Tribute shows come and go, usually with the participants praising the honoree as something close to the Second Coming. Not with The Crusher Tribute Show set for December 9th in Milwaukee. From the promoter through to his peers, they all admit that Crusher (who died October 22) could be trouble.
“I’ll do this for the Crush,” said former AWA world champion Nick Bockwinkel. “I think it’s just my respect for one of the legends. Even though he was a gigantic pain in the ass at times, and one of the more difficult people to work with, he still was business and he epitomized the corner saloon and all those good ol’ boys in the local neighborhood drinking their beer and telling their stories. With that in mind, he filled arenas, especially in the part of the country where he was most popular.”
The event’s promoter, David Herro, even has a recent story of The Crusher in one such bar. It was a little over a year ago, right before Crusher went in for his surgery.
“We went out for dinner and to a corner pub for a few drinks,” said Herro. “The bar was packed and there were a few obnoxious guys talking stupid and looking even more stupid. Crusher just stood there and watched and watched and watched like he was waiting for someone to act silly towards him. After a few more minutes Crusher looked at [fellow organizer] Jack [Koshick] and myself and told us: ‘You know, I ain’t never lost a bar fight before.’ We quickly decided it was time to go.”
As for Mad Dog Vachon, he has more than a few scars to remember The Crusher by.
“It was unbelievable, the big blow-up between him and I. He almost killed me one time. It was on TV. He banged my head on the metal table,” recalled Vachon. “He was not even involved in that match, it was a tag match. [Edouard] Carpentier was one of my opponents, and I forget who the other one was. Anyway, he banged my head. You know those folding banquet tables? They have tin on the side. He banged my head on that, and I had 22 stitches. People tell you it’s all ketchup. Well, I sprinkled everybody at ringside! When you’re wrestling, your heart beats so fast, and it was such a narrow cut. Everybody was full of blood. By the time I got to the hospital, I was almost out of blood.”
One of the security guards at the studio that day was an off-duty policeman, and he took Mad Dog and his brother Paul “Butcher” Vachon to the hospital, fighting traffic on the way without his cruiser. “I had two hands on the cut, and Paul had two hands on the cut, and the blood was seeping through our fingers.”
The doctor said that he was lucky to be alive.
This being wrestling, the blood and brush with death only meant good things for business.
“We had return match after return match in Minneapolis, Twin Cities, everywhere in the AWA,” said Vachon, estimating that together they drew at least three million dollars in the various return matches; “We got some of it, but [AWA promoter Verne Gagne] took most of it!” (Vachon attributed part of the success of the matches to the fact that Gagne was on a month-long vacation in Hawaii. Everyday, he’d call his assistant Wally Karbo to find out how everything was going. Wally would say that everything was fine, not overselling the success. “He wanted to come back to screw everything up!” said Mad Dog.)
Though most fans associate Vachon and Bockwinkel with The Crusher in the AWA, both of them go back even further. Mad Dog guesses that he first met Reggie Lisowski in Chicago at the beginning of the 1950s. “He weighed about 190 pounds, he was like Mr. Universe. He had big, big arms. He came out of the contests, bodybuilding, and he was awesome. He was always awesome,” said Vachon.
Bockwinkel first met Crusher in 1956, when he was taking a summer break from his studies at UCLA. Wilbur Snyder had set it up for Bockwinkel to come in and wrestle for three months on the undercard in Chicago. The second-generation matman once went for a ride to a show with the Lisowski brothers, and fell asleep in the back seat. “All of a sudden, I felt something and it felt like the car had exploded,” said Bockwinkel. “He’d thrown a big f***ing firecracker in the backseat on the floor. I guess he did have a sense of humor.”
The show is being billed as “Blizzard Brawl”, and is being put on by The Brew 97.3 and Great Lakes Championship Wrestling. It’s at Milwaukee’s Ramada Convention Center (13th and College), and features a real blend of today’s indy talent (though none go back as far as Bockwinkel and Vachon).
“Nick Bockwinkel and Mad Dog Vachon were no brainers and jumped on board right away,” said Herro. “Bobby Heenan and Gene Okerlund had other commitments that they could not reschedule, but they have been more than helpful with the show. Bobby has signed his two of his books and they will be raffled off the night of the show. Jerry Lawler has a history with both Crusher and Mad Dog and rumor has he will even apologize for what he did at the PPV back in 1998 here in Milwaukee. King Kong Bundy spent time in the AWA for a period and he is always a class act to have on any show. DDP wanted to be at the show. Al Snow, Brian Lawler, and Traci Brooks also wanted to help raise some money for a great cause.”
A scholarship fund is being set up in The Crusher’s name. “With a Crusher Tribute: Scholarship Fund, generations of wrestling fans will know how important the man known as The Crusher was for Milwaukee and Midwest Wrestling,” said Herro. “This will be an annual show and the scholarship fund will be available to all applicants that meet the qualifications set by the scholarship committee.”
Tickets are on sale now for the show Friday, December 9th, with a 7:30 p.m. belltime. Proceeds are going to Variety the Children’s Charity of Wisconsin.