This is a very sad, sad day in the wrestling world. Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon, one of the sport’s true legends, has passed away at the age of 84. Over the past few years, Mad Dog’s health had steadily declined to the point where he had difficulty communicating and his mental faculties had diminished considerably.
Maurice Vachon was legitimately one of the toughest men, pound for pound, to step into the squared circle. No matter which of his peers you ask, they all say the same thing. Despite his shorter stature, nobody wanted to mess with The Dog.
Belying his all out, brawling style, Maurice actually had a fantastic amateur wrestling background and was a part of the 1948 Olympics, representing Canada. In his pro career, he evolved from a handsome, clean cut technical wrestler to the vicious “Mad Dog” that earned him fame and fortune all over the world. In a 1964 match with Verne Gagne in Minneapolis, he won the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. His feuds with Gagne, The Crusher, Reggie Parks, Mighty Igor, Red Bastien, Red Lyons and so many more made him one of the great attractions in AWA history. With his brother, Paul “Butcher” Vachon, they were also AWA World Tag Team Champions. He also formed a heel tag team with Baron Von Raschke.
Maurice was such a believable character that the casual fan was hesitant to approach him. With his snarl, his missing teeth and his growl, he could be a genuinely terrifying specimen. I remember back in 1964, I was attending a match in Minneapolis and was standing near the entrance where the “heels” would enter the arena. Maurice looked in my direction and made a lunging motion, which scared me half to death. This guy was the real deal.
As is the case with so many wrestlers who are mainstays in a particular territory for a long period of time, Mad Dog evolved into a crowd favorite and teamed with men like Gagne and The Crusher. In the early 1980′s, his feud with Jerry Blackwell was extraordinary and drew massive crowds all over AWA land. The Dog called him “Fatwell” and it became a catch phrase for years. In one of the greatest promos of all time, announcer Gene Okerlund “found” Mad Dog hammering away at a pine box he was “building” to put Blackwell in, proclaiming that “one of us has to leave this world.” Epic stuff, delivered as only Mad Dog could.
He was one of the employees most dedicated to his friend Verne Gagne, who had kept Mad Dog on top in the AWA for two decades. So many others were jumping to the WWF during Vince McMahon’s worldwide takeover and Mad Dog stayed loyal as long as he could, but finally, with his best years behind him, and the chance to make more money, Mad Dog left for the opposition. He had a brief run with WWE, but by that time the business had evolved so much that WWE was top heavy with 300+ pounders and Mad Dog’s appeal seemed limited to the AWA cities he wrestled in. When the WWE invaded the Twin Cities for the first time at the old Met Center in Bloomington, MN., Mad Dog wrestled on the show and received one of the biggest ovations of the night.
Sadly, he was injured in a hit and run accident while he was out jogging in 1987 and subsequently had to have his leg amputated, thus ending his in-ring career for good.
In 1990, I had the pleasure of having Maurice as a guest on my “Saturday Night at Ringside” second anniversary show. It was then that I experienced first hand what a delightful, engaging and hysterically funny gentleman he was. He told me a joke that day, and whenever I saw him after that, be it Cauliflower Alley, local shows where he would come in as a special guest, etc., he would always greet me with the punchline from that joke.
It was very troubling to watch Maurice’s physical and mental decline over the past several years. Last July in Waterloo, his frailty was agonizing to see. But that’s not the Mad Dog I will remember. He lives on in the world of YouTube in so many legendary matches, delivering so many incredible promos. There will never, ever be another like him. His legacy will live on forever. Mad Dog Vachon was a part of my childhood and adulthood. I could never thank him enough for the incredible memories he has left behind. This is truly a depressing day for me, and I’m sure for tens of thousands of wrestling fans.
Go in peace and God bless you, sir. Thank you, thank you, thank you for decades of entertainment and thrills. This “dog eat dog” world” you spoken of so often has its bite today.
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