The majority of wrestling fans are probably familiar with the story of how Vincent Kennedy McMahon bought the WWF from his father, and turned it into a global empire. Since they know that, they also probably realize that the WWF was first Vincent James McMahon’s company at one point in time; it only makes sense. And they’re completely right, however, there’s a lot more to the story of the WWE. The McMahon family did not create the promotion, in fact, not one person with the last name McMahon was even an original player in it’s formation. One particular person who was, though, and who is without a doubt one of the most important historical figures in wrestling history, is Joseph Raymond Mondt.
Better known as “Toots,” Mondt was born in Iowa, in 1894. He began his wrestling career in 1902, working the carnival shows. Eventually, he got the attention of Farmer Burns, who took him on to train. The nickname “Toots” came about during this time, due to either his small size or baby face. His wrestling career, however, is not that important.
Up until the 1920s, wrestling matches were slow, and lasted on average 60 minutes. Fans grew tired of this, and no longer found the sport entertaining. Enter Toots Mondt and his revolutionary idea of “Slam Bang Western Style Wrestling.” This concept was derived from combining multiple different fighting styles of the day (Greco-Roman, boxing, catch-as-catch- can, etc),which the fans loved, and subsequently, the crowds grew larger. Mondt would not be able to get this idea over by himself, though, and thus convinced Ed “Strangler” Lewis and his manager, Billy Sandow, to join forces with him. They would be collectively known as the “Gold Dust Trio.”
The Gold Dust Trio figured that promoting wrestlers under one promotion was much simpler than having to deal with multiple promoters, and together created their own promotion, the very first remnants of the WWE. Using their many connections, they convinced numerous wrestlers to sign-up, with Toots, Lewis, and Sandow acting as their bookers. Within half a year, the Gold Dust Trio controlled professional wrestling in North America. Toots also created match time limits during this time. The Trio’s product was featured in the best venues, in the top cities. However, the original group would fall apart, after differences arose between Toots and Sandow’s brother, and Toots would bring in Philadelphia promoter, Ray Fabiani to replace Billy Sandow. Over the course of the following years, Toots and Fabiani would control wrestling in the Northeast United States. However, the one place they would be unsuccessful, was in New York.
New York was ruled by Toots’ and Fabiani’s rival promoter, Jack Curley, who had a stranglehold on wrestling in the region. As Curley was on Death’s doorstep, Toot’s would strike a secret deal with another promoter, Rudy Dusek, to save pro wrestling in the New York territory. There was still an issue with promoting wrestling in New York, though; the biggest stage was off limits.
Think wrestling fans and boxing fans don’t mix well now? You have no idea…
Boxing promoter Tex Rickard hated professional wrestling. So much so, that from 1939 to 1948, he prevented wrestling events from taking place at Madison Square Garden. Toots would overcome this, by getting the help of a few more wrestling promoters, and one man in particular, Roderick James “Jess” McMahon, who just happened to be working for Rickard at the time. Toots would then find a financial backer in wrester turned millionaire, Bernarr McFadden. With the help of McMahon and McFadden, Toots and his promotion was able to run shows emanating from MSG. The mainevent of the first card in eleven years, saw Gorgeous George defeat Ernie Dusek.
Vincent James McMahon was eventually brought into the mix by Fabiani (Jess passed away in 1954). Together, Toots and Vince Sr. formed their own NWA territory, Capitol Sports. While their territory may have been restricted to the Northeast, the two would control 70% of the National Wrestling Alliance’s bookings. Even after parting ways with the NWA in 1963, and renaming Capitol Sports to World Wide Wrestling Federation, Toots and McMahon had majority control over NWA’s booking. This was because Toots made sure the two parties parted amicably, and due to the immense amount of respect the NWA had for the McMahon and Toots. Oh yeah, and because the Northeast region of the country was the most heavily populated.
Buddy Rogers was the NWA Champion at the time, and Toots rarely allowed him to compete outside of the WWWF’s territory (one of the contributing factors that led to the split from the NWA).Eventually, Rogers was crowed the first ever WWWF Champion. In an interesting story, that Toots concocted no-less, Rogers won a “tournament” in Rio de Janeiro to capture the title. There was never an actual tournament, but this was the story used to explain to fans. It’s also a story that would later lead to the creation of the Intercontinental Championship. When it came to creativity and booking, Toots Mondt was a genius, and he passed this on to Vince McMahon Sr.
Mondt would step down as promoter of Madison Square Garden in 1965, and was succeeded by McMahon. When Bruno Sammartino first burst onto the scene, McMahon thought he would only ever be a midcarder; Toots convinced him otherwise, and the WWWF was built around the much fan-loved, Sammartino. The rest is history…
As for Toots Mondt, he would continue promoting wrestling shows for awhile, but never caught on to television. He would pass away in 1976, at the age of 82, from pneumonia complications.
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