Fathers find raising wrestlers a challenge
Fathers Day Special
By GREG OLIVER -- SLAM! Wrestling
Blackjack Mulligan in his WWF days in 1986.
As a junior in college at West Texas State, Barry Windham appeared to be
headed for the NFL. He had the talent and the lineage, as his father
Jack Windham had also made the NFL with the New York Jets before
becoming a pro wrestler.
But it wasn't to be for Barry. He dropped out of school to follow his
father into pro wrestling. While the youngster would prove to be a star
in the business, his father was hurt by his decision to leave school.
"He said, 'Dad, this is not what I want to do.' It really just crushed
me because I really wanted him to go finish school," explained the
senior Windham, better known to fans as Blackjack Mulligan.
While Mulligan was on a trip to Japan, his business partner in the
Amarillo, Texas area, Dick Murdoch, let Barry referee a few matches and
help set up the ring. Then one day, a wrestler was unable to perform and
the kid stepped into the ring for the first time.
"Barry knew all the moves. He'd been learning it from birth," explained
Mulligan. "It's kind of a heredity thing. He never himself, per se,
trained, because he was there all the time anyways. I guess it's inbred
genetically. He knew all the moves. From his first match, he was a
For the Hennig family, there was also a tradition of wrestling. Larry
'The Axe' was a major star in the American midwest, and it seemed
logical that at least one of his children would follow him into the
squared circle. "In our family ... it was a tradition. Everybody
wrestled," recalled Hennig.
His son Curt did enter pro wrestling. "[Curt] took a good, long look at
it and decided if he wanted to pay the price, the sacrifices, and that
he'd do it. He certainly did it. He was always a great athlete," said
the elder Hennig. He sent his son to train with former U.S. Olympian
Brad Rheingans. Soon, father and son made up a formidable tag team
combination, a paired that the father called the highlight of his
career. Later, Curt became a major star in the WWF as Mr. Perfect.
Paul, Vivien and Maurice Vachon.
For Paul 'Butcher' Vachon it was a totally different matter. It was his
daughter Angelle that wanted to become a wrestler. "I thought it was the
worst business a woman could be in. It's not even a business for men,"
Vachon explained. Yet he also knew that it was part of the family
legacy, with his brother Maurice 'Mad Dog' Vachon
and sister Vivien
Vachon having extremely successful grappling careers.
"She could have done anything. She was a beautiful girl and very
intelligent, smart, good looking, of course, like her dad," joked
Vachon. "All she ever wanted to do [was wrestle]. Her idol was my
sister, Vivien, who was a wrestler. She had been watching her ever since
she was four or five years old. That's all she ever did. I told her she
was a lunatic because all she wanted to do was wrestle." Years later,
Angelle Vachon became 'Luna' Vachon
, a successful pro in the ring,
winning many titles and freaking out many people with her bizarre
mannerisms and dress.
Father and daughter used to work out together in the rings of the World
Wide Wrestling Federation throughout New England. "We'd go early and get
there late afternoon, the building would be open and the ring was up and
no people in the place," recalled Vachon of the days training his
14-year-old daughter. "We'd get up in the ring and I'd show her a few
moves. Then some of the guys would start coming in and they'd help me
start putting her through some paces."
Vachon, conceding defeat, got his daughter booked for some matches in
Japan, and even went along as her manager. "I expected her to be a
success but I was hoping she wouldn't be, to tell you the truth."
Sometimes, the father doesn't even know that his son is a wrestler.
Angel Acevedo is best known to wrestling fans as the Cuban Assassin
day, out of the blue, he got some photos of his son Richie from his
first marriage in the ring. It surprised him because he knew that his
son was into karate, but didn't know that he wrestled as well. In the
summer of 1999, father and son teamed up on the Grand Prix circuit in
With his second son, Kendall Windham who is 10 years Barry's junior,
Blackjack Mulligan did things differently. "Because of the experience I
had with Barry, I said to Kendall that 'I want you to at least complete
two years of vocational school or some kind of training so that you'll
know a trade if this don't work out, because the business is changing. I
want you to have a trade, a skill."
Years ago, the pro wrestling business was different than today.
Wrestlers moved from territory to territory. Some stayed a short while,
some stayed for years. Some wrestlers left their families in one city
while they went out on the road for months at a time. Others, like the
Windham family, travelled as a unit.
"I always took my family with me. It was very difficult. At first, I
thought I was like a carnival worker," recalled Mulligan. "We stuck with
the Lutheran schools because the levels were kind of the same. We knew
we were going to make a move a year ahead, and moved every year,
sometimes twice in one year.
"They saw me very little, but I had a very good wife to raise my family
into a real solid family."
Mulligan kept his children in the private Lutheran schools until grade
10, when it was time to go to the public schools -- primarily because
the football systems were better. He was an education major at West
Texas State, and knew that there were certain ages where his children
should be grounded. "[Grades] one to three they needed to stay. Then
past seven, they started making social contacts, they needed to stay.
Then in high school, we needed to stay. So there's certain areas in
their life that I kind of controlled."
Initially, "it was hard on the family," especially when the Texans moved
north to Minneapolis and the Dakotas to wrestle for Verne Gagne
According to Mulligan, it was a real "cultural shock."
Mulligan also found another problem with being on the road. "You're gone
on the road so long, all these little disciplinary problems have built
up. After a while, you become the disciplinarian. The only time they see
you is when you've got something bad to say to them."
It's probably partly for that reason that other people ended up training
his sons for their career in pro wrestling. "It's very hard [to train
your son] ... because you're so hard on the kid. It's better to let a
third party train. And when there's third-party people like Jack Brisco
and the Kiniskis around, they probably know more than I do. They spend
time with them in the ring. ... Probably a third of their introductory
learning level they learned from me. The two-thirds, they learned from
somebody else. It's very hard to be your son's coach because you're the
Larry Hennig was able to act as a colleague for his son Curt as he set
out on the road on his own. "I had the road map. I had been there.
Decisions were probably a lot easier for him to make because he always
had somebody to bounce something off of."
Bob Orton Jr. knows all about life on the road. His father, Bob
Orton Sr. was a successful wrestler before he got into wrestling. And
then Junior followed Dad into wrestling, starting as a referee until
bulking up and increasing his size. Now, Orton Jr.'s 20-year-old son
Randy is ready for the next step.
Orton knows it was tough on him to have a father away all the time, just
as it was difficult on his own children. "I didn't really know my dad
until I was probably out of school. It's tough. You've got to take care
of yourself a lot. Of course, my mom was great. You know, it's just the
way life is. You've got to go with what you're dealt."
For his son Randy, Orton has tried to lay out a sound foundation before
he gets into wrestling full-time. "What I've done is shown him how to
wrestle, to do the things like I did, even though that's probably passe
now. But still, it's a good sound base."
"You always want your sons to do better things," summed up Mulligan,
whose his son Barry eclipsed anything he ever did in the ring, but his
son Kendall never really hit it big. But he also thinks that the
comparisons of yesterday to today are inherently flawed. "We probably
wouldn't survive in this atmosphere, and they probably couldn't survive
in our atmosphere."