Thursday, August 11, 2016

Revisiting The Capitol Wrestling Legends Fanfest

Do you remember where you were a decade ago? I do. Ten years ago to the very date of this publication, to be exact. Although I had been a wrestling fan for many years prior, on August 11, 2006 I was attending my second full-fledged wrestling convention. The site? Rockville, Maryland. The stars? A bevy of wrestling greats spanning several companies and eras. The fun? Unbeatable. It was officially titled the Capitol Wrestling Legends Fanfest, but in actuality it was the 2006 edition of the fabled NWA Legends/Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Fanfest.

Ten years later and I still remember entering the hotel. The venue was the beautiful DoubleTree Hotel & Executive Meeting Center in Rockville. Entering through a corridor from the parking garage, my friends and I had our first glimpse out into the immense center of the hotel and spotted Nick Bockwinkel eating breakfast. Although I had my first Fanfest experience nearly two years earlier, I'd forgotten how surreal it was to see the legends of professional wrestling casually going about their lives. The hotel itself was beautiful and was well-suited to host the event, but promoter Greg Price later noted that those running the hotel weren't as conducive to Fanfest as those at its usual home of the Charlotte University Place Hilton.

The lineup of wrestling greats was unbeatable. You had Bockwinkel, Stan Hansen, Rick Martel, Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, Sensational Sherri Martel, The Midnight Express, Jim Cornette, Abdullah the Butcher, Rocky Johnson, Tony Atlas, Ernie Ladd, Rockin' Robin, Baby Doll, Nikolai Volkoff, Ivan Koloff, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Masked Superstar, Robert Gibson, Angelo Mosca, Robert Fuller, "The Patriot" Del Wilkes, Larry Sharpe, and Tom Prichard not to mention Paul Bearer, King Kong Bundy, Greg Valentine, Larry Zbyszko, Tito Santana, Lanny Poffo, Boris Zhukov, Jimmy Snuka, Buddy Jack Roberts, Stevie Ray, and probably a few more that I'm forgetting.

These were the glory days of wrestling conventions not only for the amount of talent that was available, but the merchandise, too. Where could a collector pick up "black card" LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars figures for $75 a piece these days? The aisles were not clogged with vendor after vendor of common DVDs as many shows feature today. These sellers had true memorabilia. That being said, I remember being particularly pleased that one table had the then-brand new Jakks WWE Classic Superstars Fabulous Freebirds 3-Pack available. While I paid a tad more than retail, the set was then a Wal Mart exclusive and had limited distribution up until that point. At the time, I thought that I'd likely not have the chance to get it signed by Buddy Roberts ever again. I did meet him again a few times after, but it just wasn't a risk that this Freebird fan was willing to take.

The 2006 Fanfest was yet another example as to why you can't skip opportunities when your favorites are out and about. Ernie Ladd and Sherri Martel would be gone from this earth less than a year after this event. Sherri's passing hit me particularly hard, as she was such a kind woman. She always expected the fans to get a perfect experience for their money and made sure that it was exactly what happened. I can still remember getting a hug from the women's wrestling legend and some of her "Sherri glitter" getting on my shirt. She was one of a kind and will never be replaced. I remember her being thrilled when I told her that Robert "Col. Parker" Fuller was going to be there. I'll always wonder if they got to reconnect.

Many fans who attended still remember the question and answer sessions that took place each night. The Hart Foundation told some classic stories about their time in the WWF and a combined session with Jim Cornette, The Midnight Express, and The Heavenly Bodies kept the crowd in stitches. One story that "Sweet" Stan Lane told about "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig on an airplane can still be found with a quick Google search. Some touching moments also came from that session, particularly when Dr. Tom Prichard shared some remembrances of his former tag team partner Chris Candido who had recently passed away.

The weekend was not as long as Fanfest is today, but it was just as packed with memorable moments. As far as I can tell, the event will likely never again stray from its home in Charlotte, but that's probably a good thing. Even with official name changes over the years, the event is universally known as the "Charlotte Fanfest." Despite that, it remains a celebration of the past, and even some of the future, of professional wrestling. Greg Price and his staff work tirelessly each year to top the previous event, and they always succeed. Even still, for those of us who were there, we'll always have Rockville...

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