Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fanfest '11: The Aftermath

The phrase "a great time was had by all" may be overused, but it is certainly a fitting description of NWA Legends Fanfest 2011. Old friendships were renewed. New friendships were formed. Dreams came true. Treasures were uncovered. Memories were celebrated.

The event kicked off Thursday night with a trio of question and answer sessions. Bill "Masked Superstar/Demolition Ax" Eadie was up first sharing stories and memories of his entire career including great stories of friends and colleagues.

The second session featured controversial wrestlers "Dr. D" David Schultz and "Continental Lover" Eddie Mansfield. Both well remembered for their 1985 "20/20" television appearances, Mansfield did not entirely endear himself to the crowd with outspoken and long winded opinions. Schultz, on the other hand, chose his words wisely and came off to fans as a man very satisfied with how his life turned out. Mansfield seemed eager to convince not only the audience but himself that he had the same feeling regarding his own path.

The night wrapped up with a great showing from one of the all-time legends, Stan "The Lariat" Hansen. For a man who is usually quiet outside of the ring, Hansen was very humorous and lighthearted in his stories of the squared circle.

Friday kicked off with an opening look at the vendor room and a very special opportunity. Hansen's new autobiography was available for the first time with the legend present to autograph every copy. Most fans were unable to pass up a deal such as that.

While vendor tables were fewer in number than in previous years, there were still many treasures to be had. The original Michael Hayes "Off The Streets" LP and a production sample of the new Jakks Legends of the Ring Raven figure (purchased from the man himself) are just two of the items that I was able to covet. Hard-to-find publications, ring-worn gear, and even highly desired Wrestling All-Stars trading cards were also being offered with the latter going for as low as $1 per card.

Legends of not only Georgia Championship Wrestling but the entire wrestling world began to appear in both the main and autograph rooms. Ole Anderson, Mr. Wrestling II, Thunderbolt Patterson, Ron Simmons, Greg Valentine, and Jimmy Snuka were among the names available to meet.

Friday night was capped off by the annual Hall of Heroes banquet and induction ceremony. This year my friends and I were joined by some of the legends of ladies wrestling including Joyce Grable, Judy Martin, and Leilani Kai. Miss Kai, who was interviewed in our preview entry, was brand new to the wrestling convention scene and seemed to have an absolute blast. I've far kept it from secret that meeting the former WWF Women's Champion was a Fanfest opportunity which I was most looking forward to. The "Glamour Girl" went above and beyond for her fans and I'm certain that we've not seen the last of "The Hawaiian Princess!"

After the dinner was completed, James J. Dillon took the stage to induct the 2011 NWA Hall of Heroes Class. Superb inductions were made for Gordon Solie, Ronnie Garvin, The Assassins, Ted Turner, Ray Stevens, and Masked Superstar, but the highlight of the night for many was Sir Oliver Humperdink's special moment. Passing away earlier this year, Sir Oliver may not have been physically present to accept his honor but no one could have given the legendary manager a more dignified and touching induction than longtime friends Mick Karch and Diamond Dallas Page. Through their words and memories every fan could feel Humperdink's presence in the room, likely flanked by old friend Gary Hart.

Saturday featured opportunities to meet many more legends including rare appearances by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, "Superstar" Bill Dundee, Dick Slater. Paul Orndorff gave an amazing scoop to legendary wrestling journalist Bill Apter. "Mr. Wonderful," looking in great shape, announced that he was indeed cancer-free. His WrestleMania partner, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, himself a survivor of the disease, also made several appearances throughout the day. The coolest event surrounding "Hot Rod" was a photo op including his Starrcade '83 opponent Greg Valentine and the original dog collars used in that brutal contest.

The majority of the wrestlers at Fanfest look forward to the event as much as the fans. One superstar who has been clamoring to attend the event for years is Rob Van Dam. Because of RVD's busy schedule, a Fanfest appearance simply hasn't been in the cards--until 2011. RVD's enthusiasm and love of the business showed as he met with each and every fan in addition to many legends. Also like many of the other wrestlers, Van Dam was captivated by each and every piece of memorabilia that he autographed.

There are also always "surprise" guests that show up. From wrestlers tagging along for the ride with another colleague to ones simply coming to visit old friends, you never know just who might pop up at Fanfest. This year my favorite "bonus" meeting was with midget wrestling legend Darling Dagmar. A sweet and gracious lady, Dagmar had an extensive wrestling career and was simply happy to be there visiting friends. I hope more fans than just myself took the opportunity to ask for a photo and autograph from this legend who was more than happy to oblige.

Saturday night saw an off-site card of matches featuring current indy competitors such as Adam Pearce, Colt Cabana, Reid Flair, and Gunner. When that was all said and done, the "main event" for many came in the form of Roddy Piper spinning yarns in the form of a show entitled "All My Rowdy Friends." Reading Piper's tales is one thing, getting to hear the master himself tell the stories in uncensored form makes for a night that wrestling fans will treasure forever.

Sunday saw a quiet last day but definitely had no lack of star power. Tully Blanchard, Baby Doll, Masked Superstar, Tony Atlas, and "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase were among the signers for the morning with DiBiase returning for a Sunday worship service later that day.

I honestly cannot cover everything that went on at Fanfest nor could I even begin to convey the fun and unforgettable experience that it truly is. Promoter Greg Price has said that the 2012 Fanfest (back in its home city of Charlotte) may very well be the last. With five different Fanfest events under my belt, I know that come Hell or high water I'll be there to feel that indescribable feeling one more time.

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