Sunday, July 26, 2009
Mike Mooneyham's Column for 7-26
2009 Fanfest should be one for the books
By Mike Mooneyham
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Greg Price has carved out a solid reputation over the past decade for putting together some pretty attractive lineups for his popular old-school wrestling reunions and fan gatherings.
But the veteran promoter has really outdone himself with this year’s offering.
The 2009 NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest Weekend, which will be held Aug. 6-9 at the University Hilton Place Hotel in Charlotte, will feature arguably Price’s best assemblage of talent to date.
It also should produce what will likely be the most important moment in Fanfest history when the original version of The Four Horsemen come together for the first time in years — and possibly the last.
That’s right. The original Horsemen. The one with Ric Flair and Ole Anderson. That in itself should be worth the price of admission.
It’s been years since Flair and Anderson have crossed paths. The two actually were in the same venue at the same time during last year’s Fanfest, but were strategically placed in different parts of the building. This year they’ll be sitting together at the same table, signing autographs, posing for photos and mixing with fans at the Charlotte event.
While they may have been partners and associates many years ago in the wrestling business, there’s been no love lost between the two in recent years. Nor has Anderson been particularly close to some of his other former stablemates.
Price may have achieved his biggest coup yet in getting the group to put aside their differences for at least one afternoon.
“That should be a lot of fun. I’m pretty sure they’ll be at opposite ends (of the table),” Price said of Flair and Anderson. “I’m going to make sure I’m there for five hours on Friday afternoon. If we can survive that, we’ll be OK.”
The two are pros, he added, and he doesn’t expect any fireworks.
“It’s really not that bad. Twenty-five years ago they probably said the same things about each other that they do now, and they probably felt the same way. But we didn’t have the Internet and we weren’t listening in on all these radio shows about how they hated each other. I wonder if it’s that they changed, or if this is just the way they’ve always been, and we’re just a little more privy to the information now.”
The Horsemen reunion almost didn’t happen. Price says he worked hard all year putting it together, but in May he discovered that Flair had an overseas booking that would prevent him from making an appearance at the event.
“I got a punch in the gut at the end of May when I found out that I had practically everybody booked ... except Ric. That’s when I found out that Ric was going overseas. You really can’t do a Horsemen reunion unless you have all of them.”
Price says he had to quickly regroup and refocus at that point. Several weeks ago, however, Flair’s booking was canceled, and the promoter found himself back in business.
The only downside, says Price, was that it has given him little time to promote the Horsemen reunion. Still, he says, it should easily put the event over the top.
“I would have loved to have been able to advertise that The Horsemen were going to be here back in May, but somebody just didn’t want it to happen that way.”
“As quickly as it was taken away from us, it all worked out in the end,” he adds. “It was put right back in my lap, and I’m just thankful for the opportunity to have it in Horsemen country here in Charlotte. But I guess Horsemen country really just isn’t in Charlotte. It’s everywhere.”
Needless to say, reaction to the reunion has been overwhelming, and Price expects additional fans to turn out just to see the famous group reunited.
“Certainly it’s gotten a lot of attention. We’re going to get some new folks because of that. And it’s going to be a great bonus for the folks who already were planning to be here.”
Along with Flair and Ole will be former stablemates Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard. The four will be joined by their manager, James J. Dillon, and Barry Windham, who replaced Lex Luger and became a member of the group’s third incarnation, the unit many considered to be the most talented.
Anderson, now 66, says his departure from the legendary group couldn’t have come soon enough.
“They told me I was going to make a pot full of money,” Anderson says of his Horsemen stint. “They told us they were going to sell pictures, shirts, trunks, boots. They said they were going to sell anything they had connected to me as a wrestler, and that I would make all kinds of money.”
Anderson can only laugh when comparing the Horsemen’s take to the competition in the north.
“Hulk Hogan up in New York sold something like $110,000 or $120,000 each quarter. The Iron Shiek sold something like $90,000 each quarter. Well ... four times 90 is $360,000.”
Anderson (Al “Rock” Rogowski) recalls Arn Anderson (Marty Lunde) sitting across from him when they received their first merchandising check.
How much was it?
“Less than 40 bucks. Not 40 bucks ... less than 40 bucks,” says Anderson, left with a bitter taste in his mouth years later.
A disgruntled Anderson says he left NWA promoter Jim Crockett with some less-than-complimentary remarks before quitting. He was replaced in the group by Lex Luger.
A number of versions of The Horsemen would surface in later years.
“The Horsemen are special. There’s no other way to describe it. But there are so many other things,” says Price.
As big as the Horsemen reunion is, Flair says he’s particularly looking forward to a “25 Years After Starrcade” question-and-answer session with another former NWA world champion, Harley Race. The two will relive the magic of their famous Thanksgiving 1983 clash in Greensboro, N.C., where the Nature Boy defeated Race to begin his second reign as world titleholder.
Fanfest VIPs will get the opportunity to join the 16-time world champ and the eight-time NWA champ on stage for a photo opportunity with the legendary 10 pounds of gold. The authentic NWA belt they fought for, by the way, is the subject of a great new book by Dick Bourne and Dave Millican called “Ten Pounds of Gold.” The soft-cover edition will be available at Fanfest exclusively at the Highspots.com booth.
“Twenty-five years ... the biggest match in my lifetime as a wrestling fan,” says Price. “I really don’t consider anything that’s happened since then that stands out more to me than that match. That show, that match specifically, is a classic. For these two guys to come back 25 years later and sit down in a ballroom in front of 500 wrestling fans from all over the world and tell them what they were thinking about and what was going on leading up to the match ... Everything that people have wanted to ask them.
“Did Harley Race really have that meeting with Vince? Did you really want to sabotage the show? How much did he really offer you?”
Race would later claim that Vince McMahon offered him hundreds of thousands of dollars, just 24 hours before the match, to no-show and jump ship with the NWA title.
Another late-night Q&A session will feature the always entertaining Jim Cornette regaling fans with “A Conversation With Cornette.”
Price said last week that the addition of a Saturday Q&A roundtable featuring longtime announcers Lance Russell and Dave Brown, along with former Tennessee wrestling star and promoter Jerry Jarrett, should add a distinct “Memphis feel” to the festivities.
“This’ll be the first of these that Dave’s been involved in. Lance is very rare,” says Price.
One of the annual highlights of the weekend is the Hall of Heroes Dinner Banquet and Awards Ceremony. This year’s event, hosted by Cornette, will be held on Saturday evening and will honor eight “heroes” from wrestling’s past. The new inductees include The Fabulous Fargos, Playboy Gary Hart, Wahoo McDaniel, Nelson Royal, Blackjack Mulligan and Lance Russell. Hart, McDaniel, Royal and Sonny Fargo will be inducted posthumously.
Other luminaries scheduled to be on hand include Cowboy Bill Watts, Paul Jones, Magnum T.A., Angelo Mosca and Angelo Mosca Jr., Sir Oliver Humperdink, Mark Lewin, Billy Robinson, Abdullah The Butcher, The Fantastics (Bobby Fulton and Tommy Rogers), Bugsy McGraw, Bob Caudle, Chris Cruise, Rich Landrum, Jimmy Hart, Stu Schwartz, Bobbie Watson, Baby Doll, Judy Martin, Susan Green and Rock Riddle. Each featured legend will have a specific time for photo-ops and autographs.
More than 60 vendor guests will complement the star-studded lineup. The list includes Danny Hodge, Dusty Rhodes, Rick and Scott Steiner, Lex Luger, Dennis Condrey, Bobby Eaton, Jimmy Valiant, Ivan Koloff, Kevin Sullivan, Austin Idol, Diamond Dallas Page, The Nasty Boys, Vader, Tommy Rich, Tammy “Sunny” Sytch, Debra, Jeff Jarrett, Steve Keirn, Stan Hansen, Cowboy Bob Orton, Bob Backlund, Mr. Fuji, Howard Finkel.
Also: Ox Baker, The Wild Samoans (Afa and Sika), The Killer Bees (B. Brian Blair and Jim Brunzell), Meng, The Barbarian, Bob Roop, B.G. James, Kip James, Too Cold Scorpio, Slick, Elijah Burke, Black Bart, Doug Somers, Brian Adias, Rocky King, Molly Holly, Lacey Von Erich, Daffney, Italian Stallion, Lanny Poffo, Chick Donovan, Craig Pittman and Mike Jackson.
Price says some of the talent has never been to Charlotte or done any kind of public signings in the past.
One of the prize catches this year was Maniac Mark Lewin. Lewin, a top star during a career that spanned from the late ‘50s until the late ‘80s, disappeared from the wrestling scene shortly after leaving the business. But he’ll make a very rare appearance for Price at Fanfest.
“Mark Lewin is definitely one I’m looking forward to having here,” says Price, adding that he’s equally excited about Billy Robinson’s debut appearance.
Robinson, a Hall of Famer and product of the fabled Snake Pit training school in England, was considered one of the top submission wrestlers in the world.
Fanfest has drawn fans from most of the 50 states and as far away as Canada, Great Britain, Australia and Japan. A number of fans, says Price, plan their vacation around the event.
It’s three days and four nights of wrestling and the wrestlers you grew up with in personal situation, he adds, where you have a chance to chit-chat and get autographs and get your picture taken with the stars you grew up with watching on TV.
“The fans and the folks buying the tickets are the reason we’re able to keep doing stuff like this. They’re the backbone,” says Price.
Wrestling has been a lifelong obsession for the 45-year-old promoter. He came up with the idea of doing such an event after attending similar fan conventions and memorabilia shows.
“A wrestling promoter is basically looking for two things. You want something that people are going to enjoy and be part of ... something they’re going to come out and support and something they’re going to buy tickets to. The second thing is that you want people to leave the event and go home happy and pleased and thinking that they got everything that they paid for plus just a little bit more. If I can achieve that, then I’m happy. Ideally you sell enough tickets so that everybody’s happy — including me.”
Price anticipates his biggest turnout yet.
“I can’t think of a single person I deal with who the economy hasn’t affected in some way. Wrestling fans are no different. Some even more so. You talk to people who have lost their jobs or they’re working two or three jobs. That all comes into play. People are watching their dollars. That’s definitely affected us. But I know there are some people out there who know what The Horsemen mean. This isn’t going to happen again. They’re going to scrape and save and do whatever they can do because they realize this has been a long time coming. It’s very likely that this won’t ever happen again. Aside from that, everybody has money issues, but hopefully it won’t put a damper on things.”
Price says there’s a little of everything for fans throughout the weekend, and that he’ll be one of the biggest fans there.
“If it wasn’t so much work, I’d be like a kid in a candy store,” says Price, who logs hundreds of hours in preparing for an event of such magnitude.
For some of the wrestlers, it’s a chance to make a payday, but moreover a chance to relive their glory days in the ring, see old friends and reconnect with longtime fans.
Even for Price, it’s hard to explain what the weekend’s like.
“I know it’s a cliche, but we really do have a bunch of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for folks. We could keep doing this for years and years, and never have the opportunity to be able to do some of these things again.”
And how will Price top this year’s event?
“I haven’t even thought about that question yet. I did have that very same question last year. I didn’t have a clue at that point. Then The Horsemen came to me. I don’t know what we do next year, but I’m sure something will come around.”
For more information on Fanfest, visit NWALegends.com.
- Ric Flair took some more verbal jabs at Bret Hart during a Live Audio Wrestling show last weekend while promoting a Ring of Honor appearance in Toronto.
“He lives in his own little world,” Flair said.
“He’s a ----ant in the history of wrestling. I’m offended when people even begin to compare my career,” Flair added. “Even Shawn (Michaels), Hunter (Triple H) are all offended. Who would compare Bret Hart’s career to mine?”
Flair said later in the week that he’s getting tired of being asked how tough Hart was.
“He never wrestled (Bruiser) Brody, he never wrestled (Stan) Hansen, he never wrestled Harley Race, he never wrestled in St. Louis. I don’t think much of him at all. He was a mid-card performer until he was 40 years old.”
Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at 937-6000, ext. 3090.