posted on Feb, 5 2005 @ 07:58 AM
i wish they would have these around the country, sounds like it would be a lot of fun
A No-Holds-Barred Wrestling Wrinklefest
Superstars well past their prime go at it.
BY MARK YOST
Thursday, February 3, 2005 12:01 a.m.
TAMPA, Fla.--About 100,000 fans are expected in Jacksonville this weekend for Super Bowl XXXIX. But last weekend a few thousand fans of a different
stripe trekked to Tampa for the first-ever WrestleReunion (www.wrestlereunion.com), a gathering of about 80 superstars long past their prime, but no
"There are so many big names here, I couldn't miss it," said Kathie Wilkinson, a petite, well-coiffed, 40-something horse trainer from Ontario. She
came 1,500 miles to see Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat, Sherri Martel, "and, of course, The Missing Link."
Despite the fact that many of the wrestlers had put on a few extra pounds and were hobbled by old injuries, they were feted like they were at the
height of their careers.
"I stood in line for about three or four hours yesterday, getting autographs, and I'm going to do the same thing today," said Chris Keener, 46, of
Valdosta, Ga., who left work early on Friday and paid $299 for an Elite VIP pass that gave him entry to three days of autograph sessions,
question-and-answer periods, and matches. "No one knows why I left early," he said. "I brought my banker with me, so I could say it was a business
trip, but that would be a stretch."
"All my favorites are here," said Ann McBride, the quintessential diminutive 70-year-old grandmother, originally from Massachusetts but now living in
nearby St. Petersburg. In fact, she broke off our interview a few times to run and get autographs. "Hold on," she said excitedly. "There's Diamond
Dallas Page. I've got to get him."
Her husband, Frank Harsch, 76, who used to be an usher at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum and saw many wrestling matches, just shook his head.
That was pretty much the scene here. And while the reunion was designed for these rabid fans, the wrestlers were clearly enjoying it, too.
"I'm seeing guys I haven't seen in 25 years," said Sir Oliver Humperdink, who wrestled as well as managed others, including Bam Bam Bigelow.
Other wrestlers talked about how the sport has changed.
"There's a lot of talking, a lot of wasted motion," said Ted DiBiase, 51, who wrestled as "The Million Dollar Man" and was famous for his "sleeper"
hold that rendered opponents unconscious. Today he lives a quiet life in Mississippi with his family as an evangelical minister and spokesman for the
Sunshine Foundation, which grants wishes to critically ill children.
"When I started wrestling in the late-1950s, it was 90% wrestling," said Harley Race, 61, aka "the King," who pioneered the "suplex," the "diving head
butt" and the "diving knee." Today, he said, "it's 90% talking."
"The sport changed from wrestling on television to a television show about wrestling," said "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, who used to bring a 2x4 into the
ring and drape himself in the American flag. Mr. Duggan, 51, who lost his right kidney to cancer six years ago, now lives in Titusville, Fla., and
owns his own real-estate development company.
Terry Funk, 60, whose fans were easily spotted by their "Funk U" t-shirts, still wrestles when he's not working his Texas cattle ranch. When he
started in 1965, he'd drive 250 miles to Abilene and get paid $25 for a match. Through the years, he's "done well" financially, but still wrestles
because "it's like playing cowboys and Indians all your life."
Some of the wrestlers showed up in costume; others in sport coats, blue jeans, or sweats. Sabu, 40, whose signature move was the "flying Arabian
facebuster," wore his trademark Ghutra, the traditional Arab headdress. Otherwise, he was dressed in Bermuda shorts, a T-shirt, white socks and black
What the wrestlers lacked in accoutrements, the fans easily made up for. Many carried around replica championship belts--some costing $225--and had
the wrestlers sign them with special pens.
Steve Adorno, a 34-year-old computer worker from Staten Island, came down with a half-dozen friends from New York. Once here, they went to Wal-Mart
and bought folding metal chairs, the kind wrestlers often grab out of the audience and use to pummel their opponents. Mr. Adorno and his friends were
having the wrestlers sign them.
That was one prop that The Missing Link, Ms. Wilkinson's Canadian compatriot, didn't need. He brought his own.
The 66-year-old wrestler from Hamilton, Ontario, carries a chipped, yellow metal folding chair wherever he goes. In fact, USAir baggage handlers lost
it, but thankfully found it in time for the reunion.
The chair was his trademark. He'd hit himself in the head with it before going berserk and pinning opponents--or simply use it to beat them into
"I'm 13 years in recovery," The Missing Link said proudly, noting that he often speaks to recovery groups about his past addiction to alcohol and
marijuana. "I've written a book, 'Bang Your Head,'" he said, hitting himself in the head with the chair to emphasize each word in the title.
"I wouldn't have recognized The Link without the chair," said Larry Moore, 58, of Tampa, who brought his eight-year-old grandson, Brandon, to see some
of grandpa's old heroes.
After getting an autograph from The Missing Link, who stands 6 foot 2, weighs about 250 pounds and has a shaved head and bushy Fu Manchu moustache and
rock-solid physique, Brandon was asked if he was scared.
All he could do was nod.