At 7 feet tall and around 700 pounds, Terrible Ted the Wrestling Bear was an impressive beast. Equally impressive was his near 20-year wrestling career that rivaled his human counterparts. Ted worked for Maple Leaf Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling, World Wrestling Association, Roy Shire’s San Francisco Wrestling, Stampede Wrestling and even the WWWF. He won battle royals. He won 8-on-1 matches. He teamed with wrestlers such as Pepper Gomez and Rocky Johnson. He even held victories over stars such as Bobby Heenan, Baron Von Raschke, Superstar Billy Graham, Gypsy Joe, Jerry Lawler and Mad Dog Vachon.
“I can still feel the beast’s coarse, wiry fur, smell its foul breath, and hear it snorting through its muzzle as it looked me dead in the eyes. Ted wasn’t a happy bear, and I wasn’t a happy wrestler.”
– Superstar Billy Graham, San Francisco 1971
Ted the Wrestling Bear had been declawed, his teeth had been pulled out and he was only fed vegetables, so he wasn’t quite as dangerous as it first sounds. Ted traveled with a carnival in his early years and when the carnival went bankrupt in the early 1950’s, he was adopted and trained by Dave McKigney (aka Gene Dubois, Wildman, Canadian Wildman and Bearman).
On July 13, 1966, McKigney offered $3,000 to anyone who could pin Ted. The challenge was accepted and met by John Szigeti (a 36-year-old welder who wanted the money for truck repairs), who pinned the wrestling bear “for maybe 15 seconds” before McKigney pried him free. McKigney and promoter Howard Darvin, in true carny form, refused to pay the prize, so Szigeti sued them in May 1968.
In October 1970, Ted spent several days in the Lowndes County jail. That’s right, Ted went to jail. McKigney had offered a $1,500 prize to anyone who would wrestle Ted, which was accepted by a 350-pound construction worker named Ed Williams. Before the match, McKigney informed Williams that Ted had recently developed a poor disposition and could be dangerous, and so canceled the match. Williams accused him of skipping out on the deal and signed a writ of attachment. Ted was held as security and later released on $3,000 bail and a promise by McKigney to appear in court.
Bret Hart Recalls Living with Ted the Wrestling Bear
Briefly, while doing some shows in Stampede Wrestling, Ted lived under the back porch of Stu Hart.
BRET HART: “When I was five, my dad had a wrestling bear living in a cage under the back porch steps. I’d let my ice cream drip on my bare toes and dangle my feet between the wooden steps so the bear could lick it off. Us Hart kids thought that was pretty cool. I figured it was a good way to keep my feet clean and it kind of tickled, too.”
Bret Hart continues with another great story regarding Ted-
BRET HART: “It just so happened I was invited to the next-door neighbor’s birthday party, which was going to be held at CFCN on a kiddie program called The Headhunter Show. I’d never been to a birthday party or been on a TV show, so I was hyped when I got on the set and took my seat on the bench. Suddenly, out from behind the curtain came Terrible Ted — the very same bear that lived under our porch. The bear handler scuffled around with Ted just long enough to amuse us kids. Some were scared but not me. Heck,
Suddenly, out from behind the curtain came Terrible Ted — the very same bear that lived under our porch. The bear handler scuffled around with Ted just long enough to amuse us kids. Some were scared but not me. Heck, me and Ted were practically on a first-name basis and he no doubt appreciated the ice cream drips.
By the end of the show, Headhunter, the host, came around interviewing various kids. When he came to me, he innocently asked: “Wouldn’t you like to have a bear like that in your backyard?”
It seemed like a pretty stupid question. I matter-of-factly told him: “I already have a bear like that living in my backyard.”
Well, he kind of winked at the camera and chalked it up to the overactive imagination of a five-year-old boy. This was all the opening he needed to have a little fun, as I found myself pleading with him to believe I really did have a bear just about that exact same size living at my house. He had some more fun with me and when the show ended, I felt really annoyed nobody believed me.
I remember getting home only a few minutes later, since CFCN was so close, and my mom gave me a big warm hug and smiled: “Aw dawling, no one ever believes me when I tell them what goes on around here either!”
Bobby Heenan wrote that Ted could perform a monkey flip and a flying mare. At the end of one bout, he wrapped a towel around the bear’s neck and pantomimed choking him. The bear, amazingly enough, would lie down, selling the move like any other wrestler. As Heenan tells it, the bear matches often occurred in winter. The bears, who would much rather be sleeping, would sometimes feel the ice under the padded floor of the arena. That often led to the animal urinating. The wrestler would then find himself soaked in urine, adding a new layer of humiliation.
After his matches, the wrestling bear trainer would get paid the agreed-upon amount and Ted would be fed and they would also give him a bottle of Coca-Cola. He would then sit in a chair in the ring and hold the bottle with his paws and drink his post-match reward.
Unfortunately, on July 2, 1978, in Aurora, Ontario, McKigney left Smokey’s (another wrestling bear he trained) cage door open while he answered the phone. Smokey entered McKigney’s house and mauled his girlfriend, 30-year-old Lynn Orser, to death. As a result, Smokey was taken away by the Ontario Humane Society. McKigney’s only possible explanation was that bears sometimes act unpredictably during mating season.
Terrible Ted died some years before this incident took place. McKigney kept a cub named Ben who became his next wrestling bear. As for Smokey, he went on to finish life at the African Lion Safari. (Thank you to @mapleleafwrest1@mapleleafwrest1 for the information in this paragraph.)