LAS VEGAS – Wrestling tights were replaced by ties Saturday night at the 40th Annual Cauliflower Alley Club (CAC) banquet where Terry Funk received the night’s top honor, the Iron Mike Mazurki Award.
Executive Vice-President and Co-presenter of what has been dubbed “professional wrestling’s most prestigious award,” Karl Lauer told those in attendance that the Iron Mike Mazurki Award had only been given out 14 previous times and had three requirements: the recipient had to be immediately recognizable, successful in two or more professions (Funk’s being wrestling and acting) and someone who is benevolent.
“Terry is a giver, not a taker,” commented Lauer. “And he’s always been one of the finest wrestlers that ever lived.”
Vice-President of the CAC and also co-presenter, Nick Bockwinkel, spoke next. After some kind words, humor and two playful slaps to Funk’s face, he observed, “(Terry’s) always off the wall. You have no idea what to expect and he’s one of the greatest champions the NWA’s ever had.”
Funk approached the podium only to have his cell phone ring.
“Would you believe this crap?” he asked those in attendance.
It was soon evident it was all a rib as Funk repeated “Si” into the phone several times only to announce to a laughing crowd, “Verne Gagne, we’ve got a challenge here from Chavo Guerrero. Oh, I am so funny tonight!”
Funk then went on to answer the question if given the opportunity, would he relive his career all over again.
“Would I do it again?” he questioned with a smirk. “God, no I wouldn’t do it again. I’d be a Wal-Mart greeter. That way I’d have more money and insurance.”
Funk then got serious and spoke about his and so many other’s love for the business and encouraged everyone to “never let it stop.”
“We all have the same love for a crazy God damn insane business that just magnetizes us and attracts us to one another,” he declared.
He finished his speech by reading a moving dedication from his book and thanking several of his peers including: the women of wrestling who he described as “often forgotten,” Larry “the Axe” Henning, Harley Race, the Vachons and Killer Kowalski.
“It’s a trip I’ll never forget and I never want to end it,” promised Funk.
Other banquet happenings and distinctions:
- The festivities began with the first ever marriage to take place at the CAC reunion. Adrian Street, stealing the show in a black suit trimmed with a multitude of colored rhinestones and a fabulous blonde wig, and Miss Linda became husband and wife with Father Jason Sanderson officiating and Don Leo Jonathan acting as best man.
- Before any of the awards were presented, Lauer, informed everyone that 289 wrestlers were in attendance, the largest gathering the CAC has had at one time. He also went on to say that the CAC’s membership was up 35 per cent and that the reunion would return to Vegas next year.
- Fred Beell received the Posthumous Award. Beell, a native of Wisconsin and infamous for his Beell throw became a police officer after leaving wrestling and was killed in the line of duty on August 5, 1933. Paul Farber, the Chief of Police of the Peotone Police Department in Illinois and also a wrestler and promoter, accepted the award on Beell’s behalf.
- Having just signed with the WWE recently, Frankie Kazarian, received another surprise and joined the company of Melissa Anderson, Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle by winning the Future Legends Award. The honor was created by the CAC to recognize an outstanding young wrestler. A pupil of Killer Kowalski’s, Kazarian acknowledged his mentor by calling him, “a guy I love with all my heart.”
- “Sodbuster” Kenny Jay was honored by Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer and George Schire. Known for being a jobber, Jay had several humorous jabs for the legends he put over including Nick Bockwinkel: “To put him over I almost had to lay him down and put him on top of me,” and Butcher Vachon: “You gave me everything except your jock strap. It wouldn’t have fit anyway.”
- Juan Hernandez, Penny Banner and Tom Drake honored the first ever husband and wife inductees, “Golden Boy” Paul Christy & Bunny Love. The two “soul mates,” who have been married for 25 years, thanked each other and Love expressed, “If I was 20 years younger, I’d do it again.”
- Percy Pringle (announced as “everyone’s favorite mortician”) and Al Friend presented the Managerial Award to Sir Oliver Humperdink. Pringle began the tribute by comparing managers in the businesses today to dinosaurs, saying that while most of them are extinct, there are “still a few of us old dinosaurs roaming.” Friend described Humperdink as “a man who has exceeded all expectations and never hurt anyone.” Humperdink thanked many of his peers and stated, “It was a trip filled with pleasure and passion. I had a great career, no regrets.”
- CAC President Red Bastien, honored Ernie “The Cat” Ladd. Ladd relayed to the audience how he used to be a professional football player, while wrestling in the off season. He eventually left football to focus on wrestling in 1970. In his speech he also recounted how racism and segregation played a role in his wrestling career. For example, during a show in Louisiana, it took Ladd an hour and a half to get to the arena because so many people had bought tickets to see the first match between a white and a black wrestler in the state. He wrapped up his speech by thanking all the wrestling wives for putting up with their husbands.
- Don Leo Jonathan presented the Lou Thesz Memorial Award to Jack Brisco. Jonathan defined Brisco as “a man who has made us all proud to be wrestlers.” He then told his friend he had been wanting to honor him for a long time and was thrilled when he was asked to present the award. “We should make him a national heritage,” expressed Jonathan. “He is the greatest champion of the 20th century.” The humble Brisco accepted with a short speech emphasizing his appreciation and sharing the fact that as a young man, Thesz was his idol.
- The eight time NWA Champion of the World, Harley Race, presented Les Thatcher with the Art Abrams Lifetime Achievement Award. “A lot of people have been honored and each one deserves it,” commented Race. “This man here has dedicated his entire life to wrestling.” Thatcher revealed that he will be celebrating his 45th anniversary in the business on July 4. Often overly talkative, Thatcher admitted to being a little stuck for words. “To be honored by your peers, nothing is greater than that,” he confessed. He dedicated the award to his wife, Alice, for understanding that he has a mistress in pro wrestling and Tony Santos, the man who got him started. Currently a trainer with Elite Pro Wrestling Training and also responsible for the seminars held at the CAC for young wrestlers, Thatcher said he was blessed to have been around so many great people and that everyone was considered to be a part of his extended family. He encouraged the future stars of the business to pursue their dreams and stick with them.