Wednesday, July 21, 2021

When Memory Making Becomes A Memory Itself...

Time is flying. Even with the world the way that it is where it seems there's very little to believe in or hope for, our lives are going by. Now more than ever it feels as if people know that it's time to get out and do what they want. Eat that meal. Go on that trip. Take that risk. When it's over, it's over, so do it now. Thankfully, around two decades ago, I decided that was how it would be when it came out to living the memories of pro wrestling's past. The stars were coming out and it was time to mingle. We knew the time would be limited, but who knew just how limited it would be? Exactly one decade ago was the perfect example.

In August 2011, Greg Price took his already legendary NWA Fanfest out of Charlotte (for what would prove to be the third and final time) and land in yet another wrestling hotbed of the past, Atlanta. This event would have a decidedly Georgia Championship Wrestling feel yet still work to honor many areas of wrestling's past. Even the then-recently released Rob Van Dam became a part. He'd wanted to attend the event for years but wasn't able until his WWE tenure was complete. NWA Fanfest was an event that the wrestlers wanted to attend almost as much as the fans did.

I know that I'm not going to do justice to the list of talent who attended, but among them were Mr. Wrestling II, Terry Funk, Ole Anderson, Stan Hansen Tommy Rich, Ron Simmons, Austin Idol, Joyce Grable, Baby Doll, Manny Fernandez, Fit Finlay, Paul Orndorff, Eddy Mansfield, "Dr. D" David Schultz, Pat and Randy Rose, Thunderbolt Patterson, Masked Superstar, Teddy Long, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Debbie Combs, Paul Bearer, Jerry "The King" Lawler, Ted DiBiase, "Superstar" Bill Dundee, Raven, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, Nick Bockwinkel, Jimmy Hart, Referee Mac McMurray, Darlin Dagmar, Candi Devine, Action Mike Jackson, Superfly Jimmy Snuka, Bushwhacker Luke and likely a bevy more that I'm forgetting.

The weekend was special for me for a number of reasons. While I'd previously met the wonderful Judy Martin, her "Glamour Girls" tag team partner and former WWF Women's singles and tag team champion Leilani Kai had sort of dropped off of the radar. She resurfaced for the show and even granted an interview for this blog in the weeks leading up to the event. At the "Hall of Heroes" banquet held over the weekend, Greg put my friends and I at a table with Kai, Martin (who, along with myself, loved the carrot cake), her sister Cathy who briefly wrestled as well as Joyce Grable. Miss Kai gave me enough stories to fill a book as soon as we met and we continue to stay in touch.

There were also a few stars in attendance that I sadly never had the opportunity to meet with again. Those names would include Joe Pedicino (who, along with wife Boni Blackstone, hosted the event), Buddy Colt, Cora Combs, Gypsy Joe, Killer Tim Brooks, "Dirty" Dick Slater and "The Wild Bull of the Pampas" Pampero Firpo. It's these meetings that make me so glad that I took the opportunity to go on these trips when I did, even when I was living a bit above my means during the leaner years.

More highlights that can't ever be recreated surrounded Rowdy Roddy Piper. The Hot Rod was in full force that weekend doing photos on a replica Piper's Pit set as well as performing his one man show late on the Saturday night of the event, complete with a guest appearance from his son. My personal favorite moment with Piper that weekend was a photo op tribute to the famous Starrcade dog collar match in 1983. Piper, Greg Valentine and you, the fan, posed with the exact dog collars from the match around the wrestler's necks. Talk about history!

I'd be negligent not to mention the great vendor room, as well. While many of the aforementioned stars were available for autographs and photos at the vendor tables, the true gems are often hidden among the madness. Even in 2011, at the end of what should be known as "The Golden Age of the Wrestling Convention," vendor tables were more often than not cluttered with overpriced then-current action figures and DVDs that largely go unpurchased. It's an issue that continues to this day, however I do remember picking up quite a few finds that weekend. I even tasted a little "Badstreet" right there in Atlanta, GA.

I've always said that I'd take any opportunity given to go back in time. 99% of the time I'm meaning time periods before I was born. Here's the odd example of a weekend just a decade ago that I would love to go back to. I'll expand upon why in the future (maybe in book form...?), but 2004-2011 is just about the span of "The Golden Age of the Wrestling Convention" that I had mentioned above. NWA Fanfest went on for another few years and of course there are other events, but those shows that still exist are now listing unknown names who had cups of coffee in NXT as "legends" of the ring. No thanks. I'm glad that I took my trips, and my risks, back when they were worth it.

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