The pro baseball, football, hockey and basketball leagues all have strong alumni associations, and the stars of the past are celebrated each year at the Hall of Fame inductions.
Pro wrestling is a little different. It’s more about sharing stories and telling tall tales rather than statistics and championships.
So each year, the Cauliflower Alley Club holds an annual reunion to celebrate this fact, to bring the stars of yesterday together again, along with the fans, media and historians who appreciate all that they have given to the King of Sports.
Among the names that will be in attendance this weekend at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas are Roddy Piper, Stu Hart, Wladek ‘Killer’ Kowalski, Playboy Buddy Rose, Mick Foley, Harley Race, Nick Bockwinkel, Hard Boiled Haggerty, Red Bastien, Dick (The Sensational, Intelligent Destroyer) Beyer, Leo Garibaldi, Ray (Thunder) Stern, Crazy Luke Graham, Stan (Big K) Kowalski, Paul Diamond, Johnny Rodz, Don Manoukian, Tex McKenzie, Tiger Conway Sr., Fred Curry, Billy Darnell, Jack Donovan, Penny Banner, Ella Waldek, Billy Two Rivers, Ida Mae Martinez, Sandy Parker, Cowboy Bob Kelly, Tom Andrews, Donn Lewin, Art Michalik, Shoulders Lou Newman, Jack Laskin, Fritz Von Goering, Tito Montez, Rubberman Johnny Walker (a/k/a Mr. Wrestling II), Bruce Hart, Ross Hart.
Needlessly to say, this writer will be rather busy interviewing the stars of the past for future stories on SLAM! Wrestling.
The Toronto-born Paul Diamond will be at the convention. He originally went last year to introduce his wife, Yolanda, to his old friends. Diamond warns that the Cauliflower Alley Club reunions aren’t full of “young, bouncy, dynamite guys” anymore. Instead, it’s “a bunch of old creepy guys” that he hasn’t seen in a long time.
“We’re a bunch of old, old, once-upon-a-time wannabes,” Diamond continued with a laugh. The convention gives him a chance to listen to old stories, and B.S. as only wrestlers can. “[They are] stories that we couldn’t tell before and now we can tell,” he said, referring to the new openness towards the secret workings of the pro game.
For Billy Two Rivers, it will be his first wrestling reunion. “I’m not a reunion-type person,” he dead-panned. “I’m looking forward to seeing some friends, colleagues or wrestling mates of mine that I haven’t seen for years.”
Two Rivers was invited by his old friend Red Bastien, who is the new president of the Cauliflower Alley Club. “He and I were a couple of young lads around the Carolinas in 1956, 57, in and around there, ’58 I guess,” Two Rivers recalled. “He made an effort and called me. Then he came and visited me. In the process, he began to look at the idea of having a reunion here in Montreal.”
Besides an East Coast Cauliflower Alley Club reunion possibly in Montreal in September, there is also talk about expanding the Club more internationally, with a reunion in London, England a possibility as well.
Current WWF World champion Kurt Angle was at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion last February as a special guest of Board member Pat Patterson.
“It was real interesting to see some of the legends of wrestling because to me, they’re every bit as important as the guys as the guys that I wrestle with today,” Angle told SLAM! Wrestling. “They kept this, I like to call it an art, they kept this art alive and to be able to have an opportunity, especially now that it’s bigger than ever, to have the opportunity to perform in front of people, I give a lot of credit to those guys because they kept the interest alive all this years.
“To be able to meet them, all these legends, it was enjoyable. In fact, back then it was more shoot-style, a lot more amateur wrestling stuff. All these guys really did have cauliflower ears, so I felt right at home. It was a lot of fun to be there and the guys have great personalities. Pat Patterson’s such a great guy and to listen to some of the funny stories, it was fun.”
Officially, the Club describes itself as “an association of past, present and future champions, contestants and allied personages joining in recognition and celebration of fellowship within the boxing and wrestling world.” It has been around for 35 years, and estimates that it has over 3,000 members, both active and retired, in 27 countries around the world.
There will be a special display called ‘The Fine Art of Wrestling’ at the convention, featuring artwork by former pro wrestlers like George Gordienko, Ted Lewin and Steve Strong (Disalvo).
On Saturday night, a Banquet and Awards Ceremony is held, hosted this year by Bobby Heenan and Mike Tenay. Many of the aforementioned names will be honoured, and the Club also gives out scholarships to deserving athletes as well.
For more on the Cauliflower Alley Club, including how to join, see their excellent web site.