The Pioneers is a new on-going series looking at some of the earliest pioneers of professional wrestling as we know it, from the wrestlers to promoters to trainers who helped shape professional wrestling around the world. Today we look at Jack Taylor.
Canada has long been a part of pro wrestling’s historical narrative. Much like its people, Canada’s infusion into pro wrestling is often politely understated, but its provided a rich pantheon of characters and promotions into the industry’s long history, from early stars like Whipper Billy Watson and Gene Kiniski, to Killer Kowalski and Abdullah the Butcher, Bret “Hitman” Hart to Chris Jericho, and even today with the likes of Kenny Omega, Kevin Owens, Taya Valkyrie, “All Ego” Ethan Page, Mike “Speedball” Bailey and NJPW’s El Phantasmo. But one of Canada’s early stars, and first true heavyweight, was a man named Jack Taylor, who not only inspired Canadian wrestling forever but had a hand in changing the game in North America.
The Pioneers: Jack Taylor
Jack Taylor was born in Bruce County, Ontario in 1887, and at the turn of the century, made his way westward to pursue his dreams of competing professionally in wrestling. He had been a standout amateur wrestler but with the success of pro wrestlers like George Hackenschmidt and Frank Gotch, Taylor was sure he could make a living doing what he did best. He first stopped in Saskatchewan, where he would find his first pro wrestling trainer in Clarence Eklund. Eklund was a local star and he saw lots of potential in this raw recruit from Ontario. He also spent time in Alberta (he worked briefly as a Lethbridge police officer), he first found another mentor in another early Canadian star in “Cowboy” Jack Ellison.
During his time with Ellison, he caught the eye of several American wrestlers going through the Western Canada circuit, and he soon caught the attention of Farmer Martin Burns. Farmer Burns was the Grandfather of American Wrestling, a catch wrestler and carny promoter, who had guided Frank Gotch amongst others. Taylor began to apprentice under Burns training, who made Taylor a complete package and bona fide heavyweight grappler. He adopted the crippling toe-hold finisher that Gotch had previously employed, and became one of Burns’ new top proteges. During his time living in the American midwest, he had encounters with the likes of Earl Caddock and Ed “Strangler” Lewis.
In 1916, Jack Taylor would begin training a young emerging talent named Joseph Mondt, who went by the name Joseph Toots in the ring. Mondt had been wrestling since 1912, but Taylor saw something in this young athletic specimen and encouraged him to continue with a more catch based style. Thanks to Jack’s discovery, Mondt would end up completing his training with Taylor’s own trainer, Farmer Burns, and Mondt would become a top athletic star. But Mondt wasn’t just athletic – he had a natural mind for the business. He would soon become better known as Toots Mondt, first becoming part of the Gold Dust Trio that would revolutionize pro wrestling in the 1920s. In 1952, Mondt would partner with promoter Jess McMahon to form Capitol Wrestling – Jess passed away several years later, and his ownership was taken over by his son, Vincent McMahon Jr.
Jack Taylor continued to tour throughout Canada and the United States, taking on all comers, and during the height of his success, he was a bona fide sports celebrity in Canada, particularly Western Canada. One young man that was particularly fascinated with Taylor’s career was an amateur catch wrestler named Stu Hart. Stu had been a successful amateur wrestler and aspiring pro football player, who had a love for the pure catch wrestling that Jack Taylor exemplified. During a stint with the Canadian Navy in 1943, he found himself docked in New York City. It was there he met his future wife, Helen Smith, but it was also where he ran into a promoter and wrestler that had been trained by his idol – Toots Mondt. Mondt saw great potential in the technical and submission specialist and trained him to become a pro wrestler. Stu Hart would take that knowledge – and his new bride Helen – back to Western Canada where he would become one of the most important promoters and trainers in pro wrestling, with a family dynasty that continues to this day.
By 1939, Jack Taylor had a nearly 35-year career in pro wrestling and finally hung up the tights to return to his farming in Alberta. He sadly never got a chance to compete in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) that would emerge nearly a decade later, but his contributions to the early days of the sport have left an impression that is mostly forgotten.
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