Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Favorite Events--WWF SummerSlam 1995

Twenty years. Two full decades. I won't lie and say that it feels like yesterday, because it honestly doesn't. It was the Summer of 1995 and the World Wrestling Federation was bringing a pay-per-view extravaganza to Pittsburgh for the first time. In those days before the WWF began taping shows in large arenas, we hadn't even had a Monday Night Raw in the 'Burgh. My one and only live wrestling experience to that point had been a WWF house show in early 1992. Despite lineups that appealed to me in the time between, we just didn't find time to go back. Now that SummerSlam was coming to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, I knew that I had to be there.

Although the Internet was beginning its rush into mainstream consciousness, the way to get tickets was still largely restricted to a physical box office. The on-sale date was July 8th, a Saturday morning. We purchased our SummerSlam tickets at the TicketMaster location in the Kaufmann's department store in the Monroeville Mall. There weren't any living dead hanging around, but I'll always remember the girl in front of me in line. She appeared to be a few years older than me, but not by much. In her then-trendy halter top and overalls, she somehow convinced her father to purchase a front row ticket for her alone. As far back as we were in line, those ringside tickets must have been a small fortune as she did end up getting one. She is visible on the show itself, most notably during the ladder match entrances, clad in the famous Shawn Michaels "all-over" shirt. In my mind, she's still in those overalls. Regardless, I had my tickets and eagerly anticipated August 27, 1995.

That Spring and Summer had, in a way, introduced a new side of pro wrestling into my life. Growing up I'd had plenty of friends who liked wrestling, but none who truly loved it as I did. Occasionally one would get into it a bit deeper for a spell, but I was the only real consistent fan among those that I knew. Then came along cyberspace. I hesitate to use the term "Internet" again, as my first introduction to this much larger world was through something called a BBS, which stood for Bulletin Board System. These were small, independently owned and operated programs where you could chat, play games, send and receive e-mail, and share files. If you were remember the original America Online, picture that on a much smaller scale. Since you used your phone line through your computer to dial into these BBSes, you generally only joined local systems. It was through these BBSes that I got my first taste of just how things worked in wrestling (I'd always known the "predetermined" aspect) and finally met some fans who were just as hardcore as I was.

Chatting and sharing anticipation with these fellow Pittsburgh fans only helped to build the anticipation for SummerSlam. Somewhere along the line, I also learned that WWF Champion Diesel and WWF Women's Champion Alundra Blayze would be appearing the day before SummerSlam at a local Giant Eagle supermarket. Even when the business is an alleged slump, free autograph signings are usually packed. This was no exception. I left with a few autographs, some really cool promotional bumper stickers, and the feeling that Kevin "Diesel" Nash was sort of a jerk. He just didn't say anything. My opinions of him have since changed for the most part. On the flip side, Alundra "Madusa" Blayze was nice and cordial as she still is today. My dad caught a cool snapshot of me in my one second of eye contact with Nash.

The day of the show was fun, although there really wasn't much on the event itself that went unseen by the cameras. Waiting on the outside to get into the Civic Arena, one odd did thing did happen. For some inexplicable reason, The Fabulous Moolah made her way from the direction of the arena through the large crowd. An audible wave of "It's Moolah!" carried through the gathering of fans, but I've otherwise never learned anything more regarding her appearance.

Some alleged "fans" will tell you that the show was bad, but it wasn't. Even today it holds up, especially when put into perspective of the time. Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon had a superior ladder match to their overrated WrestleMania encounter, Diesel fought King Mabel in an attempt to recreate the Hogan magic formula of "Super Babyface Champion versus Monster Heel", and the rest of "The New Generation" rounded out a fun undercard. The show also saw my first live title change when Bertha Faye defeated Blayze and anytime you get to see Jinsei "Hakushi" Shinzaki wrestle live is a real treat.

The now very rare program was available as soon as we entered the building, and we immediately bought one. It's wider than a magazine, but not quite as long as other programs from that era. Shirts were also available, as was a cool laminated poster that my dad surprised me with after returning to our seats from a restroom break.

It was the beginning of a new era for wrestling in Pittsburgh, an area that had been largely ignored since the days of Bruno Sammartino. It was a very different WWF just three years later when The Undertaker flung Mankind off the top of Hell in a Cell. I was present for that too, with a unique perspective of the moment being eye-level with the top of the Cell. Still, there was something special about SummerSlam.

Without trying to sound too much like Kevin Arnold, it really was the beginning of my "wonder years." I was about to begin the seventh grade, I was beginning to see what the world was really about, and "overall girl" would be forgotten in favor of other females that were more than just a glimpse in a store line, even if they didn't care for wrestling. The Federation was running on "Diesel Power," and Pittsburgh truly "felt the heat."

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A SummerSlam Of New WWE Product From Mattel

For the past few years it's seemed as if there are two times of the year when you are guaranteed to see Mattel WWE product stuffing the shelves--WrestleMania season and Christmas time. With the recent rumors that WWE is wishing to transform SummerSlam into a "second WrestleMania" as far as hype, scope, and marquee matches, it's more than likely that merchandise will follow suit. Already, SummerSlam 2015 has been bumped up to a four-hour time slot. Does the recent surge in new product and retail store space reflect this?

Since July, most Target stores have devoted an endcap to the line. The centerpieces have been the exclusive Four Horsemen set as well as the "classic" blue barred steel cage accessory. Basic and Elite figures as well as entries from the newer "Create A WWE Superstar" line have also been featured. Wal Mart stores have received giant blue cardboard displays for Basic, Elite, and Battle Pack figures. Newer series seem to be shipped with the display, but older figures that have been peg-warming for Wal Mart are frequently mixed in. These cardboard displays are far from collector friendly, often smashing the product inside. While no special displays have been rolled out, Toys "R" Us has also seen an influx of newer product, with the "Build-A-Figure" Elite Corporate Kane series being a well-selling exclusive for the retailer.

But what about the figures themselves? Although my wallet can't say the same, I have been very impressed with Mattel's recent additions to the line. For once, the company seems to want to attempt to get everyone a figure, including Divas. The company was infamous for thinking that female figures would not sell in a line traditionally marketed to boys. I'm not sure where their surveying is done, but in my childhood days, the boys were just as excited to have female G.I. Joe figures as they were the males. The same should go for wrestling, especially with all of the "Divas Revolution" talk. Lana and Summer Rae, ironically currently embroiled in a WWE feud, are two of Mattel's newest additions.

One "first" doesn't involve new names, but rather a never-before-done concept in wrestling figure collecting. With the release of El Torito last year, collectors were able to hold the first match between little people when paired against Hornswoggle. Now both have been re-released in the first wrestling figure two-pack of little people. This Battle Pack represents the feud between the two that culminated in the epically entertaining "WeeLC" match. The set even includes a mini table and chair. Torito is featured in his red attire, while Hornswoggle is in his more recent look that, to me, is reminiscent of 70s-90s wrestler Little Louie. His hair is even removable so that he can "lose" a Hair vs Mask match. Even with Lana and Rusev and the first Mattel Legion of Doom two-pack also in the series, the little guys really stand out. A friend of mine has already deemed this Hornswoggle as his "Figure of the Year." I can completely understand why.

The Elite line, figures with accessories and additional articulation, has also seen new faces. Earthquake and Diamond Dallas Page have joined the "Flashback" collection of wrestlers of yesteryear. DDP is a re-release of the WWE Legends figure, while Earthquake is fully new and comes complete with Damien the snake and his bag for the big man to "squash." New faces in the line include Stardust and Bo Dallas, the latter with his "BOLIEVE" t-shirt. Both of these stars saw their first figures in the Basic line a few months earlier. My own personal rule of thumb is to wait for the Elite when this is knowingly the case, as the included accessories are often worth the extra money spent.

Finally, we have received what should be considered the first NXT figure. While we have seen figures of many who began their WWE careers on the NXT roster as well as the NXT Women's Championship being included with Paige, this is a different scenario. Sami Zayn is the first wrestler to have a figure released before an official WWE roster call-up. I'm sure that it will not be his last and the fact in itself will end up rather trivial, but this is indeed a first. As of now, Tyler Breeze and Bayley look to be next in line for figures while still fully part of NXT, but that can always change.

As the hot weather ends and the holidays fast approach, we're bound to see even more Mattel goodies pop up. Favorites such as Charlotte, Hideo Itami, The APA, Dean Malenko, and Randy Savage are all slated to debut or return, and you can be sure that most of them will pop up here. Mattel is continuing to give us reasons to care about their line, and that deserves our support. Happy hunting!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Hardcore Truth

After years of taking them in, I have all but given up on "shoot" interviews, question and answer sessions, and similar presentations. For awhile they seemed to be a novel idea, but as more and more were made, they seemed less and less truthful. Wrestlers are natural "workers." Their livelihood is based on creating a mass illusion to entertain you. Why would stories "from the back" be any different? Remember the old saying, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story." Sadly, it seems like many books authored by wrestlers have gone in the same direction. That is, until "The Hardcore Truth" hit the wrestling world.

Released in 2013, "The Hardcore Truth" is the autobiography of Bob "Hardcore" Holly, the longtime WWF/WWE star. For the better part of fifteen years, Holly made his way through WWE rings in just about every position of the card that there is. He began with the company during their "New Generation" campaign, was totally reinvented during the "Attitude Era," and continued on with the company until 2009.

The book itself is an extremely enjoyable read and is very well balanced as far as content. We get just enough backstory of pre-wrestling Bob Holly to let us know how he was raised, his family life, and his early adult years that led him into the industry. The story doesn't skip around, which is one of my biggest peeves in autobiographies. Everything is presented in chronological order. If something is going to be revisited in his future, we don't suddenly skip to that part. If only every book was compiled with this consideration!

Holly and co-author Ross Williams seem to know what the target audience will be with the book--wrestling fans. Therefore, stories from throughout Holly's career completely fill most of the book. Thanks to Jim Cornette I was aware of some of Holly's early wrestling days, but not everything. Several early WCW matches were new to me and were easily found on YouTube as a nice visual companion. Some fans might be a little lost on the chapter covering Bob's racing, but it is brief and integral to telling his story.

Most importantly, from the beginning I felt that I was getting exactly what the title proclaimed--the hardcore truth. Unlike those aforementioned shoot interviews and other outlets, I didn't get the feeling that Holly was stretching the truth at all. This is a man who is very happy in semi-retirement. He does not feel the need to suck-up to the big shots in hopes of a return or one last payday, nor does he bury those individuals. He gives his honest opinions on anyone that played a factor in his career, and displays their good points just as much as the bad. In fact, I don't think that I came out of this book looking at anyone any less favorably than I did going in. His honest appraisals are refreshing as is his not wanting to bury anyone out of spite, while still disclosing the good and bad of the wrestling business.

In addition to the highs and lows of his own career, Holly takes you backstage for many of the happenings that occurred during that timeline. Survivor Series 1997, WrestleMania XX, the ill-fated ECW revival, and the Owen Hart, Eddy Guerrero, and Benoit family tragedies are all covered in a unique viewpoint that I found very different from other, possibly sanitized, accounts. The demise of Guerrero is particularly intense and tells of the weeks leading up to his death which have only been hinted at elsewhere.

Just as with the deaths, Holly does not dish dirt for the sake of salaciousness. Instead, he discloses all in an attempt to fully flesh out the story of his own career. Several stories that you have heard regarding Holly as well as others in the company are either supported or dispelled. While he goes to great lengths to let the fans know that miserable, perpetually frowning Hardcore Holly is not the true Bob Howard, the no-nonsense, no-BS approach to life is the same.

Some wrestling books are good, some are bad, while others are very bad. A few are great. I never imagined that "The Hardcore Truth" would make it into that latter, very slim, grouping, but it does. In fact, this one makes it up there with J.J. Dillon's book in my all-time favorites list. It's an extremely honest look at a surprisingly storied career. It's a behind-the-scenes view at the biggest wrestling company in history at several of its most tumultuous periods. It's the story of a man trying to make it to the top of an industry that fascinated him since childhood. It's a wrestling fan turned wrestler sharing his story with other wrestling fans. It doesn't get much better than that!

How do you like him now?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Piper's Pit Goes Silent...Far Too Soon...

The tragedies of the wrestling world have been far too numerous in 2015. Just when we have all begun accepting the passing of "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, another crushing blow registers. The man who seemed impervious to all of the dangers that a professional wrestler endures was suddenly stricken, too weak to continue. Rowdy Roddy Piper passed away.

His name is right up there with Hogan and Savage as far as mainstream notoriety. He was not only a favorite in the wrestling world, but also cult film and 1980's pop culture. His free spirit and unlimited charisma made him a natural for Hollywood and the entertainment industry. While he may never have had that Oscar-worthy role, the admiration of his fans for the parts that he did bring to life more than made up for it.

As a wrestler, he was a big-mouthed scrapper with an intensity to back it up. He was never the biggest dog in the fight, but it didn't matter. Hulk may have towered over Hot Rod, but it was a perfect match. And even early on his career, with Roddy's tart-tongue and often controversial verbiage, he had his followers. Even then, the WWF powers-that-be had to know that an eventually turn for Piper would only further his popularity and visibility as an icon. It did, and while he may not have had the same "bite" as a fan favorite, Roddy was always a classic.

That status as an icon carried over to his interactions with his legions of fans. Ask anyone who had the opportunity to meet Roddy Piper and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who didn't list him among the very best. Roddy didn't just thank you for coming. He took your hand in both of his. He inquired about you and your family. He looked into your eyes and listened and, as you can imagine, was always willing to share a story or two. He made sure that you had the moment that you had been waiting for.

I'm still not sure that it has fully sunk in for me. I mourned so much for Dusty, that I almost feel immune to any more wrestling-related grief. Two of my five all-time favorite wrestlers passing in the same summer is too much. Piper headlined my very first live wrestling event. I was also fortunate to meet him many times at various events. Although all of those meetings were memorable, it's the first that provided me with two moments that have gone down as legendary amongst my friends.

In the order of first meeting my five favorite wrestlers, Piper was fourth. While it was very special, I had no trepidation or worry. I'd met hundreds of wrestlers previously and I keep the line moving as I expect everyone else to do. As my crew and I inched up in line, I felt an odd sensation. What was that? Piper's Pit had suddenly rendered me incontinent. As soon as it hit me, I summonsed whichever muscle I needed in order to shut it off. Yes, I ever so slightly peed myself while about to meet Rowdy Roddy Piper.

It gets better.

Behind me in line was my friend Rick. After his warm, personal greeting, Hot Rod began to sign my items. As he did so, he kept conversation with Rick and I. While I can't remember exactly what was being discussed, Roddy's voice suddenly took a surprised and almost amused tone when he loudly proclaimed...

"Ohhhh...you two are TOGETHERRRR! God BLESS YA!"

Yes, Rowdy Roddy Piper thought that we were a couple. We are not, nor are either of us of that persuasion, but it has gone down through the years as one of the most memorable moments of my many wresting pilgrimages. And no, in subsequent meetings Roddy never inquired as to where my "other half" was.

From the outpouring of love and memories, it's obvious that Roddy Piper is going to be fondly remembered. In this day and age we've come to learn that all of our heroes and icons have their own issues. We're all only human. Roddy had his, but I firmly believe that he worked hard to overcome them. Just as with "The Dream" and many others, he deserved a few more years to bask in the glow of his own legend, but it's really his family who were cheated. They are the ones who truly knew the man and should have had more time with him. We as fans get to see him forever more, as we knew him, thanks to the countless hours of entertainment that he left behind.

Forever loud, forever young, and forever "Rowdy."

Rowdy Roddy Piper

1954-2015

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Even More Outrageous Conduct By Jimmy Hart

To think that I once wasn't even sure that it actually existed, Jimmy Hart's "Outrageous Conduct" has become one of the most popular topics on the blog. It's been about two years since we took a look at the WWF-released version of "Outrageous Conduct," but there's more than just that. The album stretches back into Hart's days in Memphis and, like much of "The Mouth of the South's early career, even involves Jerry "The King" Lawler.

Most 1980's wrestling fans remember the ad in WWF Magazine. It loudly proclaimed that "Outrageous Conduct" was available via mail. Even though the order blank was there, I just wasn't convinced that it really existed. Why did it never show up anywhere as "The Wrestling Album" and "Piledriver" so readily did? As I said two years ago, I was finally convinced that it did in fact exist when I had a copy of my own. But it didn't end there.

It turns out that the 1986 WWF version with "The Colonel" perched on a WWF ring apron on the front cover and the LJN Jimmy Hart figure on the back is a re-release. The original version was released a year earlier by "Rockin' Rasslin' Records." This seems to have been a vanity label of R-T Music Enterprises Inc. of Houston, Texas. Seeing as that Hart entered the WWF in early 1985, this could have been a side venture even while he was busy with the World Wrestling Federation. But, as I mentioned earlier, there is a connection to "The King of Memphis" here. The cover of the 1985 version is a collage of Jimmy Hart cartoons pertaining to the various song titles. Who was the artist? Jerry Lawler, of course.

My copy of this earlier version included a letter "from" Jimmy Hart on Rockin' Rasslin' Records letterhead.  The statement indicates that a different cover had been pictured from wherever the album was ordered from and includes instructions on how to exchange it or own both. Could this be from the era of the 1986 WWF-released version? Were these earlier editions shipped out at first? The letter also displays an address for a Jimmy Hart Fan Club out of Ramsey, New Jersey.

Despite the different cover art and labels releasing the album, the songs remain the same. Many of these songs would have been long familiar to Memphis wrestling fans, as many were released as singles in Memphis at the same time as Jerry Lawler was releasing his own musical ventures. At least one single was released with the "Outrageous Conduct" label, again by Rockin' Rasslin' Records. This 45 contained "We Hate School" as Side A and "Juvenile Delinquents" on Side B. The album also hit cassette tape, although I highly doubt any official CD releases were ever produced.

It seems that everyone knows a piece here or there of the "Outrageous Conduct" story, but no full tale of the various versions and spin-offs has ever come out. I think that Jerry Lawler's often-told joke about his own album ("It wasn't released, it escaped!) also holds true for this effort. Most record collecting sites seem to list one version or the other, and rarely if ever the single. Whereas mainstream releases like the two aforementioned WWF albums are remembered by most, "Outrageous Conduct" is still a hidden treasure. Or more truthfully, when looking at the dual versions and other related items, a hidden treasure trove.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

That's Not Sting, That's A WWE Figure Of Sting...

As one of the last possible "surprise" moments involving a wrestler from the '80s and '90s, Sting showing up in WWE delivered. Sure, "The Franchise" of WCW may not have won his debut WWE match, but it certainly created a true "WrestleMania Moment" that will be remembered for years to come. As of press time, rumor and insider talk indicate that we have not seen the end of Sting in WWE, and that's no surprise to me. The man still has a great presence and something to offer. Plus, he needs to win at least one WWE match.

Fans always wondered how the WWE marketing machine would treat Sting. So far, it's exactly how we imagined. To be honest, WCW and TNA used the Sting persona correctly as well when it came to merchandising. Masks, shirts, and baseball bats have long been available in the image of "The Man Called Sting." Nevertheless, it's still a bit odd, even after WrestleMania, to see Sting associated with the WWE logo. Now, thanks to Mattel, we're seeing a grand roll-out for the first figure of The Stinger to be released under the WWE banner.

Since resurrecting the popular Defining Moments series last year we've seen new figures of Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, and Razor Ramon. The ornate packaging (which I recently noticed is slightly smaller beginning with Flair) casts a grand light on the figure and almost justifies the heftier price of around $25 each. Seeing as how these figures have been very easy to find in stores, no one should be paying online or secondary market prices. In addition, the line is available at every major retailer including Toys "R" Us, Target, Wal Mart, and K-Mart. I recently encountered several rows of Sting at one particular store.

This first WWE-released Sting is based on "The Icon's" appearance at Starrcade 1997. That was the first match that Sting actually wrestled in his "Crow" look. For a year prior, Sting would appear brooding after, usually, dropping from the ceiling. The picture used behind the figure inside of the box is the recent Sting "sneer" face used on a t-shirt release. The combination of styles used really proves that the man has changed very little over the years, another reason why there's no reason for his WWE career to end after just one match and a handful of appearances.

The figure includes his trench coat and baseball bat as accessories. The coat is a soft goods material and not rubber as some Mattel clothing accessories have turned out. This is fortunate, as most collectors will want to pose this figure with the coat on, something that the rubber accessories do not allow. The recent WrestleMania XXX figure of The Undertaker was a sad example of this, as the infamous "lights on" pose is completely negated by this design flaw. On the contrary, Sting's coat is made of a thin material that permits many menacing poses for "The Vigilante." The baseball bat is also well designed and doesn't suffer from low-quality plastic bending as many long and thin accessories have over the years. Actual molding of the "wood grain" on the bat is also a nice touch.

The facial likeness is well done here. I've often said that even with face-painted stars, you still need a good likeness underneath. This is clearly Sting, and a morose one at that. Remember, Sting felt scorned by all sides at that point. He was not a happy camper due to the rise of the nWo and the "rumors" that he had joined the outlaw faction. The wrestling outfit itself is well done, too, and my often-lamented torso joint is barely visible. I really like the heavy-looking boots used for the figure, and Sting is even wearing the necklace that he wore at the time. While Sting is still in amazing shape at his current age, I see no reason why he still isn't wearing an outfit like this one. With how little he has changed, the figure honestly doesn't look at all out of place with those of more modern stars.

I usually find something to critique in any figure, but this one is a toughy. Perhaps he could have used a third accessory, but what? The "Big Gold" belt looks great on the figure, but I'm not sure that I would have wanted one in the package. The black and white motif is perfect and striking in the package, and most loose figure collectors likely have the belt already hanging around anyway. The higher price point is never pleasing, but when you get a figure of this effort and quality, the purchase remains satisfying. Indeed, this is one of Mattel's greatest WWE releases to date.

The Defining Moments Sting is in fact my current pick for "Figure of the Year." Although I did not review it here on the blog, the Elite release of Rusev had been my previous choice. Will something come along to blow Sting out of the water? Time will tell, but it's going to be an awfully big challenge.

Two further Mattel releases of Sting have been announced. Another "Crow" Sting will be in the Basic line and an Elite release of the 1990 Great American Bash Sting is also in the works. The Basic version looked a bit underwhelming, but the Bash entry could be promising. I'm interested to see just how many different Sting looks Mattel will end up giving us. I would not object to multiple Basic releases of Sting's many "surfer" styles as they've done with The Ultimate Warrior. It's very wishful thinking to even entertain the thought of a Blade Runners two-pack, but I'd hope that it would at least be considered for an exclusive of some sort. Two huge names in a style that's never before been done in figure form for either man. But, we are dealing with Mattel here...

"Think of the children!"

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest: Your Guide To Fun

It seems like it wouldn't be Summer here on the blog without a mention of Fanfest. Whether you know it as "Mid-Atlantic Fanfest," "NWA Fanfest," "The Greg Price Fanfest," or simply "Charlotte," the annual event is the one that many wrestling fans build their year around. From smaller beginnings over a decade ago with just a two-day event, Fanfest now stretches out over four fun days. Although the 2014 edition was promoted as the last, Fanfest returns to Charlotte in 2015 in a slightly different form.

This year, Fanfest is focused on live shows and experiences with the centerpiece being the premiere of the documentary "Mid-Atlantic Memories." This project has been years in the making and will tell the story of the fabled Mid-Atlantic Wrestling territory as remembered by the wrestlers and fans who lived it. The legendary Jim Ross will not only narrarate the film but also host the live premiere. In addition, "Good ol' J.R." will also hold his first "RINGSIDE With Jim Ross" show ever in the South as part of Fanfest. Those of you who listen to "The Ross Report" podcast have heard many glowing comments about the event from both Ross and Jim Cornette in a recent guest appearance.

If you've never attended Fanfest, now is the time. With so much going on and every sense of your wrestling fandom being appealed to, it's often hard to decide what to do next. As a longtime "veteran" of the event, I offer the following tips for you to get the most of your experience. All weekend you will be given the chance at once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that most wrestling fans only dream about. The following list is just a few helpful hints for first timers or for those who have already been and want to relive those great memories made over the past eleven years.

*Arrive early! The festivities begin on Thursday. The mad dash for the vendor room is usually rather peaceful, just keep your eyes open. You never know when that "Holy Grail" that you've been wanting for decades will be hiding in a corner or in a box under a table. Merchandise old and new will be available, with many of the names having new items not normally found in stores.

*Mingle! Rarely do so many fans of classic wrestling gather under one roof. Many have great stories from past Fanfests as well as the days of territorial wrestling, especially in the Mid-Atlantic area.

*Visit with The Louisville Lip himself, Jim Cornette. The legendary manager is one of the most accessible stars throughout the Fanfest weekend. Why? Because he's a fan, too! In addition to his live show, Cornette will have his "Cornette's Collectibles" booth in the vendor room all weekend. Mama Cornette's boy is always more than willing to chat, swap stories, give an autograph and photo, and sell you some wrestling treasures. Memphis historian and author Mark James will be by his side with all of his great book titles available, some co-authored with Cornette. My recommendations for a first-time Fanfest attendee? "The Midnight Express Scrapbook" and "Rags, Paper, & Pins: The Merchandising of Memphis Wrestling."

*Attend the Hall of Heroes banquet and ceremony. Some of my favorite moments as a fan have been at the HoH banquets. It's a special, intimate evening to celebrate many of the stars who have entertained you over the years.

*Many special photo ops are offered throughout the weekend. This year, three of the greatest voices to ever grace professional wrestling will be gathered in one location: Bob Caudle, Lance Russell, and Jim Ross. I'm sure that a combination of these legendary broadcasters will be gathered in the photo op room at some point. It's the wrestling commentator "Mount Rushmore" come to life. How in the world could any fan pass that up? Even J.R. himself has stated that he doesn't want to leave without getting a photo with Caudle and Russell.

*Keep one eye on the action at all times. You truly never know who is going to pop in throughout the weekend. Whether it's out of curiosity, to play some Cribbage, or just to say "hi" to old friends, many familiar faces from the world of wrestling are drawn to Fanfest. From referees like Charles Robinson and Mac McMurray to wrestlers like David Isley, Bill White, and Princess Victoria. Even former wrestling "royalty" like David and Jackie Crockett have shown up unannounced over the years, more than willing to meet their fans.

*Celebrate the past...and the future. Although Fanfest was built on the glory days of pro wrestling's past, promoter Greg Price has opened the doors to the future as well. Between a weekend-long training camp for indy wrestlers helmed by Dr. Tom Prichard and Les Thatcher to including many future talents on the live Fanfest cards (which are held on Saturday night and Sunday), you will get a chance to see many up-and-comers. With the rise and mass exposure of WWE NXT in the past year, you're sure to get another view of just how true the "Future is Now" catchphrase is.

*Take some time to enjoy Charlotte! This is one tip that I wish I had utilized more often on my various trips there. Friendly folks, great food, and an absolutely beautiful area. Explore!

*The most important piece of advice that I can give is simple: have fun! There's so much to take in and do that the time will slip away, so make the most of it! There will be Q&As with stars such as Rob Van Dam and The Honky Tonk Man, a musical performance starring "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart, a pool party with So Cal Val and Angelina Love, and so much more. I've always said that there's "something for every wrestling fan" at Fanfest, and this year that looks to ring true more than ever.

Each year, I devote some blog space to Fanfest. It isn't a commercial, it's just something that I believe in. So often I am asked about the various conventions and wrestling related events that I attend, but I hesitate to discuss them too much. No one wants to read something that appears to be a shill, and this certainly isn't. It's a notice that if you have yet to go for the Fanfest experience, now is the time. I may never have gotten as deep as I have in the wrestling autograph and meeting scene if it weren't for Fanfest. I hope that some of the fun that I've had over the years comes through in my words, and the only way to experience it all for yourself is to make that trip to Charlotte. More information on how you can do that is at NWALegends.com.

They'll know I sent ya!