As you may remember from my first entry, wrestling fanfests and conventions up and down the east coast are something that myself and many other collectors look forward to each year. It's become quite the experience, both good and bad, but my crew (dubbed "The Pittsburgh Posse" by the fine guys that run Signamania) has attended quite a few of the major shows over the past five years or so.
In the coming weeks, with the Spring shows fast approaching, I'll most likely post an entry acting almost as a guide to the ever-growing world of these shows. However, this entry is actually about a show that took place just last night. While it is actually a wrestling show with actual matches, due to the names featured it has become somewhat of a kick-off point each year for my wrestling autograph opportunities.
The IWC has long been one of the most well-kept secrets of the independent wrestling scene. Promoter Norm Connors has been running the Pittsburgh-based company since 2001, and it was in August of that year that one of his posters caught my eye. Jerry "The King" Lawler was advertised for a show no more than ten minutes away from my home, and I've been following the company ever since. With names like Dusty Rhodes, Eddy Guerrero, Bret Hart, Mick Foley, Matt Hardy, Chris Candido, The Midnight Express, Demolition, Christopher Daniels, and CM Punk (as a regular from '01 till his signing with WWE) appearing for Norm, how could I stay away?
As a result, IWC provided many early autograph opportunities I otherwise would not have had. That, coupled with a great array of local talent made for great show after great show. In 2004, the IWC started running an annual show to benefit the Little League in the town of Franklin, Pennsylvania. This show, dubbed "Night of Legends," has indeed featured many of the all-time greats still active on the independent scene. Last night was the fifth Night of Legends show (2006 was run by a different promoter who produced less than half of the talent advertised and subsequently skipped town) and the fanfest "feel" of the show was in full force. The show is proceded by a question and answer session with several of the stars, followed by an autograph session. This years legends included George "The Animal" Steele, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Sgt. Slaughter, Kamala (replacing Greg Valentine), The One Man Gang, Cowboy Bob Orton, Superfly Jimmy Snuka, Mr. Hughes, and the ubiquitous Virgil. Yearly mainstays The Patriot (Tom Brandi...not Del Wilkes) and Pittsburgh legend Lord Zoltan (early '80s WWF jobber Ken Jugan) were also on-hand.
Yearly, these shows draw on average of 1,000-1,500 fans, which is nothing to sneeze at. Also, when I use the word "fans," I mean FANS! I'm not talking of sit-on-your-hands-pretending-I'm-in-Japan fans who only clap at flippity-flop moves, I'm speaking of true blue "It's still real to me, damnit!" fans who see live wrestling once a year--at this show! Add in the mix of a ton of children and older fans, and you have the type of crowd that many of the younger guys will never have the opportunity to work infront of again.
While it is amazing to see a lot of these legends still wrestling, a huge draw for my crew is the autograph signing. As with most signings, autographs and photo ops are not free, however they are cheaper than at your regular wrestling convention or fanfest. On average most of the stars will charge between $5-$10 for an autograph or photo op. Kamala was charging a flat rate of $5 to sign everything you had, while George Steele was charging $10 per item or photo.
One trick of the hobby is to politely ask the star for a bulk rate on multiple items. For example, I had five items for Jim Duggan to autograph, and he more than fairly charged only $15 to autograph the whole lot. Sgt. Slaughter, on the other hand, did me a small favor. I've met Slaughter multiple times in the past twenty-one years and he has been a complete joy everytime. A man standing at his table taking the money informed me it was $10 per item. I had four magazines in my hand and opted to only get two signed as Slaughter is a more common fixture on the scene. After signing the two I chose, Slaughter asked me to hand him my other two magazines, and proceded to sign those as well--for free. And remember, while Virgil has a "used car salesman" attitude, you can almost always haggle him down to what you feel is a fair price.
Ultimately, it was another worthwhile trip. This will be the first time I can remember talent on the show not appearing to do gimmicks (autographs & photo ops) which became the case with Bob Orton and The One Man Gang (which in the case of the latter was due to a late arrival). My crew has met with both gentlemen before, so our biggest wish in their case was getting to see them wrestle--a wish that was indeed granted.
A sample of items I had autographed at the show (clockwise from the top left): WWF's early Victory Magazine (Slaughter was surprised seeing this), WrestleMania VII program, WWF Program 192, Hasbro Hacksaw Jim Duggan #1, WWF Magazine Holiday '84, Pro Wrestling USA Program from '85, WWF Magazine 9/89, original 1984 George Steele promo photo (he loved this).