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The Leo Burke Chronicles: 1970-1974

by on June 15, 2011

By Dave Musgrave of Wrestling Culture

Leo wrestled in St. Louis as Tommy Martin through the early months of 1970. In what would seem to be a major milestone in his career, Leo had his first NWA World Title match on February 24, 1970 when NWA World Champion Dory Funk Jr. defended the title against Tommy Martin in Sedalia, Missouri. Leo also worked the Central States area during this time in matches with Bob Geigel, Roger Kirby, Bobby Shane, Killer Kox, and The Stomper. There is one record that seems to indicate that Tommy Martin and The Viking had a reign as Midwest Tag Team Champions with a title defence on March 9, 1970 against K.O. Cox and Killer Cox. Tommy Martin did wrestle U.S. Champion Roger Kirby on April 26, 1970 as well as Harley Race on May 2, 1970 with both matches occurring in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Leo returned to the Maritimes to work for the summer of 1970. On July 6, 1970 Leo Burke and his brother The Beast defeated Eric Pomeroy and Phil Robley for the Eastern Sports Association International Tag Team Titles. Leo and Beast lost the titles to Pomeroy and Fred Sweetan on August 3, 1970. Leo then appears to have spent some time in Calgary as he lost to Abdullah the Butcher on October 30, 1970 prior to beginning to tour the Carolinas.

In the Mid-Atlantic territory of the Carolinas Leo wrestled as Bobby Kay, which can be confusing as his brother Romeo Cormier wrestled elsewhere under that name. In the Carolinas Leo met Johnny Weaver, a man with whom he would both team with and work against throughout the years in the Carolinas, the Maritimes and Toronto. In the Carolinas Leo had matches with Art Nelson and Kurt Stroheim as well as a series of matches teaming with George Becker and Johnny Weaver against Bronco Lubich, Art Nelson and George Harris. In the winter and spring of 1971 Leo teamed with Weaver against the Masked Marvels and with Weaver and George Becker in a series of matches against Rip Hawk, Swede Hanson and Gary Hart. This series included a Lumberjack match and a Texas Death match.

Leo Burke won his first singles title in the Maritimes during the summer season of 1971. He was listed as North American Heavyweight Champion on either June 5 or June 22 of 1971 in Berwick, Nova Scotia. The previous champion was Eric Pomeroy but at times the Maritime promotions would name a new champion at the end of the season so it is not clear if Leo actually won the title from Pomeroy or was just named as champion. Leo lost the North American title to Pat O’Connor on August 24, 1971 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. O’Connor lost the title to Gino Brito who then lost the title to Burke on September 27, 1971 in Halifax. Burke appears to have ended the season as champion in October 1971.

Leo spent the fall of 1971 touring the Carolinas again as Bobby Kay, with one result showing him teaming with Argentina Apollo and Johnny Weaver against the Missouri Mauler, Brute Bernard and Art Nelson. The match appears to have been the main event of a sell-out crowd of 9,000 in Greensborough, North Carolina and the referee is listed as Joe Louis.

Some results show Leo working the Mid-Atlantic territory through the spring of 1972, with matches against Gene and Ole Anderson in April as well as matches against Art Nelson and Nelson Royal. Leo also teamed on numerous occasions with Argentina Apollo and Johnny Weaver against The Missouri Mauler, Brute Bernard and Horner O’Dell.

Leo returned to the Maritimes for the summer of 1972 and worked at times with both Mike Dubois, who would later work as Alexis Smirnoff, and Killer Karl Krupp. Krupp was North American Champion in the territory that summer and may have beaten Leo in June 1972, although this is not certain. Leo did work a number of matches with Krupp throughout the summer. Leo and his brother Romeo (who wrestled as Bobby Kay in the Maritimes) won the territory’s tag team titles on August 8, 1972 when they defeated Mike Dubois and Fred Sweetan in Halifax.

Leo returned to Mid-Atlantic for the fall of 1972 and winter of 1973. He had matches with Tinker Todd, Charlie Fulton, and Pancho Valdez. In the summer of 1973, J.J. Dillon came to the Maritimes for the first time to work as Nature Boy Dillon. Leo had become friendly with Dillon while working in the Carolinas during the winter months and invited him to come and work in the Maritimes. Dillon has said that while the typical summer program in the Maritimes involved booking a monster heel to work against Leo and his brothers, Dillon presented the idea of coming in a cocky and cowardly heel. Dillon won the North American title from The Beast on May 28, 1973 and worked there throughout the summer. Dillon has said that this was his first big break working on top and that he enjoyed working against Leo. During the summer of 1973, Leo was also awarded the Taped-Fist title in the Maritimes and was the first wrestler to hold it. Through that summer he worked taped-fist matches, handkerchief matches and fence matches against Dillon.

In the fall of 1973 Leo travelled to the Amarillo territory to work for the Funks. On January 2, 1974 Leo teamed with his brother The Beast to defeat Don Fargo and Hank James for the Western States Tag Team Titles. The brothers defeated Stan Hansen and Nick Nozak on January 23 and defeated Stan Hansen and Dick Murdoch on January 24. They lost to Terry Funk and Dick Murdoch by disqualification on January 31. The brothers held the titles for two months before losing them to Dory Funk Jr and Ricky Romero on February 25, 1974. Dory Funk Jr has been quoted as saying “Leo was one of the toughest wrestlers I had ever gone up against.” Terry Funk reportedly referred to Leo as “One of the toughest.” Leo and The Beast reportedly worked as heels in the territory, with Leo being portrayed as a mat technician as well. Results from this run also list Leo as working in tag team matches against wrestlers such as Terry Funk, Dick Murdoch, Stan Hansen and El Santo.

Leo spent March and April of 1974 in Calgary working with wrestlers such as Killer Karl Krupp and Archie Gouldie prior to returning to the Maritimes for the summer. The season started with Harley Race as North American champion. Leo worked matches against Race, including a taped fist match, and won the North American title from him in May of 1974. Leo subsequently lost the title to Motoshi Okuma who was working the territory as the Great Kuma. Leo had two reigns as International Tag Team Champion that summer, once with Bobby Kay and once with The Beast. Leo also lost the Taped Fist championship in August of 1974 to Geeto Mongol, who was likely Newton Tatrie of the famous Mongols tag team as he was originally from Spring Hill, Nova Scotia. Leo quickly won the title back a few days later. Bolo Mongol is also listed as working the territory that summer, including matches against Leo, and this would likely be the later Bill Eadie, Tatrie’s then-partner in the Mongols as opposed to his earlier partner Nikolai Volkoff.

Leo`s brother Terry apparently returned to the Central States territory in the fall of 1974 with Leo returning as Tommy Martin shortly thereafter. The brothers apparently returned as faces but eventually turned heel when the Oates brothers started in the territory. The brothers also defeated The Interns on February 22 and Leo had wrestled Bobby Jaggers on February 19. Leo and Terry worked in the territory through the spring of 1975. There are records indicating that Leo wrestled in the NWF in Ohio the fall of 1974 with matches in Akron against Baron Von Krupp and Kurt Von Hess and a bloody match against Abdullah The Butcher in December. Leo also wrestled in Detroit as Leo Burke between November 1974 and January 1975. However, it can be said that upon the commencement of the 1975 summer wrestling season in the Maritimes, Leo’s career seemed to move to another level.

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