The Gathering, billed as “a weekend of wrestling, fans and fun,” is less than two weeks away, and anticipation is building.
The four-day event (Aug. 15-18) at the University Hilton Hotel in Charlotte, the site of previous Fanfests, will feature an around-the-clock schedule of activities.
Event organizer Martin Damato of Tmart Promotions has been tirelessly working since last year to make the event a reality.
“Wow is all I can say when it comes to the work and effort it has taken to get to this event. My wife says once it’s over she will get her husband back,” laughs the New York native. “When I decided to put this event together and bring it back to the Hilton in Charlotte for those fans who loved that event each year, I knew it was going to be a lot, and I am glad we are now just two weeks away. I hope the buildup turns out to be a great event for everyone.”
While he knows he has a tough act to follow, Damato is hopeful that The Gathering will be a success.
“It’s a first-time event that’s replacing a show (Mid-Atlantic Legends Fanfest) that has not been there since 2016, and even the last few years their show was not what it once was. So I knew this was my first year to try and build it back up and get it out there. So I’m not sure what I am walking into, but I know for the last year I have pushed this event very hard on social media, postcards being handed out at all events in North and South Carolina, wrestlers doing podcasts, videos and radio to help promote it. And Facebook hitting all the areas we needed to hit. So in two weeks’ time we will know.”
The latest lineup includes such names as Ricky Steamboat, Barry Windham, Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson, Lex Luger, Magnum T.A., Scott Hall, Bob Backlund, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Ron Simmons, Abdullah The Butcher, Larry Zbyszko, The Superstar, Ken Patera, Ivan Putski, Missy Hyatt, Madusa, Brooke Adams, Austin Idol, Adnan Al-Kaissie, Shane Douglas, Jimmy Garvin, Baron Von Raschke, Greg Valentine, Brutus Beefcake, The Boogeyman, One Man Gang and many more.
Damato also is bringing in WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle to do a signing and take photos with the fans.
A Queens of Combat Wrestling show will be held Aug. 15 at the Hilton. The following night will feature “A Night to Remember,” a dinner and banquet event that will honor a group of legends.
A 35th anniversary of The Midnight Express will include all five members — Jim Cornette, Bobby Eaton, Dennis Condrey, Randy Rose and Stan Lane.
Also honored will be former NWA world champion and Four Horsemen member Barry Windham.
An honor will be presented posthumously to the late Bobby Heenan, with his widow, Cindy Heenan, accepting.
“In my mind, we will honor the greatest manager in the history of pro wrestling,” says Damato. “I had worked with Bobby I think more than anyone from 2010 until he passed away (in 2017). Bobby Heenan is the wrestling talent that made Tmart Promotions what it is. We are so glad that his wife Cindy Heenan will be with us to accept this honor on behalf of him.”
Heenan also will be honored by Greg Gagne, son of late AWA world champion Verne Gagne, at the event.
Lanny Poffo will accept an honor on behalf of his late brother, “Macho Man” Randy Savage (Randy Poffo).
Missy Hyatt and the late Bruiser Brody (Frank Goodish) also will be honored at the banquet dinner, with Brody’s widow, Barbara Goodish, accepting on his behalf.
A wrestling show, “Rumble at the Hilton,” will cap the weekend activities on Saturday night (Aug. 17). The show will feature a 20-person Royal Rumble-type match. Among those competing will be Shane Douglas, Mr. Hughes, Katarina, C.W. Anderson, Lodi, Ricky Santana, The Cuban Assassin, Col. Robert Parker, The Dirty Blondes and Big Sean Studd.
A “Grilling with J.R.” podcast with WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross and co-host Conrad Thompson was recently added to the lineup and will be held immediately following Saturday night’s matches. A separate ticket is needed for this event. With a VIP ticket, you can attend the private meet and greet.
Live Q&A sessions will be held during the event with Kevin Sullivan and Barbara Goodish, along with already scheduled Q&A’s featuring Greg Gagne, Shane Douglas and World Class Memories.
“The Russian Nightmare” Nikita Koloff also is scheduled to conduct a Sunday morning worship service.
Damato has done similar shows as a vendor for more than 10 years, but The Gathering will be his first foray into running a convention.
“I really hope this event takes off as I would love to do it again next year and the year after that,” says Damato. “The fans that come to this event are special and really love the old-school wrestling and that’s what I love. I have made a lot of good friends from going to the Charlotte events over the years, and I hope this year I make a lot more. I won’t be hard to find as I will be around every day and all day. So come up to me and say hello.”
Preorders will end Aug. 10, says Damato, and the website will shut down “as we have to get ready to pack things up and head to Charlotte. Don’t worry ... you can still get tickets at the event each day. Starting on Thursday at 2 p.m., we will open registration until 8 p.m. on Thursday.”
VIP tickets are on sale for $199, which gets fans in the event each day, the live question-and-answer sessions, the two nights of live matches and two autographs from each of the 24 Superticket guests. General admission tickets will be on sale each day for $20.
“The only ticket you cannot buy after Aug. 7 is the dinner ticket, as we have to have the head count in to the hotel,” Damato adds. “Get tickets now if you like to preorder at www.tmartpromotions.com.”
Although he is technically the promoter of the event, Damato says he is more a fan than anything else.
“I hate calling myself that (promoter) because I am a fan of this business and have been for 38 years. Along with the vendors who have joined me in bringing in talents and merchandise tables, I say thanks and hopefully in two weeks it works out for all of us.”
In the end, though, he promises it will all be worth it.
“In two weeks it all starts, and I’m as excited now as when I announced it a year ago. Let’s get ready to ring the bell.”
More tough times for former pro wrestling star John Nord.
The 59-year-old Nord, better known in mat circles as The Berzerker and Nord The Barbarian, recently was given a five-year probation sentence after being arrested seven times for driving under the influence of drugs — mostly painkillers.
According to a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nord has become a frequent abuser of painkillers to cope with the damage to his body and brain. It also was revealed that the wheelchair-bound Nord is now stricken with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
The prosecutor in the case argued that the judge should send Nord to prison for more than four years because he represented a “significant public safety threat” since he has continued to drive.
Nord and his defense attorney, however, said he is already in treatment for his addiction and will reside in assisted-living facilities for the rest of his life.
Hennepin County District Judge Jay Quam said the sentencing decision was a difficult one.
“Life has handed you a lot of special things. On the other hand, it’s taken away a lot of what makes you you,” he told the former wrestling star.
He also told the pro wrestling veteran to come back to his courtroom in three months to give an update on his personal progress. Quam said he wants to see him doing well.
In 2016, Nord was named as one of a number of wrestlers in a class-action lawsuit against WWE. The suit was dismissed in September 2018.
Nord, who patterned his style after the late hardcore brawler Bruiser Brody, was a product of Robbinsdale High School (Minneapolis) that in a three-year span produced a lengthy list of future pro wrestling stars such as the late Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig, the late “Ravishing” Rick Rude (Richard Rood), Nikita Koloff (Scott Simpson before he legally changed his name), Barry Darsow (aka Krusher Kruschev, Repo Man and Demolition Smash) and the late Tom “Z-Man” Zenk.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham. His newly released book — “Final Bell” — is now available at https://evepostbooks.com and on Amazon.com.