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Gene Kiniski- One of last links to the past is gone but not forgotten

Posted by flairwhoooooo on May 20, 2010

By Brian Kelley

There is no one today that compares to “Big Thunder” Gene Kiniski , stated legendary St Louis announcer Larry Matysik. At 6”4 272 pounds Eugene Nicholas “Gene” Kiniski quickly made an impact with his size and energy that would not stop.

Born outside of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Kiniski was a natural athlete earning him a scholarship to the University of Arizona . After collage he played with the Edmund Eskimos football team. An injury would force his football to come to an end.

Pro Footballs loss was Pro Wrestling’s game. Kiniski would train with Dory Funk JR and Tony Morelli. He quickly earned a chance at the NWA title held by the great Lou Thesz.at the Olympic Auditorium on November 3, 1954. The veteran Thesz would defeat Kiniski in two straight falls but this would not be the last time these two would meet. .

After earning a reputation in the states at one of the top bad guys, Kiniski would return home finding one of his main rivals in Whipper Billy Watson. The two were would enjoy television exposure on CBS where their exciting feud was often featured.

Kiniski’s rival Watson would end Thesz’s 6 year stranglehold on the NWA title on March 15, 1956 in Toronto . Kiniski was a true threat to the NWA championship for the remainder of the decade.

In the Midwest Kiniski was often involved in the hottest feuds in Sam Muchnick’s Wrestling at the Chase. Wild Bill Longson would wrestle his last match in a tag team war with partner Whipper Billy Watson after Kiniski slammed Watson on the outside allowing Rip Hawk to get the pinfall.

In front of a sellout crowd at the Kiel Auditorium Kiniski would get a huge win against arch rival Whipper Billy Watson in the very first Texas Death match in St Louis . A back and forth battle that saw Kiniski get the win after 6 falls…yes 6 falls when Watson could not continue after the devastating backbreakers of Kiniski. This win led to him getting two opportunities at the NWA World title then held by Pat O’ Connor in St Louis.

Kiniski would be unable to defeat O’ Conner but he would go on to win titles wherever he went, enraging fans with his sarcasm and referring to himself as “ Canada ’s greatest athlete”.

On July 11 1961 he would win his very first world title by defeating American Wrestling Association Champion Verne Gagne. His title would be short lived as Gagne would regain it 28 days later. Kiniski continued to Main event wherever he went because the promoters knew he could deliver. The remainder of the 60’s Kiniski traveled the world challenging the best wrestlers of his day.

In Japan he headlined with wrestling legend Shohei “Giant” Baba while trips to the then WWWF (WWE) had him going against Bruno Sammartino in the historic Madison Square Garden .

Back in St Louis a young Nick Bockwinkel was set to debut in St Louis against Kiniski but Fritz Von Erich attacked Kiniski with the deadly claw thus keeping him from taking on the future world champion. Bockwinkel would go on to meet Don Plechas and win his first match in 2 out 3 falls. On May 14th 1965 Kiniski would get his revenge from Von Erich in a Texas Death Match at the Keil Auditorium

St Louis would also be the place that Kiniski would get his biggest career win on January 7 1966 when he defeated NWA World Champion Lou Thesz in two out three falls. Matysik recalls it as such Thesz won the first fall, Kiniski was awarded the second fall by DQ when Thesz threw Kiniski over the top rope. The St Louis wrestling fans were very respected and educated just as the St Louis Cardinals fans are today. At first the crowd booed because Kiniski was so hated but it quickly became cheers because they knew how special a NWA Title change was. Lou Thesz would show respect by shaking the new Champions hand cementing the special occasion.


NWA World Championship (Atlanta, GA 4/14/67) NO SOUND

Kiniski would be a fighting champion traveling around the world from his home country in Canada to Japan and throughout the states taking on the best in Thesz, Dick the Bruiser, Terry and Dory Funk Jr and many more during his three years of greatness.

It would be Dory Funk JR. that would defeat Kiniski in Tampa Florida on February 11, 1969 to end his title reign. Kiniski would continue to headline around the world winning titles and drawing big houses.

After Kikiski’s days were long gone, Kiniski and Matysik was driving by the Kiel Auditorium, they spoke of the changes of wrestling throughout the years. Kiniski put it in perspective “I don’t begrudge anyone in the business making money but be sure to let the fans know there was matches in that building that will never be done again.

The loving father of two sons, Nick and Kelly who followed in their dads footsteps to become pro wrestlers. Kiniski referred the main event of the inaugural NWA Starrcade (Ric Flair vs. NWA World Champion Harley Race in a steel cage) in 1983.

Special referee Gene Kiniski (a former NWA World Champion himself) checks Ric Flair for foreign objects. Kiniski has been brought in to guarantee a fair match(Photo WWE)

Kiniski was inducted into the Tragos/Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Newton, Iowa in 2004 and a member of the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame – Hall of Fame [2007].

On April 14, 2010 Kiniski at aged 81, passed away from cancer at his home in Blaine, Washington.

~~~~Special thanks to Larry Matysik for his words of wisdom and allowing me to use his wonderful book From the Golden Era- The St Louis Wrestling Record Book 1959 to 1963 .If you would like to buy this wonderful treasure back in time click here.

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