Looking at the history of the CFL-wrestling crossover

It was September of 1998 and the WWF was holding a pay-per-view event at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. The opening match on the main card saw Canadian Owen Hart take on fellow Canadian Edge. Owen was the bad guy, or heel in wrestling parlance, but Canadian audiences tend to cheer for their own regardless on their in-show alignments. Chances are, Owen was going to get cheered.

And he did… initially.

When Hart was announced, and before the crowd could see him, there is a healthy dose of cheers. But they didn’t last, and soon chants of “NUGGET!” descended upon Owen.

So how did one-time hero and member of the famed Hart family get a very pro-Canadian crowd in Hamilton to boo him that night?

He wore an Argos jersey.

Courtesy: WWE Network

Football and wrestling have always had a neat cross-section, whether it be former NFL players like Ernie Ladd, Bill Goldberg or Steve McMichael becoming pro wrestlers after their football careers were over, or guys like Kevin Greene and Lawrence Taylor whose flirtation with the world of pro wrestling was short lived. Something just brings football and wrestling together.

The CFL is no different as their are numerous examples of the worlds of Canadian football and pro wrestling colliding. The most recent example was Shawn Lemon hoisting a WWE championship belt at the Argos’ Grey Cup parade back in November. But the roots of the CFL-wrestling connection go much further back.

There are many examples of former CFLers — oddly, many of them ex-Edmonton Eskimos — finding wrestling success once their playing days came to an end. Current WWE superstar Roman Reigns spent one season with the Edmonton Eskimos before deciding the football life was not for him. He is now a three-time WWE champion, has main evented the last three WrestleManias (trust me, that’s a big deal; only Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Triple H and John Cena have ever achieved that honour), and may make it four in row as he takes on Brock Lesnar on April 8 in New Orleans at WrestleMania.

Gene Kiniski’s time in the CFL was short-lived when a torn knee cap ended his career in 1952. He went on to wrestle steadily for decades, with his final match coming in 1992. Kiniski was a one-time American Wrestling Alliance (AWA) and National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) world heavyweight champion, beating the great Lou Thesz for the latter.

Stu Hart, the famed patriarch of the Hart family — which gave us both Owen and his brother, five-time WWF champion and maybe the most famous Canadian wrestler of all time, Bret — spent a couple years in the CFL with, you guessed it, the Edmonton Eskimos before becoming the operator of one of Canada’s most famous wrestling promotions, Stampede Wrestling, out of Calgary.

Brian Pillman, who was an incredibly undersized defensive tackle, played in the NFL before finding his way to Calgary and playing a year with the Stampeders. It was while in Calgary that he met up with the Hart family and started working for Stampede Wrestling. Pillman went on to have a very successful career that was tragically cut short in 1997 when he died of a heart attack at just 35 years of age.

Before he became “The Total Package,” Lex Luger was just Larry Pfohl and he spent three years with the Montreal Alouettes between 1979-81, even playing in a Grey Cup. Luger went on to become a two-time WCW world heavyweight champion and was the co-winner of the 1994 Royal Rumble with Bret Hart.

Glenn Kulka was another guy tried to make the transition from CFLer to WWF superstar, but is probably more well known for his football career than his wrestling one. Kulka spent 11 seasons in the CFL, playing with four teams between 1986 and 1996. When his career ended, he made the leap to the world of pro wrestling, but an injury suffered in Regina in 1998 — in an event dubbed “Kulkamania” — derailed a career that many thought had a lot of promise.

And, of course, we have Angelo Mosca. We all know of Mosca’s CFL bona fides, he was a five-time Grey Cup champion and is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. He was also a very successful pro wrestler, going under the moniker of King Kong Mosca.

Yes, that is Mosca cutting a promo to Vince McMahon. The Vince McMahon.

And here he is at the very first Starrcade event in Greensboro, North Carolina. The man on his shoulders whose face you can’t see? None other than perhaps the greatest of all time, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.

Courtesy: WWE Network

Mosca wrestled all over the United States, with stints in the AWA, Georgia Championship Wrestling and Stampede Wrestling. But he made his biggest impact in Canada, where he wrestled for Maple Leaf Wrestling, which was an affiliate of both the NWA and WWF. Mosca was a five-time NWA Canadian heavyweight champion and some of his opponents during his wrestling days include legends such as Pat Patterson, Big John Studd, Sgt. Slaughter, Jimmy Snuka, Bob Backlund and Andre the Giant.

There was also some guy named Dwayne Johnson who spent some time with the Calgary Stampeders in the mid-1990s before embarking on a pro wrestling career. I wonder whatever happened to that guy. You don’t hear much about him anymore, do you?

These are just some examples of the overlap between the CFL and pro wrestling, and I am sure in the years to come we will revisit this topic and add more names to the list of guys who played in the CFL and then made their way into the world of professional wrestling.

It is a linkage that goes back many decades and I doubt it will come to an end any time soon.

Josh Smith

Josh Smith

Josh has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.
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Josh Smith
About Josh Smith (351 Articles)
Josh has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.

24 Comments on Looking at the history of the CFL-wrestling crossover

  1. Russell // April 8, 2018 at 5:55 pm //

    For the NFL I remember Leo Nomelini, and for the AFL Wahoo McDaniel.

    I recently read Larry Pfohl’s book Wrestling with the Devil. I recommend it, but I wish he had included more about his time with the Als.

  2. bharbec // April 8, 2018 at 7:36 pm //

    Wayne Coleman played 5 games with the Als before becoming Superstar Billy Graham. Iron Mike Webster wrestled after playing for the Als, but before getting his PhD. Lionel Conacher did many things, including playing for the Argos and wrestling.

  3. George Wells also went on to have a sucessful wrestling career after the CFL. He wrestled Jake the Snake Roberts at WrestleMania 2.

  4. Pennyrocker // April 8, 2018 at 9:30 pm //

    I have to add that Stampede Wrestling was a power house for professional wrestling for years. The Hart family actually had five brothers wrestlers three that did not make WWF were Keith Bruce and Wayne. I know Stu Hart is originally from Saskatchewan and was honored last year.

    I saw Brain Pilman first wrestling matches and him getting broken ribs.

    Pilman also join up with a great wrestler to form the Hollywood Blondes .His partner was Steve Austin.

  5. Edward Leslie // April 8, 2018 at 11:35 pm //

    Pennyrocker and Green&Gold:
    I was a big Stampede wrestling fan too. I remember watching it on Saturday afternoons and then going and watching it live at the Sales Pavillion in Edmonton on Saturday nights.
    Other CFL football players turned wrestler include:
    King Curtis Iaukea, a very scary Hawaiian born wrestler, who started out playing offensive line with B.C. and Montreal back in the 1950s.
    Lethal Larry Cameron. Was a linebacker with B.C. and Ottawa before switchibg to the WWE.
    Tito Santana, a popular “good guy” in the WWE who played Tight End under his real name, Merced Solis with B.C. in 1976.
    Jon Heidenreich, a big scary looking dude, who cut one of the creepiest promos with Michael Cole and read insane nursery rhymes called “disaster pieces” many years after playing Offensive line with Shreveport during the mid-90s American CFL expansion.
    Archie “The Stomper” Gouldie. My all time favourite wrestler from Stampede wrestling. I heard that he attended Saskatchewan’s training camp at one time, but I don’t know if he ever played for sure. A very scary looking dude, who could guys like Stone Cold Steve Austin and Brock Lesnar nightmares!

  6. Noodles Romanoff // April 9, 2018 at 8:23 am //

    I’m surprised Pepper Martin, a Hamiltonian, wasn’t mentioned. Although he blew his knee out when he was playing football for Navy.

    He was trying to rehab to play for the Hamilton Tigers but end up in wrestling…then acting.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pepper_Martin_(actor)

  7. Hacksaw Jim Duggan has stated in interviews he spent some time with the Argos, coincidentally his wrestling mentor was Fritz Von Erich.

    There was a rumour that Fritz Von Erich (Jack Adkisson) was amongst that 50s Edmonton crew but I never found any evidence of him nor Duggan, but I tend to believe the Duggan story.

  8. Played for the Argos

    Duggan got into the pro mat game late, after dreams of a lengthy football career were dashed — in Hamilton. He was a star athlete in high school, growing up in Glens Falls, NY, where his shot put record still stands, he says, and was an undefeated state champion in wrestling.

    An offensive guard, Duggan played college football at Southern Methodist in Dallas, then wound up in Canada with the Toronto Argos after a brief fling with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.

    “Forrest Gregg was coaching the Argos (1979),” said Duggan. “I enjoyed playing up there. I got a lot more playing time. Then, the last game I ever played in football, which was my whole life back then, was when they cut me (in Hamilton). I was devastated. I had some knee problems, sure, but O-linemen were a dime a dozen.”

  9. Ron Simmons played for the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1981 and 1982. He played in that near upset Grey Cup vs the Esks

  10. Paul Bomber // April 9, 2018 at 11:07 am //

    Uhmm… everyone gets it that Roman Reigns isn’t really a wrestler, but an actor/stuntman, right? Being a 6 time champ or whatever means the writers and producers think they can sell more tickets with you at the top… nothing more.
    But to the question: Would I want to step into the “squared circle” with Goldberg or the Rock any of these other monsters for a choreographed match? NOT FREAKING LIKELY! On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to do some dangerous stunt for a Hollywood movie either!

  11. CFL Hall of Fame Legend, John Helton gave it a shot with Stampede Wrestling too…I believe.

  12. I remember watching Angelo Mosca wrestle for Stampede Wrestling back in the day. At that time I believed he played for The Hamilton Tigercats. He played a real good heal in Stampede Wrestling.

  13. Edward Leslie // April 9, 2018 at 4:49 pm //

    Killa: Good call. I forgot to mention Ron Simmons. I heard that Duggan played in the CFL too. Under a different name perhaps.
    Another one who tried wrestling was ex-Saskatchewan Roughrider George Wells.
    Another bizarre storyline was an “evil German” bad guy on Stampede Wrestling named Killer Karl Krupp.
    In real life he was originally from the Netherlands and was in a Nazi concentration camp in WW2!

    • Jim Duggan was his real name, as for Krupp, I knew him. He was from Hamilton (real name George Momberg). He ended up being a trucker and lecturing to kids in the Maritimes on the evils of drugs. Don’t think he was in a concentration camp but grew up in occupied Holland. Hepatitis contributed to his early demise.

    • BTW, concerning this topic, Ed Leslie, that’s quite the name, how many other names did you have? 🙂

  14. Pennyrocker // April 9, 2018 at 8:07 pm //

    After reading about Bruce Hart I am appalled that the WWE screwed Stampede Wrestling by reneged on a deal and stripped the talent. Then a few years later screwed Brett. To me the WWE is an organization with absolutely no class.

  15. Freelasagnahunter // April 10, 2018 at 6:51 am //

    “Its still real to me, dammit”

  16. Edward Leslie // April 10, 2018 at 7:40 am //

    killa: I didn’t get your remark at first, but I think I do now. Let me just say that I was shocked when I googled my name and found my alternate ego: wrestler Brutus Beefcake! Not me, that’s another Edward Leslie. If it was me, I promise I would’ve come up with a much less silly and embarrassing
    name than that! LOL

    • He was known as someone who may have had the most gimmicks:
      Baron Beefcake, Big Brother Booty, The Booty Man, Brother Bruti, Brute Force, Brutus Beefcake, The Butcher, The Clipmaster, The Disciple, Dizzy Hogan, Ed Boulder, Eddie Hogan, The Mariner, The Man With No Name, and The Zodiac to name a few 🙂

  17. Edward Leslie // April 10, 2018 at 7:45 am //

    Pennyrocker: I watch the WWE, but I have to agree with you. The WWE is pretty sleazy. I never liked that they pretty much put Stampede wrestling out of business either. Brett Hart, Owen Hart, Brian Pillman, Dynamite Kid, Jim Neidhart, Davey Boy Smith, Honky Tonk Man (Wayne) and others raided from Calgary!

    • Stampede and the Harts were probably two of the most dysfunctional units going on at the time. I think they and McMahon were equally to blame for their demise.

      The angle where Bret feuded with Owen was Bruce’s idea and supposed to be Bruce. But instead of giving his brother a break and bringing him in for a payday, Bret used Owen who was already there making money. If I was Bruce I would have been pissed and I think he was.

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