Former promoter & wrestler Johnny Powers passes away

Dennis Waters, who was better known as Johnny Powers died on December 30th at the age of 79 with the news revealed by Greg Oliver at SLAM Wrestling.

A Hamilton native that forged a legacy on the international stage, has died.

Dennis Waters, who was better known as Johnny Powers died on December 30th at the age of 79 with the news revealed by Greg Oliver at SLAM Wrestling.

Born on March 23, 1943, Powers was trained at Jack Wentworth’s gym at the age of fifteen and made his debut by wrestling in Detroit in 1960. He grew up as a fan of wrestling and watching the likes of Lou Thesz on the Dumont Network with wrestling from the Marigold Arena.

He had a successful in-ring career that was highlighted by several title challenges against WWWF champion Bruno Sammartino in Pennsylvania and against Gene Kiniski for the NWA gold. This included two matches against Sammartino at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens in 1965.

That same year, Powers was brought to St. Louis by Sam Mushnick and wrestled Fritz Von Erich at the Kiel Auditorium where Von Erich won the first match. They came back with a double disqualification, followed by a no-contest, and had the blowoff with a Texas Death Match on November 19, 1965, won by Von Erich.

In March 1966, he wrestled Lou Thesz at the Kiel Auditorium.  

During his time as a heel, he was managed by legendary figure Bobby Davis, who was most famously associated with Buddy Rogers.

In 1966, he made the first of an estimated thirty tours of Japan where he became a prominent figure in New Japan’s history. That first tour culminated in Powers losing a two-of-three fall match to Antonio Inoki with Powers earning one fall in the contest.

Powers wrestled for the AWA beginning in 1967. He challenged Verne Gagne for the AWA heavyweight title in Winnipeg in May 1967, losing by disqualification. They had rematches in several cities in the territory including Minneapolis with their final meeting held in Davenport, Iowa in July, which Gagne won. Powers also had a major feud with The Crusher beginning in May of that year and saw them have a Texas Death Match and several steel cage rematches before a Losing Leaves Town match in Davenport, Iowa. His last matches with the promotion were against Pat O’Connor ending with a loss to the former NWA champion in May 1968 at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago.

In June of that year, he lost a Texas Death Match to The Crusher at Municipal Stadium in Davenport, Iowa.  

However, most will reflect on Powers’ as a promoter and broker throughout the ‘70s when he and his mentor Pedro Martinez bought the territory in Buffalo and would become the NWF. The region would include Cleveland while also syndicating its program, Championship Wrestling with Johnny Powers internationally including Japan and Mexico with Powers as the star.

In 1970, the territory added its NWF Championship, which forged its legacy in Japan as much as its home promotion.

After the split by Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki from the JWA and the formation of All Japan and New Japan respectively, Baba had the pipeline with the NWA and access to its champion. Inoki had to be creative and formed a relationship with the NWF, winning the belt from Powers in December of 1973 and outright buying the territory that same year. 

Inoki used the belt to provide a world championship on his resume and was a major championship until it was deactivated in 1981. In 2003, it was resurrected with Yoshihiro Takayama defeating Tsuyoshi Kosaka at the Tokyo Dome and holding it for exactly one year until IWGP champion Shinsuke Nakamura unified the belts in 2004.

Powers competed in New Japan’s annual World League tournament (a precursor to the G1 Climax) in 1977 where he finished with four points, which was won by Seiji Sakaguchi. In 1980, he teamed with Ox Baker in the MSG Tag League (now known as the World Tag League) where they accumulated finished without any points and were won by Inoki & WWWF champion Bob Backlund.

In September 1990, when New Japan established the Greatest 18 Club to honor Inoki’s 30th anniversary as a wrestler, they named the greatest eighteen competitors from Inoki’s career, which included Powers alongside Lou Thesz, Muhammad Ali, Karl Gotch, Bob Backlund, Andre the Giant, Stan Hansen, Johnny Valentine, Seiji Sakaguchi, Hiro Matsuda, Willem Ruska, Billy Robinson, Tiger Jeet Singh, Nick Bockwinkel, Strong Kobayashi, Verne Gagne, Hulk Hogan, and Inoki himself. It was made into a championship belt that Riki Choshu was crowned in 1991 and held for a year-and-a-half until losing it to Keiji Muto and it was retired.

It was during this period that Powers teamed with fellow Canadian Pat Patterson to become the first winners of the Los Angeles version of the tag titles in August 1973.

Martinez and Powers would get involved in buying the IWA (International Wrestling Association) with Powers eventually buying out Martinez’s stake in the group. Powers held the promotion’s heavyweight title on six occasions and tag titles three times with partners Nelson Royal, Bulldog Brower, and Nick DeCarlo.

Powers also took a position running the wrestling program at Sully’s Gym in Toronto along with Sweet Daddy Siki. It was during this time that the two ran the school that Ron Hutchison began training at the school and would eventually run the wrestling school that produced Edge, Christian, Trish Stratus, Tiger Ali Singh, Joe E. Legend, Gail Kim, Beth Phoenix, and others.

Powers retired from professional wrestling in 1982 and got involved in promoting various entertainment and sporting events and dabbled with combat sports in 2007 with a show combining Muay Thai and submission wrestling prior to Ontario legalizing MMA.

According to SLAM Wrestling, he kept a low profile and it was considered a big deal when he showed up at a celebration of life for Johnny Evans a.k.a. Reginald Love five years ago.

Additional reading:
Johnny Powers Dead at 79 by Greg Oliver (SLAM Wrestling)
Johnny Powers shoot interview (57Talk.com)
Johnny Powers – Cagematch profile

About John Pollock 5441 Articles
Born on a Friday, John Pollock is a reporter, editor & podcaster at POST Wrestling. He runs and owns POST Wrestling alongside Wai Ting.