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The Leo Burke Chronicles: 1975-1979

by on June 17, 2011

In early 1975 Leo Burke wrestled as Tommy Martin in the St. Louis and Central States territories. He wrestled in tag matches against Rock Riddle and Rene Goulet and had singles matches in St. Louis with Bobby Jaggers, Jumbo Tsuruta and Terry Funk. On April 4, 1975 Leo teamed with Ronnie Etchison against Ed Wiskowski and Chuck O`Connor, who went on to work as Col. Debeers and Big John Studd respectively.

The Maritime wrestling scene in the summer of 1975 was home to many long-time area workers such as Bulldog Bob Brown, Killer Karl Krupp, Johnny Weaver, The Beast and Mike Dubois. New faces in the territory included Alfred Hayes and a 21-year-old Roddy Piper. Leo had matches against Brown, Krupp, Dubois and Hayes and also teamed with Piper, Beast and Weaver.

After a phantom title switch (wrestling talk for “the wrestling promoters made this up”) with Bolo Mongol in Detroit, Leo was North American Champion when the 1975 Maritime season began until dropping the title to Brown in July. Brown and the Patriot also won the vacant International Tag Team titles with a September 29, 1975 victory over Leo Burke and Roddy Piper. Leo was also the Taped-Fist champion until dropping the title to Brown on June 24. Leo regained the title on October 4 in New Glascow, Nova Scotia. Leo closed out the season with a victory over Brown on November 15 to retain the Taped Fist title. But it is not championship reigns that set this season apart for Leo as much as the visiting wrestlers with whom he had the chance to work.

On July 1, 1975 Leo Burke defended the North American championship against Dory Funk Jr. Funk won the first fall at 31:06 with the spinning toe-hold. In the second fall Funk submitted to Leo`s abdominal stretch at 12:10. The time limit ran out resulting in a draw. A newspaper article on the match stated that fans were convinced that Leo Burke was ready to take on the world`s best.

On August 19. 1975 Leo Burke faced wrestling legend and former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz in a 2-out-of-3 falls match in Halifax. The winner of the match would receive a North American title match against Bulldog Bob Brown. The match reportedly drew more than 5,000 fans. Thesz won the first fall at 27:33 by pinfall. Burke won the second fall when Thesz submitted to the abdominal stretch. In the third fall Thesz had Burke over his head for a backdrop when Leo got his feet on the ropes and sent himself and Thesz backward, with Burke on top and Thesz being counted out.
On September 16, 1975 Leo teamed with Andre The Giant in a 2-out-of-3 falls tag team match against Alfred Hayes and The Patriot. The show reportedly drew 4, 400 fans to see Andre win the first fall over Hayes, Patriot win the second fall over Burke and Burke win the third fall over Hayes to win the match.

In what would seem to be the biggest match of his career to that point, Leo Burke faced NWA World Heavyweight Champion Jack Brisco at the Halifax Forum on October 28, 1975 with the NWA title on the line. The match reportedly drew 3, 307 fans to see the match go to a time limit draw. Leo took the only fall of the match when Brisco submitted to an abdominal stretch at 34:45. Brisco and Burke apparently went through a series of near-falls leading up to Leo again putting Brisco in an abdominal stretch with a minute left in the match. The match ended with Brisco still in the abdominal stretch and Leo seemingly thinking he had won the match and the title when the time limit expired. The referee informed the crowd that the title can only change hands when the champion has lost two falls.

Leo then returned to the Amarillo territory and on February 20, 1976 he and The Beast won the vacant Western States Tag Team Titles. The brothers defeated Ricky Romero and the Silver Streak in a tournament final. Romero and Streak then defeated Burke and Beast for the titles on February 27. Leo also worked in matches against Lord Al Hayes and Reggie Parks and faced Western States Champion Scott Casey on March 2. Leo also reportedly worked a non-title match in the territory with newly crowned NWA World Heavyweight Champion Terry Funk that involved interference from both Dory Funk Jr and The Beast.

Back in the Martimes, Leo faced Dory Funk Jr. on April 20 and May 1 and again on May 4, 1976 in a one-fall match at the Halifax Forum that was billed as a grudge match. On August 24, 1976 Leo defeated The Stomper Archie Gouldie at 25:11 in Halifax in order to earn an elimination match against the Brute with the winner facing the NWA champion. On August 31, 1976 Leo defeated The Brute in Halifax to earn his next world title match. NWA World Heavyweight Champion Terry Funk then did a tour of the territory, defending the title against Leo on September 4 in New Glascow, Nova Scotia, September 7 in Halifax and in a third defence against Leo on September 8. The Halifax match-up reportedly drew 4,000 fans. Terry apparently threw Leo over the top rope for the disqualification at 56:35 in order to retain his title. One fan who was in attendance reported that Terry blew his nose onto a fan in the crowd. Records indicate that Funk won the third title defence over Leo. Also of note is that an edited version of the non-title match from Texas was aired in the Maritimes in order to build up this tour, with the Funks being presented as heels and Leo and the Beast as babyfaces even though the roles would have been reversed when the match aired in Amarillo, Texas.

During the 1976 season in the Maritimes Leo won the newly created Maritimes Heavyweight Championship with a victory over The Brute on August 13, 1976. On August 17 Leo successfully defended the title against The Brute in front of a crowd of 4,008 in Halifax. Leo won the North American title from The Brute in September 1976 and went on to successfully defend the title against Brute in a cage match in Halifax on September 28, 1976. Leo lost the North American title to Michel Dubois on October 5, 1976.

Leo participated in his first tour of Japan in November and December of 1976 working for All Japan Pro Wrestling. Results are available for nine matches he had teaming against Giant Baba. Leo’s tag team partners included Dick Murdoch, Abdullah The Butcher, Killer Karl Kox (as The Spirit), Billy Robinson and Christ Taylor. Leo’s opponents included Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, Akihisa Takachito (Great Kabuki), The Destroyer and The Great Kojika.

In January 1977 Leo was working in the Calgary territory and in February 1977 he won his first championship in that territory. Leo Burke and Keith Hart teamed to defeat The Cuban Assassins on television in a non-title match. After the match Stu Hart ordered a title match between the two teams. On February 18, 1976 Leo Burke and Keith Hart became the Stampede Wrestling International Tag Team Champions with a victory over The Cuban Assassins. They remained champions until April 6, 1976 when they lost the titles to Jonathan Boyd and Norman Frederick Charles III, listed as The Royal Kangaroos.

In April of 1977 the summer season began in the Martimes. The territory had previously been promoted as Eastern Sports Association by Al Zinck and Rudy Kay. In 1977 there was a split with Leo’s brother Bobby Kay promoting Trans-Canada Wrestling and Zinck promoting International Wrestling. Leo and his brothers worked with Trans-Canada Wrestling and wrestled opponents such as Big John Quinn, Frenchy Martin, Gilles Poisson, Al Costello and the Masked Mauler. Leo won the North American title from Frenchy Martin on July 15, 1977. Leo won the title at 17:40 with a Boston Crab. Leo also teamed with Hubert Gallant to win the Maritimes Tag Team Titles on June 2, 1977 prior to losing the titles to Gilles Poisson and The Masked Mauler on June 23, 1977. Trans-Canada Wrestling closed down in July of 1977.

Leo returned to Stampede in Calgary in July of 1977. Leo teamed with his brother Bobby who went by the name Bobby Burke. Leo also worked against Don Gagne (Frenchy Martin). On September 16, 1977 Leo and Bobby won the International Tag titles. The results list the match as being against Kasavabu and Norman Frederick Charles III. Leo and Bobby lost the tag titles to Mr. Hito and Michael Martel on December 10, 1977 in Edmonton, Alberta. On October 7, 1977 Don Gagne won the vacant North American championship in a 10-man tournament final over Bobby Burke. Leo worked in tag matches with his brothers Bobby and the Beast throughout the rest of 1977 and in matches against Gagne.

On January 6, 1978 Leo won his first Stampede North American Heavyweight Championship when he defeated Don Gagne in Calgary. During this title reign Leo worked matches against Gagne, including a cage match on January 6, as well as matches against Gene Kiniski, Michel Martel, Kasavabu and Kazuo Sakurada before losing the title to Michel Martel on March 12, 1978. Leo regained the title from Martel on March 24, 1978 with Martel re-gaining it on April 8, 1978. Leo then lost the title to Kazuo Sakurada on May 20, 1978 in Edmonton. Leo faced NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race in title matches on July 13, 1978 in Regina, Saskatchewan, July 14, 1978 in Calgary and July 15, 1978 in Edmonton. Race was the fourth World champion to have title matches against Leo but this was the first time Leo received such an opportunity in the Calgary territory.

Leo travelled to New Zealand to work for the NWA territory in the area that had a television show titled “On The Mat”. Leo had matches with Les Thornton and Butch “Brute” Miller. Leo won the NWA British Commonwealth Heavyweight Championship, apparently from Mad Dog Martel in 1979 although records are not clear regarding this. Leo did say in an interview with SLAM! Wrestling in the late 90’s that “Of all my travelling I loved New Zealand a lot”. Leo vacated the title early in 1979 when he left New Zealand.

In January of 1979 Leo toured the IWE in Japan under a mask as “The Atomic.” Leo teamed with Alexis Smirnoff, wrestler Michel Lamarche from Quebec who worked in the Maritimes as Michel Dubois. Given Leo’s red mask and his association with Smirnoff, it would seem that he was working a Russian gimmick. Leo and Smirnoff had an IWE tag title match against champions Mighty Inoue and Higo Hamaguchi. Smirnoff and “Atomic” Leo also had a match against Rusher Kimura and Great Kusatsu and Leo had a singles match against Kimura who was IWE World Champion at the time.

Leo then returned to Stampede. Leo and Keith Hart won the International tag titles from Mr. Hito and Mr. Sakurada on April 6, 1979. Larry Lane and Dory Funk Jr won the titles on July 6, 1979 but Leo may not have been involved in the match as he was touring the Mid-Atlantic territory by that time. There are results listed for Leo in Mid-Atlantic in March, May, July and August of 1979. During these tours Leo worked with wrestlers such as Kim Duk, Denny Brown, Dewey Robertson, Brute Bernard, Johnny Weaver, Moose Moroswki, Les Thornton, Don Kernodle, Swede Hanson and Gene Anderson.

In May of 1979 Leo worked in the Toronto territory for Frank Tunney’s Maple Leaf Wrestling. During this tour Leo had what would appear to be his only matches with Ric Flair. On May 5 Leo and Frank Marconi teamed against Ric Flair and Greg Valentine. On May 12 Leo and John Bonello teamed against Flair and Valentine. On May 26 Leo and Silent Brian Mackney teamed against Flair and Valentine.

Leo worked in Mid-Atlantic during June and July of 1979. Results from Spartanburg, South Carolina show him teaming with wrestlers such as Don Kernodle, Pedro Morales, Jay Youngblood, Cocoa Samoa and Johnny Weaver against opponents such as Len Denton, Gene Anderson, John Studd, Kim Duk and Jacques Goulet.

In the summer of 1979 Leo returned to the Maritimes working for Emile Dupre in his promotion titled Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling. Leo worked a series of matches throughout the summer with Killer Karl Krupp who was the AGPW International Heavyweight Champion at the time. Leo also teamed with the Great Malumba in matches against Krupp and the Cuban Assassin.

Leo was back in Calgary as of October of 1979, teaming frequently with Hubert Gallant, another wrestler from New Brunswick. On December 21, 1979 Leo and Hubert Gallant lost to Dynamite Kid and Sekigawa in a tournament final for the vacant International Tag Titles. In early 1980 Leo and Gallant had matches with Bret Hart and Keith Hart as well as Cuban Assassin and Bobby Bass. Leo later teamed with Bret and Keith and had matches against Bobby Bass, Lynn Denton and David Patterson. Leo also won the North American Heavyweight title from Larry Lane during the fall of 1979, losing it to Don Gagne on November 7, 1979.

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1) Vance Nevada’s Leo Burke match history at http://www.infinitecore.ca/superstar/index.php?threadid=246
2) Title history at http://www.wrestling-titles.com/
3) Biographical history at http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingBios/burke_leo.html, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Burke
4) Maritime show posters at http://jerome-macdonald.magix.net/, and http://mapleleafwrestling.4t.com/previousupdates/maritimes.html
5) Newspaper articles at http://jerome-macdonald.magix.net/
6) Mid-Atlantic results at http://www.thehistoryofwwe.com/greensboro70s.htm, http://www.midatlanticgateway.com/resourcecenter/results/pages/results_weaver.htm, http://www.infinitecore.ca/superstar/index.php?threadid=10118&page=15, http://www.infinitecore.ca/superstar/index.php?a=mss&t=65336&f=42&page=0&code=00, http://oleanderson.com/results.htm, http://sportsandwrestling.mywowbb.com/view_topic.php?id=19344&forum_id=2&jump_to=270629, http://www.midatlanticgateway.com/resourcecenter/results/pages/results_anderson_gene.htm, and
7) J.J. Dillon interview at http://kayfabe-wrestling.com/jj_dillon.html
8) General information on Maritime wrestling at http://www.infinitecore.ca/superstar/index.php?km_km_ict=f9b39869f70216be58a32f9c5104910b&forumid=5
9) Amarillo results at http://www.infinitecore.ca/superstar/index.php?threadid=40067, and http://sportsandwrestling.mywowbb.com/forum2/9571-2.html
10) St. Louis and Central States results at http://www.infinitecore.ca/superstar/index.php?a=prnt&code=01&f=5&t=246&page=2&post=665208
11) All Japan Pro Wrestling results at http://www.puroresu.com/personalities/baba/results/baba_results1976.html
12) Information regarding Leo wrestling as The Atomic in Japan was gathered from video footage available from this tour.
13) Toronto results at http://www.infinitecore.ca/superstar/index.php?threadid=55800

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