This past week marked a milestone in my life as a wrestling fan. I attended the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest Weekend, held August 1-4 at Charlotte’s University Place Hilton. To say I enjoyed myself would be an understatement.
Organized by former Mid-Atlantic photographer Greg Price, the four-day convention is designed to pay homage to past to wrestling’s most enduring legends of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling
The Mid-Atlantic area, consisting of mostly the Carolinas and Virginias, was considered one of the biggest regional promotions in wrestling for 50 years. It ended when Jim Crockett Jr., the promoter, tried to push the Mid-Atlantic promotion national in the mid-1980s.
Being in such an environment was a first for me. I was either not born or only a few years old when many of the biggest moments in Mid-Atlantic history occurred. However, I did grow up watching performers in WCW with deep roots in Mid-Atlantic such as Barry Windham,J.J. Dillon and Ric Flair. Plus I’m a history buff. I firmly believe that studying wrestling’s past gives one a greater appreciation for the product. So many of the older fans I met were happy to see my enthusiasm for history.
Some of my most enjoyable memories while there came by simply listening in on the many conversations around me. I’ve watched tons of footage and read articles on Mid-Atlantic, Mid-South, Georgia Championship Wrestling, World Class Championship Wrestling, Championship Wrestling from Florida and other wrestling hotbeds. However, it’s entirely different talking to those that lived through the glory days of these promotions.
I learned the most from Pam and Bob Allyn, the daughter and son-in-law of the late Gordon Solie. Whenever I visited their booth I felt like I was back in school getting a master’s degree in Wrestling 101. My mind was a sponge that soaked up every story they told me about Solie and his unparalleled psychology when it came to calling a match. They basically gave me a crash course on the history of the Florida territory.
There were two notable observations I took away from my experience. The first is that to the fans in attendance, the product of the 60s, 70s, and 80s was far more realistic than anything that has happened since. You could sense the conviction in their voices as they relived their memories of matches and angles that happened 25-30 years ago, if not longer. Sometimes I forget what happens in WWE on a weekly basis, but these people recounted their memories as if they happened yesterday.
My second takeaway was the familial atmosphere on display. I’ve heard my fair share of stories about wrestlers who are real life pricks, but the majority of those I encountered were very pleasant. They appeared genuinely touched to realize they are still appreciated for their work. If they were stopped in the hallway for a photograph, then they were more than happy to oblige. The camaraderie amongst the fans and wrestlers was refreshing to see. I had some particularly funny interactions with former WWE star Tony Atlas.
In many ways, the event is similar to a family reunion. Many of the wrestlers who had not seen each other in years were overjoyed to catch up on old times.
One of the major highlights of the weekend was an “Inside the Steel Cage” Q&A session featuring Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A., moderated by Mike Mooneyham of the Charleston Post and Courier. The two discussed their classic “I Quit” cage match from Starrcade 1985, which is generally hailed as one of the greatest matches of its kind. They were both seated inside of a real steel cage structure on stage. Immediately following was a two-hour plus “Unplugged & Uncensored” Q&A session with Jim Cornette. Anyone familiar with Cornette knows that he is one of the most outspoken personalities in all of wrestling. No stone was left unturned.
The most exciting moment of Fanfest occurred Friday evening at the annual Hall of Heroes induction ceremony. The banquet-style gala honors key talent who were instrumental in the success of Mid-Atlantic wrestling. Among those inducted were Cornette, Rock-n- Roll Express, Midnight Express, Magnum T.A., Les Thatcher, Danny Miller and Lars Anderson. What sets the Hall of Heroes apart from other wrestling Hall of Fame ceremonies is that every fan is able to sit at the table of their favorite wrestler. It provides for a very intimate setting. I was at the table with Bobby Eaton of the Midnight Express. Eaton is largely regarded as one of the top in-ring performers of the 1980s. It was a thrill to sit alongside one of my wrestling idols and pick his brain.
With live matches, karaoke, revealing Q&A sessions, multiple vendors and an abundance of other activities, there was truly something for everyone to enjoy.
The 2014 Fanfest is scheduled for Sunday, July 31-Wednesday, August 3, 2014 in Charlotte. It will mark the tenth anniversary of the first Fanfest held in 2004, and will also be the last.
I will most certainly be in attendance.