Pinning doen pro-wrestler Paul "The Butcher" Vachon
Nearly 50 years ago, Paul "The Butcher" Vachon wrestled at the Richford town hall in a match that would change his life forever. His brother, "Mad Dog" Maurice, had wrestled for Canada in the 1948 Olympics, and Butcher hoped he, too, would get a taste of what lay beyond their dairy farm. Just shy of 18, he became a professional wrestler and spent the next 32 years traveling the globe and appearing in more than 6000 matches. From Dubai to Hawaii and from Andre the Giant to Wild Bull Curry, the Butcher saw a world far different from the one we see on pay-per-view -- and the one his daughter Luna, a pro wrestler, now experiences.
Today, the 65-year-old calls Vermont home, but still travels during the summer selling therapeutic magnets, body jewelry and wrestling memorabilia at fairs, festivals and flea markets with his wife, Deana, a former Marine sergeant. Butcher has just written and self-published a book about his times in the ring and on the road. Dedicated to his sister Vivian -- a "lady wrestler" killed with her 10-year-old daughter by a drunk driver in 1990 -- When Wrestling Was Real is, as Butcher explains, "easy to read. It's all true stories, memories."
After a brief demonstration of a telescopic magnet that works underwater -- "When I was a drinking man I dropped my keys in the toilet, no fun at all" -- Butcher sat down to share a few of his stories -- and his beef with the state of pro wrestling.
SEVEN DAYS: How did you first get into professional wrestling?
PAUL VACHON: I was raised on a farm off of Vermont Highway 105, but in Canada. Life for a kid on a dairy farm is work and school, and you milk cows in the morning, milk cows at night, shovel manure and start over again the next day. So I wanted to be a professional wrestler and see the world.
When I was 17 I won the Canadian wrestling amateur championship, freestyle. My dad, after a hard day's work in the woods, skidding logs with his horses, he stopped in a small hotel and there came a man with wrestling posters to put in the hotel that said 'GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS, Wrestling.' My father talked to the man, he said, 'You're putting on some wrestling matches?' And he says, 'I got my boy, he's the Canadian champion. He's only 17, he'd really love to be a professional wrestler.' So the man said, 'Tell him to come next Satur-day, we'll have him wrestle and, if he's any good, we'll hire him.'
So that's what happened. I had my first professional wrestling match in the United States in Richford, Vermont, and I had my last one in St. Albans in 1987 after traveling five million miles, wrestling in 33 different countries.
SD: What did you like most about wrestling? Was it the traveling?
PV: Yes, of course. Forever and ever the big money in professional wrestling has been in the U.S., and if I had been in it strictly for the money, I would have stayed here in the U.S. But I wanted to travel, see the world, get myself an education, you might say, because I only went up to the seventh grade. For instance, I spent a year and a half in India.
SD: And after all that time traveling did you always know that you were going to come back to Vermont?
PV: Oh, yeah. All I ever wanted to do was get away, but after you've been other places -- you know, I'm familiar with big towns like Bombay and Sydney and Paris and London, for having lived there, New York and Los Angeles and everything. When I first started getting on the road, that's all I wanted, the big towns, and now one just smells worse than the other. Too much of everything -- too many people, too much dirt, too many cars.
There's no greater place in the world to raise your kids than right here in Vermont. I mean, look at it! Every turn in the road has a new vista...
SD: Where were the most enthusiastic crowds?
PV: It's sort of a paradox, because in Japan they've got huge crowds. When I first went in the '60s we used to wrestle in front of 40, 50,000 people and they are enthusiastic like hell, but they are non-demonstrative. Maybe once in a while they'll clap their hands, but they don't jump up. Otherwise wrestling crowds are pretty enthusiastic.
Wrestling is different than most other sports. First of all, it's a one-on-one thing, and everybody in the world has got a pet peeve -- a guy would like to tell his boss to go to hell, or he'd like to swear at his wife -- they go to wrestling matches and they can do that. It's almost like they've put themselves in the good guy's body or in the villain's body and it's a release for them, it's permitted, you can go to the wrestling matches and call the guy a dirty bastard and swear at him and pay your $2. Of course, nowadays it's a lot more than $2. We never had anybody leave the wrestling matches saying they didn't get their money's worth; we only had satisfied customers. Nowadays the business has changed completely.
SD: How so?
PV: First of all, when television first come in, they said it was going to kill wrestling. But instead the most watched program on there was wrestling. Television really made wrestling, and wrestling helped make television. But nowadays it's completely different, because they use television to come in your home, of course, but charge you $35 or $40 to watch it. So they only need to have one place where they have a crowd and they televise it worldwide simultaneously.
The wrestling business was always a very exclusive club. Like, there was never more than maybe 2000 worldwide. You know how many there are now? One hundred. Because of the way business is done now, they use one spot to spread it all over the world.
SD: Why is that bad for wrestling?
PV: If you're a wrestler now and you're just trying to break into the business, you haven't got a chance. Wrestling is dead. It's a scandal now. The women are naked -- that part I like -- but it's not for family. We were outrageous. We did outrageous things, wild things, but we didn't swear, and they do that now. And there was always the good guy and the bad guy, but you knew that eventually the bad guy would get his, as it is in life.
But nowadays that's not the message they send. They have some clean-cut-looking young wrestler and he's not successful. In order to be successful he has to become a villain -- that's the message that they're sending. We tried to be villains, but still there was places, like in Vermont, upstate New York, Montreal, Toronto, people loved us! We were villains all our lives...
SD: What about the authenticity of moves? Is that something that upsets you?
PV: There's only one large promoter now, his name is Vince McMahon. World Wrestling Entertainment, his outfit is called. I knew him when he was a teenager. His father and myself, we were great friends. I saw him on late-night television, he's a billionaire, and they told him, 'Mr. McMahon, we know that you're getting rich and everything, but why is it that you put on such a violent show where kids can watch it?' He says, 'Well, don't worry about it.' He says, 'It's all staged, there's nothing true about it. We just give people what they want.'
Well, to hell with him, that's not what people want. There's a backlash, I'm thinking, that's in the works now, where they're getting a lot of heat from educators, parents, clergymen, anybody, because some outrageous things happen ...Having said that, the athletes are just as good, or probably somewhat better than we were, because they are asked to do some outrageous things.
SD: What about in your day? Were any of the moves fake? They were all real back then, right?
PV: Wrestling was a hard job. We never tried to kill anybody. We tried to beat one another, but we tried to take care of one another in this way that... the other guy that you were wrestling, he was trying to make a living just like you.
SD: And this backlash -- do you think that can change wrestling? Do you think there's a brighter future?
PV: It can, but it's not likely to, unless somebody sets out to do it ...I sort of have a plan in my head that wrestling could be turned around, but it would be really expensive nowadays. But I think you would have people greet you with open arms if you gave them an alternative to what the kids are watching now. McMahon tries to tell us it's a way of life now and that's not true. It's only that way because he does it that way, and he didn't have to do that, because people will love wrestling forever and ever.