Layton, billed at 6'6 was to be matched against another huge guy, the man billed as the 'Ozark Giant' (then area resident) the 6'8 Sky Hi Lee. The 'Lord' was an immediate hit, with 11,000 fans showing up to see the battle of the giants. Layton proved to be a formidable challenger for the larger Lee winning his debut by making Lee submit to a leg crab.
He was without his valet Gerald who had accompanied him in the previous weeks as Layton was introduced to the scene with bouts in Hamilton and Niagara Falls. He was brought in as a star and main-evented around the area from the start, portrayed as an English Nobleman, impeccably dressed right from the start in a suit or tuxedo type. He had the gift of gab too right from the start showing his English 'aristocracy' and quick witted in his steady voice.
His debut in Niagara Falls a few days previous to the MLG card had the reporter saying that Layton had "one of the most impressive debuts a grappler has ever made here" after downing Lee Henning.
Originally a heel, he was set to work towards Whipper Watson and his British Empire Title. After being matched against fellow heel Fred Atkins in Feb 1951 Layton announced he was looking for a bout with the popular champ. A subsequent bout vs the #2 favorite in the city Yukon Eric saw Layton surprisingly getting cheered by the crowd (Eric had just matched against Whipper). A rough bout with the Masked Marvel and his manager Mayes McLain saw the fans attack Mclain and further endeared Layton to the fans.
|With Atkins 1952|
As was more common in those days he would face a mixture of fan favorites and heels alike. A Sept 1951 bout against tough Mike Sharpe was said to be an elimination bout for Whipper's B-E Title. Layton would earn a bout with Whipper the following month and the two would go to a 44 minute draw when curfew was called. The rematch saw Layton with a rare loss after he attacked the refs 'Bunny' Dunlop and Bert Maxwell and got disqualified.
A subsequent re-match saw Layton appear to get the win after guest ref Teddy Thomas (a Niagara Falls/Buffalo area ref) awarded the win to Layton only to see Maxwell reverse the decision. Whipper's leg had been on the ropes during a pin and Thomas had counted the champ down. Maxwell ordered the show to go on and Whipper promptly pinned Layton.
Layton and Whipper would even be pictured together at a charity event with the caption 'Buddies yes, but only for charity.'
Layton would also see success up the road in Montreal with a big bout against Yvon Robert and alas, a team with Whipper himself.
In Toronto bouts vs fan favorites and heels alike continued with match-ups against newcomer Bobo Brazil and the hated Hans Hermann, He would team also with George 'Zebra Kid' Bollas, as well as frequent opponent Fred Atkins, for bouts with Whipper and assorted partners.
By now a regular here on the weekly cards through 1953 he would match up with Lord James Blears to create a royal tag team. They would have an extended feud with the tough Texans 'Dirty' Dick Raines and Lou Plummer. The two 'Lords' would meet their match against the superstar team of Watson and Robert but still earn a draw with the two icons of Canadian wrestling. As a team Layton and Blears would be accompanied by their 'gentleman’s gentleman' Captain Holmes and were pictured in the paper holding a trophy, said to be the Pacific Tag Title.
In Niagara Falls in October 1953 he would vie for the World Title (Montreal version) against 'Killer' Kowalski and go to a 60 minute draw with the well-conditioned champ. A month later he would get the chance to face NWA champ Lou Thesz at the Gardens. Layton opined that the date coincided with Guy Fawkes Day in Britain and was a good omen for him. He ended up giving the bout via dq
Up in Montreal he would team with another giant Don Leo Jonathon to again test Whipper and Robert with a wild bout that ended in a no contest.
The tide was turning and Layton would soon be cheered faithfully by the fans as he started to team with fan favorites. In Niagara Falls he teamed up with long-time foe Sky Hi Lee to take on the hated Mills Brothers and a week later he was back battling him at MLG. In more bouts vs the Mills and the equally hated Kalmikoff brothers with partners Bill McDaniel and Prince Maiava he was settling into the fan favorite role.
A bout in Apr 1955 vs Argentina Rocca saw Layton get a cheer when he got Rocca in a headlock and dragged him over to the ropes for a photog to catch a picture. At the end of the bout with Rocca won by count-out, Layton returned to the ring and shook hands with his opponent getting another rousing cheer from the audience.
In Mid 1955 he teamed with Whipper in London to take on the Dusek brothers. Years later he would admit he was relieved to be on the good side of the fence as his kids would get trouble at school from the other kids, many of them members of Whipper's 'Safety Club.'
His friendship with Watson would continue for many years both in the ring and outside as they both worked hard to make others lives better, especially children and those with disabilities.
|vs Kiniski 1961|
He would also start serving as a special referee, his size and fairness deemed worthy to settle a heated feud. He was appointed in '55 for a Whipper Watson/Yukon Eric vs Karl Von Schober/Fritz Von Erich bout and would ref many bout over the next decades up to and including a 1976 bout of Andre The Giant vs Angelo Mosca.
Layton had officiated a tag bout with Whipper and Rocca vs the Kalmikoffs which led into he and Whipper teaming up at MLG vs the Russians in an all in tag bout, said to have planned their tactics while fishing at Lake Simcoe.
In 1959 he found time between battling Yukon Eric to referee an amateur bout featuring his young son John and present the trophies to the winners.
In 1961 he was hosting the TV show and gained more respect as an adept interviewer. A 1961 show earned raves on the TV page in the Star saying ''Better by far than the actual matches on the Saturday afternoon wrestling show are the interviews between Lord Athol Layton and the wrestlers. Last week, at one point, he took on all three Kalmikoffs, and later he matched words and threatening gestures with a ruffian newcomer. I'm waiting for Layton to take over the commercials." he would continue into the mid 1970's as a commentator on TV.
He would continue to wrestle regularly and saw some big main events throughout the 1960's, some vs familiar opponents like Kiniski, and testing newcomers in the early '60's such as Bulldog Brower and Taro Sakuro. A special referee assignment in 1964 saw him handcuffed to Atkins for a Whipper-Professor Hiro bout to stop Atkins from interfering on behalf of his charge Hiro. He and Whipper would also team regularly throughout the decade.
|Chopping The Sheik 1969|
In 1970 the 20 year veteran would interfere in a Sheik-Dewey Robertson bout and get his turn with the newest star on the scene. A huge crowd of 15,000 would see Layton batter Sheik with his judo chops before the bout even started. After 5 minutes of that Layton accidently floored ref George Kanelis who disqualified both wrestlers once he recovered. Layton had also floored Mike Loren and Jos Leduc who had rushed the ring with Mighty igor putting the squeeze on Layton to subdue the angry giant.
They would get a re-match and another with Kiniski as special referee for both and go on to a long feud that carried over through 1974.
His last main event at the Gardens was in April 1975 teamed with Mighty Igor against Abdullah The Butcher and Waldo Von Erich. He main evented in Oshawa a few months later as his career wound down. His last bout at MLG was in July 1977 teamed with veteran Lou Klein against the Kelly Twins. The guest referee shot for Andre-Mosca in Dec 1976 was his last in ring appearance here.
I asked MLG photog and writer for his memories of Layton
'The time was perhaps 65 years ago, Toronto's MLG was a hotbed of big time pro wrestling, the matches were held most Thursday evenings. Whipper Watson had been in the ring numerous times with the young English wrestler Lord Athol Layton, at stake was Whipper's coveted British Empire wrestling title. This very young fan of The Whipper remembers standing outside of The Gardens at the northwest corner of Church and Carlton, there was a large circle of fans trying to catch Laytons attention, for an autograph, and to ask whether he thought he would topple Watson in any future encounters. Layton was very gracious with his audience, and his response was a simple 'what does one have to do to in order to beat The Whipper in Toronto?'
'On another occasion many years later, this reporter was in the dressing room area on the west side of the Gardens, I almost bumped into both Bulldog Brower and Athol Layton, they had wrestled as team partners a short time earlier, and Layton was applying oil to Brower's back, I mentioned to them both that their earlier tag match was a good one, they both had big grins on their faces, it was a very nice chance meeting.'
|Old friends re-united|
'On yet another occasion I was covering a heavyweight boxing match at the Gardens, the main event featured George Chuvalo vs the then ranked world title contender Ernie 'The Octopus' Terrell. It is a practise to introduce a number of personalities and fighters that are in attendance to the audience. After perhaps ten personalities were in the ring, the Announcer called in Maple Leaf Gardens wrestling great Lord Athol Layton who entered the ring to a very receptive audience. His lordship walked around the ring, arms extended, and with a very big smile on his face, the crowd loved to see him, and it was very obvious that Layton was pleased to be in the ring. This reporter was able to capture a photo of this wonderful moment, it is displayed on my wrestling wall were I often view that photo, and many others as well.'
In later years he continued his role as an ambassador for many causes. He had sat on the Ontario Advisory Council on the Physically Handicapped, worked with the Ontario Society for Crippled Children, was on the board of directors for the St Albans Boys and Girls Club, and had been an Imperial Potentate of the Ramses Shrine Temple. In July 1983 he received the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship from then Lieutenant Governor John Aird.
He was working as head of public relations for Bacardi Rum when he died suddenly at the age of 63 in Jan 1984.
Thanks to Roger Baker!