MONTREAL – Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon proved Monday night that he is indeed a star among stars, being the final inductee honoured during the three-hour ceremony for the Panthéon des sports du Québec.
“Maurice is the big star of the evening,” said Yves Thériault, who directed a documentary about the life of the Mad Dog. And he couldn’t have been more right.
Throughout the evening, the 80-year-old Vachon was surrounded by people who wanted an autograph or a picture. The money shot for the photographers covering the event was Maurice and his family — he had many brothers and sisters there to celebrate with him, including Régis, Guy, André and sister Claire, as well as his brother and long-time partner in and out the ring, Paul “The Butcher” Vachon.
A video shown before Vachon’s induction featured great moments, such as Mad Dog battling Jean Ferré (Andre the Giant), Édouard Carpentier, and Mad Dog’s very last match, teaming with a long-time foe Jos Leduc against Gilles Poisson and Man Mountain Moore. Radio personality Paul Houde made everyone laugh after impersonating Maurice saying he has “a voice from hell!”
While the video aired, the Casino de Montréal, host to the 19th gala induction into the hall of fame, was no longer filled with celebrities: it was filled only by Maurice Vachon’s fans. Young or old, everyone knew the Mad Dog.
Ex-diving champion Annie Pelletier had great things to say about Maurice. “I’m from the east part of the city, where we would eat baloney and watch wrestling!” she laughed. When Pelletier approached Maurice for a picture, she took the time to thank him for so many great memories of her childhood while watching wrestling with her dad.
Mélanie Turgeon, former alpine skiing champion, didn’t miss her chance to meet Vachon. “I was never a wrestling fan. But I asked him an autograph for one of my friend’s father,” the 32-year-old told SLAM! Wrestling. “More over, Mr. Vachon is one the idols of my coach Piotr Jelen.”
Former hockey players like Réjean Houle and Marc Tardif wanted to be part of it too. Houle gladly posed for a picture with Mad Dog, while Tardif had some very kind words for Mr. Vachon. “He always was a colourful and a very kind man,” Tardif, a fellow 2009 inductee, said in his post-induction speech.
Even a well-known comedian in Quebec, Diane Lavallée, took the time to praise Maurice. “I just want to congratulate you for your entire career,” she told him, even though she wasn’t a wrestling fan.
The Panthéon des sports du Québec — the Quebec Sports Hall of Fame — has only one other wrestler among its 159 members: Yvon Robert. But another part-time pro wrestler, Herb Trawick, is also in the Hall as a football player. The ex-CFL great was at one point tag team champion of the Montreal territory with Robert himself.
Besides Vachon, other inductees on Monday night included former hockey player Marc Tardif, former Olympians Nicolas Fontaine (freestyle skiing), Mélanie Turgeon (alpine skiing) and Caroline Brunet (kayak) and former Montreal Canadiens announcer Claude Mouton.
But Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon was able to outdraw his “opponents” one more time as he was the “king” of the night.
Vachon was honoured not just for his professional wrestling career but also for his amateur wrestling. He finished seventh at the 1948 Olympic Games, beating a great Indian champion in 22 seconds. Two years later, at the British Empire Games (now the Commonwealth Games), he won a gold medal in his category.
After starting as a pro in Montreal, he left the province but not the country as he started wrestling in northern Ontario and in Calgary. His fame would finally come in the United States Mid-West territory, in particular for Verne Gagne’s AWA, where he was several times World champion and tag team champion with brother Paul. After an estimated 13,000 matches, he quit wrestling in 1986 following a farewell tour throughout Quebec. In 1987, a tragic accident happened as he was hit by a car while doing his daily jogging out in Iowa. His leg was amputated as a result. But he continued to show courage as his fans throughout the world sent letters.
“I worked my entire career to be hated and still the fans love me. I must’ve done something wrong,” joked Vachon then.
After being introduced by another hall of famer, former baseball player Claude Raymond, it was time for Maurice to take the stage. He acted like if he was in front of a wrestling crowd entertaining them with some of his favorite catchphrases and stories. No other inductee last night had more cheers. After he ended his speech with his favorite wrestling joke, he got another standing ovation from the delighted crowd.
Since Friday, Vachon has been all over radio and TV stations, and in numerous newspapers; all media wanted their piece of the “Mad Dog.”
As Claude Raymond said about Maurice in his induction speech: “Maurice ‘Mad Dog’ Vachon is for real.”
Who can disagree?