Wrestling Fans and Conventions

Cynicism is a pretty common feeling after a while in this business.  I haven’t been to a wrestling convention in a long time and I have to admit, with the economy and overall feeling in the country today, I was curious how the turnout would be for The Legends of the Ring Convention in Monroe, NJ this past Saturday.

Friday I was booked in Rahway, NJ for PWS to sign autographs and have a match against a rookie and best friend of Zach Ryder named The Big O.  Dave Chudy with Extreme Autographs set me and some others up to be at both events and I have to say Dave and his team did a great job and were professional and a pleasure to work with all weekend. 

When I started this blog I didn’t want it to be or become a “this is what I did today” type deal.  But this weekend is one of those that warrants almost a ‘journal entry’ if you will….

I got up at 4 AM Friday morning to catch a 6:15 flight from Tampa  to Newark.  I packed the night before, printed my boarding pass, made sure I had what I needed and all I had to do was shower, dress and go.  My wife dropped me off and I planned it just right.  I got thru the first TSA check point, took the tram to the terminal, got in line and as I get to the “take everything out of your pockets, make sure you take your lap top and liquids out of your bag” part of my journey, I realized I forgot my phone.

I have all my numbers in my cell and haven’t dialed one in years!  How did anybody exist or function without a cell phone?? Very nicely, thank you. 

But now I’m panicking because I know there will be a point this weekend that I’m going to need my phone! I got through security, went right to my gate and asked “Does the airport even have pay phones anymore?”  The ladies behind the desk didn’t know if they did or didn’t (they do) but they let me use the phone behind the counter to call my wife and bring me my cell.

Now I have to go back to security and explain what happened. The flight will be boarding in about 30 minutes and the line is starting to pile up. I get back on the tram, go down to departing flights and wait for my wife to bring my phone.

She hadn’t had a lot of sleep either and had to be up early but she (being the greatest wife in the world!) brought my phone to me with a smile. She really is the best wife in the world!

Anyway, I went back to the express line and got to the gate as everyone was boarding.  Jimmy Hart was on the same flight and even though he had been up since 2 AM, we still talked the majority of the way there and took about a 30 minute “power nap.”

Dave Chudy picked us up along with Armando Estrada and took us to the Crowne Plaza in Monroe, NJ.  The show that night was in Rahway for PWS and he was coming back to get us around 4.

Jimmy decided to go help Dave set up while Armando and I went to the restaurant.  I hadn’t seen Armando in a long time but we picked up the conversation like  we just saw each other last week.

We ordered breakfast and began reminiscing when Shane Helms walked in and joined us.  The conversation never stopped or lagged.  We seemed to find something to talk about for about an hour and then decided we would get some rest before the show.

I’ve known Jimmy Hart for years.  He’s always been upbeat, energetic and has an  infectiously positive attitude. I don’t think I’ve heard Jimmy say a bad word about anybody in the business.  He will go the extra mile to help promote or set up a show or event. He’s always entertaining and makes every event he’s at something special with his energetic style and charisma.

Last time I saw Paul Bearer was at Wrestlemania in Miami.  He flew into Philadelphia and drove to Monroe for the matches Friday and convention Saturday. Dave was on his way to pick us up but I decided to jump in with Paul and go to the show.  Again, the conversation picked up like we just got off the phone yesterday. 

Of course New Jersey has tolls and traffic that isn’t as prevalent in Mobile Al. and we were following one of PB’s favorite people and agent/manager of the Iron Sheik who kept weaving in and out of traffic, so the conversation was sprinkled with colorful language that would have made Jim Cornette proud! This agent had to stop to pick up the Sheik so we pulled in as well.

The Iron Sheik is the guy who trained me when he was in Texas in the mid 1970’s so he has a special place in my life and my heart.  It was good to see him. His agent had him in a wheel chair though and when he saw us and had to walk all the way to our car to say hello, hug and stand in the cold for about 15 minutes! 

Traffic at 4 PM on a Friday anywhere is crazy but the northeast takes it to another level!  We were supposed to be at the venue at 5.  It’s about 4:45 at this point and planning isn’t one of this agent’s strong points.  But we eventually got the Sheik loaded up and we were on our way. (I’m leaving this “agent’s” name out to protect the innocent!)

So far I’m feeling pretty good about the way things are going.  I’m seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time as well as new, eager wrestlers who are just as  excited seeing some of the legends backstage.

DDP gave me a yoga DVD a while back and I just recently started using it.  I told him how great I thought it was and I recommend anyone who wants to get more flexibility or just feel better to try it.  He helped me stretch before my match. 

The show that night was with PWS ran by Pat Buck.  Pat is someone with passion and works hard.  It was obvious by the turnout he had. You can tell how hard a show is promoted usually by the amount of people in the stands and this was a packed house.  I’ll ‘guesstimate’ around 800-1,000 people.

  I had a match against Zach Ryder’s best friend, The Big O for the Texas championship.  Big O was accompanied to the ring by Becky Bayless and I came out on the losing end. The kid looks great.  He’s green and just needs some experience.  I met Becky in Florida a couple years ago and have seen her wrestle.  She is a class act and very nice lady. The only way to get better is get out there, travel, get yourself booked in different places, make contacts and network where and when you can.  The Big O is a powerful guy with a lot of potential. He has passion.  I hope he gets the opportunity to learn this craft traveling and making contacts. I also hope I get to work with him again soon.

I got to see some old friends and even some former FCW alumni like Bill Carr (AKA Bobby Dutch) and Curt Hawkins.  There were a lot of guys I wanted to visit with but figured I’d see them at the convention Saturday.  There were people all over the place!

 I thought the convention was a success.  I got to see some old friends and people I knew but hadn’t had the opportunity to meet.  But for the most part I stayed at the table as we had a steady stream of people so I couldn’t make my way across the room and say hello to some of the guys.

This was the first time in a long time that I went to a show and convention where it was fun, organized (from my perspective) and I enjoyed being around everyone.  Jimmy Hart and Paul Bearer are two people that represent this business with class and dignity.  Both are quality people who realize how fortunate they are to be able to do what they do and appreciate it.  It appeared to me that the majority of the guys there got it and were appreciative that there are people who will still come out to see them, want to talk with them, and reminisce about their “glory days.” 

I know I appreciated every person who came to the table even if it was just to look and say hello.  There were fans who gave me some old pictures from Alabama, Houston and St. Louis.  Some just wanted to ask general wrestling questions.  One lady came all the way from Italy.  She told me her brother bought my book and she came to the states to pursue a wrestling career.  She wanted me to clarify something in the book so we went to the page and I explained it. 

There was the young man named Shawn Sixsmith who made me my own “action figure” and I couldn’t thank him enough.  He made other action figures of various people there and that to me says a lot about the passion, commitment he has for pro wrestling/sports entertainment.  I think the majority of us ‘old timers’ were wrestling fans growing up and I for one, can appreciate when someone takes the time to give one of their favorite performers a picture, ‘action figure’ or just come over and talk about a childhood memory  that was special to them.

I grew up a wrestling fan.  Not everyone who becomes a wrestler was a fan growing up and there’s nothing wrong with that.  I was fortunate to live my dream and do what I wanted to do.  We all dream about being the world champion.  I was co-holder of the WWF World Tag Team Championship with Chris Candido.  While it wasn’t a singles run, at least I can say I was held a “World Championship” with the premier organization on the planet.  That and $5 might get you a Starbucks coffee.

But I was and still am a wrestling fan.  I know how I was treated as a fan and a rookie when I broke into the business.  There were some nice and no-so-nice guys that I crossed paths with. I appreciated the help from veterans and people over the years.   I hope I treated people the way I want to be treated.  Professional wrestling had a bad rap for years.  The fans of pro wrestling get a bad rap at times (some justified, some not).  There was nothing like this as far as getting up close and be in such an intimate setting with wrestlers when I was growing up.  The closest thing to it was a Fan Club convention called the Wrestling Fans International Association (WFIA).  The president at that time (Don Wilson) would get a local territory to host their conventions every year and a few of the wrestlers would show up for a brief time.  But it was nothing like it is today, up close and personal!

The majority of  wrestlers there this weekend were gracious and enjoyed talking with fans. Being a fan growing up I know how it feels when you meet or stand in front of someone you’ve watched and followed on TV or appear “larger than life.”  It can be surreal and a really cool experience.  Or it could be a let down and the biggest disappointment in the world.

We tend to forget that just because someone is famous or on TV doesn’t mean they aren’t  human and have good and bad days. At a convention like this I think the guys enjoy being remembered and appreciated. No matter what anybody says, it’s nice to have people remember things that they related to as a fan and take the time to come and see that man or woman who impacted their lives or at least gave them some enjoyment watching you perform over the years. 

I was a heel most of my career  and as a rule back then, heels weren’t supposed to be nice or talk with fans.  I preferred not talking to people and of course that made me an even bigger a$$ in my personal life as well but I could live with it.  Conventions like this where people have the opportunity to meet and actually spend some time with one of their favorite wrestlers or just someone they might have heard about over the years are great and work out for everybody for the most part.  Sure, you might get the “cranky” Superstar or the “over-bearing” fan but as an over all positive experience you can’t beat it! 

I look forward to doing more conventions and appearances in the near future. 

October 20, I’ll be in Staten Island doing a camp and celebrating my in ring debut 33 years ago.  The following week (Oct. 27) I will be in Pell City, Alabama.  Check the Appearances section on the right for more information.  These days I’m happy there are still some people who remember and even more so care to have me at their events or on the card!  I have no illusions about what I did (and didn’t) do in the business.  I’m still a fan.  I’m more a fan of people who pay their hard earned money to mingle in a room of men and women they got to watch perform over the years, show their appreciation, share memories and leave satisfied at the end of the day. 

To any independent wrestler that might read my blogs, you know I can be critical of “play rasslers.”  I’m also critical of anybody who doesn’t understand that people who go to watch independent cards are the real passionate ones who not only deserve to be treated to a good show, they should be treated with respect as well.  They are paying to see a live wrestling event and you should deliver the best product possible. Don’t dog it because there’s a smaller than anticipated crowd.  Those are the people you should appreciate more because they are there supporting your event!  Heels be heels. Good guys be good guys.  It is different these days.  You want people to come back and you want them to tell their friends, get the word out and develop a following. 

Treat people the way you want to be treated.  Some people can be jerks and it can be hard to bite your tongue.  Boy, do I know that feeling! But you can pretty much tell if someone is being sincere or just busting your chops.  Either way, you’re supposed to be the “pro” so act like one.  Real fans will appreciate that. 

Thanks for reading.

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