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.
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.
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.