The 2004 reunion has come and gone, but it won't soon be forgotten as there were many memorable moments to share.
First, I'd like to thank everyone who came up and introduced themselves, I really appreciate it (next year it's the same - I don't recognize faces real well, and the name tags are difficult to read as well) - thanks to everyone for understanding, and it was really nice to talk to you all.
Thursday morning the registration table opened and when I went down there a little after 9:00 the line was already quite long as people were picking up their name tags.
Just to give you a clearer picture - the registration table is in the hall in fromt of the large room where the reunion is held. When I mention being "in the hall," most of "the action" takes place by the registration table. Also in the hall are several large - stands I guess you would call them, with many photos of the wrestlers of the past. It is really interesting just standing out there and looking at all these great pictures.
After getting my name tag, I went inside, and Butcher Vachon, Ox Baker, and a few others were already seated. Now, as it was still early, I wasn't sure if I should start making the rounds yet. But when another fan went up to the wrestlers, I got in there as well. I went over by the Butcher and the Ox. I spoke with them for a couple of minutes and took a picture as well. I had made up photo collages of some of the wrestlers that I knew would be there, and I had one of Butcher that he kindly signed as we talked a little about his WWWF matches in the late 70s. He's had a lot of truly interesting experiences, and it was great to talk to him. He would have his book down there a bit later and I was looking forward to buying a copy.
I didn't know that Ox would be there so I didn't have a collage of him. He had pictures there and I bought one for him to sign. Someone mentioned him being in "Escape From New York" and I recalled that even though I'm not a movie watcher, I did watch that movie because I knew he'd be in it. Ox is a total character! He has a big voice, and he was often heard bellowing out a tune. He'd often step into character as well, and it was just like hearing his interviews on the wrestling shows.
Red Bastien and Nick Bockwinkel were later walking by, and I talked to them a bit as well. They are amazing, running back and forth, busy with so many things, but they still made time to talk to everyone who approached them.
A bit later, Paul Jones came in. This was a funny encounter. I (re)-introduced myself to him (we spoke a bit at last year's reunion). Paul is a fun guy and a great ribber "I remember you," he told me. "I lent you 20 bucks and you never paid me back" We both laughed as he signed the collage I had of him. As I got out my camera to take a picture, he said to someone next to him "I'm going to take his pen" and he put it in his shirt pocket. I took the picture, and as I'm putting the camera away, someone called Paul into the hall. "He really did take my pen." I laughed. I went outside and said "did you take my pen?" He laughed - he forgot for the moment when they called him outside.
Paul and I talked further, about his babyface run in Mid Atlantic (I became a fan of his through the Apter magazines), and his earlier run as a heel in Florida. Paul was saying that he had especially great matches with Jack Brisco, who arrived moments later with his wife Jan. A fun part of these reunions is meeting the wrestlers wives, and Mrs. Brisco is really nice).
"Nice to see you again, Alfred." Jack said as we shook hands. We had seen each other the week before in Tampa. We talked for a few minutes, and he asked me how the TV presentation on Bobby Shane went. "It went well, except for an annoying quirk," I told him, in reference to the video of the show, which I received before heading to Vegas. "Each time I swallowed, as I started talking again, I can hear my lips smack together. It drove me nuts as I watched it. Next time, if I ever do anything like that again, I'm not going to swallow at all!" I added. Jack laughed. "I won't swallow, I won't even breath," he said, and I laughed as well.
Encounters like those mentioned above are what makes these reunions so great. Getting to know the wrestlers and joking around with them a bit makes for true, life-long memories.
I was out in the hall and I met Al Friend. He remembered me from last year as well. He is such a nice guy, very well-spoken (as a great manager should be)and always interesting to talk to. I always enjoyed the managers of wrestling, and Al was one of the Central States' finest.
While on the subject of some of the finest managers, Sir Oliver Humperdink was there as well. He, of course answers many questions at Wrestling Classics and Kayfabe Memories, and his ia as nice in person as he is on the boards. It's always a pleasure to meet up with him!
I then spotted Cowboy Bob Kelly. Bob always gives me a nice, warm greeting, and I am proud to be a friend of his. Bob was soon joined by his charming wife Chris, and we had a real nice conversation as well. With Bob and Chris at the reunion this year was longtime Gulf coast favorite Bobby Fields and his wife, Evelyn. They are both super-nice. I had the pleasure of meeting them in Mobile last year, and it was great to see them again as well.
This is really cool - the Kellys and the Fields' drove to Vegas from Mobile, making many stops along the way for some sightseeing. Bob and Chris did that on the way to last year's reunion as well, and it always sounds like a lot of fun.
I spoke with Charlie Smith as well. The always witty Mr. Smith refereed many great matches in Georgia, and we spoke a bit about Bobby Shane.
Now, for the AWA segment of our program.
While I was out in the hall, there was a man over by the registration table - it was Larry Hennig! He spoke for a few moments with Nick Bockwinkel, and then he went inside. Within a minute of that, Baron Von Raschke arrived. After getting his name tag, he was hanging out, talking to a few of the fans. I got out the collage of him and asked him to sign it. "I still remember when you came to the WWWF (in 1977," I told him. "You seemed so awesome with the brain claw and all, we wondered 'how's Sammartino going to get past him," I continued. "He cheated!" the Baron assured me.
Next, I went over to Nick Bockwinkel. We talked for a moment, and as he signed his collage, I recalled a great match I have from the AWA clasics of him and Ray Stevens against Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell. "You guys were an unbelievable team," I stated. "It wouldn't have been possible without Mr. Heenan," he told me. Hold onto that quote, because it turned out to be a hint of something to come.
I went back inside the room, Larry Hennig was next on my "collage list." A few people standing by me. "Did you see where Larry Hennig went?" I asked. They pointed to the middle of the room. "He's there talking to Verne Gagne." I didn't know Gagne was here too!" I excitedly stated. The conversation broke up and I approached Larry. "Being from New York, I never really had the chance to see you wrestle," I said. "But I have seen a 8 mm clip of a match between you and Pedro Morales had for the WWWF title." I asked him to sign the collage and as he handed it back to me, he said "thanks for asking." It was my pleasure, Mr. Hennig!
Towards the end of the night, a group of us were over by Dick Beyer (the Sensational Intelligent Destroyer, "class" is a fitting description as well). He was telling us about his time in Japan, his other favorite places to wrestle, as well as the cyclical nature of wrestling. In another funny moment, Larry Hennig was walking by us on his way outside. "How much did he pay you all to stand around him?" he joked. "I am holding a clinic," Dick told him. "Are you in for the cribbage tournament?" he asked Hennig. Larry was in, and "the Ax" went on to win!
Friday morning started for many of us with the WCMB breakfast in the hotel restaurant. As we were waiting to go inside, "Flying" Fred Curry came by, and he and Jack Brisco talked for a while. Jack, Paul Jones, Sir Oliver Humperdink, and Charlie Smith were kind enough to make themselves available and we all had a great time. While we were there, Ox Baker came in.
Ox came by the table, and he was ribbing Charlie Smith (who was seated at my right) about something. I laughed at the exchange. "Is he laughing at me?" he asked Charlie. I knew he was kidding, but I assured him "Laughing with you, Ox." He turned to me. "you know, I haven't given anyone the heart punch in a long time," he said in his best tough-guy voice. I just laughed as this was real classic stuff! A few minutes later, he walks towards the middle of the restaurant, introduces himself, and he regaled us with a rousing rendition of "Old Time Wrestling Blues." Everyone (including the non wrestling fans, who seemed interested in our gathering) applauded, and a few minutes later, someone shouted to Ox "sing the song again." Always ready to entertain, the big man happily obliged.
Later at the fanfare upstairs, I made my rounds, checking out all the great stuff for sale and the silent auction items as well. Walking by Ox baker's table, I told him how much I enjoyed his song, he held up a CD "I have three left," he told me. I quickly bought one! In return, I gave him a Cd of the song I had written about Bobby Shane (whom Ox spoke of in his Cookbook). "Someone else sings it, I don't the velvet tones that you have," I told hem. "Well, who does?" he asked. My sentiments exactly! A few minutes later, Baker was asked to pose for a pictue with a fan. As he stood beside the fan, he cut a wild, wrestling-like promo. Ox is laugh out loud funny, and certainly made this a uniquely memorable reunion!
I then went by the Jack Brisco/Paul Jones table. Mark Nulty had for sale copies of Jack's book, Florida videos, the Brisco shoot interview, the Ringside Live tape, as well as several photos. Paul was well represented as well as there was the Paul Jones Mid Atlantic collection and several great photos of him as well. I bought Jack's book (I would end up buying most of the stuff over the next couple of days - Brisco and Jones were two of my favorites). I later asked Paul if he'd be writing a book soon, and he told me he is working on one.
I went by Jimmy Valiant's table. I asked him to sign the "Handsome" Jimmy collage I made of him (I know he's Boogie now, but to me he'll always be "Handsome)." He liked it so much, he requested a copy! My pleasure, JV.
I next went by the Vachon's table, just Butcher was there at the moment. I told him that I had started his book and was really enjoying it (lots of fascinating stories about jobs he had in Canada, also trips to Australia, India, and Pakistan). He was pleased that I was enjoying it. A bit later, I passed the table again and Mad Dog was there. I reintroduced myself to him, stating that we had met last year. "I remember your face," he told me. "And it's still a dog eat dog world, even in New York." he said, stepping into character. You just gotta love the Mad Dog!
Next, I went by Verne Gagne's table, and we spoke for a few minutes. He told me a bit about some of the matches he had here in New York back in the 50s. It was a true honor to finally meet this AWA legend and classy gentleman as well.
John Tolos soon arrived, and he made the rounds talking to all his old friends. Tolos looks as good as ever, and while I never did get the chance to speak to him (maybe next year!), I did get a far off shot of him speaking with Jack Brisco. That makes me wonder, did they ever wrestle while Brisco was NWA champion and Tolos was the ruler of LA wrestling?
Bobby Heenan was on hand as well with his second book. It was truly a gratifying moment to be able to shake "the Brain's" hand and tell him "thanks for the memories," as he truly was one of the most memorable personalities in wrestling hisory.
Back out in the hall for a few minutes, I spoke with Red Bastien and he signed the collage I had of him. I had never seen Red wrestle before, but a couple of months back, I had gotten some AWA early 70s stuff, and it had a couple of his matches. "I see why they called you the "Flying redhead." I told him. After he handed me back the collage, I walked away and put it into my folder. Just then, I realized that I didn't have my pen. I went back to where I left Red, but he was already gone (still busily handliing many aspects of the reunion). I saw him inside the room. "I think I left you with my pen," I told him. He laughed - he said that he always does that and ends up with four or five pens in his pocket. We both got a good chuckle out of it.
A few minutes later, I was again by the Brisco/Jones table, and there was a photo of Paul form the 60s. I bought it, and after Jones signed it for me, he starts putting my pen in his pocket. He realized it and laughed "I was doing it again," referring to Thursday night. "That's okay - Red Bastien just walked off with it as well," I told him. That pen just kept on disappearing!
A bit later I spoke with Bob Orton Sr. He lives in Vegas and he was by for a day last year as well. We spoke a bit about his career (he loved working for Eddie Graham in Florida), and he laughed when i told him that I read about Bruno Sammartino defending the WWWF title against "Rocky Fitzpatrick," and that I was surprised to learn that Fitzpatrick was Bob Orton! "Why did you come in under different name?" I asked him. "That was Vince McMahon (Sr.'s) idea," he told me. "He came up with that name." He is proud of Randy, but is still worried that he may get injured again.
The wrestling training sessions were a great part of the reunion as well, and hearing trainers Scott Casey and Les Thatcher instruct the young men and women was truly fascinating. At one point they were talking about heels and the art of building heat. Really interesting hearing them talk about the psychology that is part of a wrestling match.
I had a nice conversation with feferee Morgan Dollar, who runs an indy fed in Mt. Airy, North Carolina (Andy Griffith's hometown, which served as the inspiration for Mayberry). He told me how the local folks enjoy the action, and it gave me renewed hope that someday, the territories could begin to make a comeback.
Friday night's Baloney Blowout was great. They introduced all the wrestling attendees, and after dinner, they had "Open Mic" for whoever wanted to get up there and tell a few stories. Ox Baker got up and led a rendition of "Happy Birthday" as a cake was presented to him. Paul Jones went up there and told a couple of road stories, and afterwards, everyone just had a graet time mingling and re-living old times.
Saturday morning had a surprise. I was by one of the display tables items not for sale), and Nick Bockwinkel had a box that just said "Bockwinkel on it. In the box was the AWA title that Nick proudly wore. Later as I was looking at it with some other fans, one of them pointed out the dent cuased by Stan Hansen running it over with his truck after refusing to drop the belt.
A real memorable, personally charged moment for me occurred when I took a very special photo. As mentioned in a post a couple of weeks back, I had the pleasure of visiting with Jack Brisco in Tampa, and last year, I had a great visit with Cowboy Bob Kelly in Mobile. Both meetings will always mean a great deal to me, and I wanted to get a shot of them together (which will also be used for an upcoming article). I found Bob first, and then we went to track down Jack. The two men spoke for a couple of minutes as I got my camera ready. And as they talked, they both paid me a real heart-moving compliment, and even if I live to be 100 years old, I will never forget that moment. It is forever etched in my mind and on my heart. They made me feel like a million bucks (each), and I am truly honored and proud that I can call them my friends. God bless you guys! The picture came out real nice too!
A bit later, Bob and I were talking and Ox Baker passed us, singing "Happy Brithday to me." "I thought his birthday was yesterday," Bob said. "I think everyday's a party for him," I replied as we both laughed. Ox is truly one of a kind.
It was soon time for the banquet and awards ceremony, and I have to say, everyone looked so nice all dressed up. I had the honor of sitting with Mr. and Mrs. Bob Kelly, Mr. anmd Mrs. Bobby Fields, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Danny Hodge. This was my first time meeting Mr. Hodge, and this true legend is as genuinely nice as a person could be. Bob Kelly kindly told him aobut my tribute to Bobby Shane and also about my meeting with Jack Brisco while taping the show in Tampa. Danny had some really nice things to say about Bobby, and some especially nice things to say about Jack.
As the ceremonies started, Bruce Hart gave a moving tribute to his late father, Stu. While talking about the Dungeon and wrestling in Calgary, he mentioned a well-known rib that was played on new wrestlers coming into the territory called the "Mabel Parties." I had read about that in Butcher Vachon's book, and it was kind of neat having read about it and knowing the story.
As he was called up to accept his award, Baron Von Raschke goose-stepped to the podium and thanked many for his success. He did an impressive Mad Dog Vachon imitation as he recalled that he (Vachon) would tell him (Von Raschke) that "You'd make a good German." I was terrified of him and I didn't have the nerve to tell him I really was a German." he recalled with a laugh.
The posthumous award was given to "Wild" Bull Curry, and was accepted by his son "Flying" Fred Curry and his grandson Rocket Curry. Fred spoke of the Texas Brass Knuckles title and how it had been created specifically for his father's brand of mayhem, noting that "Wild Bull" was the original hardcore champion.
A special award was given to one of wrestling's greatest families - the Ortons. Bob Jr. accepted the honor on behalf of his father - Bob Sr., his brother Barry O, and his son Randy. "I was always known as Bob Orton's son, now I'm Randy's dad," he quipped.
George "the Animal" Steele accepted his award and spoke of being kayfabe while the WWF was starting to expose the business. "Vince McMahon told me that a reproter was coming and that I should let him in," Steele recalled. "Let them in? I'm kayfabe," he stated.
Paul Jones was deservingly honored as well. He thanked his son for convincing him to attend his first CAC reunion last year (we should all thank him as well). He noted that Jack Brisco was his best friend and spoke of his stay in Florida. Then, after talking about limping up the stairs, he turned his attention to Vince McMahon and blasted him for saying that wrestling is fake. Jones noted that they all paid a price for bieng in the ring, and he saluted his fellow warriors: "guys who paved the way for Vince McMahon to make millions." I can't repeat here what Paul said without being censored, but the shoe definitely fits. Afterwards, it was a pleasure to shake Paul's hand and tell him that I agree with him one hundred percent because McMahon has no respect for the true workers of the business. My apologies to those who will disagree.
Among other recipients were prominent promoter Lester Welch received a well-deserved honor, as did referee Charlie Smith, Ed Wiskowski, Playboy Buddy Rose, Billy Darnell, Percival A. Friend, Omar Atlas, Ann Casey, Margaret Garcia, Sandy Parker, and John Tolos, who received the "Golden Potato" Award. "A golden potato for the "Golden Greek," Tolos stated as he took the stage. "I was a king spudder," he said. In a touching moment he spoke of the friends that he misses. That's what makes these reunions so special - these men (and women) of the mat can get together and tell each other now much they loved working together. And we as fans can go and tell them how much we loved seeing them in that squared circle. If that's not a reason for every worker and every fan to attend next year's reunion, I don't know what is.
Danny Hodge received the Art Abrams Lifetime Achievement Award. Without a doubt, one of the greatest amateur wrestlers ever, Hodge was the first wrestler to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The long time NWA World Jr. Heavyweight champion graciously accepted the honor. I spoke to him for a moment afterwards, and he was genuinely moved by the award.
Then came time for the Iron Mike award. Heenan went to read the name of the winner. "There's no name written," he stated. "Mr. Bockwinkel? Mr. Bastien?" he called out. Nick Bockwinkel approached the podium. "After I announce the winner, I'd like everyone to hold their applause," he stated. It was so quiet at that moment, you could hear a pin drop. "The winner of the Iron Mike award," he began, "Is....Bobby Heenan!" Applause broke out momentarily but subsided as Nick held up his hand. Speaking of Heenan's prowess both in and out of the ring, Nick said "I knew that whenever Stevens or Bockwinkel would be unable to appear on a card, and it was announced that Bobby Heenan would be forced to take our place, two things would happen. The crowd would erupt as it would for Stevens or Bockwinkel, if not louder, and he could do as good a job as Stevens or Bockwinkel, if not better. Now everyone, a standing ovation, please," he requested. Everyone there gladly obliged and we all became one as we showed our respect, appreciation, and love for truly one of the greatest performers ever to enter a wreslting arena.
Bobby seemed a bit stunned by this. He thanked the promoters for the opportunity, notably Dick the Bruiser, Verne Gagne, Sam Muchnick, Paul Boesch, Frank Tunney and Vince McMahon. And, of course, he thanked his protégés as well. I didn't do it by myself, I did it because of these people I managed," Heenan said, pointing out Nick. "I was like croutons on top of a salad," he continued. I smiled as I recall what Nick told me when I mentioned his team with Ray Stevens, that it wouldn't have been possible without Heenan. Here's to you, Brain, as the song says -"You're the tops!"
That, my friends, wraps up the fun and festivities of this year's CAC reunion. It was a truly remarkable and uplifting three days, and I can hardly wait until next year's.