Saturday, June 27, 2009

Remembering Billy Red Lyons

Ask any fan who grew up during the Rock and Wrestling Era who Billy Red Lyons was and they'll tell you he was the voice of Maple Leaf Wrestling and one of many retired wrestlers who sometimes popped up on WWF television as an anonymous "WWF official". Ask a fan from the 60's and 70's and you'll hear stories of Billy Red's tag team exploits in the Mid-West with fellow redhead Red Bastien as well as his singles accomplishments across North America. Billy Red Lyons was a skilled performer who wrestled through four decades, gaining fans wherever he appeared.

Born William Snip, he began wrestling in 1959, one of many Canadian natives who made their mark in the squared circle. A talented athlete, Mr. Lyons chose wrestling over other sports due to the lucrative pay one could get from wrestling compared to other sports (this was in the day before entry level athletes in the NFL and NHL received impressive paychecks). His gambit paid off and he campaigned successfully across North America, distinguishing himself in Texas, Oklahoma, and the American Wrestling Association (AWA). He reigned as British Empire Champion in the AWA and found tremendous success in tag action with Red Bastien.

As his career began to wind down, Mr. Lyons worked as an announcer for Frank Tunney's promotion Maple Leaf Wrestling. He still ventured into the ring for an occasional match but spent most of his time announcing matches and hosting promo segments to hype house shows. When the WWF bought out MLW, Mr. Tunney continued to serve as an announcer and eventually became one of a select few retired wrestlers to appear as on-air WWF officials. His most well-known appearance as a WWF official was on an episode of Piper's Pit when Hulk Hogan was presented with a trophy honoring his four years as champion (this would lead to 1987's legendary Andre/Hogan feud). Mr. Lyons also served as president for the Cauliflower Alley Club.

As a young fan who started watching wrestling during the late 1970's, I remember tuning in to see Billy Red Lyons hosting Maple Leaf Wrestling (MLW) every week. He projected a warm, comforting presence that made you feel like he personally invited you to the matches. When the WWF bought out MLW, they (wisely) kept Billy Red on to host the WWF version of MLW. He also hosted the bumpers between matches where wrestlers did promos for upcoming shows. Jesse "The Body" Ventura used to mercilessly run down Billy Red during promos and Billy Red took it all in stride. I even got to see Billy Red in action a couple times in Buffalo. His best days were clearly behind him but he could still work like hell and take lots of bumps. To us Buffalo fans who caught his show from the Canadian airwaves, it was always special to see Billy Red Lyons in person, a testament to his warm personality.

NOTE: Thanks to Canadian Bulldog for reminding me of Mr. Lyon's famous appearance on Piper's Pit. For those interested in learning more about Mr. Lyons' team with Red Bastien, I invite you to check out the book The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams.

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