Thursday, September 18, 2014

WWE Magazine Bids Farewell

Two weeks ago on this page we were celebrating the thirty-fifth anniversary of one wrestling magazine.  This time we are lamenting the loss of another.  The issue cover dated October 2014 is indeed the last installment of WWE Magazine. Though it barely resembled the magazine that many of us grew up with, seeing it on the shelves was almost comforting.  Along with the main monthly title, the WWE Kids title and special titles released periodically will also be seeing their end.

WWE Magazine officially considered their first issue to be the WWF Victory Magazine.  Victory lasted two issues before it evolved into WWF Magazine.  Despite the company not really wanting to acknowledge it, their first in-house publication was actually Wrestling Action.  Five issues were produced in all in midst of the transition between WWWF and WWF.  I was once offered an explanation as to why they did not consider it part of WWF/WWE Magazine, but it didn't amount to much.  If you want to see the true evolution of WWE Magazine, you start with Wrestling Action.  It captures an amazing time in the history of the company and the fifth and final issue features the first magazine cover of Hulk Hogan, or so The Hulkster himself told me.

Whereas the Wrestling Action issues showcased amazing cover art, the first Victory/WWF Magazines had great photography of the "Rock N Wrestling" era stars.  Jimmy Snuka, Sgt. Slaughter, Hulk Hogan, Wendi Richter, Captain Lou Albano, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Cyndi Lauper, and even Mr. T shined on those early covers. Inside was an interesting mixture of features on WWF action and some stories that might surprise readers today.  Articles on wrestling's past were not uncommon, and despite being well into the WWF's national expansion, even the first WCCW David Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions was covered.

As the WWF grew further and further away from anything aside of their own bubble, so did the magazine.  In fact, the magazine began to almost directly reflect the formats of WWF television programming.  These days, WWE pay-per-view lineups often don't seem settled upon until the weekend or day of.  In the early days of the magazine, lineups for WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and other events were often included, in print, months in advance.  In the instances where bits and pieces of shows were changed, those magazines offer an interesting glance at what could have been.

The magazine also helped with the company's direct merchandise sales long before Shop WWE existed. Most every issue included a merchandise catalog full of items that weren't usually available outside of attending an event.  Shirts, posters, caps, and teddy bears were just some of the items featured, often modeled by young Stephanie and Shane McMahon.  That shirt of "The Rebel" Dick Slater?  Here.  The poster of Miss Elizabeth actually donning bikini?  Here.  Mine?  Yep, he was here, too.

As the WWF steered more towards an adult slant, the magazine followed.  Edgy covers and content eventually led to the spin-off of Raw Magazine.  When the brand split and change to WWE occurred, the original WWF/WWE title was switched to Smackdown Magazine.  In 2006, the title was finally amalgamated back to WWE Magazine.  This version tried to be a cross between Maxim and a wrestling magazine.  It included seemingly "shoot" interviews, "Best of" lists, and features on fans both male (even me!) and female.

One of the coolest issues in this final form of the magazine was April 2010.  In honor of WrestleMania XXVI, twenty-six different covers were produced, each featuring a different WWE Superstar.  John Cena, CM Punk, Bret Hart, and Santino Marella are just a few of the stars featured, and others like Drew McIntyre and Evan Bourne may have received their only cover thanks to this gimmick.  Distribution was not even as far as the variant covers upon their initial release.  Since then, various back issue sales have evened up the ability to acquire certain covers.

Although Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns all have a great shot at making the cover of Pro Wrestling Illustrated in the future, the final issue of WWE Magazine is their cover debut. It's a great shot, and the issue itself makes no secret that it's the end.  Budget cuts have been the reported reason as to why the title is ending. There were rumors that an outside company would pick up the publication, but that does not seem to be the case.  With the great characters that continue to churn out of WWE, it's a shame that they will no longer have this sort of exposure that once meant so much to the warriors of the ring.

A 30 (or 37...depending on your belief) year run is nothing to sneeze at.  Thanks for the covers, the articles, the merch catalogs, the Sunny centerfolds, The Informer, Scoop Sullivan, and...the memories.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Business Is About To Pick Up...At Toys "R" Us

Mattel's "Build-A-Figure" program has been one of my favorite aspects of their WWE line for the past two and a half years.  It's enabled collectors to obtain figures of non-wrestlers that Mattel (often foolishly) feels will not sell packed on their own.  Michael Cole, Ricardo Rodriguez, John Laurinaitis, Teddy Long, Paul Heyman, and commentator/General Manager Booker T are all figures that have seen their debut this way.  In short, a series of four previously released figures (with new attire and accessories) are sold exclusively through Toys "R" Us.  Each of the figures represents the way that the wrestler appeared at a specific pay-per-view event.  The figures also each include separate pieces of the "Build-A-Figure," thus a collector must buy all four of the wrestlers to complete the fifth.

The latest "Build-A-Figure" is none other than "Good 'ol J.R." himself, Jim Ross.  The four figures required to build J.R. are "Elite" versions of CM Punk, Curtis Axel, Randy Orton, and Alberto Del Rio.  Although I've long wished that the figures in these sets were new characters, I've also outlined why they aren't.  It would be against Mattel's better interests to place a never before released character, who sell well all by themselves, in a "gimmick" series where buying all four figures is required regardless.  That being said, it would be nice to see some new faces among the BAF bunch.  This is the third appearances for both Punk and Del Rio in the BAF program.  While I'm fairly positive that we won't see anymore of those two in future sets, it might be fun to see some Divas or tag team members show up.

Although Ross is one of the stronger "fifth figures," this is one of the weaker sets of wrestlers.  Aside from a tweak of the tights or facial hair, every Orton figure is nearly the same.  Punk has a different head/facial design than the last time that he popped up in BAF, but his accessories, a megaphone and "fan" signs, aren't that exciting.  A cloth shirt or hoodie would have worked much better here.  Del Rio might be the best of the bunch with the World Heavyweight Championship and a black monogrammed scarf.  This is Curtis Axel's only "Elite" figure so far, but it comes across as rather bland.  The white-strapped Intercontinental Championship that he is packaged with has already made an appearance in the BAF line.  I would've rather seen Ryback in one of his many colorful singlets in place of Orton, especially.

Ross himself is a very nice figure, and one of the best figures to be collected as a BAF yet.  The pieces are very hidden within the packaging, possibly to avoid another "Al Snow scandal" from 1999.  As the story goes, a busybody mother happened upon an Al Snow figure while shopping in a Wal-Mart.  Snow came packaged with "Head," his female mannequin head sidekick, and the woman mistook it for a disembodied woman's head.  She created a stir that caused an unnecessary recall on the figure.  Going back to Ross, this figure not only has a head, but a trademark black resistol hat to go with it.  The facial likeness is perfect, and while I would have preferred a completely up-to-date J.R. with goatee, I have no complaints.  His "OU" lapel pin honoring J.R.'s beloved Sooners from The University of Oklahoma is even here as a great added detail.  There is an upcoming "announcer" Jerry Lawler figure coming soon that will make a perfect compliment to Ross. 

While you can never be certain, this is likely to be the only Mattel figure of Ross for some time.  The figures required to build Ross aren't the best we've seen, but if you want the fifth you absolutely have to purchase them all.  As of now, it seems that Axel is short packed.  This also happened with the Bret Hart figure from the first BAF set that featured Michael Cole.  Whether or not this will be rectified in the future is anyone's guess.  These figures are usually the "bread and butter" of the WWE holiday buying seasons at Toys "R" Us.  Closer to that time, cases of the BAF sets are often stacked to the ceiling.  An upcoming BAF series featuring "Basic" figures and a "fifth figure" of Paul Bearer has already hit overseas.  These two sets could very well be in the Christmas season WWE toy strategy for "The World's Biggest Toy Store" this year.

In any event, if you want J.R. in your Mattel WWE Universe, the time to pick up these figures is now.  Despite what is announced at press conferences and on WWE broadcasts, I doubt anyone truly buys Michael Cole as "The Voice of WWE."  After being off of WWE telecasts regularly for years and officially out of the company for a few months, Ross is still thought of when a WWE call comes to mind.  J.R. seems to be happy in his current ventures where he is once again successful, but even the biggest WrestleMania moments seem just a tad less important with the voices that WWE currently forces on their Universe.

Boomer Sooner!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

35 Years Of Pro Wrestling Illustrated

 1979 was quite a year.  Introduced were such iconic concepts as Happy Meals, The Muppet Movie, and The PiƱa Colada Song.  Jimmy Carter was President of the United States.  60 Minutes was the number one rated television program.  90 cents bought you a gallon of gasoline.  In professional wrestling, Harley Race, Nick Bockwinkel, and Bob Backlund were your NWA, AWA, and WWF Champions.  Starrcade and WrestleMania were four and six years away, respectively.  Ric Flair would have to wait two more years to reach the top of the mountain, while Hulkamania would take a bit longer than that to be born.  Nevertheless, an icon of the business began in September of '79, that being Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

Dusty Rhodes and Mil Mascaras were no strangers to the covers of wrestling magazines.  Although the outlaw known as "Dirty" Dusty Rhodes made a few cover appearances, once "The American Dream" was born he became a newsstand fixture with a variety of flamboyant outfits and the omnipresent "million dollar smile."  Mascaras was long touted as then-PWI Editor Bill Apter's favorite wrestler.  Known as "The Man of 1,000 Masks" the colorful and high-flying Mascaras appeared everywhere from Mexico City to Tokyo to Madison Square Garden and amassed quite the fan following.  At the time, there were no bigger wrestling stars to grace the cover of the first issue of what was billed as "The World's Biggest Wrestling Magazine" than these two.

Since then, hundreds of wrestlers have had a moment in the sun on the cover of PWI, coupled with thousands on the pages inside.  Even though companies like WWE and WCW have had their own publications, PWI is different.  In a business that is often not taken as seriously as it should be, PWI positioned itself as the printed gospel among wrestling fans of the 1980s and 1990s.  While some fans may have been subscribing to the "sheets" all of those years ago, most of us ticket and merchandise buying fans were waiting for the next PWI to find out exactly what was going on.  Title changes, talent switches, and card results were all going to be there each month ready for to us to feverishly devour as we turned the pages.

The best part?  It wasn't just the wrestling that we saw on television.  I can still remember following the feuds and battles of USWA, Smoky Mountain Wrestling, and early ECW in the pages of PWI.  While I may not have been able to see the matches in person or on tape, I knew the career happenings of guys like Jeff Gaylord, Tony Anthony, and Johnny Hot Body just as well as any of the national stars thanks to PWI.  It was the same effect that magazines such as Wrestling Revue and The Wrestler provided in the true territorial days.  The era when fans in California learned about Bruno Sammartino or mat aficionados in New York discovered Paul Jones, Johnny Weaver, and Eddie Graham exclusively through the printed page.

That knowledge and discovery is still delivered by the magazine, especially in a certain popular issue each year.  Beginning in 1991, an annual listing of the top five hundred wrestlers hit newsstands.  That issue, known, as the PWI 500, has often become difficult to find upon release.  Wrestlers still clamor to be included in the issue, and being named #500 is as coveted as the #1 spot.  Being included in a "Who's Who" list that has featured Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, and Randy Savage should have that kind of importance.

My first newsstand-purchased issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated was the 1992 edition of the PWI 500.  I can still remember pouring over those beige colored listing pages for hours.  There were wrestlers that I loved, some that I had never heard of, and others that I thought had long since retired.  I was excited to learn that many of the Samoans (including Kokina who.ultimately became Yokozuna) were invading the WWF and that Andre the Giant had competed abroad recently.  I took the magazine to school, and an obviously uninformed classmate (who strongly resembled Bart Simpson's classmate Wendell) inquired if a muscular blonde haired wrestler pictured in the 500 was Hulk Hogan.  It wasn't, but I had to take to the text to inform him that it was a young grappler named Chris Candido.

Pro Wrestling Illustrated is the sole survivor.  For thirty five years the.publication has outlasted several wrestling boom periods, countless other wrestling magazines, economic downturns, and even some publisher sales.  It remains the last place that a wrestler can make a magazine cover, a monthly "Top 10" rating, or an annual "Top 500" ranking.  In a wrestling world where traditions like non-televised events are holding on by a thread, the only true top company views "wrestling" as a four-letter word, and "entertainment" outweighs the importance of a ring, PWI is still there.

Whether it be the 35th Anniversary issue, the next "PWI 500," or the 2014 Year End Review, pick up a copy.  In doing so you're helping the future while maintaining a piece of the past.  As I've said countless times over the years, you're getting a great magazine and a great collectible simultaneously.  The stars of yesteryear marvel at the magazines that they appeared on over the years.  Today and tomorrow's stars, if they are lucky enough to make an issue, will only have PWI to look back on.

Long Live PWI...The World's Biggest...and last...Wrestling Magazine!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Wrestling MarketWatch: WCW

"I stopped watching wrestling when WCW ended."  I cannot count how many times I have heard that phrase in the past decade.  For all of its shortcomings, WCW had quite a following.  World Championship Wrestling wasn't that "off brand" wrestling that some who grew up on the WWF initially thought.  WCW had its roots in several classic wrestling promotions that are still revered today. Although little remained from those days when WCW came to an end, it's a true testament to the company that each of it's incarnations and "eras" are still fondly remembered.

The mat-based "We Wrestle" beginning in 1989.  The post-Flair Watts era.  The Vader-Sting title picture and battles.  The arrival of Hulk Hogan.  Monday Nitro and the nWo.  Even the final years.  You don't have to look far into a group of wrestling fans to find someone who still yearns for the days of any or all of these eras. Most of all, these times were when there was truly a choice as far as professional wrestling branding. It's been beaten to death over the years, but the notion that "competition is best" remains true.

Just as the footage and stars of WCW remain popular well over a decade later, so does the merchandise. Although there were some lean years, products emblazoned with the familiar WCW logo are plentiful.  No one in wrestling may have ever had a bigger marketing machine than WWE, but WCW more than held its own with items that hold collectors interest to this day.  In this edition of Wrestling MarketWatch, we'll take a look at some of those items and their recent auction prices.

*Until the second incarnation of WCW Magazine, the company lacked a steady and long-running periodical.  Several previous attempts were made, including Wrestling Wrap-Up.  This publication began in 1989, just as Ricky Steamboat became NWA World Heavyweight Champion.  The original format was almost a small newspaper style, and while cool today, actually seemed almost outdated then.  Wrestling Wrap-Up eventually changed to a magazine format with some very fun covers not long into its run.  An example of the premiere issue recently sold for $15.99.

*Right around the time that the Hasbro WWF figure line hit shelves, WCW followed suit.  Galoob produced a line of WCW figures that were compatible in size with the Hasbro figures, but featured no articulation. Most were sculpted in poses that allowed the figures to provide just as much fun as their WWF counterparts.  The line was sadly short lived, and a second series was only available in the United Kingdom. Many of the figures, mainly tag team partners, were also released in two-packs.  The carded Steiner Brothers tag team set recently sold for $117.50.

*Hulk Hogan's 1995 arrival made many collectors realize that a glut of new merchandise was coming.  WCW began to show up on items that had never appeared on the company's radar before as well as some that had.  The nicest WCW trading card series appeared at this time, and it was the WCW Main Event set produced in 1995 by Cardz.  Bright photos, a variety of wrestlers, managers, and broadcasters and even mascot Wild Cat Willie were featured in the set.  You can still pull an autograph today, and hopefully the bidder that recently paid $5.99 for a pack did just that!

*Publications weren't just limited to magazines, but programs as well.  When Hogan arrived, programs were changed to the format that remains with WWE today: an oversized publication with large photos and some brief biographical information.  A black and white lineup sheet was also often included.  One of these programs recently sold at auction for $20.50.  This particular program features a great cover shot of The Hulkster wearing "Big Gold," which at the time was the WCW Championship.  As much as some complain about the days when "Hulkamania" ran wild in WCW, he looked awfully right wearing the nicest championship belt in history.

*One of the many unique ideas that WCW presented was War Games.  A holdover from the Jim Crockett Promotions days, the Dusty Rhodes brainchild of two teams battling it out in a two-ring steel cage with a roof appealed to any wrestling fan.  Many different stars left their own mark on the match over the years, but one of the best remembered versions took place at the 1992 WrestleWar event.  Sting's Squadron battled The Dangerous Alliance in a great match that ended up being the last big moment for the latter group.  The event poster featuring for the pay-per-view recently sold for $61.00.

Although it was actually only a company for about twelve years, WCW lives on.  A new generation is being introduced to the company and its stars thanks to an ever-growing presence on WWE Network.  One of WCW's biggest stars, Sting, is a featured selling point of the upcoming WWE 2K15 video game.  Who is to say what else the future holds for the brand name, but an undying love for its past will never allow it to fade into the sunset.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Follow The Figures...

It was just a few weeks ago when we last visited with the Wyatt Family.  A little over a year since their WWE debut, the wild clan of wrestlers are finally together in figure form.  As shown in the blog entry highlighting the Bray Wyatt figure, these characters aren't the easiest to produce.  With their unique looks, attire, and accessories, bringing the Wyatt's into the figure world is much harder than producing yet another Randy Orton or John Cena.  Unique molds and accessories had to be produced for just about every piece of the three figures.  Shortcuts are often taken in the toy business, but was that the case here?  Mattel had the whole Wyatt Family in their hands.

With Bray already examined, this time we're looking at his flunkies, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan.  As was the case with Bray, these are the second releases of Harper and Rowan.  The two were initially released in "Basic" form in a two-pack.  Although Bray's rocking chair was first packaged in that set, to get the full Wyatt accessory experience you had to wait for the Elite releases of all three men.

I've mentioned the "King Kong Bundy LJN Effect" before, but it bears a repeat explanation.  The WWF King Kong Bundy figure produced by LJN was an immense hunk of rubber.  I'm sure that more than one child got quite the headache by being hit with it at the hands of another kid over the years.  The fact of the matter is, it was heavy and you truly felt like you got your money's worth.  The Elite Harper and Rowan resemble this phenomenon.  Not only are the figures themselves huge compared to many of the Mattel WWE figures, but they are packaged with some great accessories.

You couldn't have asked for better likenesses of the two.  From the faces to the attire to the smallest detail, it's all here.  I did have a bit of over-glue on Harper's head where the hair was attached to the head, but it was easily removable.  My only real issue on the figures is a problem that I often address, but is only evident here with Rowan, that being the torso joint.  This time the joint is nicely hidden under Harper's shirt, but overly prominent on Rowan.  It wouldn't be so bad if it served a purpose, but the joint barely moves due to the otherwise great sculpt of Rowan's outfit.

The Wyatt Family has become known for their various iconic props.  Bray's rocking chair and lantern are here, as is Rowan's sheep mask.  The chair comes disassembled with an easy to follow instruction sheet. Once assembled, the chair is surprisingly sturdy and detailed.  For the child who wants to play "the wrestlers go to Cracker Barrel," all that is needed is a figure-sized fabric game of checkers.  Bray's lantern has a glow-in-the-dark piece of plastic in the center.  I have had no luck whatsoever with glow-in-the-dark action figure accessories since the 1980's, so reporting that I was unable to get it to work doesn't hold much ground.

I think that Rowan's sheep mask is my favorite piece here.  Whatever the meaning behind it, the mask has already been a merchandising success ever since WWE began offering the life-size versions for sale at live events.  Mattel obviously put a lot of thought into how a figure version of the mask would work.  Inside the mask is a mold of Rowan's face.  Those indentations coupled with the mask being made of a hard plastic ensures that it snaps on and stays on.  It's another example, like the sweat on Harper's shirt as well as his back pocket hanky, that make the details on these figures incredible.

If you want the Wyatt figures, these Elite versions are the ones to get.  As we've previously covered, there are versions in the "Basic" line already, but they do not include any of the accessories aside from the rocking chair.  There are more versions coming in the next year, but it's not confirmed which, if any, of the accessories will be included.  I would play it safe and get these initial Elite releases.  Why wait around for future releases when the best ones are already available?

I definitely felt that Bray would take "Figure of the Year" for 2014 in a sweep, but now I'm not so sure.  Mattel delivered above and beyond with all three of these up-and-coming stars.  As a kid, I would have been amazed that the complete Wyatt Family "act" was brought to my toy wrestling ring through such great efforts.  As an adult, I'm even more amazed.  Last year, "Figure of the Year" ended up in a three-way tie among members of a group.  I'm starting to think that 2014 may see a repeat performance thanks to the great efforts of Mattel.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Farewell To Fanfest Part II--"Memorabilia, Memories, Folks, & Flavors"

Mid-Atlantic Fanfest.  NWA Fanfest.  Charlotte Fanfest.  No matter what name you knew it by, if you ever had the opportunity to attend, you likely had the time of your life.  Last week's blog entry was a "goodbye" of sorts to the event which is said to have had its final installment just a few weeks ago.  This week we're taking a look at that last blowout in the Queen City.  Four days of wrestling legends, friends, and even food is a lot to capture, but if even a small portion of the fun is conveyed in the next few paragraphs, then my mission is accomplished.

For many fans who are also collectors, autographs and photo opportunities are a major part of the event.  Dozens of wrestling legends, current names, and up-and-comers are on-hand to create a true "rasslin' melting pot."  One could argue that Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, and Arn Anderson were positioned as this years headliners, but everyone has their own favorites.  Rare appearances by territorial stars like "Number One" Paul Jones and Exotic Adrian Street and wife/valet Miss Linda were among the most exciting names for me, as was the convention debut of "Gigolo" Jimmy Del Rey.  The former member of "The Heavenly Bodies" was able to get away from his post-wrestling career to reunite with Dr. Tom Prichard and Jim Cornette much to the delight of fans.

After being unable to appear at 2013's Fanfest due to family reasons, Ole Anderson made his return to Charlotte.  Ever since my first time at the event in 2004, Ole has come across as the exact opposite of how he is portrayed by many who are allegedly "in the know."  Sure he's salty tongued and opinionated, but very few are as willing to tirelessly sign autographs, pose for photos, and tell stories as Ole is.  Despite a continued battle with multiple sclerosis and not having an official signing time, Ole's friends and family positioned the former champion's wheelchair in the hallway several times so that "The Rock" could spend as much time with fans as he could.  You can tell that, like many of the other stars, the adulation of the fans transports Ole back to his days of ruling the ring.

Another rare appearance was made on Sunday morning, when Bill Mercer was brought in to Fanfest as a vendor guest.  The 88-year-old Mercer still seems as sharp as a tack and even looks very similar to how he did during his days as the voice of World Class Championship Wrestling.  Mr. Mercer also has a place in history as part of one of the most fascinating periods of the 20th century--the JFK assassination.  Shortly before he, himself, was assassinated, Lee Harvey Oswald was held at Dallas police headquarters being charged with the slaying of JFK. Reporters were positioned throughout the building and were able to ask Oswald a question or two as he was shuttled between rooms.  One of those questions, caught on camera, was asked by Bill Mercer.  There is something about the legendary voices of wrestling's past such as Bob Caudle, Lance Russell, and Mercer.  The class that they each portrayed on television was far from an act.

Many of the vendors are actually stars themselves.  Jimmy Valiant, The Rock N Roll Express, "Fantastic" Bobby Fulton, and Jim Cornette were among those who set up shop.  Cornette again combined his space with Memphis historian and author Mark James.  If you did not come away with a book or relic from either gentleman, you missed a great opportunity.  Of course, Cornette would sign autographs or pose for photos even if you did not spend a dime.  He's another one of those opinionated yet often misunderstood stars of the glory days that often gets a bad rep.

It's always interesting to see just what fans are going after at Fanfest as far as the vendor room is concerned. The latest book or DVD?  A rare treasure from the past?  Maybe an action figure or two to take home for the kids.  As is usually the case at Fanfest, a variety of all was available.  Some of the most treasured items in my own collection were found over the years at Fanfest.  The thrill and wonder of just what would be uncovered each year is yet another important aspect of the show that I will miss.

One regret of the Charlotte-held Fanfests that I have attended was that I was unable to truly experience the city itself.  Due to the enormity of Fanfest, there just isn't enough time to explore the city at any length.  I do know that what little I have seen has made me realize that Charlotte is a place that deserves a separate visit. One of those experiences actually took place on the Friday and Saturday of this last Fanfest.  My crew, usually confined to quick meals each evening, decided to venture out for some true Carolina barbecue.  We found ourselves wandering into an establishment known as Old Hickory House.  The restaurant is like a step back in time, looking exactly as it must have at the beginning of its fifty-seven year history.  The food? Well, going two nights in a row should answer that.  My recommendation?  The large platter with ribs, chicken, pork, and beef, hush puppies, slaw, a bowl of Brunswick stew, and sweet tea.  You won't leave hungry.  You may not be able to stand for awhile, either.

Of course, what's wrestling without surprises?  Everyone was stunned to see David Crockett make an unannounced and rare appearance at Fanfest.  One of the voices of his father's wrestling product, Crockett was happy and maybe even a bit stunned that so many fans wanted photos and autographs.  Mr. Crockett's appearance was just another example of an experience that you just won't find anywhere else.

As is standard at Fanfest there were question and answer sessions, two separate nights of wrestling action, and other activities, but this year I believe the true attraction was making that connection.  With the word out long in advance that this would be the final event of this kind, I think that many fans tried their best to make it last as long as possible.  Whether it was meeting a long time idol or rekindling an old friendship, no one was taking the connections for granted.  Longtime wrestling fans have learned the hard way that the words "See you again" are often just that--words.  No one is guaranteed a tomorrow.  At Fanfest 2014, I believe that the special moments and opportunities presented were appreciated just a bit more.

This week and last, as well as any of my other writings regarding Fanfest over the years, are just a small glimpse into what the event was all about.  Not "is" about.  As difficult as it is for all of us to accept, Fanfest is now in the past tense.  There is no more "see you next year" or wondering which wrestling legends will appear next August.  The event itself now perfectly reflects the time period which it celebrates.  Both are nothing but memories.  My memories?  Ghosting through my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, back in 2004, as my first Fanfest was held later that weekend.  Tossing, turning, and being unable to sleep for over a month in advance due to my anticipation of returning to Charlotte in 2009.  Meeting stars from all aspects of the wrestling business and seeing them enjoy themselves as much as all of the fans that I met from all over the world.  That was Fanfest.  Often imitated.  Never, ever, duplicated.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Farewell To Fanfest Part I--"Soul"

 Ten years is a long time for any venture to last.  Greg Price's Fanfest has done just that.  What is it that kept twelve shows alive in the span of a decade?  The talent.  The promoters.  The fans.  All are suitable answers.  Jim Cornette has often been quoted as saying that the Mid-Atlantic territory was the greatest wrestling territory of all-time.  He cites the amazing array of talent and a rabid fanbase as to what made it great.  Those same fans, and many of us who wish that we could have been part of it, kept the spirit of the promotion alive and transferred that love into what made Fanfest equally great.  But Fanfest had something that other similar events didn't.  That one ingredient?  Soul.

This past weekend, hundreds of fans enjoyed what was said to be the final Fanfest.  It delivered what Fanfest has become famous for being: a wrestling fan's dream weekend.  It never mattered whether you were a fan of the Mid-Atlantic territory or not.  Any wrestling devotee could enjoy what was brought to the table over the several day extravaganza.  Legends, current stars, and up-and-comers in the wrestling business all came together to deliver something that, despite their best efforts, WWE will never be able to recreate, nor would they probably care to.

Walking down a hall at the Charlotte University Place Hilton last weekend would have displayed any and all of these scenarios: wrestlers reuniting with wrestlers, fans catching up with other fans, fans rushing off to catch that next photo op or autograph session.  Off to the side of one hallway, the often-misunderstood Ole Anderson sits in a wheelchair, obviously enjoying signing autographs and posing for pictures for fans.  In fact, he would rather tell the fans stories than pause for lunch.  Sounds a bit different than what you have read elsewhere on the Internet, doesn't it?  Just a few feet away in a large ballroom, Jimmy Valiant is catching up with Exotic Adrian Street and Miss Linda.  On the other side of the ballroom, Matt Hardy and Reby Sky are meeting fans of all ages.

While men like Dusty Rhodes, Arn Anderson, and Ricky Steamboat were "main event" level attractions, every legend appearing at Fanfest is treated as a superstar by both the fans and other wrestlers.  Egos and grudges are pushed aside to give the fan an untarnished experience.  In this day and age, fans know that it was the undercard wrestlers who had quite an instrumental hand in making the big names as memorable as they are today.  Occasionally, such as in the case of The Mulkey Brothers, those journeymen stars are equally as ingrained in fans memories.

As I rubbed elbows with so many of wrestling's greats last weekend, I thought back to Fanfests of the past. Without this amazing event, I never would have had the opportunity to meet such greats as Jackie Fargo, Gary Hart, Ernie Ladd, and Billy Robinson.  I would not have gotten a hug from Sherri Martel or had dinner with Sir Oliver Humperdink.  I would not have seen the Four Horsemen reunite before my very eyes or the final appearance of the Fabulous Fargos.  It's things like these that other events of its kind, or WWE, will never deliver.  It just isn't in the business model anywhere else.  The "it" being, of course, soul.

In the days following Fanfest, social media became a hub of photos and memories.  It was interesting to note that cries of "This can't be the final Fanfest" came equally as often from fans and wrestlers alike.  Although there are other reunions for wrestlers themselves, many absolutely love Fanfest for its ability to combine reuniting with other wrestlers and finally getting to meet so many longtime fans.  As is often forgotten in other entertainment industries, wrestlers do not necessarily stay in touch after their time in the business is over.  Just like when a television program or movie wraps, everyone goes their separate ways.  Seeing the wrestlers relive those long days and nights on the road together is often a treasure in itself.

Next week, we'll take a closer look at the 2014 edition of Fanfest.  Memories, memorabilia, sights, and even tastes!  As for now, however, I'd like to offer my personal thanks to Mr. Greg Price.  Almost all has been said over the past few days following the great event, but it's worth repeating.  Thank you for the seven amazing Fanfests that I was able to attend.  I truly had the full experience, attending the November 2004 Tribute to Starrcade, the 2006 Capitol Legends Fanfest, the 2011 Last Battle of Atlanta, and four other Charlotte Fanfests.  Each had their own feel, flavor, and countless memories that I'll never let go of.  Most of all, despite not being born until after so much of this great wrestling that we celebrate had already taken place, I was made to feel as if I was part of it.  I was able to experience that soul.  If this is indeed the end, I'm glad that I will be able to pass that soul on and keep those grand territorial wrestling memories going as long as I can.

Join us again next week for more Mid-Atlantic Memories!