A lot of people wonder why am I so passionate about fighting for the little guy and exposing government corruption. Well … here is a Christmas tale.
Long ago in my past, I had the crazy idea that along with my much more talented friend, Dave Pinsky who was at the time a theatrical agent, we would run a wrestling promotion built around homegrown Canadian stars. I had been encouraged to do so by George “Crybaby” Cannon, who had operated a wrestling promotion from Windsor to Newfoundland in his career and forced Vince McMahon to buy his trademark “Superstars of Wrestling” for $100,000 in the early 80’s.
Unfortunately, in 1989-1990 the wrestling business was regulated in Manitoba by a sociopathic old amateur boxer who had weaseled his way onto the (professional) Boxing and Wrestling Commission and been elevated to Chair, one Buck Matiowski.
After hearing about our start-up plan for a card at Weston Community Centre in January of 1990, Buck called the hall threatening them with legal consequences.
Dave phoned Matiowski asking why, and was told I had not been licensed for my promotional tour the previous March. Dave knew was a blatant lie as he helped me organize that tour and made his wrestling debut on it.
Supposedly I faced a “lifetime suspension” for not having permits before distributing posters for the Weston show …which had never been an issue for promoters like Bob Holliday, Tony Condello, Ernie Rheault, or anyone else including me, ever before. Then mysterious documents from the MBWC were mailed to Dave including a copy of the official Act altered with white-out. Typed over the white-out was a new performance bond fee amount, and a supposed regulation for a $10,000 line of credit and 3 references.
None of which were the rules 9 months earlier when I operated Can-Am Wrestling tour on 3 Reserves.
[Editor’s note: The day after I wrote this, I just recalled the chronology:
I ran the 3 show tour in March of 1989 and miraculously did not lose money on it.
I returned from a west coast wrestling trip and filmed a TV pilot that September for the St Claude high school grad fund. )
This got a mention in the Winnipeg Free Press in October about the promotion starting-up.
I edited the footage on Nov. 11th, Remembrance Day.
In December, Dave used the tape to book Weston…. THAT’S when the rules suddenly changed.]
I went to the Legislative Building and found Opposition leader Gary Doer. He later became Canadian Ambassador to the United States.
He looked at the documents and told me to check them against the official files in the House library. I returned and showed the future Premier of Manitoba the “Gazette” version had the legal bond at $500 and the white-out concealed I was being charged double. I also discovered there was no “Regulation 26” on file.
I concluded the Chief Commissioner was retaliating for my forcing him to refund my bond immediately after that previous tour (that way Matiowski had no control over me). He bitched about it to at least one other promoter who was his pal, wanting him to cause trouble for me. Now Buck was doing his own dirty work.
I started digging into Matiowski and quickly learned that on December 15, 1989, Matiowski allowed 7 boxers – a rank amateur Larry Morrissette, novice Sunny Pubaya and a legally blind Byron Prince among them – to compete without proper medical tests. He also suspended Karl Skripal for declining to fight after getting a head wound at work.
I freelanced a story to the Winnipeg Sun about Karl, and in April Mike Beauregard of MTN-TV ran a multi-part expose about the card in which the humiliated Commissioner admitted “it was a fiasco, I admit that”.
So now I had proof that Matiowski was not only screwing with the wrestling business, but he was so focused on having a fiefdom to rule he allowed boxing cards to take place without doctors clearing the fighters – criminal negligence.
To up the ante I took the Commission to court in July of 1990 asking for a refund of the fees I paid in 1989. All of the comments and responses from their blowhard legal beagle, Charlie Phelan, rang untrue. He even claimed I was “a threat to the public interest”, which confirmed I was on to something that could land Matiowski in trouble.
I took a return trip in September of 1990 to follow up on my previous TV appearances in Kansas City and publicize Steve Ray as a new up and coming headliner. Promoter Bob Geigel, a former president of the National Wrestling Alliance, pulled me aside at a show in Leavenworth.
He told me word was I was blackballed and no promoter in Canada could use me without getting hassled.
I knew full well who was in his ear – the same person who was in Buck’s ear, and not coincidentally, a resident of Weston.
I told him about the altered government documents. Shocked, Geigel related that in the USA, people go to jail for it. He had no problem with me.
I enlisted the promoter who broke me in, Walter Shefchyk, to set up Buck Matiowski once and for all. Because when I had reviewed the Act, I discovered what lawyer Phelan surely also knew, and didn’t want revealed. Fraud.
The original Act also specified that the 3% gate fee had been decreased to 1% in 1979.
Although proposed to be raised in 1982, the tax was not legally upped to 3% until Oct. 4, 1988, under the signature of, you guessed it, Buck Matiowski.
So Buck Matiowski had knowingly ripped off the AWA (or more specifically the local AWA promotion headed by Global TV executive Don Brinton) during the Hulk Hogan boom, for over $70,000.
As well as ripping off Walter, Tony Condello, and anyone else who ran wrestling promotions in Manitoba between 1979 and 1988.
In 1989 the Commission had a surplus of $100,000.
Off our sweat. Our blood. Our work. Illegally collected.
Those excess dollars were then used to subsidize supervision of Boxing, which could never hope to pay its own way. Commissioners acted like feudal lords, flying to boxing conferences to hobnob with the likes of Don King and other commissions, with wrestling paying for it.
As part of the set-up, Walter submitted a performance bond cheque for $500 and ran a November 10th bar show I wrestled on. On December 7/90 his cheque was returned. A letter signed by the unfortunately named Commission member Bill Crook said “we regret to inform you that we intend to lay charges” based on that show. Hypothetically everyone there, including bystanders like fans, other wrestlers, and even reporters, could be charged with participating in an illegal “prizefight”.
That is how Commissions controlled the wrestling business before the internet leveled the playing field so crooks like Buck could be exposed swiftly.
Rather than encourage competition between promotions that would provide enjoyment for the fans and more opportunities for the aspiring Canadian talents (ie Eddie Watts, Chi Chi Cruz, Brian Jewel, Stan Saxon) new promotions were shut down, by any means necessary.
To make things worse, Bill Crook was quoted in the Winnipeg Sun in a Dec. 11 story, saying that the Commission was going to get a legal opinion.
Except his letter 4 days earlier said they were going to prosecute.
Who needs due process when you can just smear someone in the daily paper, right?
Walter rang me up first thing the morning the Sun story ran. I had known him since 1980 and never had he been so angered. He picked me up and we were in the office of the Deputy Attorney-General at 8.30 AM. Walter demanded we be arrested on the spot.
Seriously, we stuck our wrists out and insisted on being arrested. The Deputy Minister stopped laughing when we produced the Crook letter to compare with what he told the Sun in the article.
Not only was the Commission discussing Walter’s business with the press, but it appeared that they had made a decision and the legal opinion was a formality. “Kremlin” and “Communist Russia” were mentioned.
Glen Dawkins of the Winnipeg Sun called to get the other side. I produced letters I sent to Sports Minister Jim Ernst in February 1990, right after I broke the Skripal suspension story, asking the hard questions. Ernst had ignored me.
I had then sent a letter to Premier Gary Filmon. He ignored me too.
The evidence of altered regulations, double standards, and violation of due process for all to see in the Winnipeg Sun, had backfired right onto Gary Filmon’s lap. With the provincial government’s commitment to developing Manitoba businesses, they had an optics problem and had to do something.
The Sun had a blazing banner on the front page Dec. 21, 1990. “Ernst calls in auditor in boxing, wrestling flap.”
The story,”MBWC Mismanagement?” quoted Ernst as saying “I gave the Provincial Auditor the letter (to Premier Filmon) and said investigate”.
Paydirt. An audit was ordered into Bucky boy.
On December 24th, I got out of my taxi at 6 AM to get a paper, and got the best present ever.
Dawkins reported on MY side of the story, after a year of being mocked, disrespected, railroaded, rooked and goofed on. I blasted Jim Ernst for ignoring the attempted extortion for 8 months, and called for the Justice Minister to investigate the whole deal, including the boxer safety issues.
“They pile lie on top of lie to cover things up… if Buck Matiowski and Charles Phelan are the ones who will be drafting this new Act, it’s a waste of time to publish it”, I said.
It was Chrismas Eve, and I got the gift of credibility.
On Christmas Day, I got another gift, when minutes after I got home from my taxi shift, the phone rang.
“Is this Martin Price?”.
Well, it was and it wasn’t, since I had not used that wrestling handle for 2 years, so obviously this person did not know me.
I said who’s this, and without any introduction was quickly accused of “killing the business”, “exposing the business”, “causing trouble for everyone”, and being “wet behind the ears”, even though I had been around wrestling for over 10 years.
“And Merry Christmas to you, Bulldog!” I interjected.
I started laughing out loud at the thought that the “legendary” wrestling star Bulldog Bob Brown had nothing better to do on Christmas Day at his family home in Weston, than call me out of the blue.
“Your type,” he seethed, “has no place in the business. Everyone knows you take the Commissioner out for coffee and have a talk and things get settled.”
“Why would I take a government official out for coffee after he used white-out to try to rip me off, Bob?”
“Well, that’s the way things are done, you have a little talk and everyone gets on the same page.”
“Oh, I get it. How much do Commissioners expect in the brown envelope with their coffee, Bob? I’ll be sure to tell the Auditor.”
BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER.
When I finally met his nephew Kerry Brown about 10 months afterwards, he told me Bob was purple with rage when he hung up the phone, and congratulated me for “standing up to that old bastard”.
(The audit released in 1991 confirmed all the irregularities and a few new ones, and by October 1996 Commission regulation of wrestling in Manitoba was abolished and Buck Matiowski moved to Kenora, Ontario. It wasn’t his last attempt to bully me, a story for another Christmas perhaps.)
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY CHANUKAH TO ALL !