William Potts

William Potts

Name: William Potts
Year Inducted: 2015

Whipper Billy Watson

In the words of Toronto promoter Frank Tunney, Whipper Billy Watson had a dignity to him even when being strangled. The Whip was an honest, capable, law-abiding hero above all. Watson is easily the biggest name in Canadian pro wrestling history, and to his eternal credit, his name is associated with far more than pro wrestling.

Watson was a tireless fundraiser for charities, both during and after his in-ring career. He didn’t just lend his name to a cause, however, he threw himself into it, learning all that he could. When he had his own accident in 1971 that ended his wrestling career and left him requiring a cane, his perspective changed and he contributed even more to charity.

Watson was born William Potts in East York, Ontario, on July 25, 1917. His father was killed in France near the end of World War I and he was raised by his mother and step-father. At 13, he found the father figure that he had been looking for in Phil Lawson, a trainer at the YMCA. Lawson taught him amateur wrestling and was instrumental in getting him booked in 1936 to wrestle in England, where lighter-weight wrestlers were appreciated.

At 19 and weighing 190 pounds, Watson boarded a cattle ship bound for the United Kingdom, and eventually made it to London. The promoter there didn’t think that William Potts was going to fly in the ring, so he named him Billy Watson. The nickname Whipper came from the newspapers, adopted from his use of “The Whip” in the ring, where he throw an opponent over his head.

In July 1940, Watson escaped wartime England, the convoy of passenger ships escorted to Halifax by British warships. Watson had sent a promotional package to Toronto ring boss Tunney, but when he showed up, he learned that Tunney hadn’t bothered to pick it up. Watson was offered opening spots on the cards. It was an odd beginning to what was to become a very profitable 30-year relationship.

As a main eventer at Maple Leaf Gardens, Watson fought all of the top names and his favorite hold was the Canuck Commando Unconscious, a variation on the sleeper hold. He held the NWA World title on two occasions—beating Wild Bill Longson in February 1947, and losing to Lou Thesz two months later, and again in March 1956, beating and losing to Thesz.

“He was a very methodical wrestler and he was a god in Canada,” said Lord James Blears. “He didn’t have a real flashy style ... but he was a good, basic wrestler. Tough. He was the King of Toronto.”

But his reach was greater than that. He had his own line of barbell equipment and soda pop. His Whipper’s Safety Club boasted 50,000 members in Canada and the United States and he was in demand as a speaker. In 1974, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada for his charitable works and there is a school and a pool named in his honor north of Toronto.

Whipper Billy Watson died of a heart attack while in Florida on February 4, 1990. “He was a great, great asset to the world of professional sports,” said frequent foe Gene Kiniski. “He was known worldwide, and of course his name Whipper Billy Watson was synonymous with wrestling in Canada.”

-GREG OLIVER

 

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