been written for Maclean's by Herb Capozzi. Gene scoffed, saying flatly, "Well, everyone knows that Capozzi is a complete idiot."

    There was instant consternation in the studio. At the time, Capozzi was the director of foreign-language broadcasts for the CBC. The producer of our show was furious -- he feared that Capozzi would make an official complaint. Throughout the remainder of the brief show, the floor director kept circling in front of me, holding up a piece of paper on which he had written, "Apologize to Capozzi."

    So, I waited until the studio director gave me a sign that only 15 seconds remained to finish the show. At that juncture, I faced the camera and I said smarmily, "You know, when Gene referred to our mutual friend, Herb Capozzi, as an idiot, Gene was only kidding." But before they could cut us off the air, Kiniski beamed into the camera and he bellowed genially, "That's right! I intended to call Capozzi an imbecile!"

    -- legendary Canadian sports columnist Jim Coleman on his interview show on CBC on Friday nights in his book, Memoris of a Sporting Life, 1990, Key Porter Books
     In a wrestling world full of outlandish costumes, peroxide locks and androgynous participants, Kiniski was definitely a "no-nonsense" tough guy. But my most vivid childhood memories of him are when he appeared on Vancouver- based "All Star Wrestling" in the early 70's. Gene was a rapid-file, surprisingly articulate interview, rambling on with egotistical intensity, not allowing host Ron Morrier to utter a word in reply. Then, upon finishing, he would thank old Ron for doing "a great job of interviewing me". Hilarious. Incidentally, Ron Morrier was a rarity among announcers...a pro who was absolutely IMPARTIAL in his duties, calling matches right down the middle.
     Baruk Barkin, Toronto, Ontario
      I had the ultimate pleasure of meeting Gentleman Gene Kiniski at a T.V. taping here in the early 90's. Even at age 67 you could see that this was a man of regal bearing whose presence, both literally and figuratively towered over everyone else in the dressing room. On that occasion I had the ultimate honor of refereeing this Ring Legend on his last night as a pro. It was an experience I shall never forget.
      Dave Levinsky, Wpg.
      Gene Kiniski has been our neighbor in Blaine, Washington for the past 20 years. He is one of the nicest, no-nonsense guys I have ever met. I used to work out at a club in White Rock BC that Gene belonged to and I'll always remember the coaching and conversations that we had. To this day, you can still find Gene running up "H street hill" and waving a big friendly hello to all that pass by. Oh yeah, he tells some great polock jokes too.
      MK Blaine, WA
      I had the pleasure of watching him many times in the ring and what I remember most was that even a total jobber would be allowed to get the better of him for a while. He had the rare knack of making anybody look good when they faced him.
      R Woods
      It was great growing up in the late 60's and early 70's watching "west coast wrestling" with Gene Kiniski,Bulldog Brown,The Love Brothers, (Reginald & Hartford) Johnny Powers,(whatever happened to him) Waldo Von Erich and the programs here in Ontario with Louis Martinez, Tony Parisi ,Sweet Daddy Siki, Tiger Jeet Singh, Whipper Watson, etc etc etc. Gene Kiniski is still going strong and it was great to see him recently on "Off the Record" Angelo Mosca was on as well recently.Two great Canadians! Thanks for coming into my home via T V guys.
      Tony, London, Ontario
      I recall as a kid in the early seventies..watching Allstar Wrestling in Vancouver. Gene was mean and lean but was always the good guy. This is when the sport was great. Bare bones wrestling without any flashy crap that now signifies the "Soap Opera" of wrestling. Back then Gene sported a "crew cut" hairdo and was "Canada's Greatest Athlete". He was "my" Champion.
      Gord Fearn, Victoria, BC
      I remember Gene. I used to go see him every week in Tacoma in 1970. Once I told him to go back to Siberia, I was young and thought I was smart, he just stuck his tongue out at me, I also saw him in Port Angeles, Washington too.
      phyllis, scoundrel@tenforward.com
      As a high school wrestler in Blaine, Wa (Gene's home for many years), I remember Gene coming up to the gym a couple times and working out with the team. This was a big deal to many of us as we had all watched him on All-Star since forever, it seemed. Since I was one of the bigger guys on the team, Gene would often select me to demonstrate. "And this is how you really put the pressure on the guy" he said, smiling, as every breath of air was squeezed out of my lungs.
     Dave Wiederspohn, DWied001@aol.com
     My father took me to my first wrestling match in 1959. I was 11 years old. The site was Exhibition Gardens in Vancouver, B.C. and the main event featured Gene Kiniski vs Whipper Billy Watson; a feud which was to last for several years. The memory of that event has never left me. I can still vividly recall my horror when Gene, during the introductions, pushed the announcer aside, grabbed the hanging mic, attacked Watson from behind and wrapped the cord around his neck. I thought that Gene was literally going to strangle the Whipper to death. Later, the match ended when rugged Gene was disqualified for "rule breaking." Gene, who held the NWA Heavyweight title for over 3 years, was truly an international icon in professional wrestling. I had the pleasure of watching Gene wrestle in the Vancouver area for over 20 years. Remember his finishing move?........It was the "back-breaker." Since retirement, Gene has lived in the Vancouver area. I saw him recently. He still looks like a champion.
     Don Roy, Richmond, B.C. Droy1@netcom.ca
     The most memorable match with "Canada's Greatest Athlete" was at the PNE Gardens in Vancouver.
     Gene slammed Kinji Shibuya's head into the steel post near the end of a gruelling match.
     I saw the stitches in Shibuya's head afterwords, which depicted the normal intensity of a Gene Kiniski match.
     Gene started most matches with scientific moves and always impressed me with his wresting knowledge and ability.
     In the early 1960's Gene was booed as a villan but spectators soon changed and became fans when they realized his entertainment value.
     Most fans I know respected gene Kiniski as a genuine wrestler who could always bring out the best in his opponents because he was a true professional!
     R.D.(Rick) Hawkins
     Gene Kiniski Versus Haystack Calhoun
     Chilliwack...around 1963. Haystack Calhoun; after three solid shoulder blocks, is bounced over the top rope by "Gentleman Gene"...I thought the whole Ag Hall was shaking...601 pounds of Haystack getting knocked over the top rope-top that!
     Dean Roosevelt, Toronto
     I too have fond memories of Gene Kiniski and his glory days with Ron Morier on All Star Wrestling, but I think what impressed me the most was his obvious devotion to Canada. I always respected this man just by seeing him wearing that warm up jacket with the word CANADA on the front and his reference to himself as canada's greatest athlete !! I have never had the priviledge of meeting this man, but it would be a great honour to sit down and listen to some great stories from the ol' days, as only Big Thunder could tell.
     God bless you Gene Kiniski for your loyalty to this country that I think most people take for granted.
      Jay Ottley, Leamington, Ontario
     I have a TON of happy memories of Mr. Kiniski (the way a true gentleman MUST be addressed) and Ron Morrier, and the great matches on All Star Wrestling.
     My late Grandfather, was a BIG Gene Kiniski fan, and even though deaf and nearly blind in his late nineties, I can still hear Grandpa telling me in a loud Irish accented voice..." That Gene Kiniski, now THERE's a GREAT athlete......".
     He should have added a FIRST class fellow. Humble.
     God Bless ya Mr. Kiniski. Some of the young stars in WWF could take a lesson, for sure.
     TV Crone, Vancouver
     I was a big Gene Kiniski fan. I remember a classic match in Ottawa with Lou Thesz. Kiniski put an arm bar on Thesz for about 15 minutes and all of the California colour left Thesz's arm. His classic move was the judo chop across the throat.
      Gene always was an articulate interviewee! A lot of the pro football, basketball and hockey wanabees could take some lessons from Gene.
     What always impressed me about the guy was that he appeared to be truly mean.
     Bruce Collie, Kanata Ontario
     I have fond memories of Gene I remember him wrestling a bear and his many matches with Whipper Watson.
     Steve
     I used to watch Gene Kiniski, Don Leo Jonathon,Dutch Savage, Eric Frolich and many others on T.V. every Saturday night from the age of 3 in Surrey B.C. When I moved to Blaine, Washington, I had the chance to meet Canada's greatest athlete and let me tell you he truly is a gentleman through and through. He would always have time to say hi and ask how you were doing and he was always telling jokes and when he would see my son, he would pick him and give him a big hug. Gene was a bear in the ring but a gentleman outside it, and I will always hold him in high esteem
     Leon Alm, Phoenix, Arizona