In the ’60s and ’70s, Toronto wrestling fans knew where to find Reginald (Sweet Daddy) Siki on a Saturday night. They would head down to Maple Leaf Gardens and see the hulking man with the trademark platinum hair do battle with the likes of world champions Lou Thesz and (Nature Boy) Buddy Rogers.
“Bret Hart told me once that (Siki) was just about his favourite wrestler growing up,” says Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer newsletter and columnist for Yahoo! Sports. “He was very colourful and a trendsetter as both a heel (a rule-breaker) and a babyface (a fan favourite).”
A legend in the wrestling business, Siki still plies his trade to this day on Saturdays in the city, except the venue has changed. Gone are the trunks and boots; replaced by a microphone and songbook. Sweet Daddy Siki the wrestler might be long retired, but Sweet Daddy Siki the singer still entertains.
Every Saturday, Siki, now in his early 70s, emcees the popular karaoke afternoon at the Duke on the corner of Queen and Leslie Streets. His colourful clientele sing and dance to country and western hits, both new and old. This year Siki enters his second decade as host and he doesn’t see that ending any time soon.
“I’m a workaholic. That’s exactly what I am,” Siki says with a smile. “Most guys would have retired by now, living in Florida. But I’ve travelled enough in my wrestling days and this is why I’ve settled in Toronto here.
Originally from Texas, Siki relocated to Toronto in 1961. Throughout the ’70s, Siki released a series of albums, indulging in his other passion — country music. To this day, Siki’s love for music compels him to continue performing.
“I enjoy music…not that I’m the greatest singer in the world, but I enjoy what I do and it’s ok if the people don’t like it,” Siki says. “I like it. What I find is that so many entertainers, they get a certain age, they want to retire when they don’t have to retire. I get people coming up to me and saying, ‘Siki, why don’t you retire and go to Florida?’ Like I said, I’ve had enough travel.”
Asked if one song could encapsulate his life, both personally and professionally, Siki had to laugh.
“Well, I don’t particularly sing this song, but I can sing it. Can’t Help Falling in Love (by Elvis Presley),” Siki says with a chuckle.
The smiles on the faces of those in the bar — and on Siki himself — suggest why Siki carries on as host.
“You don’t know how happy I feel when I’m behind a microphone and blowing out some tunes,” Siki says.