June 22, 2011
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
This bio was written by central Canada's leading wrestling expert, Vern May of Canadian Wrestle-Media.
Stories & Links
Tony Condello Career Record
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
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.