Mad Dog Vachon - Every Dog Has His Day

Interview by Dr. Abner Mality

Maurice Vachon probably growled or barked instead of cried when he was first born on Sept. 14, 1929. He was born into a large pack of 13 children and, as he often liked to tell fans, he had to fight for everything right from the beginning. His father Ferdinand was a tough policeman in Montreal and didn't mind Maurice fighting as long as he won!

And win he did. Maurice went on to become the fearsome "Mad Dog Vachon", one of the most notorious and bloodthirsty heels in professional wrestling. I can personally vouch for the effect Mad Dog had on young children...he and his brutish brother Butcher gave me nightmares back in the day!

A five time AWA World heavyweight champion, Vachon can maybe lay claim to the title "scariest wrestler" ever. Yet he ended his career as a beloved fan favorite admired by all. I went from fearing the Mad Dog to cheering him.

His road has taken him all around the world, from winning gold medals in amateur competition to headlining every major pro wrestling venue. In 1987, after his retirement, tragedy struck Mad Dog when a hit-and-run auto accident cost him one of his legs. This had to be a bitter blow to such a physically fit man, but Maurice continues to live a vigorous and outgoing life.

I had the great honor of meeting Mad Dog at Ethyl's Bar in downtown Chicago, where he spent many hours talking to fans and signing autographs. As is usually the case in professional wrestling, the guy I was terrified of as a child turned out to be an incredibly nice and personable guy. Many, many thanks to my friend "Chitown" Rich Tito and his brother for helping to set up my interview with Mad Dog.

The Dog and I had a great chat about his early days in the business over the phone. Mrs. Dog needed the home phone for personal business, so we put a cap on the discussion, which would have probably lasted hours. This is one Dog who knows his Master's Voice!

Get a perspective on the golden days of pro wrestling from one of the all-time greats in the following interview:

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Thanks so much, it's not every day you get to talk to a childhood icon! I saw you wrestle many times in Rockford, Illinois.

MAD DOG VACHON: Oh, man, we used to go there all the time!

WC: Boylan Catholic High School.

MDV: Yeah, that's right. There was always a good crowd there. We always gave the people a lot of action and they always got their money's worth.

WC: That's the way I remember it. My Dad took me there for the first time in 1969...

MDV: Wow...

WC: ...and you were on that card. What I remember the most from that card is a match between Verne Gagne and Dr. X. Verne got his mask off but Double X came out and put a towel over Dr. X's head. (Mad Dog chuckles) I was about 6 years old then and I was hooked on it for good after that.

MDV: A couple of years ago, I was in Toronto, Canada and I was with the guy that writes all these books about the heroes and villains of wrestling...

WC: Greg Oliver?

MDV: Yeah, I was with Greg and we were on the internet. People were asking me questions. One of them was, how much money do you have? I sent back, since you don't pay my income tax, it's none of your business. (chuckles) Another question was, have you ever seen Dr. X without his mask on? My answer was yes, I seen him once, but if I was as ugly as he was, I'd have put the mask back on and never taken it off again. (laughter)

WC: Even with the mask on, he had a big nose!

MDV: That was the only thing that was sticking out. No, Dick Beyer is Dr. X and in Japan, he's the biggest attraction in wrestling history. He was the biggest star ever to hit Japan. He's even bigger than the sumos!

WC: He's called The Destroyer over there, right?

MDV: Right. Even to this day, he's on the internet and sells all kinds of pictures, T-shirts and masks and he makes millions of dollars from it over there. He is the most successful masked man of all time in professional wrestling.

WC: In Japan, they seem to really respect guys that can work on the mat.

MDV: That's right. He takes a bunch of kids over there from Syracuse, which is where he's from, to wrestle in Japan. He picks up the tab, he's a wonderful guy, you know.

WC: When did you know that wrestling was going to be your life?

MDV: You know, I started wrestling when I was 12 years old, when I quit school. My father was a policeman in Montreal, he was a constable. Everyday I went to school and the kids in school can be cruel to one another. They used to call me "Vachon, cochon, Vachon, cochon." Cochon means "pig" in French, you know what I mean? I would get into fights and come home from school with my white shirt from Catholic school all messed up with blood. My father would look at my shirt and yell...he had a voice twice as strong as mine, you know..."Maurice, you've been fighting again!" Yes, I have, I'd tell him. "Did you win?", he'd ask. Yes, I did. "It's OK, then!"

One day he took me to the YMCA in Verdun, which is a suburb of Montreal. He said I was always fighting in school. My dad was crazy about boxing and wanted me to be a boxer. The officer at the YMCA told my Dad there was no class for boxing there. He said, "why don't you take him downtown to Drummond Street to the Central YMCA? Maybe they have boxing classes down there." So he took me over there and the first guy my dad talked to over there was Frank Saxon, the wrestling coach. He says, "Mr. Vachon, I don't recommend boxing for your son. In a few years, he'll be punch drunk from all the blows to the head. Why don't you bring him down here and we can teach him wrestling? Who knows, someday he might be good enough to wrestle in the Olympics!" There were no classes anywhere in Canada for kids my age, but they made an exception for me. So I was the only one who was 12 years old who was doing that kind of wrestling in the whole country. And I did wrestle in the Olympics in 1948!

WC: And you had a pretty good showing, as I remember.

MDV: Well, I didn't win a medal but I beat the champion of India in 22 seconds.(My research shows it was 55 seconds...pretty impressive, in any case!-->
WC: That's nothing to sneeze at.

MDV: Exactly. And two years later I went to New Zealand from Montreal. It took me two weeks to get there. That was for the British Empire Games. I won the Gold Medal there and I was 20 years old.

WC: Going from Montreal to New Zealand, that's as far as you can go without going from North Pole to South Pole.

MDV: You got that right. You know what? I'll give you an example of how I got there. I took a train from Montreal and it took five days and four nights to go to Vancouver. B.C. We stayed there for three days and then we took our own plane....all the athletes, the boxers, the swimmers, the wrestlers. We stopped in San Francisco first and stayed for five days because of bad weather. Then we flew to Hawaii and stayed there for three days because again we couldn't get off. Then we stayed overnight in Fiji and then made it to New Zealand. It took us two weeks in those days. Can you imagine that?

WC: It had to be quite an adventure, though, for somebody your age.

MDV: Oh man, it was unbelievable. When I went to the '48 Olympics in London from Montreal, it took me 9 days to get there by boat. Today, if people take 9 hours to fly, they complain. But I'm happy I did it and I'm very proud of my past in amateur wrestling. I did my share, I paid the price.

WC: When you turned pro, was there a guy who was a mentor or trainer who showed you the ropes?

MDV: No, you have to learn by yourself. At the beginning, I was wrestling around Montreal but couldn't really get work. I was a bouncer at a nightclub in Montreal for a long time. A lot of people came to try me out and see how tough I was, like I was the fastest gun alive. I beat the shit out of some guy and one day, a guy who used to be a pro wrestler, named Armand Corvelle, who wrestled in the days before TV, saw me. Armand Corvelle was a consigliere for a local godfather in Montreal by the name of Vic Cattrone. Cattrone was also a wrestler before he became a godfather. Armand said, Maurice, I want to take you out for dinner sometime next week. He talked to me and said "Maurice, you're a nightclub bouncer in Montreal and everybody's always coming after you. So far you're on top but one of these days, somebody's going to pull a gun on you and shoot you in the head.I recommend that you quit the bouncing job and go into professional wrestling." I took his recommendation. It wasn't easy, because I'd get just ten,fifteen, twenty dollars for a match in those days. But one thing leads to another. A friend of mine told me to go to Detroit. You won't make big money, but you'll really learn the business in front of good crowds.

WC: When I talked to Baron von Raschke, he said he learned more from the guys who travelled with him on long car trips, including you.

MDV: Before I took him with me to Quebec, he was working as a referee in the Twin Cities and helping to put the ring up. But I took him with me to Quebec and gave him the name Baron von Raschke. We gave him a big long robe with a German swastika on the back of it and then he'd start stomping and goose stepping around the ring. Oh man, the fans would go crazy!

We wrestled in Three Rivers, Quebec. In the winter, they have hockey there and the arena holds about 2500 people, with the bleachers on the ice. In springtime, the ice is gone and they put the ring in the middle of the building. When we went there, they were drawing 350 people. I told the promoter, you want to make money in this town? Let me run it. So OK, the following week, I offer one thousand dollars to anybody who can beat the Baron in the ring. The next week, somebody showed up and in about five minutes, he was carried out on a stretcher to the hospital. We doubled the crowd to 700. The next week, another guy came in and the Baron sent him to the hospital again. We had 1500...3000...finally we get 7000 people. They are hanging off the bleachers! And then we have a match, me and the Baron, against the Rougeau Brothers, Johnny and his brother Jacques. They built a cage made of chicken wire for it. The people are so mad at me and the Baron, they destroy the cage before we can even use it!

WC: There was such real emotion in those days...

MDV: It was unbelievable, unbelievable...

WC: Now they got guys falling through three flaming tables and the crowd doesn't move. Because it's all too commonplace and predictable.

MDV: Exactly.

WC: Baron said that Montreal was one of his favorite memories of a long career.

MDV: It was truly unbelievable. It was was unreal, it made such an impact on TV.

WC: You were in some great tag teams over the years. Did you prefer singles to tags or did you look at them the same way?

MDV: I enjoyed either one, really. I have a lot of great memories of my singles matches but I really enjoyed teaming up with the Baron or my brother Paul the Butcher.

WC: In the early 70's, you and Butcher were the most fearsome tag team around. After the mid-70's, I didn't see you team with Butcher again. Was there a reason for the team to break up?

MDV: I don't really remember what happened there, but we had a fantastic run, my brother and I. We beat the Bruiser and the Crusher in Comiskey Park in Chicago and that was quite an accomplishment. My brother Paul was a big star in Atlanta before he came with me to the Twin Cities, you know. He was such a big star, he used to go to the airport and double park in front of the terminal. The cops would go "Hey Butcher, you're not gonna be there long, are you? We'll take care of your car." Can you imagine that? He could double park at a busy airport and the cops would help him out! You heard of Stan Pulaski?

WC: Yes.

MDV: Stan became another one of our brothers down in Atlanta. He teamed up with Paul in Atlanta for a long time.
One day, he called me up and he said, "Your brother Paul the Butcher and I get along good together, we love each other, we make a good tag team. Would you mind if I changed my name to Stan Vachon?" I said, no, if you get along good and make money with your team, I have no objection. So he became the third brother, Stan Vachon.

WC: I wish I had seen all three of you together, but I don't think that ever happened in the AWA, did it?

MDV: No, it never did. To make a long story short, Paul and Stan were wrestling with the Torres Brothers and lost the match because the third brother intervened and caused them to lose. Stan and Paul called up and said, can you send a tape of yourself to Atlanta? I made a tape in the Twin Cities and sent it to Atlanta and this is what I said: (he starts to growl in the familiar Mad Dog voice) "You Torres Brothers are good when it's 3 against 2, but now it's gonna be 3 against 3. And I'll tell you one thing...the blood will flow in the streets of Atlanta!" The blood did flow in the streets of Atlanta but it was mostly mine! (chuckles) We turned away 5000 people from that match! It was hard getting into the place...when there's 5000 people surrounding the building, it's kind of hard to get inside, you know what I mean?

WC: Back then, you had one hour of TV, usually at an odd time...

MDV: That depended on where you were.

WC: In Rockford, it was always 11:00 on Sunday morning, which was a good time. With just one hour of TV and no support from newspapers...

MDV: Just TV, you're right...just TV.

WC; And also no internet, you could fill places like what you describe. Now the promotions have five or six hours of TV a week and a giant publicity machine that blows through more money than you could believe, and they can't sell out that much anymore!

MDV: When we went to Montreal, Quebec and started promoting our own was called Grand Prix Wrestling...and when Paul went to Sherbrooke, it was a beautiful place for wrestling. The studio could hold 300 people.It was perfect for wrestling, it was made to order. Paul asked the manager, what do you have on Sunday morning at 11:00? The manager said, don't tell me you want to put wrestling on at 11:00 Sunday morning, nobody watches TV then!

Well, Paul asked, what do you have on TV 11:00 Sunday morning? The manager says, well, we don't open the station up until 12:00 noon. No wonder nobody is watching TV at 11:00! To make a long story short, we knew the show in the Twin Cities had the biggest ratings and that was Sunday morning. So we ask to put Grand Prix Wrestling on at 11:00 Sunday morning. It was so popular, they had to change the time for the Catholic Mass, because nobody would go to church at that time! Then we put the show on in English on Global Television in Toronto and the ratings were bigger than for Hockey Night in Canada!

WC: That's something, because Canada was broken up into really discrete territories. Quebec has its own scene, Toronto had Maple Leaf Gardens, there was different wrestling in Vancouver on the coast. They were all in their own little world...

MDV: Well, the States also had their own territories, sometimes 2 or 3 of them...

WC: Oh yeah, I was a big fan of the territory days. I grew up in Rockford and seen the AWA and they would get guys from the Central States...

MDV: Absolutely...

WC: and also from Bruiser's Indiana promotion. There was always talent flowing amongst the areas. The problem is, today, you don't have territories, so you can't import fresh faces...

MDV: You have one big empire.

WC: Now they just have the same guys flip flop from heel to face 2 or 3 times a year because people expect it. Moving on to another subject now, what memories do you have of your late sister Vivian Vachon?

MDV: Oh man, you know what? Besides being a very strong woman...she had a grip on her that was stronger than most men, you know...she had a voice, she could sing like an angel.

WC: Really?

MDV: Could she ever! And then she became the wrestling queen, you know.

WC: When you and Butcher and your brothers were kids, did she ever lay into you guys and hold her own?

MDV: Yeah, we used to wrestle with her. She was really tough. She was married to Buddy Wolfe in Calgary and they were walking across the street sometime and a guy points at Buddy and says "Look at that phony wrestler with the blond hair". Bang! She let the guy have it and knocked him out! (There's a few seconds of silence) You'll have to excuse me, somebody's calling, my wife needs to get on the phone...

WC: Oh! Certainly...I'm so happy I had the chance to talk to you and maybe sometime we can hook up again!

MDV: (Using the old Mad Dog growl): Tell everybody that Mad Dog is my name and wrestling is my game. If you don't like my face, come and tell me to my face! Don't talk behind my back! I am Mad Dog Vachon and I approved of this message! (laughter)