The Gallaghers

The Brothers from Bayonne
 

From the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, the Gallagher Brothers ruled the tag team roost in the Great Lakes area. The team of Doc and Mike were a pair of real-life brothers from Bayonne, N.J., who brought a blend of heel tactics, innovative moves and comedy to their matches. They headlined dozens of cards during those years, often on a weekly basis.The Gallaghers’ years at the top marked the strongest period of arena attendance in the history of Buffalo, Rochester, and Cleveland.

Official Wrestling Magazine (1959): Scribes call the Gallaghers fabulous, fantastic, fearless and frightening. They call

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Mike Gallagher, left, with brother Doc

themselves powerful, polish, poised and proud. Wrestling fans call them vain, vicious, violent and, much to their chagrin, must admit they are also victorious.

Though they were brothers, Doc and Mike were separated by 17 years. John J. Gallagher, who would gain fame as Doc, was born Sept. 24, 1916. Mike – his given name was George – was born Oct. 11, 1933.  From an early age, John was interested in bodybuilding and physical fitness. He was a cover model for Strength & Health magazine in 1940, and served as a model for the Seabees during World War II. In the meantime, his kid brother played football in high school in Bayonne. Later in their careers, the Gallaghers said they developed their wrestling skills by defending their parent’s heritage, as their father was from Ireland and their mother from Czechoslovakia.

Doc and Mike Gallagher promotional interview: The result was that we had to stand back to back and fight both groups. This gave us great satisfaction because we never had to look for a fight – there was always one waiting. It also gave us a basic background for the style we now use in tag team matches.

Of course, given their age differences, it’s unlikely that John, at, say, age 20, was back-to-back with Mike, who would have been three.

“John Gallagher of Buffalo” started wrestling professionally after World War II, billed as as a newcomer on Paul Bowser’s New England circuit. He eventually picked up the nickname of “Doc” because had allegedly had given chiropractic a whirl after his years in the service. When George graduated from high school, he followed in his brother’s boots — it might have been a case of wanderlust, his son, George Gallagher Jr., speculated.

The brothers first teamed up in the Pacific Northwest in October 1951, as Doc and George. In 1953, they held the Northwest tag Team Title in Vancouver. While they tagged on and off for a few years – they squared off against the likes of Joe Blanchard and Dick Brown in Kansas City in May 1954, they were apart as much as they were together for a few years. Part of that was no doubt attributable to George’s home life – he married Juanita Coffman, the nearly full-blooded “Queen of the Amazons” in 1953.

Soon, George morphed into Mike, which his son George Jr. believed was the result of a screwed-up promo by an announcer. His first recorded match as Mike came in Little Rock, Ark. on June 8, 1954, where he beat Bob Clay. With Bob Geigel, Mike won the Southwest title in the Amarillo territory in 1955.

The brothers reunited in the winter of 1955-56 and rained terror on the profession for most of the next decade. They worked together in Spartanburg, S.C. on Jan. 21, 1956, beating Farmer Jones and Pete Managoff and were seldom apart after that. They regularly displayed their mayhem in the Carolinas, and held the AWA World tag team championship three times in 1958 in the lucrative Minneapolis region.

They first appeared in upstate New York for promoter Pedro Martinez in Syracuse in 1957, and were in tag team heaven with feuds against the Brunettis and the Millers. They would be fixtures from Detroit east to Utica, N.Y. for years. In 1960, two cards with the Tolos Brothers battling the Gallaghers in main events in Cleveland for an advertised International tag team title drew almost 12,000 and 10,000 in back-to-back weeks. The Web site, wrestling-titles.com, references an Ohio tag team title that the Tolos and Gallagher brothers exchanged the same year, as well.

Terry Dart (fan and historian): The Gallaghers used the knuckles to the temple of their opponents; also they had a habit of holding an opponent and pulling back on the helpless opponent’s neck, while Doc or Mike would jump off the top turnbuckle with an elbow to the poor guy’s exposed throat, then Mike or Doc would pin the guy. I saw it backfire one time here in London [Ontario] when Mike jumped off the top turnbuckle intending to hit Whipper Watson with the elbow; however, Watson moved and Mike hit poor ol’ Doc and Watson quickly pinned the scoundrel Doc to the joy of the crowd.

Drawing heat and drawing cards were what the Gallaghers were all about. Their style was a perfect fit for the abrasive, hot-shotting wrestling that fans around the Great Lakes preferred. Their creativity knew limits that other wrestlers could only dream of. In 1957, they got into an angle with long-time rival Ilio DiPaolo in the small upstate New York town of Dunkirk. On Feb. 16, Mike, in street clothers, interfered in a bout involving his brother, setting up a match the following week with Mike in his wrestling gear and Doc barred from ringside. But Doc had other ideas and came up with an amazing little tactic.

Dunkirk Evening Observer: He stood outside the dressing room and used a flashlight to signal his brother. DiPaolo spotted the flashlight and asked Referee Piney Johnson to stop the signals. As DiPaolo stood at the ropes talking with Johnson, Mike Gallagher hit him from behind and successfully floored him for a pin. The fans went wild but Johnson said the pin was legal and ruled Gallagher the winner. DiPaolo protested but to no avail.

Want more? They habitually took their time getting into the ring and slowly discarding the sequin-laden ringwear that Juanita sewed for them.

Billy “Red” Lyons: They were both real showboats and funnier than hell, especially Doc. Him and I had a lot of good times together. We made quite a few trips together. He was a real character … They were entertaining. They could make ’em laugh one minute and cry in another. They had that comedy and you'd be trying to keep a straight face, keep from laughing. Then the next minute, they'd have them wanting to climb in the ring.

A good example of that blend came Mar. 10, 1961, in a Buffalo bout against Bobo Brazil and Ilio DiPaolo. The Gallaghers showed that Brazil’s famed coco butt (head butt) could not hurt them, as Mike launched into a long microphone diatribe, then smashed his brother over the head with a chair to show Doc was immune to Brazil’s signature move. Brazil then raced out, and coco-butted Doc into defeat in 96 seconds.

Dick Beyer: We’re in Rochester doing a tag team. And a good looking girl comes up and she wants to see Mike. So Doc is standing out watching the matches and this girl comes up and says “Mr. Gallagher, I would like to talk to Mike.” He says, “What do you want to see him for?” “Well, I’d like to go out with him.” He says, “Mike likes sex.” “Well, I like sex too.” “But

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Horseplay

he kind of likes it a little funny.” “What do you mean a little funny?” He says, “He’ll take you out and go by the pizza shop and he’ll buy a pizza. And he always has his dog along.” She says, “Well, I like pizza and I don’t mind dogs.” He says, “Then he’s going to go up to his apartment and he’s going to want you to get your clothes off. And when you get your clothes off, he gonna slap that pizza on your ass and the dog is gonna eat the pizza.”

The Gallaghers’ reach stretched into Indiana, where they won another tag title in 1964. By then, though, Doc was 48, and starting to wind down his career in favor of work in gyms and health clubs. Mike went on to win the Southwest tag team title in Texas with Nelson Royal in the Amarillo promotion later that year.

After retirement, they came back in the winter of 1968-69 for one more shot of glory. As Johnny Powers and Bobby Bruns ran the Buffalo-Cleveland promotion, which had stalled big time in the late 1960s, they brought the Gallaghers back for a final run. Billed as world champions upon their arrival in Cleveland, they headlined and drew decent crowds against the likes of Powers and Argentina Rocca, getting about 4,000 regularly in markets that had been very slow. They lost the world titles (Cleveland version) to Powers and Moose Cholak in January 1969 and exited wrestling after that.

Mike moved successfully into the restaurant business, opening one of the earliest Shakey’s Pizza stores in his adopted home of Charlotte, N.C. He fiddled with opposition to Jim Crockett Promotions in 1971 with former regional hero George Becker, but spent most of his time in his new industry.

Billy “Red” Lyons:
Mike went on to run a Shakey’s Pizza. It’s funny. He had quit. I’m out in California, Dick [Beyer] and I, and we’re in a Shakey’s Pizza Parlor in L.A. one night. This group of people come in, and there’'s Mike Gallagher. He was there and he was taking their training program out in L.A. Of course, he had bought a franchise for Charlotte, and made a ton of money. That was the last time I saw Mike. He was surprised to walk in and here’s Dick and I. My God.

After some time in Alabama, Mike and his family relocated to Florida, where Juanita died at the age of 65 in 1987. Three years later, Mike and his son were lifting weights when Mike noticed a weakness in one arm. It was the onset of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which would claim him in 1990. Doc was an active member of the Cauliflower Alley Club for many years. He and his wife Jean retired to Ft. Pierce, Fla., where Doc died in October 1994.

Dick Beyer:
They drew money wherever they went and that’s the true meaning of a tag team. Can they draw money? They created heat and drew money. I would rate them up there with the Tolos Brothers, The Von Erichs, The Kangaroos … I would put them against any of the teams.

Read more about the Gallaghers in The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams, by Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson, where the Gallaghers are recognized as one of the top 20 teams of all time.

Credits: J Michael Kenyon, Dick Beyer, George Gallagher Jr., Don Luce, Billy "Red" Lyons, Bob Bryla, Terry Dart

—Steven Johnson, March 2006, updated May 2006 and January 2009