Seemed like old times at Fanfest
"The past is not dead; it's not even past." — William Faulkner
I had the same feeling after attending last weekend's NWA Legends Fanfest gathering in Charlotte.
For three days and four nights, wrestling fans were taken back to a time when their childhood heroes once again basked in the spotlight, relating old war stories that only seem to get better with age.
That the years have taken their inevitable toll on these ring warriors didn't seem to matter much to the hundreds of folks who converged from far and wide upon The Hilton hotel, headquarters for the event, just to pay tribute. To this group of loyal, devoted fans, their heroes stood as tall as they ever did, on a pedestal that will never be shaken.
And while time marches on, some things never change.
Rip "The Profile" Hawk, still active at age 78 and a part-time youth wrestling coach in west Texas, closed the bar at least once. The only thing missing was the late Swede Hanson, Hawk's stablemate for many years, at his side.
The 59-year-old "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, who was brought into the Carolinas nearly 35 years ago as Hawk's storyline "nephew," still drew the biggest lines, signing autographs and having pictures taken with fans nonstop for several hours. Flair, who retired as an active performer in March, also commanded the biggest fee: $100 per photo-op and $40 per autograph.
Thunderbolt Patterson, one of the most colorful orators in the history of the business, still cuts one of the longest promos. Ole Anderson, who inducted Patterson into the Hall of Heroes, joked that Patterson would "never shut up" while routinely running over on his interview time during his wrestling days. True to form, Bolt proceeded to cut a riveting 10-minute spiel on Ole, bringing the audience to its feet.
Patterson was no less reserved for a 7 a.m. Sunday worship service he conducted along with "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase. With Bruno Sammartino and Ivan Koloff anxiously waiting in the wings for a 9 a.m. Q&A session in the same location, DiBiase quietly gave a cue to Patterson, who responded, "Jesus doesn't have a time limit." And apparently He didn't, since the doors weren't opened until Bolt had finished laying hands on everyone in attendance.
Mike Jackson, the longtime "Alabama Junior Heavyweight Champion," at age 59 stole the wrestling portion of the event, putting on one of his patented mat clinics against a much younger opponent. Performers like Jackson and George South, who also worked the wrestling show, deserve credit for making many a main-event star look like a million bucks back in the day.
Reid Fliehr (Ric's son) and Dillon Eaton (Bobby's son) were on hand to watch another second-generation wrestler, Richie Steamboat, work one of his first matches as an aspiring pro.
There was a little something for everyone at the three-day convention. Tables of vendors and guest exhibitors were on display throughout the event. The "legends," along with performers with WWE and TNA affiliations, mingled with colleagues and fans alike — at the bar, in the lobby and in conference rooms.
This year's Hall of Heroes honorees were Sandy Scott (inducted by Bob Caudle), Grizzly Smith (inducted by Magnum T.A.), Johnny Weaver (inducted posthumously by Rip Hawk), Thunderbolt Patterson (inducted by Ole Anderson), Paul Jones (inducted by Jack Brisco), Ivan Koloff (inducted by Don Kernodle) and Buddy Roberts (inducted by Michael Hayes and Jimmy Garvin).
Some, unfortunately, could not attend this year's event.
Smith, who achieved legendary status in this area during the '60s as one half of The Kentuckians tag team with the late Luke Brown, is in declining health and living with relatives in Amarillo, Texas.
"My dad really wanted to be here, but it wasn't one of his better days," said son Sam Houston (Michael Smith), who accepted the award on his father's behalf. "My dad's got fond memories of you all."
The Assassin (Jody Hamilton), who was scheduled to induct Smith, also could not make the trip due to a scheduled knee surgery.
Others, slowed by physical maladies, displayed the same grit and toughness that had served them well during their wrestling careers. "No. 1" Paul Jones, who recently had been confined to a wheelchair and later a walker, is still recovering from prostate cancer and a "chemical malfunction." Ole Anderson, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, now requires assistance to walk. Former Freebird Buddy Roberts speaks from a voice box after having successfully battled throat cancer for more than a decade.
But they remain stalwarts in a profession that demanded much. The love and respect their fans showered them with at the event was proof positive that these ring legends certainly must have done something right all those years ago.
Greg Price, who promoted the event, already has scheduled next year's Fanfest. If you've never been and you're a longtime wrestling fan, especially of the Mid-Atlantic variety, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
To borrow a catch phrase from Thunderbolt Patterson: "You better call somebody!"
--Sonny Fargo, who gained notoriety as Jackie Fargo's crazy brother "Roughhouse" Fargo in Memphis during the '60s and '70s and later as a referee for Jim Crockett Promotions, died Wednesday at the age of 80. Fargo, whose real name was Jack Faggart Sr., passed away at his home in China Grove, N.C.
Fargo, also known as "Nuthouse," was a fan favorite in Tennessee as a wild, unpredictable brawler who real-life brother Jackie Fargo (Henry Faggart) would bring in "from the mental institution" whenever he needed a partner to settle the score with another team. The two held Southern-based tag-team titles on numerous occasions, wresting the belts from such duos as Tojo Yamamoto and Alex Perez, The Interns, and Joe Scarpa and Lester Welch.
--Former world champ Bill Goldberg told Fight Network Radio on Friday that he had begun training for a comeback in pro wrestling. Goldberg said he is looking for a one-shot deal to do another match, but hinted that it would not be with WWE or TNA.
Goldberg's last bout was on March 14, 2004, at Wrestlemania 20 where he defeated Brock Lesnar.
--Old School Championship Wrestling will hold a show today at Weekend's Pub, 428 Redbank Road, Goose Creek. Bell time is 6 p.m.
Former NWA world champ Tommy "Wildfire" Rich, making his second appearance for OSCW, will meet Hanz for the No. 1 contender spot for the IC title. Also scheduled is an elimination match between The Company and Team OSCW involving eight competitors.
For more information, visit www.oscwonline.com or call 743-4800.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at (843) 937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org.