Antonino Rocca aka Argentina Rocca was a huge star in the 1950's and would make quite a few stops in the Toronto area between 1954 and 1962.
After bouts in Niagara Falls Rocca made his first appearance at Maple Leaf Gardens in February 1955.
He would join a short list of stars post 1940's to make his Toronto debut in a main event, taking on Toronto's hero Whipper Watson.
Over 13,000 fans turned out to see Rocca and Watson go at it for over 40 minutes before curfew ended the bout.
The inimitable Joe Perlove noted in the next day recap that they changed 'rassling to wrestling' and that the fans 'saw more wrestling in the 40 minutes and 48 seconds the match lasted than they've seen in the last 3,207 tag team matches combined'.
He added that during the bout Frank Tunney had to telephone Lou Thesz 'for some new holds'. Quite a review for two that don't seem to get their due for 'wrestling'
The two would meet in a highly touted re-match a week later in front of 9,000 spectators.
The re-match goes over 35 minutes and ends when Rocca tries a leap frog over a charging Watson only to not clear the Whip and take a shoulder to the groin.
Ref Bert Maxwell, noting Rocca unable to get back up would raise Watson's hand. Watson, ever the sportsman refuses the win based on the low blow and the bout officially ends as a count-out win for Watson.
A re-match is touted but Rocca would first face Lord Layton in a notable bout in April.
He managed to perform his noted leaps and lands on Layton's shoulders, quite a feat vs the 6'5 Layton, and wins via count-out.
A re-match with Watson occurs in May and a rougher bout sees Watson get the win by pinfall (disputed of course),
Rocca would stay on for more bouts including tags with Whipper and later with strongman Doug Hepburn to take on the Kalmikoff Brothers.
In Aug 1955 Rocca and Watson would beat the Kalmikoffs to capture the George Richards Tag Trophy.
The title lineage gets a bit confused as Rocca still appears but in December after he and Whipper lost a non title bout vs Fritz Von Erich and Karl Von Schober it was explained that since Rocca
was busy elsewhere he had given up his share of the silverware and Whipper had taken on new partner Yukon Eric.
Rocca would return in 1958 to MLG and appear in a couple of high profile bouts vs Edouard Carpentier and then Gene Kiniski.
In 1962 after a prolonged absence Rocca returned to Toronto to face former NWA champ Lou Thesz.
Photographer Roger Baker saw Rocca during these visits and recalls for us
Rocca was an amazing athlete, he could do a running leap say from six or seven feet, and land atop his opponents shoulders, he would then ride his opponent all the
while twisting him for a better view from the audience, he would often finish his opponent off by draping him in his own form of a bouncing back breaker.
I remember one Thursday night at The Gardens, Rocca had beaten his opponent, and was basking in the adulation of several thousand vocal fans who were in awe of Rocca's acrobatic prowess as well as his wrestling skills.
As a reward for the fans affording Rocca such appreciation for his in ring performance, he then proceeded to do dozens upon dozens of one armed pushups in the ring, when he finally exited the ring, he bowed to the crowd, and waved goodbye, his audience was highly impressed with Rocca's unexpected, but most appreciated post bout performance.
The bout drawing 5000 fans went on before the semi of Bruno Sammartino vs Bob Stanlee.
Tunney said it was done to ensure the fans were not fretting about the late hour and would leave before the bout. 'A switch used for cards in New York' he added.
It may have been because Bruno was becoming very popular here after his series vs Buddy Rogers in the cards previous to this one.
All the same Bruno took out Stanlee with a bearhug after just 4 minutes to end the night.
Steve York in his recap the next day said fans were disappointed in the finish, hoping to see Rocca win over Thesz.
At the 19 minute mark Rocca was initiating the rolling move Roger described above when they both bumped their heads off the mat and remained on their backs as ref Joe Gollob counted them both out.
Thesz who was between NWA Title reigns would return in Jan 1963 to defeat Buddy Rogers and regain the title in this very same ring.
Rocca however, would be making his last appearance at MLG. He was advertised for a card in 1971 but didn't appear.
Roger Baker covered Rocca during a comeback attempt in 1968 and took photos of him in Buffalo. He sent me over a story from The Wrestler that used those photos.
The story included Rocca's often stated claims of 'I'll live to be 150 years old' and 'I'll still be wrestling when I'm 75'.
His obituary contained those claims when published just 9 years later when Rocca passed on at the age of 49.
Thanks to Roger Baker for his photos and memories of Mr Rocca
62/09/20 Att: 5,000
Bruno Sammartino W Bob Stanlee 4:14
Lou Thesz DCNC Argentina Rocca 19:44
Sweet Daddy Siki W Ray Gordon 21:04
Taro Sakuro W Timothy Geohagen 16:04
Enrique Torres W Angelo Savoldi 7:33
Stan Stasiak D Tony Marino 20:00
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