Author and SlamWrestling.net contributor Steven Johnson received the James C. Melby Award for his contributions to historical research in regard to professional wrestling at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion.
Johnson was introduced by Greg Oliver, who has co-written five books with Johnson, at the Bockwinkel Baloney Blowout on Tuesday, September 27, 2022, at the Plaza Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
“At various times, Steve has been a source of wisdom and inspiration, a calm, measured voice when chaos is happening, and a veteran journalistic mind who is there for advice when I need it most. And he’s helped so many more than me, of course,” said Oliver, who received the same award in 2021.
Here is the text of Steven Johnson’s speech:
Thank you everyone. I want to thank the CAC and the CAC board. I have to acknowledge my wife, Cindy, who has been so patient over the years when I’ve been preoccupied with some arcane wrestling project, and my three kids are here, Louis, Chris and Annie. They flew across the country to be here tonight despite being traumatized by the memory of Jerry Lawler faking an injury at SummerSlam 93 and ambushing Bret Hart with a crutch. S0, I had to assure them that tonight The King has no plans to rise from his seat and clean house with a crutch … unless Jimmy Hart gets out of line.
Most of all, I want to thank the wrestlers, the promoters, the bookers, the referees — James Beard is out there — and family members who shared their stories with Greg and me and other researchers in an effort to construct, deconstruct and then reconstruct wrestling history.
It’s been an honor and a pleasure to tell the stories of you and other wrestlers and other family members, and we’ve gained so much more from it than we ever possibly could have imagined.
One quick story. I grew up in a mecca for a wrestling-obsessed teenager. We got the NWF with Johnny Powers. We got Toronto with The Sheik. We got Pittsburgh with Bruno. We got the WWWF — at that time I think at the Sunnyside Gardens. And we even got All-Star Wrestling from Vancouver, with Gene Kiniski and Don Leo Jonathan. So my Saturdays were spent sprawled in front of the TV, taking notes for stories, writing down results, and putting those old, clunky audio tape recorders in front of the TV to record the program and send it to my friends around the country.
Anyway, it became time to go to college, and I chose the University of Mississippi. It was time to be a grown-up. Wrestling had sustained me through my teenage years, but now, I was going go to college. I was going to study political science. I was going to study history. I was going to change the world, change the world. And I really didn’t envision a place for wrestling in my grand scheme of things.
The first weekend I’m at Ole Miss, I hear a noise down at the end of the dormitory hallway. It’s the TV room. I walked down trying to get an idea of what was happening. And all I could hear is, “This stinks!’ He’s terrible. Get him out of the ring! Why does anybody think he can wrestle?” I poked my head in the door, and I had my first exposure to Memphis TV.
One of the guys in the room knew I was from out of state, so he kind of leans back and explains to me, “The only reason this punk kid is in the ring is because his old man is one of the referees.” So I joined in and I was hooked. “This is terrible. This is awful. I can’t believe this. This Ricky Morton … he’ll never amount to a hill of beans!”
I didn’t understand what I was watching. I didn’t understand what I was watching. I thought I was watching a squash match. I was watching the dawn of history. Because we think about wrestling history, we think about Madison Square Garden or the Great American Bash, or WrestleMania.
But wrestling history begins with a TV taping in Memphis. And wrestling history begins on the mat at a YMCA in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And wrestling history begins in a gymnasium in Hillsborough County High School in Florida. And wrestling history begins by selling tickets out of the back of a shoe store in Nashville, Tennessee.
That’s where wrestling history begins.
And it is our job and our responsibility to trace it, from the start to finish, fully, fairly, accurately and non-judgmentally.
So, in the end, I didn’t change the world. But you guys and wrestling took me to a much better place.
Thank you very much.
Previous winners of the Melby Award at the CAC are: Greg Oliver, Mike Rodgers, Don Luce, Dave Meltzer, Dennis Brent, George Schire, Tom Burke, Vance Nevada, Stephen Yohe, Scott Teal
TOP PHOTO: Steven Johnson at the podium accepting his James C. Melby Award. Photo by Wayne Palmer