Jim Ross to emcee 'Mid-Atlantic Memories' premiere at Fanfest Weekend

WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross will host the “Mid-Atlantic Memories” film premiere during Fanfest Weekend.

It's often been said that once upon a time never comes again.

But with the yearly gathering known as Fanfest Weekend, old memories can come alive, at least for a few magical days.

For the past 10 years, fans have come from as far away as Japan and Australia to attend the four-day reunion, rekindling friendships and reliving wrestling memories from their childhood.

This year's event will be held July 30-Aug. 2 at Charlotte's Hilton University Place hotel. And the main event is the celebration of the golden era fondly known as Mid-Atlantic Wrestling.

The Crockett-run outfit synonymous with the Mid-Atlantic territory continues to be one of the most respected and revered dynasties in the history of professional wrestling.

But like all good things, Mid-Atlantic Wrestling came to an end with the national expansion of the business in the mid-'80s.

Hello sports entertainment. Goodbye old-school wrestling.

But it's not over for thousands of fans who remember what it was like “back in the day.” For those diehard followers, a special treat is in store at this year's event.

“Mid-Atlantic Memories,” a film project headed up by Fanfest organizer Greg Price and Ohio-based videographer John Andosca, will premiere on opening night.

The feature-length documentary captures the sights, sounds and feel of the Mid-Atlantic wrestling era.

A number of special guests will be brought in as part of the presentation for the documentary.

In addition to interviews with many of the legends, the film will spotlight some of the old venues that served as homes to the promotion's weekly wrestling shows, along with the announcers who added narration to the stories being told in the ring.

WWE Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross, who will serve as host and narrator at the premiere, just might be the most stoked fan in attendance.

“I'm just very excited about it,” says Ross, who began his broadcasting career in the mid-'70s in Oklahoma. “I've seen a limited sampling of what's been documented thus far, but I've seen enough to know that I really want to be involved in it. Not as a Mid-Atlantic expert, but as a motivated veteran who is still a fan. I feel like I've got a ride on a great trip.”

There's good reason for Good Ol' J.R.'s enthusiasm.

Just imagine sitting back and listening to the venerable Bob Caudle, the “Voice of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling,” recalling the old days, with Raleigh's storied Dorton Arena in the background. Or The Rock 'N Roll Express and Jim Cornette's Midnight Express waxing poetic about their blazing feud and classic series of matches.

Countless others — including Ole Anderson, Paul Jones, Jerry Brisco, Les Thatcher, The Assassin (Joe Hamilton), Baron Von Raschke and Barry Windham — discuss what made Mid-Atlantic Wrestling so special.

Ross, whose voice is synonymous with sports entertainment, says he is still intrigued by the aspect of performers who worked more than 300 shows a year, traveled by car from town to town, and logged hundreds of thousands of miles on the road each year.

It's a far cry from today's brand of sports entertainer.

“These performers became maestros in a variety of ways,” says Ross. “They were entrepreneurs who didn't have 401(k) packages, nutritionists, and strength and conditioning coaches. It was purely entrepreneurial in all aspects. All of that is interesting to me, and I know the individuals that are still with us and are able to express themselves, and I'm interested in hearing what they have to say.”

Ross says he expects some down-to-earth, unvarnished views of wrestling in the Carolinas.

“This is going to be something that you're going to embrace and learn from. It's more than just headlocks and cranky old guys embellishing stories. It's not produced by the company. Mid-Atlantic Wrestling doesn't exist any longer. It's an independent film. I believe it's going to be very objective and very honest and very open.

“Sometimes companies — whether it be WWE or Ring of Honor or TNA or anybody that's doing DVDs — have to toe a certain element of the company line. Common sense will tell you that. With this, the company line has been erased. People have different visions, people have different memories. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.”

“Jim Ross's involvement in this project really puts our film over the top,” says Andosca. “His expertise on the wrestling business is second to none, and the insight and perspective he has shared on film for us gives this documentary an incredible level of credibility.”

While Ross has an affinity for the performers who made Mid-Atlantic Wrestling unique, there's a special place in his heart for the 84-year-old Caudle, who was a staple of Carolinas wrestling during the '60s and '70s.

Caudle, says Ross, was the most underrated wrestling announcer in the business.

“When I got paired with Bob Caudle for my little foray into Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, I heard all the great stories that Bob talked about in all his experiences there. I thought the world of Bob and still do. I don't think I've ever met a more honorable human being than Bob Caudle. He was the most underrated wrestling broadcaster that I've ever laid eyes on. He never got the credit that he deserves.”

Caudle's easygoing, straightforward approach at the announce desk made him one of Mid-Atlantic's most beloved figures.

“Bob never played the role of a wrestling announcer,” says Ross. “Who would he have copied? Who was Bob going to emulate? Bob was himself. He never talked down to the audience. He was a great communicator. At that point in his life, he probably could have been successful broadcasting anything that he chose to do or was assigned to do.”

Ross said that when he broke into the business, there were no pro wrestling announcers serving as national role models.

“I lived in an era where I had to make a 60-mile round trip to watch TBS (wrestling). And I didn't get to do that very often. So I saw what was local. I didn't know what you were supposed to be as a wrestling announcer when I first started in the mid-'70s. There weren't any role models. There weren't any Curt Gowdys or Chris Schenkels. There weren't any national wrestling guys.”

The main reason, says Ross, was that wrestling announcers rarely ventured outside their assigned territories. “They stayed in their nests ... in their little cocoons called territories, and some cocoons were bigger than others.”

Ross, though, liked the credibility that most wrestling commentators lent to the product back then, a quality that became somewhat obsolete with the end of the territories.

“You got realism and you got natural on the broadcasting side. It's ironic to me, still to this very day, the more natural performers are — whether they be wrestlers or managers or announcers — the better off they are. Those are the folks who don't make you roll your eyes and be embarrassed that you're a fan.”

It's all about storytelling, and Ross is perhaps the best in the business at painting a picture for his audience.

“It's about better storytelling. Everybody wins in that equation. That's what Bob gave you. He gave you no reason to roll your eyes at what was somewhat of an outlandish entity. He provided a lyric to the music that was truly pure. It wasn't sensationalistic. It wasn't just loud music. It was beautiful music, and that's what Bob was able to do.

“When young guys ask me what's the key to being a good announcer, well, you've got to practice, you've got to have passion, you've got a lot of reps, but you have to be able to hear the music and put the proper lyric to that music. Some people are gifted with that ability, some people acquire it, but you have to be able to relate to the music you're hearing or the action you're seeing, and that's what Bob did. And he did it very well.”

Ross, regarded by many as the greatest announcer of the sports entertainment generation, says he's always been interested in the Carolinas territory.
For many grapplers, it was a highly desirable destination, one that afforded its performers steady work and good pay.

“If you're a fan of pro wrestling, you have to be a fan of the Mid-Atlantic territory,” says Ross. “Like so many other great territories, they laid the bedrock for the foundation of the genre as we know it today.”

Ross says the Charlotte office was among the top three in the country during the time he was breaking into the business.

“The places you heard the most were New York, Carolina and Florida, even over Atlanta. Florida had the weather. The Carolinas was run very organized and had some markets you could draw a lot of money in. The big prize, of course, was eventually going to New York, since that was a big deal.”

Ross well remembers the time when TV was merely a vehicle to promote the product, and that product consisted of house shows that ran on a nightly basis throughout the various territories.

As a result, he says, performers wanted to go where they had the best chance to draw big houses and secure steady work.

“It was all about the house show business at that time because that was it. There were no other significant sources of income. So the Carolinas was always one of those territories that came up in virtually any conversation. If wrestlers had been there and loved it and made a lot of money, or they hoped to go there, especially if they were starting out west and traveling east and were passing through Mid-South for six months or so, their eventual destination was to the Southeast, either to Florida or the Carolinas.”

Ross says many stories from the Crockett-run territory came from performers who had worked that area and come to the Mid-South circuit where Ross was based at the time.

“A lot of stories came in when (Ric) Flair would come into the Mid-South territory. He was such a great storyteller. Like many of us, we are prone to embellish. To Ric, the Carolinas was utopia. And that was good. You should have loyalty to your home base. And those stories were great.”

Charlotte was a popular base for many of those grapplers.

“I find that many of the men and women, when they finally took the wheels off their travel trailers and had to base somewhere, many of them based in the Carolinas. It's just a big part of what we all did for a living, and what many of us had loved as kids. The contributions that came out of the Carolinas were significant. I've never heard anybody speaking badly about working the Mid-Atlantic territory.

“Going back and looking at it, you had to be a really great talent to get booked in the Carolinas. They didn't keep you long ... they might do somebody's buddy a favor to get them some prelim work and stay a few months. But if you were going to wrestle long enough to get over and become a regional star and make the money that was there, you had to really carry your share of the load and deliver the mail without question.

“They had to be doing something right there because pro wrestlers, not unlike any pro athlete or any actor or performer, are always wrought with a certain level of performance anxiety, paranoia and job security, and that doesn't go away because you go to a good territory. Actually it increases because you don't want the run to end. It just seems like the talent in the Carolinas was like a who's who.”

Ross says the depth of talent in the Mid-Atlantic territory was reminiscent of WWE's Attitude Era of the late '90s.

“It was very much like the Attitude Era when we had so much talent that it created competition in the locker room. That was perceived to be very healthy. And the benefactors of all that were the fans. The Monday Night Wars did amazing ratings cumulatively between the two brands because of the competition.”

Ross should know, as he was responsible for much of that talent. As former talent relations head for WWE, Ross signed some of the biggest stars in the business, including Steve Austin, The Rock, John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Mick Foley and Randy Orton.

“And you had the same talent thing going on in the Carolinas. Not really from outside entities, but from their own locker rooms. Everybody wanted to be on top. The top guys got the top money. There was a big drop-off from the main-event guy to the semi main-event guy. The mathematics of that situation was intriguing.”

One of the drawing cards for the Mid-Atlantic area was the spacious Greensboro Coliseum.

For many years during the Jim Crockett era, the Greensboro Coliseum was the most lucrative stop on the circuit. The Coliseum, built in 1959 and at one time home of the ACC men's basketball tournament, was one of the largest venues in the South, and expansion over the years brought its capacity to more than 20,000.

Although Charlotte was the longtime headquarters of Crockett Promotions, it was Greensboro where the late Jim Crockett Sr. arrived first in late 1933, converting a warehouse into an arena where he promoted his first wrestling event in that town. It wasn't until the following year that Crockett officially launched Jim Crockett Promotions in Charlotte.

“I remain intrigued by the ideas and the talent that was developed and the storyline arcs, the big-event feel of cultivating a market and having the courage to book a 20,000-seat arena in your territory that close to other major towns in the territory,” says Ross.

“Greensboro itself was a very alluring entity because it was the home of the ACC Basketball Tournament, and because it was such a massive arena for that time. To think it was filled by the Crocketts and the talent is very significant to me. To me that's a big deal.”

“I was always impressed at how that territory operated,” adds Ross. “I was intrigued by the family dynamic of Jim Crockett Promotions. I never got to meet Mr. Crockett, but I met his wife. I was staying at Jimmy Crockett's house in Charlotte, and during one of my visits she had made some pimento cheese. It was the best I ever had.”

Ross, who has spent more than 40 years in the business, including 20 with WWE, equates the documentary with a valuable history lesson. If you're a student of the game, it's a can't-miss film, he says.

“Through different stages of my life, I've had people whose opinions I've valued. I heard so much about the Carolina territory that I wanted to become a student of it ... for a large part because I was a student of the business. And Mid-Atlantic Wrestling made up a large part of the history of the business of wrestling.

“Why wouldn't you study it? It's like being an historian. Would you pass over the Civil War? Maybe the Korean War and the Vietnam War weren't as glamorous as World War I and World War II. No war is glamorous, but the men and women who went to Korea and went to Vietnam would probably have a difference of opinion to their contributions to our country and history.

“If you're a student of the game of wrestling, things like this documentary are going to be fascinating because the people that are being interviewed are unfiltered. They have no agenda other than to express themselves. You leave it up to the consumer or viewer to monetize that opinion. Is somebody still bitter? Is somebody rewriting history? Is somebody truly speaking from their heart? I believe at this stage of the game, they have no reason but to express their heartfelt feelings on their experiences in that area.”

Ross says he admires the pioneer-like quality of wrestlers during that era who helped blaze the trail for today's brand of sports entertainment.

There was, indeed, something mystical and magical about Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. The '60s through the '80s, in particular, produced some of the most celebrated names in wrestling lore. Longtime fans will never forget performers such as Johnny Weaver, the Scott Brothers and the Andersons. The feud between Johnny Valentine and Wahoo McDaniel is the stuff of legend.

And the classic rivalry between Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair ranks among the greatest in the modern era of professional wrestling.

“If you look at the Crocketts and what they built, it was almost film noir-esque within their own genre,” says Ross. “For me to have a small cup of coffee or two and then to be asked to be involved and lend my voice to the production is a big honor for me. Even if fans have never been east of the Mississippi River, it's irrelevant. If you're a fan of the sport of wrestling, of the business of wrestling, if you like sports entertainment, if you love pro wrestling, this is something not to be missed.”

Ross, 63, who has called some of the biggest matches in sports entertainment history, loves waxing nostalgic about the old days of wrestling. But he also has learned to embrace the modern generation as well. He's realistic about the evolution of the business. But it's still fun, he says, to relive the old days.

“This film is going to be so unique ... hearing about the guys who are like traveling salesmen, traveling ball players, traveling musicians, traveling entertainers. I can remember when we had to drive 15 or 20 miles out of state to the nearest newsstand up in Arkansas. I would try to figure out what relative was going to that town, either to see the optometrist or the doctor or go shopping or whatever, so I could tag along and hit the drug store with the soda fountain and wrestling magazines.”

For fans in the Carolinas and throughout the country, Fanfest Weekend has become an annual rite of summer, taking them back to the days when wrestling shows were held on a weekly basis in arenas and auditoriums throughout the territory.

Ross views his duties at this edition of Fanfest as a labor of love.

“Being a fan of the genre as I have been for 50 years or more, to me it's a project that's I'm very proud to be involved in. I'm just going to go along for the ride, hitting the turn signal here and there, and trying to keep the wheels in the road. The producers did the heavy lifting, and the fans are going to be the beneficiaries of it. I'm all in on it.”

Ross officially retired from WWE in 2013. But his voice has been far from silent since then.

The Oklahoma native has been extremely active building his own brand through a number of platforms. This includes working on his biography and informing fans through his blog and his popular weekly Ross Report podcast.

While still doing occasional play-by-play for MMA, boxing and other pro wrestling groups, he also has an online barbecue product business and has engaged in a successful run of touring, one-man shows.

Ross says his Fanfest appearance will mark yet another adventure in his wrestling journey.

“It's another adventure for me since I'm not doing weekly wrestling shows any longer. It just gives me the opportunity to do something in the business that I love that's different. It's a new adventure that I relish.

“Thanks to the wrestling business, I can actually pick and choose the projects that I do work on. It's like the old adage ... if you have a job that you love, you'll never have to work a day. At this stage of my life, I'm able to invest my time — whatever's left, since tomorrow's never guaranteed — while I can and while I'm still motivated and have the skills to do it.”

Ross, who still wears his trademark black Resistol cowboy hat and can be seen on the sideline of most University of Oklahoma football games, will follow the “world premiere” showing of “Mid-Atlantic Memories” on Fanfest's opening night with a special “Ringside with Jim Ross” stage show. It will mark the first such show he's done in the South.

“The great thing about this four-day weekend is that it's going to be very interactive,” says Ross, who attended the 2010 event to induct fellow Okie Danny Hodge into the Hall of Heroes. “Nobody's going to be herded around. It's going to be very personal. You'll get the chance to bump into people you saw on television as a kid and have conversations with them.

“While I've only been to one of these events, I had as much fun after hours where you catch somebody you haven't seen, or someone sitting at the bar, or at breakfast. Those are wonderful opportunities for guys like me. This is an opportunity that should be seized. It's kid-friendly. The whole thing is fun. To me it would be a great father-son-grandfather week.”

“Fans are going to be in for a real treat at the event,” says Andosca. “Not only will they be able to relive Mid-Atlantic memories through the debut of our film, but they will also be able to make so many new memories by continuing the legacy of Mid Atlantic Wrestling through Fanfest Weekend.”

If only for a few days, says Ross, “They're going to take us back to a place we can never return.”

Old School Championship Wrestling returns to the Hanahan Rec Center on May 31 with Caged Carnage 7.

Top bouts include Gangrel vs. Brady Pierce; Lodi and Sick Boy vs. Zane Riley and Eric Bradford; and John Skyler vs. BJ Hancock and Bob Keller in a handicap match.

Also appearing are The Washington Bullets, Josh Powers, Jett Black, Michael Frehley, Cali Casanova, Hexxon, Nick Kismet, Scotty Mathews, Steven Hunter, Rage, Asylum, Ms. Harden and others.

Bell time is 5 p.m. Doors open at 4:30.

Admission (cash only at door) is $10 adults; $5 kids 12 and under.

For more information, call (843) 743-4800 or visit www.oscwonline.com.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or mooneyham@postandcourier.com, or follow him on Twitter @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.