When Love was in the air

Robin
Robin Short
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Newfoundland's Hartford Love made a name for himself in squared circle

If you've ever been down in Newfoundland, and you were in Conception Bay, and you're looking for a place to go, just to pass the time away, there's a place called the Sportsman's Lounge, where the music is so grand, and there you'll meet a man called Hartford Love, the pride of Newfoundland.

- sung by Gordon Smith

Confederation was still two years away, and Ambrose Hutchings longed for a better life.

They were simpler times in Spaniard's Bay in 1947. Folks had each other's back. The fish were plentiful. Ambrose, a carpenter, was kept going.

Wes Hutchings today (above photo), outside his Spaniard's Bay Home. In bottom photo, Hartford Love is about to pin an opponent in Puerto Rico. One of Hartford Love's managers, bottom left with Hartford, was "Bad Boy" Billy Hynes. -Submitted photos

If you've ever been down in Newfoundland, and you were in Conception Bay, and you're looking for a place to go, just to pass the time away, there's a place called the Sportsman's Lounge, where the music is so grand, and there you'll meet a man called Hartford Love, the pride of Newfoundland.

- sung by Gordon Smith

Confederation was still two years away, and Ambrose Hutchings longed for a better life.

They were simpler times in Spaniard's Bay in 1947. Folks had each other's back. The fish were plentiful. Ambrose, a carpenter, was kept going.

But the lure of the mainland was too strong, so aboard the Newfie Bullet they climbed, Ambrose, his wife and three children, bound for the big city and prosperity.

Their one-way trip ended in Hamilton, Ont., where Ambrose found work at Westinghouse.

The youngest Hutchings, Wes, was only seven at the time, but he liked Hamilton. The city that takes a back seat to Toronto was just forging its way as a player in the steel industry. Tough work for tough men, who loved their football, hockey and wrestling.

In the 1950s, Hamilton spit out wrestlers the way the Prairies produce hockey players. Big, tough boys who know only one way to play the game: the honest way.

For Wes Hutchings, and many others, the steel mill called after graduation. The money was good and it was a job for life.

But like his father before him, the young Hutchings yearned for something better. And cleaner.

"I finished up a shift one night, came out and my white shirt was black," Hutchings recalls. "I said to myself, "What the hell am I doing? I'm killing myself.""

Unemployed, Hutchings was looking for a new line of work when he quizzed a neighbour about a nearby gym where professional wrestlers were produced.

"He told me about Al Spittles," Hutchings recalls. "A good guy ... drinks a bit, but knows what he's doing."

So off Hutchings went, bound for the "squared circle."

The emergence of Hartford Love had begun.

Hutchings weighed only 185 pounds when he arrived at Spittles's doorstep. To climb in the ring against 280-300-pound men, Hutchings needed to get bigger and stronger.

For the next two years, he sat and watched and learned. And he trained, trained and trained some more.

Only then was he introduced to the ring.

"And sure enough," he says, "everybody beat the shit out of me."

One of his partners was John Quinn, whose cousin was a pretty decent hockey player in Hamilton. Pat Quinn went on to play, and later coach in, the NHL. Hutchings also worked with the Tolos brothers and Billy "Red" Lyons, who would go on to enjoy a great wrestling career.

Hutchings finally got his break. He travelled around northern Ontario wrestling in smokey beer halls and Legions. The pay was meagre, when there was any at all.

He cracked the potentially lucrative U.S. market when he was invited to wrestle every Saturday night in Pittsburgh in an outfit run by Bruno Sammartino. Many a "name" wrestler - Gorilla Monsoon, The Crusher and George "The Animal" Steele among them - made their bones in Pitt.

"You never knew who was coming out from the other end," Hutchings says of the wrestling ring, "and most of the time, you'd get your butt kicked.

"But that's how you got experience."

And a chance to be noticed.

Through Sammartino, Hutchings and his partner Johnny Evans - wrestling under the moniker "The Hangmen" - were seen. Soon, there were stops in New York, Boston, Philly and other parts of the U.S. northeast.

They lost most of their matches, but at least they were on the card. Undercard, maybe, but who cares.

Around 1969, Hutchings, Evans and promoter Johnny Powers met in a Buffalo hotel room. A change was needed, a new gimmick, so to speak.

"I remember Powers said, 'We got to start filling these houses,'" Hutchings recalls.

The hippie movement was at its peak, so Powers suggested they capitalize on the "Love Generation."

One of the names proposed was the Lovelace Brothers. One of them shortened it to the Love Brothers. Evans would be Reggie. As for Hutchings, well, the duo had just wrestled in Hartford ...

Johnny Evans was a Welshmen, and while Hutchings was originally from Newfoundland, the duo made out they were from Wales, the best thing since Richard Burton and Tom Jones to arrive in America.

"We'd wear these flowered pants, throwing flowers out at the guys, making out we're half gay," Hutchings recalls with a big grin. "We're Reggie and Hartford Love, the Love Brothers, acting all twinkle toes.

"We had these coasters made up, 'I dig the Love Brothers.' We'd throw them out at the crowd and they'd all fire them back at us."

All in good fun, of course - except, they take their wrestling seriously in parts of the States.

Wrestling in some armoury in Akron, Ohio - straight out of Mickey Rourke's " The Wrestler" - the Love Brothers found out first hand just how spiritedly some fans digest their "sport."

" We were in a match and I was in the ring with Sonny King, a coloured guy," Hutchings recalls.

"I was working on his stomach - back in our day, when you'd take a hold on someone, you kept it up to wear him down.

"So I'm working on him and he can't tag out. Out of the corner of my eye, I see this guy coming at the ring. This happened sometimes, so you'd just make a phantom kick at him. But this guy is coming, and next thing he pulls out a .45. Geez, it looked as big as a shotgun.

"I says, ' Sonny, you're getting up sooner than you think.' The guy got three shots off before security finally got hold of him. Good thing he wasn't a good shot."

The Love Brothers wrestled in all the big arenas, from New York's Madison Square Garden to Boston Garden to Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens.

They wrestled in the Midwest, in Detroit and Chicago, and overseas in Japan and Africa, and down in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Hutchings wrestled against some of the game's biggest names, from Sweet Daddy Siki to Haystack Calhoon, Andre The Giant and Whipper Billy Watson.

He spent nine months in Puerto Rico where he was the North American champ - " had an apartment on the beach and everything" - before he was knocked from his perch by Gorilla Monsoon.

"A huge man," he says. "After I got beat, I left."

In the late 1970s and early ' 80s, Hutchings made his way back to his roots, travelling with George Cannon's and Milt Avruskin's "Superstars of Wrestling." There, he locked horns with the likes of Rick Martel, Dino Bravo and Nick Bockwinkle.

Strangely enough, he never did match up against Newfoundand's other wrestling star, the late Ed "Sailor" White, often introduced as, "rude, crude and ignorant."

Like many a wrestler in his day, injuries forced Hutchings from the ring.

A barking back keeps him awake at night, quelled only by pills. His fingers are twisted like weathered twigs. His nose has been flattened and broken, his teeth knocked out.

"And if I showed you my two big toes, you'd get sick," he says. " That's from getting stomped on."

Hutchings is 69 now, and looks in good shape, a solid 232 pounds. The forearms are thick and so too is the crop of gray hair.

He returned to Newfoundland with his second wife - Beth, a Tennessean - after his parents retired here nearly 30 years ago.

He ran The Sportsman's Lounge as his wrestling career closed out, tried the antique business and today operates a pair of taxis from his home in Spaniard's Bay.

It's a quaint home on the way to Bishop's Cove, a diving elbow drop from the waters of Conception Bay.

In the living room are reminders, didn't-you-used-to-be photos of the Love Brothers doing their thing.

Despite the aches and pains, Hutchings has no regrets.

He enjoyed his time in the ring, and made some money along the way, though certainly nothing compared to what today's showmen pocket.

" We didn't do too bad," he says. "I made some money, but I spent a lot, too. I had a nice house in Hamilton, two cars, a boat. Back then, you didn't think about retiring.

"I suppose I've got enough to retire, but you still got to have something to wake up to.

" There are some days I'd like to wake up and do nothing, not get in the car, but I've got to get Christmas gifts for the grandkids."

Today's wrestling, he says, is a whole lot less about sport than it is about show. Today's steroid-fuelled professional wrestlers are little more than cartoonish characters.

" We paved the way for those guys to make the money they're making," he says. " We did things the hard way. Blood was blood.

"If somebody had told us what we were doing was fake, well, we were into a fight. We were proud of what we did."

Hutchings still keeps in contact with some of his wrestling buddies. Evans is 84 and lives in Burlington, Ont. Former CFL and wrestling great Angelo Mosca is still in Hamilton, but is having trouble getting around these days. (Mosca, according to the Hamilton Spectator newspaper, would promise his opponent, "I'm gonna give you so many lefts, you'll be beggin' for the right!")

"I saw him a little while ago and I said, ' Geez, Ang, you've got to lose some weight.'"

But a lot of them are gone. Lyons just died. Whipper Watson is gone. The Beast. Eric The Red for some time. Sailor White passed away four years ago.

"I try to keep it out of my head because I'm wondering when it's my turn," he says with a hint of a smile.

He survived a heart attack 15 years ago. The three count, thank God, hasn't come yet.

The "Pride of Newfoundland" remains strong.

Organizations: Love Brothers, Westinghouse, NHL Buffalo hotel Lovelace Brothers Madison Square Garden Dominican Republic North American

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Hamilton, Conception Bay Toronto America New York Northern Ontario Pittsburgh Pitt Boston Puerto Rico Hartford Wales Akron, Ohio Maple Leaf Gardens Midwest Detroit Chicago Japan Africa Burlington Mosca

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