Sharkey’s Schmazz – 4/19/09

Second generation wrestler.  Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Champion.  Hawaiian Heavyweight Champion.  Georgia TV Champion.  Georgia Heavyweight Champion. AWA World Tag Team Champion.  Four-time AWA World Heavyweight Champion.  Cauliflower Alley Club President.  And most recently, recipient of the Iron Mike Mazurki Award.   Distinctions.  Championships.  Honors.  All bestowed on one Nick Bockwinkel.    All of them justifiably earned.  In July of this year, Bockwinkel will add one more accolade: induction to the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Institute and Museum.

At this past week’s Cauliflower Alleysharkbock Club reunion, Bockwinkel’s surprise at the announcement of his name as 2009 Iron Mike honoree may have been the most ironic twist.  Following years of bookings where his name would be championed as among the most successful, this occasion was booked unbeknownst to him.  That bravado of supremacy; the air of superiority and the ultimate belief in his own abilities that made his promos riveting, and coveted among collectors?  All were missing here.  And while he would have every right to expect to join the elite group of Mazurki honorees at some point, Bockwinkel had not campaigned for this title.   Banquet night revealed that while he had met his professional goals all throughout his career, and in many cases surpassed them, Bockwinkel overlooked one of his achievements.  Simply, he did not see the depth of his influence on those he has worked with, had inspired to challenge themselves in a similar manner, to meet those challenges with only their knowledge and skills to serve them.  These were the people who decided his time in the spotlight once more was necessary.  And as that spotlight hit, Bockwinkel relied on his best instincts and put forward his best effort, rising to the occasion yet again.

So for the man who has seemingly achieved about all the accolades he can in this industry, where does Nick Bockwinkel go next?

Straight across the hall to the banquet room to the hospitality suite, less than ten hours later.  Bockwinkel has a mess to clean up, pack up, and put away until next year’s event.  Here’s a push cart and a broom, kid.  Let’s get to work.

That’s where I found Bockwinkel at 8:30 the following morning.  The cargo van that houses many of the four-sided displays, the arm and hand casts of Andre the Giant, the photo books and other elements of the exhibits needed to be loaded.   I remembered how efficiently the job was accomplished in 2007 with me and several able bodies assisting.  And we quickly found them this year in the form of Jason Sanderson, Alex Cools, Wolfman Steve, Ted Gordienko and a few others.   An hour later the job was complete. Or was it?

As the group returned downstairs and started to head off in other directions, Bockwinkel met me at the escalators and wondered if I would consider joining him for the unpacking portion of the project.  Having no plans of my own for the day by design, I told him as much and off we went to the secret hideout, the home of these collectible treasures when not in full view.    It was on this trip that I came to understand why we are fortunate to have Nick Bockwinkel as our CAC president, and why he is a most deserving Iron Mike award recipient.   Forget what you’ve seen on the screen; the championship-caliber wrestler with the high opinion of himself is for mass audiences only.  But when the camera lights are off, the very real, calculating nature of Nick Bockwinkel is channeled toward fitting a large amount of unwieldy items into a limited surface area.

The irony hit me that scant hours after nearly 500 of his well-wishing membership struggled to get a moment of his time, I was getting an unobstructed audience with The Champ.  Still, we had work to do.  And since he chose his moving partner to be a non-athletic, 40 year old Type 2 (with youthful good looks, I must add), we were at the mercy of our injuries and physical limitations.

For the next few hours, I received proper instruction in the art of moving our CAC paraphenalia as taught by Professor Bockwinkel.  For every box which contained our lanyards, silk floral displays and past programs, there was a history lesson which covered the likes of Don Leo Jonathan, Curt and Larry Hennig, Ray Stevens and Bobby Heenan.  Of his work schedule on the Hawaiian Islands in the late 60s, conversely compared to his more sparse bookings in Minneapolis a few short years later.   At one point, I compared the task of unloading to the time I assisted 2 years prior, and that we truly missed the presence of his longtime friend, the recently-passed Rick Renslow.  It led us to a discussion of his fondness for Rick and his wife, and my own memories of seeing them not in a wrestling capacity, but on the dance floor enjoying themselves at a special event.   There were a few stories that, admittedly, I had heard before.  But never from Nick’s perspective, in his own voice.  I did my best to hold up my end of the conversation, asking relevant questions or imparting any history I knew.

Before long, we had completed the project; a little dirtier and at the peril of my camera which took a jolt getting out of the van and lost its display function.  I washed off the grime back at the hotel, and salvaged the chip and its pictures, one of which is included here.  Looking back on the day, there is a reason I take an extra day to wind down after the banquet.  This year, it was for a good reason, one opportunity that doesn’t arise every day.

Last Wednesday night, Nick Bockwinkel was honored.

Thursday morning, I was.
-Jeff Sharkey

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