ATLANTA — It may as well have been Christmas for the throngs of fans who invaded this city to attend what has become the biggest annual gathering in the country of followers of “old-school” wrestling.
Masked men, cowboys and Indians, heroes and villains packed the lobby, grand ballroom and vendor tables as the Atlanta Airport Marriott was transformed into a magical time capsule where fans were transported back to their childhoods.
Folks came from all parts of the country, and as far away as Great Britain, Australia and Japan, with one major objective. And that was to reclaim a little piece of the past.
For many of these mat devotees, it was a chance to interact up close and personal with wrestlers they grew up watching on TV, to get autographs and have their pictures taken with their heroes. For some of the wrestlers, it was a chance to make a payday, but moreover an opportunity to relive their glory days in the ring, see old friends and reconnect with fans who cheered them and even fans who jeered them.
One thing was readily apparent. Those fans never forgot them.
The NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest shifted from Charlotte to Atlanta this year to honor the stars of the heyday of Georgia Championship Wrestling. Former WCW owner and media magnate Ted Turner, who credited wrestling with helping him launch his empire back in the ‘70s, headlined an iconic group of Hall of Heroes inductees that included Gordon Solie, The Assassins (Joe Hamilton and Tom Renesto), The Masked Superstar (Bill Eadie), Ronnie Garvin, Ray Stevens and Sir Oliver Humperdink.
At Fanfest, the tradition of “rasslin” on Turner’s popular WTBS SuperStation was alive and well, continuing to evoke a flood of memories for thousands of fans who preferred to focus on the many colorful personalities and events that brought them to the dance in the first place.
From Mr. Wrestling No. 2 and Thunderbolt Patterson to Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Rob Van Dam, the star-studded, multi-generational event offered something for everyone, featuring legends from a bygone era, as well as current stars of today’s brand of pro wrestling.
Where else could you see, under one roof, Rowdy Roddy Piper doing a comedy act well into the wee hours of the morning? Ole Anderson holding court in a crowded hotel lobby and telling those great stories about how he fired everybody in the wrestling business? Revered world champions like The Funks, Harley Race and Nick Bockwinkel sharing an autograph table?
It’s been a busy year in wrestling for the city of Atlanta, which hosted WWE’s Wrestlemania mega-event in April, drawing more than 65,000 fans to the Georgia Dome. But for many of the fans in attendance at Fanfest, this reunion was three days and four nights of wrestling heaven.
Go to one of these nostalgic, tradition-filled events, and chances are you won’t miss another.
But there would be no Fanfest without a guy named Greg Price.
Fan-turned-promoter Price, who’ll tell you he’s a fan first and a promoter second, insists that it’s fans like himself who have provided the impetus for staging this annual offering since 2004. The event is a tremendous undertaking, but one that Price has tackled with enthusiasm each and every year.
“If it wasn’t so much work, I’d be like a kid in a candy store,” he laughs.
Wrestling has been a lifelong obsession for the soft-spoken Price. He came up with the idea of doing such an event after attending similar fan conventions and memorabilia shows.
Price wanted to convey the special feeling that he got attending these events and make it something bigger and better. He’s far exceeded those expectations, and the event has become something even he couldn’t have anticipated.
“The fans and the folks buying the tickets are the reason we’ve been able to do this ... They’re the backbone,” he says.
Price, who has expanded Fanfest each year, jokes that it’s more of a “lovefest” for wrestlers and fans. Everyone is a friend at Fanfest, and it’s an atmosphere that Price has worked tirelessly to achieve.
“There’s something to be said when you walk into a huge hotel ballroom full of people, and they all absolutely love the same thing that you do,” says Price.
The event has assumed a lofty position as the premiere wrestling nostalgia gathering in the country. It’s a testament to the efforts of Price and his staff, who work all year long to make it happen, and to the fans and wrestlers, whose bond over the years remains as strong as it ever was.
Word has surfaced that next year’s Fanfest could be the last. It’s more than a little understandable that Price deserves a break from the taxing and stressful job of putting together such an event. He’s paid his dues, and more.
So if you couldn’t make Atlanta, you might do yourself a favor and make your plans early to attend next year’s event, which will return to Charlotte and the home base of Crockett Promotions.
It’s sure to be one that you won’t want to miss.
-- Former pro boxer Scott LeDoux, who worked for the AWA as a referee in the final years of the promotion, passed away Thursday at the age of 62 following a battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
LeDoux, who had a 33-13-4 record as a boxer and fought such top heavyweights as Larry Holmes, Ken Norton and Leon Spinks, served as executive director of the Minnesota Combat Sports Commission.
Known as the underdog who always fought the odds, LeDoux once joked, “When I was ranked seventh in the world, I was still ranked 25th at Tommy Byrnes’ bar in Duluth.”
-- Old School Championship Wrestling returns Aug. 28 with a show at the Hanahan Rec Center.
TNA star Gunner will make his OSCW debut against Jesse Windham. Also featured will be a Lord of the Rings match in which titleholders battle it out for the biggest yearly OSCW prize.
Bell time is at 6 p.m. Doors open an hour earlier. Admission is $10 (cash at the door). Kids 12 and under are $5.
-- George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air WWE’s Summer Slam pay-per-view at 8 p.m. today. Cover charge is $10.