The Vachon Brothers — Paul “The Butcher” and Maurice “Mad Dog” — have been regulars at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunions since its early days in Los Angeles. Maurice was even presented with the Iron Mike Mazurki Award, the CAC’s top honor. As for Butcher, he’s been called upon to sing, but has never been recognized. Until next week.
Though Butcher has been up on the stage numerous times, usually to sing in his deep, baritone voice, he has never been officially honoured with a special award or given any kind of special tribute. In fact, the closest Paul has ever come to being honoured was when he was crowned the CAC cribbage champion in 2002.
Even his sister, Vivian (Diane), who died in 1991, was honoured posthumously in 2006.
The Butcher tried to hold his tongue, shared the oversight with a few friends, and this year, the oversight will be corrected corrected at the CAC’s annual reunion in Las Vegas, at the Riveria, at the banquet on Wednesday, June 11th.
Paul is happy to be receiving the award, even if it is a bit overdue. At 70 years of age, the Mens Wrestling Award is an award one might have thought Paul deserved to get some time ago. After all, he has wrestled nearly 1,900 matches, many of which under the moniker of “Butcher” Vachon, a vicious heel that showed no mercy on his opponents. He often teamed with his brother “Mad Dog” Vachon and together, they won the AWA World Tag Team Championship twice. Paul even appeared in the movie Wrestling Queen with his sister, Vivian. His stepdaughter, Luna (Angel), carved out a most remarkable wrestling career of her own, and two of his youngest sons, Damien “Pitbull” Vachon and Pierre “The Beast” Vachon, have competed on the Ontario/Quebec independent circuit.
Back before his bout with throat cancer, Paul had been asked many times to take the stage to show off his singing skills. This was back when the CAC reunion was held in California instead of Las Vegas. Paul would drive from Montreal to California, picking up his brother on the way in Nebraska. On the night of his first award banquet, Dick “The Destroyer” Beyer, took the microphone, welcomed everyone and then mentioned that Paul had driven “something like 10,000 kilometers” to be there. “So to start this night off, Paul’s going to sing for us.”
There was no accompanying music, just the sound of Paul’s voice. He sang a pop hit from the 1950s called I Believe. “That was the start of my experiences at the Cauliflower Alley Club,” Paul reflected in a recent interview. He would be asked to sing several more times and that, coupled with his various other speeches and accepting awards for family members, left CAC organizers with the impression he had already been awarded.
One of the CAC organizers actually came up to him at a recent reunion and said, “Paul, you’ve been honoured for just about everything, haven’t you?” Paul smiled and said politely, “No. I have never been honoured at all.” Remembering the story, Paul laughed. “I didn’t want to sound like sour grapes. I think I just slipped out of everyone’s memory. I think they collectively thought I had been honoured because they had seen me up on stage so many times. I really just enjoyed going to the reunions, even if I wasn’t going to be honoured.”
But the fact remained that Paul hadn’t been honoured — at least not by his peers in the CAC. Outside of the prestigious Cribbage Championship, Paul was a side attraction at the CAC reunions, a speech-giver and a singer. Word got around about this and Paul figures “some strings got pulled” because in early 2008, Paul got word that he was going to be officially honoured at this year’s CAC reunion. Someone said, “Paul, you’re going to be honoured again,” to which Paul laughed and said, “What do you mean ‘again’?”
Asked how it feels to be honoured this year, Paul did not attempt to conceal his happiness. “It’s great,” he said. “All I ever wanted to do in my life was wrestle and get away from the farm and not have to milk cows and shovel manure. My lifetime ambition was to be a wrestler and I became one. To be honoured, even if I had to lobby for it a little bit, before my peers and my brothers and sisters in the business is a great honour. I get goosebumps every time I think about it.”
As the reunion approaches, Paul is working on his acceptance speech. It’s a tough assignment — summing up his career that spanned four decades in one verbal reverie isn’t particularly easy. And although Paul has written several self-published books (he is currently working on his third in his When Wrestling Was Real series, about his time running the Grand Prix promotion in Montreal), writing about himself isn’t such a simple task. He can’t help but think of others even when he is supposed to be talking about his accomplishments and memories. In fact, Paul is planning to use a line from good friend Don Leo Jonathan in his speech.
“I’m gonna quote something Don said when he was inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame,” Paul said excitedly. “He said, ‘I was pleasantly surprised but I am glad that someone had the good idea of doing this while I was still alive.’ I thought that was great — and true.”
Paul also plans to crack a few jokes. That’s his way — and he has become known for his witty wrestling humour. At last year’s reunion, a mic was being passed around at the CAC’s Salute to Canadians Baloney Blowout and someone asked Paul to tell a joke. So he did. This is it:
“These two old-time wrestlers are getting old and talking about what a good life they had in wrestling and one of them says, ‘I don’t mind dying, but it would make me feel a lot better if I knew there was wrestling in heaven.’ The other guy said, ‘Me too.’ So they made a pact that whoever was going to die first would come back and tell the other whether there was wrestling in heaven or not. Sure enough, after awhile, one of them died and a week later, the guy who died came back and said to his friend, ‘I’ve got good news and bad news.’ The friend who was still alive asked for the good news. His dead friend said, ‘Okay, the good news is I was up in heaven and yes, there is wrestling in heaven.’ The alive friend said, ‘Alright!’ and then asked for the bad news. ‘Well, the good news is that there is wrestling in heaven,’ the ghost repeated, ‘but the bad news is that next Friday you’re in the main event against Whipper Watson.'”
Being able to tell jokes like that and just socialize with his wrestling family is what Paul Vachon is looking forward to the most this year. Yes, the award is nice, but the night of the CAC banquet is something special to him — and everyone who is in attendance.
“It’s such a great atmosphere,” he elaborated. “I am thrilled to be there. These days, you see, we live for these things. It’s just a really good occasion. Where else do all the old-time wrestlers get together?”
When the night finally arrives, the big question on everyone’s mind will be whether or not Paul will sing again. Four and a half years ago, Paul had tonsil cancer and although he has recovered from it, it has damaged his throat somewhat. Plus, he recently got over a bout of bronchitis. “So my throat is still a little hoarse,” he complained, “but if I can, maybe I’ll sing something.”
Asked what he might sing at this year’s reunion, Paul chuckled. He thought back on his career and the road he had to travel to get where he is now — on the cusp of being honoured for his achievements in a lifetime of wrestling. It wasn’t an easy road — there were family tragedies along the way; personal obstacles to overcome. But he overcame them, fulfilled his lifelong dream to become a wrestler, left the farm and joined a fraternity of men and women who gather once a year to celebrate each other’s varied accomplishments. It wasn’t easy for any of them, and in that sense, if Paul does indeed sing, he will choose a song that represents the struggles they all collectively faced and the reward they will all receive — one way or the other – at the end.
His song of choice will, once again, be I Believe. “Sure, I sang it before,” he said at the close of the interview, “but maybe now it means something a little more. For everyone.”