Gene Kiniski


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Gene Kiniski
Ring name(s) Gene Kiniski[1]
Gene Kelly[1]
Real name Eugene Nicholas Kiniski
Nickname(s) "Arahōshi" (荒法師 "Wild Priest"?)
Big Thunder
Billed height 193 cm (6 ft 4 in)
Billed weight 122 kg (270 lb; 19.2 st)
Born 1928/11/23 (1928-11-23) (age 89)
Edmonton, Alberta
Died 2010/4/14 (aged 81)
Resides Blaine, Washington[1]
Shishō Dory Funk Sr.[1]
Tony Morelli[1]
Debut 1952/2/13
Retired 1992/2/25

Eugene Nicholas Kiniski, better known as Gene Kiniski, is a retired Canadian professional wrestler. He was born of Polish descent outside of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.[2][3] Kiniski was one of the first World Champions in professional wrestling to have a previous background in football, after Bronko Nagurski. His sons, Nick and Kelly, were also pro-wrestlers.


Early life

Gene wrestled and played football at St. Joseph's High School In 1947/3, he entered the annual Edmonton School’s Boxing and Wrestling Tournament at Westglen gymnasium. Due to his size, more than six feet tall in high school, and over 200 pounds, he was the lone heavyweight competing. [2][3]

Gene captured the attention of Annis Stkus, a scout for the Edmonton Eskimos, of the then Western Interprovincial Football Union in 1949. Along with Kiniski, wrestlers Al Oeming and Stu Hart were at the training camp as well. Two of his Eskimos teammates were future wrestlers Wilbur Snyder and Joe Blanchard.

Gene secured himself a spot on the defensive line and his play earned him a scholarship to the University of Arizona. [3] He was enrolled there from 1950/9/18 to 1952/1/26 and played on the defensive line for Bob Winslow. Rod Fenton recruited Kiniski into professional wrestling in Arizona in 1952. [3]

He returned to Edmonton to play football for the Eskimos too, and he suffered a torn kneecap in the team’s first game against Saskatchewan in 1952/8. Kiniski retired from football in 1953 to resume wrestling full-time.

In profesional wrestling

Early days

After retiring from football, Kiniski trained with Dory Funk Sr. and Tony Morelli for a wrestling career, eventually making his pro debut on 1952/2/13 in Tucson, Arizona, where he defeated Curly Hughes. [4] Kiniski’s first exposure on television was in Southern California in 1954 alongside other wrestlers such as Wilbur Snyder and Bobo Brazil. One year later, he teamed up with John Tolos to win his first major championship, the International TV Tag Team title, in Los Angeles, then challenged NWA World Champion Lou Thesz in 1954/11. [3] As an emerging talent, Kiniski got the opportunity to wrestle Lou Thesz at the Olympic Auditorium on 1954/11/3. Kiniski lost in two straight falls. [3]

From there, Kiniski ventured to San Francisco and teamed with Lord James Blears to win the territory's version of the NWA World Tag Team title three times in 1955.

Kiniski began wrestling in his native Canada for the first time in 1956/11, debuting for Toronto's Maple Leaf Wrestling. His first main-event match in the territory took place at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1957/1, when he teamed with Buddy Rogers against Whipper Billy Watson and Pat O'Connor and saw the beginning of a lengthy feud with Watson that spanned across Canada; the Kiniski-Watson feud gained national exposure due to their matches sometimes being seen on CBC Television. He also challenged NWA World Heavyweight champions Watson, Thesz, and Dick Hutton on several occasions between 1955 and 1957.

In 1957, Kiniski competed in Montreal and Toronto. His feuds with Whipper Billy Watson, Yukon Eric, Edouard Carpentier, and Pat O'Connor pushed his career further.[3]

World Championships

Kiniski joined the American Wrestling Association in 1960 and defeated Verne Gagne to win the AWA World Heavyweight Championship on 1961/7/11. He also captured the AWA World Tag Team Championship twice with Hard Boiled Haggerty. [3]

In 1962, Kiniski began what became the peak period of his career when he went to Vancouver to join NWA All Star Wrestling. He made Vancouver his home base while also making appearances in other promotions throughout North America and in Japan, particularly a lengthy stint in the World Wide Wrestling Federation in 1964. tory He also went to Dick the Bruiser's Indianapolis-based World Wrestling Association in 1965/12 and captured its World Heavyweight title, holding it for four months. A few weeks later, Kiniski earned the opportunity to contend for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

The pinnacle of Kiniski's career finally came on 1966/1/7, when he defeated Thesz to win the NWA World Title in St. Louis, Missouri in front of 11,612 fans at the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis. [3]

Compared to Thesz, Kiniski was a heel and was very comfortable in his role as a heel world champion. [3] As world champion, Kiniski wrestled many well-known luminaries. These included Bobo Brazil, Dick the Bruiser, Johnny Valentine, Bill Watts, Edouard Carpentier, Pat O'Connor, Dory Funk Jr., and Terry Funk.

He travelled worldwide to defend his title during his three-year reign as champion, including making frequent stops back in Vancouver to defend his title in NWA All Star, taking on challengers such as Lou Thesz, Don Leo Jonathan, Dutch Savage, Bill Dromo, Bearcat Wright, John Tolos, Chris Tolos, Abdullah the Butcher, Haystacks Calhoun, Bobby Shane, Dean Higuchi, Tex McKenzie and Paddy Barrett in the promotion.

After stops in Honolulu, Tokyo, and becoming the first World Champion to appear in Los Angeles in more than 11 years in 1968/11, Kiniski was exhausted. At the 1968 NWA Convention, Kiniski showed his frustration to the member promoters and told off the promoters, saying that they were nothing more than pimps. [2] He agreed to lose the championship to Dory Funk Jr, and eventually went down to a spinning toehold on 1969/2/11 in Tampa. [3]

Post-world championship career

The NWA World title loss was not the end of the line, however, as Kiniski continued winning championships in various territories. He was also involved in the promotional side of the business when he Rod Fenton's share in the Vancouver territory [2] and joined forces with Sandor Kovacs and Portland promoter Don Owen; that, combined with Kiniski's NWA World title reign at the time, helped make Vancouver a wrestling hotbed for several years, until Kovacs sold his share in the promotion to Al Tomko in 1977. Kiniski retained his ownership stake in NWA All Star until around 1983.

Kiniski remained involved in the sport for a few more years, teaming periodically with his sons, Kelly and Nick, refereeing the main event of the inaugural NWA Starrcade (Ric Flair vs. NWA World Champion Harley Race in a steel cage) in 1983, and later promoting events for Stampede Wrestling and the AWA in Vancouver while occasionally stepping into the ring. His final matches as an active wrestler took place in Winnipeg's West Four Wrestling Alliance on 1992/2/25, defeating Bob Brown and Randy Rudd in singles matches and teaming with Chris Jericho & Lance Storm to battle Brown, The Natural (Don Callis), & Gerry Morrow to a no-contest in a six-man match at a WFWA TV taping in Winnipeg[5]. He also seconded Dory Funk Jr. in a match against Nick Bockwinkel (with Verne Gagne) at WCW Slamboree in 1993.

Kiniski was inducted into the Tragos/Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Newton, Iowa in 2004.

In puroresu

Kiniski went to Japan for the first time in 1964 to participate in the World League. He was defeated by Toyonobori in the final. During the tour, he also teamed with Calypso Hurricane to defeat Toyonobori & Yoshimura Michiaki for the All Asia Tag Team Championship. Two weeks later, the team loses the title to Toyonobori & Giant Baba, for whom it was the first title win in Japan.

Kiniski also wrestled for JWA in 1967 during his reign as the NWA World Heavyweight Champion although he did not defend the title during the tour. The match he challanged Baba for the prestigeous NWA International Heavyweight Championship on 8/14 in Osaka ended as a sixty-minute time limit draw. This was Baba's personal favorite match in his career. Kiniski would defeat Baba to win the International Title in 1970.

Kiniski continued his friendship with Baba. He participated in All Japan's Champion Carnival in 1975 and lost to Baba in the final. His last Japanese tour as an active wrestler was in 1979/4.

He was also invited as a special guest in 1993 for Baba's memorial match for having more than 5000 bouts.

Baba passed away on 1999/1/31, and on 1999/5/2, he was again invited for Baba's "retirement match", in which the old clips with Baba, Kiniski, Bruno Sammartino, and The Destroyer were shown on the screen.

In 2000, Kiniski was brought in as a special witness for the tournament to fulfill the vacant Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship.


In addition to his sports pursuits, Kiniski went into acting on occasion, appearing in the 1978 Sylvester Stallone movie Paradise Alley, as well as Double Happiness and the made-in-Vancouver cult film Terminal City Ricochet (with former Big Valley regular Peter Breck), playing a bit role as a policeman. On the TV side, he appeared as one of the wrestling legends interviewed on The Comedy Network series Wrestling with the Past, and he served as a commercial pitchman in several TV ads aired in the Vancouver area. He also made an appearance in an episode of the CBUT arts and entertainment magazine show Zero Avenue in 1993, discussing art with host/interviewer Christine Lippa in a Vancouver-area art gallery.

Personal life

Congestive heart failure hospitalized Kiniski in early 2010, and he lost a lot of weight. The cancer which he had silently battled years before returned as well, eventually invading his brain. [2]

On 2010/4/4, Jim Ross reported on his blog that Kiniski had "taken a turn for the worse and is battling to stay alive. 'Big Thunder's' cancer has spread to his brain and some speculate that is is just a matter of time (before he dies)".[6]

Kiniski passed away on the morning of 2010/4/14 with family at his side. [2]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Gene Kiniski profile". OWOW. Retrieved 2009-08-28. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Oliver, Greg. "Gene Kiniski dead at 81". SLAM! Wrestling. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hornbaker, Tim (2007). National Wrestling Alliance - The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling. ECW Press. p. 211-212. ISBN 1-55022-741-6. 
  4. ^ Nevada, Vance. "Gene Kiniski career record". 
  5. ^ Nevada, Vance. "Vance Nevada's Canadian Wrestling Results Archive (site no longer available)". 
  6. ^ Pro Wrestling Torch: Other News: Wrestling legend Gene Kiniski battling to stay alive

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