Gene Kiniski

He often referred to himself as Canada’s greatest athlete, and he had the background to support the claim. A former football great, he went on to become a champion on three continents.

Gene Kiniski
Real Name: Gene Kiniski
Stats: 6′ 4″ 265 lbs.
Born: 1925
By Steve Slagle

Gene Kiniski, the 6’4 260 lb. multi-time World Champion, often referred to himself during his entertaining interviews as “Canada’s Greatest Athlete”. Although some may dispute his bold claim, there is more than enough proof to argue that the rugged Kiniski was not speaking totally tongue-in-cheek. A quick glance at the facts, and one might come to the conclusion that not only was Kiniski Canada’s Greatest Athlete, but perhaps he was also one of the greatest wrestling champions ever… He was born in Edmonton, Alberta and began his professional sports career not as a wrestler, but as a football player for the C.F.L.’s Edmonton Eskimos until a knee injury forced his early retirement in 1953. Although he was quite famous in sports circles because of his CFL career, when Kiniski started in the pro wrestling ranks he used the name Gene Kelly. As Gene Kelly, he won the Texas Tag Team title in 1956, and later the Texas Heavyweight championship. By 1957 he was still winning (two A.W.A. Canadian World Tag Team titles), but now he was using his real name. Not that it mattered — titles came to the big and tough Canadian no matter what name he used! And despite his size and rugged approach to the sport, Kiniski knew the importance of wrestling skill to a successful champion. He resigned himself to becoming a proficient technical wrestler early in his career. It paid off later for him — in World Championship gold…

Included among Kiniski’s dozens of championship achievements are the British Commonwealth championship, 3 N.W.A. World (San Francisco version) Tag Team titles in 1955, 3 British Empire championships between 1959-1963, the N.W.A. World Tag team championship in 1960, 2 A.W.A. World Tag Team titles, 2 Hawaiian Heavyweight titles, 9 N.W.A. Canadian Tag Team titles between 1963-1976, the Asian Tag Team title in 1964 (w/Cyclone Negro) and the U.S. Tag Team title also in 1964 (w/Fritz Von Erich) to name a few. On July 7, 1961 Kiniski defeated Verne Gagne in St. Paul, MN. for the American Wrestling Association (A.W.A.) World Heavyweight title. His reign lasted only a little over a month before he lost the championship back to Gagne. The ambitious Kiniski was determined not to let that be his first and only World Title. It wasn’t…
On August 21, 1965 “Big Thunder” Gene Kiniski defeated Dick the Bruiser to win the World Wrestling Association (W.W.A.) World Heavyweight title. The Midwest-based promotion was one of the most successful of the day, and with the addition of the WWA title to his resume, Kiniski was without a doubt one of the Top 10 stars of the 1960’s. Even so, for Kiniski, there were still more goals to achieve… Like on January 7, 1966 when Kiniski accomplished the highlight of his career…winning the most prestigious wrestling title in the world, the National Wrestling Alliance (N.W.A.) World Heavyweight championship. On that cold January day, not only did Kiniski win the World title, he defeated the greatest wrestling champion the sport had ever known at the time (and perhaps of all time) to win the championship — the legendary Lou Thesz. It was a sign of things to come… Kiniski would go on to hold the N.W.A. World Championship for 3 years, taking on and defeating the best wrestlers of the day. He was not always loved by the fans, though…in fact, he was very much hated throughout most of his career. But whether the fans loved or hated him, everyone respected him as a wrestler and champion. There was no doubt about it…Gene Kiniski was one of the toughest, meanest, and best wrestlers of his era, and everyone knew it… But even the best go down in defeat eventually, and Kiniski was no exception. He was defeated by another all-time great, Dory Funk, Jr. On February 11, 1969 in Tampa, FL. the talented young Texan forced Kiniski to submit to the trademark Funk Spinning ToeHold. It was humiliating for the proud Kiniski to end his 3-year reign by submission…but there were still more championships in “Big Thunder’s” future. However, his association with the World championship was forever ended that night against Funk…

Kiniski would rebound to win the N.W.A. Pacific Coast (Vancouver) Heavyweight championship in 1970 — his first of seven Pac-Coast title reigns. In 1973 he won the Missouri Heavyweight title, one of the N.W.A.’s most prestigious regional titles. But in 1979, he won and lost his final Pacific Coast championship. Not much later, Kiniski retired after a stellar career. He is still involved in pro wrestling in a limited capacity, though, and he even participated in a match as recently as the first W.C.W. Slamboree (1993) in Atlanta, GA., serving as (ironically) Dory Funk Jr’s “ring man” during Funk’s “N.W.A. vs. A.W.A.” legends match with Nick Bockwinkle. The Ring Chronicle is honored to induct Canada’s Greatest Athlete, “Big Thunder” Gene Kiniski into T.R.C.’s Hall of Fame…

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