If ever there was going to be a first professional wrestler inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame, it had to be Gene Kiniski. It had to be.

‘Canada’s Greatest Athlete.’

‘Big Thunder.’

Gene was a larger-than-life character whose personality and wider impact could never be contained within the ring ropes of the squared circle. In fact, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was likely BC’s best-known international celebrity beyond the world of sport.

A top amateur wrestler in Alberta who also played football for the Edmonton Eskimos, Gene began wrestling professionally while at the University of Arizona after being ruled ineligible to join the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. Soon he was one of North America’s top pro wrestlers touring the continent and facing legends like Whipper Billy Watson, Bruno Sammartino, and Killer Kowalski among many others.

Gene began wrestling regularly in BC in 1957 and within a decade made his permanent residence in Blaine, Washington and Vancouver his primary wrestling headquarters.

From 1955-72 Gene held various NWA, AWA, and WWWF title belts. The highlight undoubtedly was defeating the great Lou Thesz in 1966 to open a three-year reign as NWA World Heavyweight Champion at a time in pre-WWF/WWE/WCW days when the NWA title represented the best professional wrestler in the world.

He became a silent owner in the Vancouver-based All-Star Wrestling promotion and made regular appearances on the popular All-Star Wrestling CHAN-TV/BCTV program for two decades filmed in Burnaby and broadcast weekly across Canada.

Later in life Gene became a huge supporter of SFU’s amateur wrestling program, in particular helping Bob Molle successfully rehab from back surgery to win a 1984 Olympic silver medal.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame. 

To read more on the career of Gene Kiniski, please see the May 2022 Curator’s Corner article here: https://bcsportshall.com/curator-corner/gene-kiniski-canadas-greatest-athlete-2021-inductee-spotlight/