LAS VEGAS—Just call it pro wrestling’s version of a Vegas-style variety revue.
The 42nd annual Cauliflower Alley Club banquet was a mixture of music, mirth, and memories in a three-and-a-half hour package April 21 that perfectly reflected the extravaganzas associated with its host city.
In fact, there’s no other place that wrestling fans could see a group of their favorites from days gone by standing arm in arm, belting out the lyrics to a Frank Sinatra classic.
“Yes, we did it our way,” some of the business’ most familiar figures crooned in and out of key as the curtain fell on a production that, including a prime rib dinner, lasted three and a half hours and saw 15 awards handed out to members in all branches of the profession.
Mix in former star Pat Patterson’s rendition of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, master of ceremonies Pepper Martin’s skit as the Godfather, and some serious stemwinders, and it was easy to understand why Martin could crack: “The Academy Awards go long and so do we.”
While the club’s honorees for 2007 have been known for months, one unexpected announcement captured the attention of an audience that included more than 400 fans and wrestlers.
The late Owen Hart was cited for his dedication and commitment to wrestling nearly seven years after he fell to his death during a stunt that went awry during a WWE event in Kansas City, Mo.
The award came as a surprise to brother Bret, who was at the banquet to honor old friend Bob Leonard, a key behind-the-scenes player in western Canada for years.
“He was in a lot of ways the most special of all the Harts … He was a real one-of-a-kind,” Bret said after recounting some of his brother’s notorious pranks. “I know everyone in the wrestling business knew what kind of special guy he was.”
Added Ross Hart, a regular at CAC events: “He took it seriously enough to enjoy wrestling hard in the ring but he never lost his camaraderie with the boys.”
The other major piece of news at the banquet was Red Bastien’s decision to step down from the CAC presidency after a seven-year stint. Bastien said he thought it was time to hand off the post to someone else –- in this case, Nick Bockwinkel, who has been vice president.
“I hope this thing continues to go on forever,” Bastien said.
Under Bastien’s direction, club membership is at an all-time high and its financial standing has never been better, executive vice president Karl Lauer reported. And, in the ultimate gesture of respect, Patterson mimicked kissing Bastien’s ring as he exited the stage as president from the final time.
The club’s top honors, the Iron Mike Mazurki Award and the Lou Thesz Award, went to hall of famers Don Leo Jonathan and Danny Hodge, respectively.
Both delivered short and heartfelt statements after a day in which former Olympian Hodge good-naturedly demonstrated his unparalleled repertoire of submission holds to anyone willing to learn firsthand about his expertise in catch-as-catch-can wrestling.
The banquet also had a foreign flavor as Takeshi Morishima, current champion of the Ring of Honor promotion, received the Future Legends Award, and ex-world champ Harley Race presented a plaque of recognition to Pro Wrestling NOAH, the influential promotion from the Far East.
|2007 CAC HONOREES|
Iron Mike Award – Don Leo Jonathan
Lou Thesz Award – Danny Hodge
Lifetime Achievement Award – Bob Geigel
Posthumous Award – Yukon Eric, Betty Jo Hawkins
Other Honorees – J.J. Dillon, Rock Riddle, Tito Carreon, Duke Myers, Bob Leonard, Laura Martinez, Bob Kelly
Some of the highlights of other award presentations:
- Cowboy Bob Kelly, who wrestled mostly along the Gulf Coast, credited Chris, his wife of almost 49 years, with supporting his career as a main eventer. “I enjoyed every minute that I was in the wrestling business,” he said.
- Duke Myers, recalled by presenter Scott Casey as an unusual mixture of toughness and kindness, called himself “one of the proudest guys there are to be in the business.”
- Mad Dog Vachon and Bockwinkel painted a picture of the late Yukon Eric for fans who did not see him during his prime in the 1950s. “To have known a man like Yukon Eric who portrayed a kind person in the ring for me, it was not only an honor but a privilege,” Vachon said. “It made a better man out of me.”
- Seventy-seven-year-old Tito Carreon called his career a “Cinderella story” and recalled that the CAC came to his financial aid after his house burned down three-and-a-half years ago.
- Leonard, one of the few non-wrestlers to earn CAC honors, credited the late Stu and Helen Hart with giving him a chance to work in the Calgary-based office. The CAC award “is beyond the high point of my 50 years in the wrestling business.”
- Rock Riddle won the Reel Member award –- he topped off his wrestling career with his current position as a Hollywood representative and producer. “You haven’t seen me humbled before. Tonight you see me humbled,” he said.
- J.J. Dillon, wrestler-manager-executive extraordinaire, vowed to be a goodwill ambassador for the CAC. “Nobody loved the business more than I did and that’s what made it possible,” he said.
- Bob Geigel captured the Art Abrams Lifetime Achievement Award and gave a lengthy rundown of the many, many territories that he visited during a successful career.
- Laura Martinez gave a brief “thank you” for remembering her work as a top woman wrestler in the 1950s.