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SLAM! Wrestling Canadian Hall of Fame: Ilio DiPaolo


BORN: Abruzzi, Italy in 1926
DIED: May 1995 at 69
6'2", 265 pounds

  To induct Ilio DiPaolo, we bent the rules a bit. Though he wasn't born in Canada, and never became a Canadian citizen, he did live in Canada for a while. But it was out of his base in Buffalo, New York -- a bordertown -- that he had a huge impact on the southern Ontario wrestling scene. And he was one of the most revered and respected mat technicians of all time.

  Ilio DiPaolo left Italy in1949 for Venezuela. He met Toots Mondt, then promoter at New York's Madison Square Garden and learned to wrestle.

  He wrestled in the Dominican Republic while he waited for his papers to get into the U.S.
  Shortly after arriving in the U.S., he started working for Frank Tunney, promoter for the Toronto area. It was during this time that he won the Canadian tag team championships with his teammate, Whipper Watson.

  DiPaolo lived in Crystal Beach, Ontario with Fred Atkins and the Gallagher Bros. Besides Toronto, he wrestled regularly in Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Hamilton and many other towns.

 He went to go fight all over the world but didn't have much success.

 In 1968, he returned to Toronto to fight Pat O'Connor for the World Championship. It ended in a one-hour time-limit draw.

 He then wrestled Lou Thesz in Winnipeg for the title. That one also ended in an one hour time limit draw. That was his last match.

 He retired in 1965, having gradually grown tired of wrestling's gruelling road schedule.

 DiPaolo opened a restaurant in suburban Buffalo, which became a popular establishment particularly among Buffalo Bills' officials and players.

  The circumstances behind DiPaolo's death were both tragic and morbid. As DiPaolo, his wife and a couple were about to enter a restaurant, a car slammed into DiPaolo on a rainy Wednesday evening.

  DiPaolo was hurled 30 feet into a parked car and died instantly. A short time earlier, DiPaolo's daughter and granddaughter died in a chillingly similar way when a car rammed into them on the same street.

  When news of DiPaolo's death was made public in Buffalo, TV stations pre-empted regular programming to report the tragedy.

  "He was simply the greatest," Billy (Red) Lyons told the Toronto Sun after DiPaolo's funeral. "I don't know of anybody who didn't like Ilio. He had a certain magic about him.

  "You could meet him for five minutes and you left with the impression that you knew him for 20 years. He made you feel that comfortable."

  "About 3,000 people signed the book at Ilio's wake," said Billy Red. "People were lined up for nearly two hours to pay their respect. That shows you how much he was loved."

RELATED LINKS

  • May 12, 2005: DiPaolo's Restaurant celebrates 40 years
  • Ilio DiPaolo's Restaurant and Ringside Lounge

    Thanks to George Key for his help with this bio.

    Memories

     I never had a chance to meet Ilio DiPaolo in person, but I did get a chance to meet his son while at Ilio's restaurant....I live close to the restaurant and had a wrestling banquet there...I found it interesting to meet his son....I heard from everyone how great he was and I will miss him just from hearing stories about him....His son left early to go to a WCW event for the Ilio DiPaolo fund......It is a shame I never got to meet him........
     stone10
     I always go to his restaurant and just think about how he inspired wrestling to grow at an early age.You hear about the Bruno Sammartino's,the Lou Thesz's,the Andre the Giant's,and of course,the Hulk Hogan's,But you never really hear about Ilio Dipaolo that much as a man who made wrestling but the truth is he did.Nobody really knew that until now.We'll always remember how he shaped Wrestling into the great sport it is today.Long live the memories of The True Icon,Ilio Dipaolo.
      George Key, Ilio's great nephew
     I grew up in Woodlawn, New York, just south of Buffalo, and had attended pro wrestling cards at War Memorial Auditorium, 'the Aud', since the early 60's.
      My favorite wrestler was Ilio Di Paolo. He was always such a class act, whether wrestling solo, or in tag team with such stars as Johnny Barend. The matches were taped live, generally on Friday nights, and then shown on Buffalo TV on Sunday evenings. Local broadcaster Chuck Healy called the action, and my dad & I were regulars at the shows.
      All of the greats of the time did the local shows; Moose Cholak, the original Shiek, Hans Schmidt, Magnificent Maurice, the Gallagher Brothers, Bulldog Brower, Ivan & Nikita Kalmikoff, Bobo Brazil, Argentina Rocca, Whipper Watson, and so on....
      Maybe because he was Buffalo's own superstar, or maybe because of his moxie, charisma and ring skill, but the best 'pop' of the evening was when Ilio came down the aisle to exhibit his brand of action in the squared circle. Seemed like no one ever sat down during one of Ilio's matches!
      After the show, my dad and I would go to Ilio's restaurant in Blasdell, NY, for one of those excellent pizzas that are still a Buffalo tradition. Ilio would almost always appear at the restaurant near closing and make sure his customers were happy, and to sign a few autographs. The place was electrified; 'Ilio's here!' was spoken at every table when he would make his entry, and the place was packed late. The numerous pictures of wrestling stars of the day added to the air of pro wrestling in his establishment.
      I remember Ilio as very kind to all, very gracious, and always a gentleman, even when he was tired or in obvious pain. His 'pleased to meet you, glad to know you' style was one of my earliest examples of conduct that I have carried into mid-life.
      I have lived in the western USA for the last 20 years, and when my mom sent me the clipping from the Buffalo News of Ilio's tragic death, I was overwhelmed with sadness over the passing of one of my earliest heroes. I last visited Buffalo in 1994, and going to the Di Paolo restaurant was mandatory. Ilio's son, Dennis, carried on the tradition of personally visiting each table to assure customer contentment. Although I thanked him for all the memories I carry, he, gracious as his dad, thanked me for remembering Ilio's legacy as a champion and a decent human being.
      Ironically, almost appropriately, my father's funeral in 1975 was held at the Kaczor Funeral Home in Blasdell, across the street from Ilio's restaurant.
      You, Ilio, live on in memory for us all. Thanks..... Mike Trayford, Los Angeles, CA
     I lived down the street from the restaurant that Ilio owned. To this day I think of him fondly. He would offer to show old wrestling footage to the kids at the local playground, Halloween would come he would free slices of pizza to the kids. Always show local amateur wrestlers support. When I first met Ilio , I was young (8 or 9 yrs.) , sitting on a bench when this huge foot step next to me looking up to see this massive man asking me if I enjoyed the films we were watching. At first I was scared, but the I felt that everything was good like someone I knew for a long time.
     JasenQMaster
      I only met Mr. DiPaolo once. I was at his restaurant, which is about 2 minutes from my house by walking, with my parents eating dinner. He was walking around asking the customers how things were. He was at my table and shook my parents' hands, and pinched my cheek. I was only about 6 or 7 at the time and I don't remember much of the conversation, but from what I do remember he was a very nice and special man.
     Kestral369