By Mike Mooneyham
March 20, 2005
Who says nostalgia isn’t what it used to be?
Certainly not the nearly 2,000 fans who packed the Mulberry Recreation Center in Lenoir, N.C., last weekend for a show headlined by Dusty Rhodes against Abdullah The Butcher. Or the estimated 1,900 who recently jammed the Conway High School gym to watch Jimmy Snuka and Greg Valentine battle in a cage.
Earlier this year an estimated 500 hardcore nostalgia aficionados from far and wide made the trek to Tampa, Fla., for the first-ever WrestleReunion, a gathering of about 80 superstars long past their prime, but no less adored. The Wall Street Journal aptly labeled the event “a no-holds-barred wrestling wrinklefest,” but those in attendance didn’t seem to mind shelling out up to $300 a pop for the chance to rub elbows with some of the heroes of their youth.
Nostalgia-themed pro wrestling shows, fanfests and conventions have been popping up all over the country during the past year, and there seems to be no end in sight.The nostalgia craze isn’t limited to the many smaller independent promotions that dot the wrestling landscape. No less than World Wrestling Entertainment took last week’s Monday Night Raw audience on a trip down memory lane. Jake “The Snake” Roberts, a major star with the company during the ’80s and early ’90s who burned out due to drug abuse, got a huge pop from the Atlanta audience when he came out to open the show. Looking haggard and considerably older than the 49 years his birth certificate indicates, Roberts delivered the type of inspired promo that made him so effective during his wrestling heyday.
Later in the program Marty Jannetty, tassels and all, made his return to reprise The Rockers tag team with former partner Shawn Michaels. The 43-year-old Jannetty still showed flashes of greatness that made him and the Heartbreak Kid one of the most popular duos in the business more than 15 years ago.
Currently the hottest nostalgia-oriented independent outfit in the country is Carolina Championship Wrestling based in western North Carolina. With several successive sellouts and near-sellouts under its belt, the promotion has done a stellar job bringing back a number of area legends while delivering strong angles and programs.
The company’s next show on April 9, titled “The American Dream for the Gold,” will feature NWA world champ Jeff Jarrett defending his title against Dusty Rhodes, with “Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant serving as special ref. A scaffold match will pit old rivals The Rock ‘N Roll Express against The Midnight Express.
Hardcore legend Mick Foley gave the organization a major endorsement when he proclaimed Lenoir “the hottest town in the country for independent wrestling – period” after last weekend’s turnaway crowd. Foley served as guest referee for the main event between the 59-year-old Rhodes and the 68-year-old Abdullah. While it was far from a wrestling clinic, the two veterans did what they do best, and that’s bleed and brawl for the appreciative throng, not unlike three decades ago when the battle-scarred veterans feuded from the Carolinas to Florida.
“Night of the Legends II,” a show last month co-promoted by George South’s Exodus Wrestling Association and the Miss South Carolina Organization, drew nearly as many fans to the Spartanburg Memorial Coliseum as a WWE event headlined by Ric Flair and Chris Benoit for a world title match in the same venue last year.
The Carolinas, in particular, have been a successful market for nostalgia shows, with similar events over the past year in locales as diverse as Charlotte, Fayetteville and Spindale, N.C., and Walterboro and Aiken, S.C. The common thread they all share is that they were once stops for a beloved wrestling promotion that many of today’s longtime fans were weaned on.
RECONNECTING TO THE PAST
Forget about the age of the participants, and the fact that most now look like your grandfather did when you cheered and jeered them all those many years ago. To most followers, these aged warriors represent an important part of their youth, when times were simpler and issues were black and white.
Says Wayne Cribb, who recently promoted a charity show in Conway that featured former Mid-Atlantic stars, “When we bring the older wrestlers out to meet with the fans, it’s taking the fans back to their youth, and that’s what they’re looking for.”
Longtime fan Larry Stoy says it also gives fans an opportunity to say thanks.
“I’m glad to be getting more opportunities to attend some of these nostalgia shows and just tell these wrestling personalities thanks for all the great years of entertainment they provided me. I have sensed that many of them now realize that there are a lot of fans who want to express their appreciation for what they sacrificed to give us so many great years of wrestling action.” Cribb agrees such shows give fans the opportunity to interact up close and personal with their heroes. But he says it also provides the wrestlers a chance to see old friends and relive their glory days in the ring.
“Jim Crockett Promotions came to the small towns as well as the large ones. They weren’t too big to go to Sumter and Conway and Summerville and the little places that would only hold 500 to 2,000 people. When you’ve got a smaller crowd, you’re closer to the feel of what’s going on compared to the big arenas. The fans miss it here. It had been 18 years since wrestling had been to Conway High School. We brought it back in one night.”
Cribb suggests the popularity of nostalgia shows should be sending a loud and clear message to the power brokers in charge of the business today.
“Fans are tired of what WWE is producing right now with the sex and the outrageous violence,” says Cribb. “That’s my take on it. I’m trying to bring the fans the old style of wrestling because that’s what many of them want. And I think I proved that on March 5. We gave them old-style wrestling, and they packed the place.”
“I’ve been saying for many years that today’s generation has a ‘microwave’ mentality when it comes to their wrestling,” adds Stoy. “Every angle has to be born, grow and die usually within four to six weeks … the time between the monthly pay-per-views.”
Cribb credits Foley with being a major reason for the success of recent shows, saying the hard-core icon has helped link the past to the present.
“Here’s a guy who hitchhiked to Madison Square Garden to watch Jimmy Snuka jump off the top of a cage” in the early ’80s, Cribb says. “That proves that he’s a fan of the old style. He cut a promo on it at our show, saying that’s the one reason that he showed up in Conway, because of that.” Cribb added that Foley handed over his $2,000 paycheck for the night to charity.
Cribb has scheduled a non-charity event Nov. 5 and plans to come back with the annual charity show next February or March. He says he is working on bringing in Roddy Piper for next year’s charity fundraiser.
“I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up with Mid-Atlantic wrestling,” says Stoy. “We had a great run of over 20 years (from the late ’60s to the early ’80s) with such legends as Johnny Valentine, Wahoo McDaniel, Blackjack Mulligan, Tim Woods, Paul Jones and, of course, the one and only ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
– Jake Roberts returned for an encore Monday night after the cameras were turned off for Raw, and put his pet snake on Ric Flair, who had interfered during a dark match pitting Triple H and Edge against Batista and Shawn Michaels. Roberts later distracted Triple H, causing him to be pinned, then hit him with his trademark DDT and draped his snake across the WWE champion.
It might be noted that this snake was alive, unlike the pet python he was convicted of starving to death last year in England.
Roberts, who has made more rap sheet-related headlines than wrestling ones over the past few months, made ESPN’s recent list of the top 100 sports movie quotes that have made an impact over the years. Roberts’ gem, No. 70 on the list and the only one related to pro wrestling, came from “Beyond the Mat.” “My mother was 13 years old when I was born. Why? Because my dad raped a little girl that was in a room asleep. My dad was going out with my mother’s mother. There you go. There’s some bones for Jake the Snake.”
– Amidst reports of an ugly split, Matt Hardy and Amy Dumas (Lita) attended a punk rock concert together last weekend in Carrboro, N.C. Hardy later posted on his Web site that he still cares about her and hopes she clears her head.
Hardy earlier had explained that he removed his ex-girlfriend’s pictures from his Web site and his house because “they were sickening to look at.” He was far less conciliatory in his comments toward Edge (Adam Copeland). “Adam Copeland is feces. As upset as I am with Amy now, I still care about her and I would hate to see her destroy her life. The feces’ track record speaks for itself. I have never asked anyone to take sides, I have only told the truth.”
WWE officials confiscated fan signs alluding to the breakup at shows last week.
– Kim Neilsen, former TNA performer Desire, lashed out at her ex-company in a recent interview on Steve Gerwick’s hotline report.
She called TNA “a boys’ club” and Jeff Jarrett “an idiot.” Neilsen, who suffered a serious back injury in June 2003, claims Jarrett talked to her only twice the entire time she was in the company, each time just uttering a single word.