LAS VEGAS — Just as I wrote back in November 2019, when it was announced that I would be getting the James C. Melby Historian Award from the Cauliflower Alley Club in a column — Me and the Melby: When the news is about yourself — I find myself struggling to figure out what to write on the website that has been home for almost 25 years.
Let’s just say that getting the award on September 15, 2021 — after the world suffered through the global pandemic, and is struggling to revive with the availability of vaccines — was as much of a relief as it was a celebration, if that makes sense.
We want normalcy, but this was not it. We had planned to have lots of Slammers in attendance, and the regular Canadian contingent mostly stayed home except for a few brave souls, like myself, who willing jumped through hoops to get testing done before going to the United States and then returning to Canada. In general, crowds were down at CAC, and more subdued for sure.
But it was still just so damn great to be out, to be able to shake a hand (and then discreetly apply sanitizer), or hug. The waits in the bar were criminally long, but you couldn’t fault the overworked staff, who have their own COVID thoughts and precautions. Beer still tastes great if you have to sit with your friends for a few more minutes before it arrives.
It’s important that we don’t dwell on what didn’t happen, but on what did.
Now with 20 years of CAC reunions under my eating-out-for-a-week stretched belt, I have gotten used to the chaos, things not going right, tables being turned. So I rolled with it when my award was bumped from the planned Tuesday night to Wednesday, so that I could do my roving mic schtick again; SlamWrestling’s Tommy Martinez, at his first CAC, rolled with it too, when I then needed him to cover both nights — and he did a fine job, as did Brad McFarlin with the photos.
John Arezzi, an occasional contributor here and with whom I wrote his Mat Memories book, was asked to emcee, having only ever having been to one CAC before. He won’t mind me saying that I held his hand a bit as he prepared, and he came through big time.
It was special to me that he was up there, calling up my presenter, my dear friend Pamela Morrison, who is JJ Dillon’s oldest daughter. And that I was at a table with “Madusa” Debrah Miceli and her husband Alan, just after we had announced that her memoir that we are working on will be out in the Spring 2023 from ECW Press.
But here I am going long, always a worry at CAC dinners. So I’ll stop the overtired rambling and share the transcript.
Thank you to everyone who has ever read my stories, my books, my magazine pieces, watched the occasional TV appearance or listened to me on the radio or a podcast — you were all part of this journey. As we learned with pandemic pro wrestling, it ain’t the same without fans.
Go join the Cauliflower Alley Club. To my mind, it’s the alumni association of pro wrestling, and no one can do it alone. Dark times have really proven that.
John Arezzi: He has become my psychologist, and in telling all my story, Greg Oliver has become one of my best friends in the business and I couldn’t be prouder for him tonight. He’s going to be given this honor tonight by Pam Morrison. But before we bring Pam up, we’d love to play a video of Greg.
Pamela Morrison: Thank you, John. I don’t know that everyone knows me. I am JJ’s proud daughter. Or, if you ask Bob Orton, Stephanie. You all know Greg, I know.
I was just admiring the picture of him on page 10. So flattering.
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past, creating a narrative of events and is regarded as an expert on a subject or an authority. Beyond the ability to write clearly, communicate clearly, a good historian has a depth of knowledge not only about people, and events, but they have an ability to understand and to explain the significance. They have a respect, or in this case, even maybe a love for the history of whatever it is that they’re documenting — and a curiosity about the why or so what. And the ability to really put things in context.
So to earn this nomination, I looked it up, and the nomination for the Cauliflower Alley Club’s James C. Melby historian award, the nominee and must be recognized as having conducted major research work, be dedicated to maintaining the history of professional wrestling, and have at least part of his or her historical work published. So essentially, an award-winning professional wrestling historian has all the standard qualities of a historian coupled with not being put off by a little — or sometimes a lot — of strangeness.
Not unlike a successful wrestler, I think the best wrestling writers achieve that elusive balance of substance and style. Greg Oliver, aside from his dubious taste in ties, meets that criteria.
I met Greg here, I think it was 15 years ago or very close, and we became best friends. Not just because I like to talk and Greg is a good listener. But it’s not just the listening. Greg has such empathy for everybody, he just has that compassion and an understanding. With him, I think it’s beyond just lack of judgment and beyond accepting, things as they are. But he really listens with kindness and with grace.
And he manages to do all of that in his writing, without losing objectivity, which is, of course, very important. He’s well respected because of everything I mentioned. Plus the fact that he knows what stories to tell, and he knows what stories not to tell. And he knows what stories it’s just not their time yet.
He instills trust, I think he gets trust in return.
And if you know him, you’re probably #TeamOliver. So because the CAC recognizes through this award, that the person who documents history sometimes is deserving of making history, so it is my privilege to introduce someone who tells your stories accurately, with enough commentary to make them even more interesting, but never makes it about him. My friend, Greg Oliver.
Madusa [shouting]: #TeamOliver
Greg Oliver: #TeamOliver has a long history. We got a few guys here, Matt and Carmine and Darla that know exactly what #TeamOliver means.
Thanks, especially your Pam for the kind words, the CAC for this honor.
It was George Napolitano who strong-armed me into buying a ticket back in 1998 in Cherry Hill, and I don’t regret it. I’ve been to almost everyone since and met Pam and many many great friends here.
I’ve often joked that pro wrestling journalism is an oxymoron. And I often question why I do it — it sure ain’t for the money.
At its core pro wrestling is a narrative. And a historian or journalist’s job is to examine the narrative, to unravel it, and in some cases, to place it in context in others, all the while fighting against the unreality of it all.
Where once it was kayfabe, we now have rewriting or whitewashing of history.
Whereas when I write about hockey — or ice hockey as you call it here — it’s cut and dried: Who scored, when and how.
Pro wrestling has so much more nuance, mystery, and by its very nature, deception. That’s a big part of his appeal.
The contrast to hockey is evident too in the modesty you often get out of hockey players — “The puck just bounced right.” “It’s a team game.”
But in pro wrestling, you don’t do that. Pro wrestling is the opposite. It’s a team effort. Yes, you have to have great referees like a Tim White, or Charlie Smith, you need to have the referees, you need to have the TV people, you need to have everybody making this package.
But at the end of the day, it’s an “I game.” “I won the match.” “I won the belt.” “I sold out the building.” “I sold the most T-shirts” is what I hear now. Those who don’t believe in themselves, selfishly don’t succeed in pro wrestling. But as a writer, I have to both collect that confidence from you. But then I also have to earn your confidence. And then I have to have the confidence in myself to poke holes in your narrative. Because it’s not always true. And that’s going to ruffle some feathers, right? You’re creating this illusion, my job is sometimes to find the truth.
I have failed too, make mistakes had to correct and admit them. I’ve memorialized monsters, because I didn’t know all the details, this closed pro wrestling world being so protected and secretive. And I’ve had my detractors through the years. I won’t name any names!
Pro wrestling’s #MeToo movement was the #SpeakingOut movement, which happened when we were unable to meet here last year during the depths of COVID. There’s still more to come. Pro wrestling has some powerful people with much still to atone for — but I can’t just write that. You have to have facts. And that makes it really tough, as Pam says, knowing too much.
The news media has gotten a bad rap in recent years and I worked in a newsroom. You couldn’t even agree on what to put on pizza. There’s no news media doing something evil.
It’s similar to pro wrestling, dirtsheets aren’t all one big thing. Everybody has their own sort of ideas of what pro wrestling journalism is, or what a historian is.
My Canadian Wrestling Report started as a teenager, and I’ve grown a lot since then, studied journalism. I know how this works. My favorite classes were the research classes and I think that shows up a lot in my writing and when I do report.
To those making a buck on the internet today writing about pro wrestling, learn your history. It’s not just about wrestling. Somebody was there writing about these things before you. I was one of those guys. I was one of those guys that complained to WWE why is the Wi-Fi not on at WrestleMania? Hmm, what a simple thought. At the Anaheim Pond, I had to go into an office of an employee to have them turn on their computer so I could file to a national newspaper chain. It’s just insane how much things have changed. And it’s great.
But I’ve never done this alone. My mom and dad were supportive with my newsletter, even if mom especially really worried whether I’d ever find a girl.
Which brings up my wife, Meredith, who stood by me more than 30 years, and she is not a wrestling fan or a sports fan. Yet she managed to write the autobiography of “The Missing Link” Dewey Robertson, who became a dear, dear friend, because writing is writing and a subject is a subject, and history is history. We’ve just got to learn them. My son Quinn, who is known as “One More Beer” to Pam, has come along in a lot of these trips.
My frequent writing partner, Steve Johnson should probably be up there with me, as we were co-honored together at the Iowa Hall of Fame in 2008 with the Melby Award there — that one is supposed to acknowledge more about journalism. This one’s more about history. To me, they are intertwined. He made me both a better writer and researcher. And that describes Michael Holmes too, as John mentioned, was a wonderful editor at ECW Press.
John Powell and I started SLAM! Wrestling back in 1996, because we needed a place to house the Calgary Sun columns for Bret Hart. And we started at the right time as wrestling was exploding again. And the Monday Night Wars were right around the corner, and SlamWrestling.net grew into something quite magical, with amazing writers, 24 years of content. I have a photographer and writer here, and there would have been a hell of a lot more of us if it wasn’t for how hard it is to get across the border right now.
We’re not done at the website, and I’m not done interviewing people.
Unfortunately, while I’ve been here at Cauliflower Alley Club, I’ve written three obituaries for wrestlers. Natasha The Hatchet Lady, who was here three years ago, just passed away last night. And so that story got up. And that’s why we come to CAC, to spend time with each other, a chance to talk to each other, a chance for me and other writers to talk to each other and talk to the wrestlers.
The days of meeting Father Bill Olivas The Elephant Boy in the room are long gone. But you guys all have stories, make sure they get kept. It may not be by me, but somebody needs to keep your story.
I’ve got more stories in me and I’m not allowed to talk about one of them or I’m going to get beaten up.
But I do want to say — is Shelly in the room? Jim Melby was a very, very special friend, a great supporter. His daughter isn’t here at the moment. I haven’t seen her since. Anyways, she’s wonderful person, wonderful supporter and so was Jim Melby. I think of him all the time when I put on a CD that he made of wrestling music, mostly Sweet Daddy Siki, who became a very close friend and I worked on his documentary.
Wrestling works in wonderful ways, and I have made many, many great friends. And it just proves that history can be living as well as in the past. Thank you again for the award.
TOP PHOTO: Greg Oliver and Pamela Morrison. Photo by Scott Romer, www.scottromerphoto.com
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