Acrylic and spray on 24″ x 24″ wood
Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon made his name not just for his brutality in the ring, but also through his many innovations outside of it. Born in 1929 in Montreal, Vachon grew up as a fan of pro wrestling and as one of Canada’s top amateur grapplers. At 18 years of age he competed in the 1948 Olympic Games, where he would meet his future rival, the American Verne Gagne. Six years later, after winning the gold medal at the 1950 British Empire Games, he began his career in pro wrestling.
Initially working as a junior heavyweight, Vachon had difficulty both in standing out and in getting booked, due to promoters fearing he may shoot on their champions with his legitimate wrestling skills. He dramatically changed his appearance by bulking up, shaving his head and growing out a goatee. He also started buying TV time prior to a weekend match (How cool, right? Pre-social media self-marketing at its best!) to build himself up and talk on how he would destroy his opponent. He was soon named “Mad Dog” Vachon, both due to his still small stature, over-the-top promos and his ferocity in the ring, getting him banned in three(!) states. He also started tagging with his brother Paul, soon to be known as “Butcher” Vachon. His notoriety quickly drew the attention of Minnesota’s American Wrestling Association promoter Verne Gagne.
Mad Dog was an instant hit with the fans in the AWA, and created an uproar with them when he defeated Gagne for the AWA World Title on May 2, 1964. The two would trade it back and forth over the years, with Vachon ultimately holding the title five times. With his brother “The Butcher” as a tag team, the duo became a fierce presence in both the AWA and the NWA, notably facing The Crusher and Dick the Bruiser in what many consider the greatest tag team rivalry of all time.
The Vachon family, including sister Vivian and later niece Luna became one of the most intimidating stables in the AWA, although later in his career he became a fan favorite due to his decades of spectacular matches, even teaming with his greatest rival Gagne at one point. After a stint with the WWF in the early 80’s, he returned to the AWA as a manager and corner man before retiring in 1986, leaving behind a stellar legacy as one of the sport’s most sadistic villains, inspiring the likes of Bruiser Brody, Stan Hansen, Abdullah the Butcher and George “The Animal” Steele. Following his retirement from active competition, Vachon was involved in a tragic hit-and-run accident leading to one of his legs being amputated. In true wrestling fashion, at the WWF’s In Your House 7, his prosthetic leg was torn off of him by Kevin Nash and later used as a weapon by opponent Shawn Michaels! He was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2004 and the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010.
I had the pleasure of meeting him last year at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame (where he gave me grief for having not painted him yet!) and I was pleasantly surprised by the man. At the wrestling show the night before the ceremony, he would take breaks from signing autographs during the matches and would roll his wheelchair in front of his table so that he could watch. Intently watch. That was cool.
About the piece: First I laid down black paint for the deep shadows of the figure, then I spray painted over that lightly, so that most of the color would stick to the black area. Once that dried, I came in with the whites to better define the figure. This created a mid-tone area where the spray paint was on white paint rather than black.