LAS VEGAS — Hush, Gerald Brisco commanded the crowd at the Cauliflower Alley Club banquet. A barely perceptible noise was quickly becoming a low rumble, and he said he wanted to hear it more clearly.
Hush, he ordered a second time, temporarily sidetracking his presentation of flamboyant Freebird Michael P.S. Hayes for the club’s Lou Thesz Award, named for the no-nonsense former world champion.
“You hear that? I’ll tell you what it is,” Brisco announced. “It’s Lou Thesz rolling over in his grave, knowing that the Freebirds are here.”
Talk about defusing a question with hilarity. Not many in the wrestling community would have put Hayes, the brash, colorful hard rocker in the same vein with the revered Thesz. But by the end of the annual banquet on Wednesday night, it was clear they were a pretty good fit.
The Thesz Award is a lifetime achievement accolade, and just as Thesz pioneered his style of straightforward, no-frills wrestling, Hayes and the Freebirds revolutionized the sport with their music, showmanship, creativity and villainy.
“They changed the industry,” Brisco said. “They changed what you look at in the ring; they changed the performance in the ring. … They had that certain style, that certain glamour in the ring.”
Hayes was one of nine award winners at the final day of the three-day reunion, held at the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The recipients reflected the diverse nature of pro wrestling, running the gamut from international stars to independent wrestlers, and from tall people to very short people.
Wrestler and trainer extraordinaire Terry Taylor received the Iron Mike Award, the club’s top honor, which is named for CAC founder Mike Mazurki. Considered a master of wrestling psychology, Taylor has played major roles in front of and behind the camera in most major companies.
Presenting Taylor for the award, Jim Ross put the honoree and the crowd in stitches as he recalled announcing a Taylor tag team match in the old Mid-South territory alongside broadcast partner Bill Watts, who owned the promotion.
The Russian duo of Krusher Khruschev and Ivan Koloff teamed to hang Taylor by his neck in the ropes, causing Watts to exclaim, “My God! Terry Taylor is double hung.”
As Ross deadpanned: “Throughout the territory, he became automatically the most popular wrestler. … They said it on television, so it’s got to be true.”
Taylor, who now works with young wrestlers at the WWE developmental facility in Florida, was warm and humble in his acceptance speech, thanking his late wife, whom he called the rock of a family with two special needs children.
“If there is anything good about me, she did it,” Taylor said.
In his acceptance speech for the Thesz Award, Hayes, clad in a purple get-up with silver piping and white hat, showed why he is Technicolor, while the rest of the world exists in black and white.
To laughter, he described his linkage with Thesz as “the biggest oxymoron ever,” but quickly gave credit to Terry Gordy, Buddy Roberts and Jimmy Garvin, his partners in the Freebirds. In fact, he said he wouldn’t accept the award in his own name, instead saying it was for “all of us.”
And a quick Freebird story: Hayes remembered how he once described his vision for a rock-oriented, wild-child tag team to Tennessee promoter Nick Gulas.
“You boys are on them marijuana pills, ain’t ya?” Gulas said.
“I’ll admit we do smoke it,” Hayes acknowledged. “However, if you run into these marijuana pills, here’s my number. Give me a call.”
Other awards were handed out:
An active men’s award went to “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce, who has been five-time champion of the reformed National Wrestling Alliance and an ex-Ring of Honor star and booker. He wore a shirt with a blue collar to symbolize his approach to the mat.
“For a guy who often has too much to say, I’m almost choked up beyond words,” he said.
Dan “Short Sleeve” Sampson, a midget wrestler who is on his retirement tour, also was cited for his achievements.
“He’s often been outsized, but never outclassed,” Vance Nevada said in presenting Sampson, who drew guffaws when he stood behind the podium and wisecracked, “Where did everybody go? … The journey has been stellar; it has been epic.”
Canada’s Ron Hutchison received the first Trainer’s Award. Hutchison spoke emotionally about being the first to receive the award when there are so many great trainers in the business. Still his work with the likes of Edge, Christian and Trish Stratus speaks to his skills, according to Sinn Bodhi, an ex-student who presented him.
“This is without a doubt the biggest accolade of my wrestling career,” Hutchison said.
Buddha Khan took home the retired men’s award, and Debi Pelletier-Miller, better known as Debbie the Killer Tomato, earned the retired women’s accolade. “My career has come full circle,” said the former Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling wrestler (she was known as Dallas) and trainer.
Cheerleader Melissa Anderson received the active women’s award; she is a past recipient of the CAC’s Future Legend Award, as well.
Also receiving recognition with a retired men’s award was Canadian indy veteran John Cozman, known as “Principal” Richard Pound in Stampede wrestling in the 1980s and 1990s.