The Faces & Heels of Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling 1977-1987
The Regional Glory Days of Maritimes Wrestling (1977-1987)
Stronger Than Waffle House Coffee: The Faces & Heels of Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling
Canada has always been a pro wrestling country.
From the golden days of Whipper Billy Watson, to the historic Canadian families of wrestling royalty, such as the Harts, the Rougeaus, and the Vachons, Canuck grapplers continue to populate top rosters in the business of the squared circle. WWE, the billion dollar juggernaut that has had a headlock on the global “sports entertainment” industry for over thirty years, presently boasts a heavy Canadian presence with a locker room occupied by Kevin Owens (QC), Sami Zayn (QC), Jinder Mahal (AB), Chris Jericho (MB), Bobby Roode (ON), Tye Dillinger (ON) and Natalya (AB), just to name a few. It is also worth mentioning that one of the most talked about international sensations in professional wrestling in the last year is a young Winnipegger named Kenny Omega. Omega has been climbing the ranks of New Japan Pro-Wrestling and making headlines with his last two bouts against IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada. Omega/Okada has been inciting world wide praise, even being considered by critics as producing two of the greatest wrestling matches of all time.
If you grew up watching wrestling in the 1990s and early 2000s, you’re probably most familiar with the Canadian class that featured Bret “The Hitman” Hart, Edge, Christian, Lance Storm, Val Venis, Test, and the two most tragic stories in modern wrestling history, Owen Hart and Chris Benoit. With the same top-draw clout, you can roll back to the 1980s for another list of WWF heavyhitters such as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “The Canadian Strongman” Dino Bravo, Rick “The Model” Martel, Earthquake, The Fabulous Rogeaus, and Rocky Johnson, father of famed wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
The list is quite impressive, but it leaves an inaccurate depiction of just how important of a role Canada played to the evolution of professional wrestling as we know it today.
While the WWF, now WWE, globalized wrestling into todays glitzy silver screen production over the last thirty years, it was the regional wrestling territories in the 1960s, 70s and 80s that produced the very minds, muscles, heels and faces that laid the groundwork for what pro wrestling could, should and would look like.
With fondly remembered territories such as Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, Maple Leaf Wrestling in Toronto, and the infamous world of Montréal wrestling, the Canadian industry was not only a breeding ground for homegrown wrestling talent, but it also became a successful circuit where up-and-coming wrestlers from around the world would go to cut their teeth. The strong market also made way for heyday celebrities of the sport who could tour extensively to fatten their wallets.
With legends such as Lou Thesz, Ric Flair, Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Andre The Giant, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any notable icon in professional wrestling pre-1990 who didn’t have a run in the Canadian market. Over the years, many wrestlers found such success in the great white north that they permanently relocated and settled, such as Texas-born wrestler and musician Sweet Daddy Siki. Siki, born in Texas, enjoyed the spotlight in the Canadian squared circle in the 60s and 70s, and has called Toronto home ever since.
Some of Canada’s territorial and regional runs with professional wrestling are well-documented and adequately celebrated, while others have faded from history books and struggle to live on in the fuzzy nostalgic childhood memories of musty old stadiums and local cable TV networks.
One of the most prominent entities in Canada that, despite a rich and important history in the wrestling world, has tragically began a descent into Secret East obscurity, is the legendary Moncton-based Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling.
To understand the origins of Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling, it is necessary to take a look into the AGPW predecessor that was the Eastern Sports Association of Halifax. While the territory became known simply in the industry as The Maritimes, the ESA promoted wrestling cards in the 60s and 70s under the banner of “International Wrestling”. The Eastern Sports Association represented the Maritimes region as a member of the National Wrestling Alliance, the largest governing body of professional wrestling. From the 1940s until the decline of the territory system in the 1980s, the NWA oversaw 50+ of the most widely recognized wrestling promotions. The National Wrestling Alliance encouraged exchange of in-ring talent, sought to supervise practices of the various promotions, and would ultimately recognize one world heavyweight champion who would travel the territories defending his strap against the top draws of each region.
Due to the power and influence behind the National Wrestling Alliance’s peak in the 60s and 70s, the Eastern Sports Association was open to a steady school of top talent to book seasonally around the Maritimes. In addition to roster mainstays such as Rudy and Bobby Kay, Johnny Weaver, Killer Karl Krupp, Lord Alfred Hayes and many others, the ESA also booked up and coming talent such as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Rocky Johnson, Rick Martel, Tony Atlas, and chiseled vets of the squared circle such as Lou Thesz, Harley Race, and Dory Funk Jr. The ESA promoted some of the biggest wrestling cards Nova Scotia and New Brunswick has ever seen, including the booking of an NWA World Championship bout featuring the now living legend Terry Funk.
While the ESA produced banner of “International Wrestling” set some big shoes to fill for an Atlantic Canadian circuit, it would be the birth of the Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling brand that prepared to make ripples as the promotional sticker of the ESA slowly peeled off in the 1970s. AGPW would quickly set a new and fresh spark for a Maritime wrestling phenomenon.
Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling set up shop in Moncton, New Brunswick under the guise of professional wrestler and promoter Emile Duprée, father of former WWE superstar René Duprée. The regional AGPW circuit was rooted in the 1960s, but by the 1970s had become a nationally recognized fixture representing Canadian wrestling.
Promoting stacked wrestling cards in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, the AGPW was a seasonal enterprise that ran a well-oiled and financially appealing operation throughout the summer months of the Maritimes. In 1978, Duprée and Grand Prix struck gold when they made a deal with American wrestler and promoter Angelo Poffo.
Angelo Poffo, already a seasoned performer in the wrestling industry, began making appearances for AGPW under the disguise of a yellow mask and sequin jacket, and known simply as The Carpet Bagger.
Angelo Poffo was the father of Lanny Poffo, later known as “Leaping” Lanny and The Genius, as well as burgeoning wrestler and baseball prospect, Randy Poffo. After giving up the baseball minor leagues, Randy Poffo would shed his part time wrestling gimmick of The Spider and develop a new persona that quickly found global fame. This persona was Randy “Macho Man” Savage.
Prior to his breakthrough with the McMahon family and the WWF/E in the 1980s, Savage toured heavily mastering the ropes alongside his brother Lanny, and under the guidance of their father Angelo. The summer of 1978 brought on a Poffo family arrangement where Emile Duprée would get to book the two fast rising stars as feuding contenders for the AGPW International Heavyweight Championship. The championship was held by both Lanny and Randy during their feuding program across Atlantic Canada that saw headlining matchups in towns like Truro, Nova Scotia.
Duprée would blend eclectic booking with a mix of touring top carders such as Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Harley Race and Andre The Giant, with the regionally recognized talents such as Leo Burke, Stephen Petitpas, The Beast, “No Class” Bobby Bass, Killer Karl Krupp, The Cuban Assassin and The Super Destoyer.
As the summer seasons rolled on, Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling quickly built a recognized brand around the battered faces and heels of their chiseling in-ring talents. AGPW would find lasting success with a syndicated television deal across Canada via CTV affiliates, ATV and ASN. The Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling broadcast would feature the mainstay voice of Bill MacCulloch, and the surf-tinged theme song that is still revered as one of the most memorable overtures in the history of cable wrestling broadcasting.
Thanks to some tape collectors with YouTube accounts, a few episodes of Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling have been preserved in their entirety.
A key component to the heart and soul of AGPW was “Big” Stephen Petitpas. Petitpas was raised in Shediac, New Brunswick directly across the street from Emile Duprée, and by his teenage years, due to Duprée’s influence, was already setting up the ring and refereeing at AGPW events. Due to his natural size, it was only a matter of time before Petitpas laced up a pair of boots and entered the squared circle himself. Though he eventually wrestled internationally in Germany and Japan — including unsuccessfully challenging Ric Flair on multiple occassions — it was AGPW that was Petitpas rejoiced home turf. Petitpas’ loyalty to the Maritime crowds was reciprocated, and during his extensive tenure Petitpas enjoyed successful runs with both the AGPW International Heavyweight Championship, as well as the AGPW Maritimes Heavyweight Championship.
Along side Stephen Petitpas, another New Brunswick-born talent that flourished with the rise of the Maritimes track was Leo Burke. While Burke also enjoyed long programs with future stars like Bret Hart during his tours in Calgary, it was the AGPW that gave Burke one of the most consistent spotlights in his most fundamental years. Between stints in the Maritimes in the 70s and 80s, Burke trudged the road from Calgary to Texas, and eventually landed himself in Puertro Rico where he ran clinics with Caribbean wrestling veteran Carlos Colón.
In the late 1980s, as Emile Duprée prepared to hang up the books and place AGPW on the back burner, it was both Stephen Petitpas and Leo Burke that expressed interest in taking the reigns. After purchasing the promotion in 1988, Petitpas briefly ran the Atlantic Wrestling school alongisde his new position of showrunner on the Maritime circuit. The global decline of the territory system guided a swift closing of the doors in 1989.
Though his trainings days were short lived, it was the Atlantic Wrestling school era with Petitpas at the helm that produced Robert Maillet AKA The Acadian Giant, later known in the WWF/E as Kurrgan, and most recently as an actor in 300 (2007), Sherlock Holmes (2009), and Pacific Rim (2013).
While Petitpas may have discovered a giant, it was Leo Burke who would go on to train some of the most gargantuan wrestling personas to ever come out of Canada. After retiring from full time wrestling in the early 1990s, Burke’s former kayfabe nemesis Bret “The Hitman” Hart got him a training position for the WWF/E where he was responsible for shaping future stars Edge, Christian and Test.
Now, one could not scratch the surface of Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling without mentioning a man by the name of Ángel Acevedo.
Born in Puerto Rico, Acevedo found his calling when he debuted as a professional wrestler in Florida in 1973. While the name Ángel Acevedo may not ring a bell, it is impossible to not hear the three bell ring for any Canadian wrestling fans of yesteryear when they hear the ring announcer proclaim Acevedo’s highly successful moniker of The Cuban Assassin.
Though Acevedo was Puerto Rican, it was an easy play for the suspended disbelief of North American audiences to take on the wild personage of a Cuban madman. Lets not forget the carny element of wrestling history where cultural fear mongering and exaggerated stereotypes were highly exploited in order establish heels and faces.
Gimmick aside, The Cuban Assassin quickly became a trusted and established grappler in wide spread North American territories. In fact, The Assassin was held in such high regard that he was the chosen opponent to wrestle Bret Hart in his 1970s debut for his father Stu Hart and the Stampede Wrestling promotion in Calgary.
By the late 1970s, The Cuban Assassin was occupying most of his ring time between the two coasts of Canada. On his off months from Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, The Cuban Assassin became an extremely familiar mug when Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling was in its summer season.
Teetering the lines of heel, face and tweener, The Cuban Assassin wore many coats of the man they loved to hate or begrudgingly hated to love. The Assassin wore the aura of an unpredictable brawler, whether it be on the mic or on the mat. Wrestling fans of the regional Maritimes days often recall the fear-struck feeling of being a young onlooker when The Cuban Assassin would buckle his way through the curtain, fixated on his apprehensive opponent.
During his original 10 year stint with the promotion starting in 1979, The Cuban Assassin established himself as a career-long tag team technician. The Cuban Assassin reigned as AGPW Tag Team Champion at least 8 times in his heyday partnering with a diverse array of competitors including the Carpet Bagger (Angelo Poffo), Goldie Rogers, “No Class” Bobby Bass, Raul Castro, Sweet Daddy Siki, Leo Burke (2x), and Gerry Morrow. The Assassin’s alliance with “Carpet Bagger” Poffo was also the first recorded Tag Team Championship in AGPW history.
More Faces & Heels of Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling (1977-1987)
After years of spotty and short-lived resurgences trying to capitalize on the rich history of the Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling name, the AGPW was finally revived in good fashion in the early 2000s under its original ownership of Emile Duprée, now 80 years old. Much like in its prime, the AGPW operates part-time with a few live shows a year. Carrying on the Duprée legacy, former WWE star and second generation Duprée, Rene Duprée is one of the promotions top draws.
So while those kayfabe memories of pro wrestling past might just seem like floor model television pictures as fuzzy as those childhood feelings of excitement, it should provide a slight peace of mind that the obsessiveness of the wrestling mark has provided a digital archive of every surviving moment.
The “territory days” may have died in the 1980s, but the spirit was reborn with the rise of the “indie circuits” from the 1990s to present day. Even though it is fun to continue waxing nostalgic about the history of wrestling in Atlantic Canada, the message should be clear: if your a wrestling fan, or a wrestling mark if you will, go out and support your local promotion and your local wrestlers. The caliber of regionalized wrestling has once again been on the rise, and it is only a matter of time before this end of the east coast invents new glory days on par with the original era of Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling.