I have had an incredible chain of unbelievable events that have lead me to attending my very first WrestleMania and it was WRESTLEMANIA XXX!
And what a weekend it was. I, along with the more than 75,000 fans in attendance Sunday night, participated in history. From the Undertaker’s streak coming to an end at the hands of Brock Lesnar, to the amazingly talented Cesaro all in one night getting rid of his partner Jack Swagger and manager Zeb Colter and winning the first ever Andre the Giant 30 men over the top battle royal to Daniel Bryan becoming the heavyweight champion. It was all so magical.
For me the magic started 40 years before. I came to America when I was 10 years old in 1966 and grew up in Hampton, VA. I discovered professional wrestling on WAVY TV 10 the local NBC affiliate and fell in love with it immediately. The wrestlers were true television stars and every two weeks you would get to see them live at the Hampton Coliseum or the Norfolk arena and eventually the Norfolk Scope. I was hooked.
It was at the Hampton Coliseum that through family friend Tony Anthony, the sports editor at the time for the Newport News paper, The Daily Press, that I met and became friends with Joe Murnick, the promoter of the Virginia/North Carolina portion of Mid Atlantic Wrestling/Jim Crockett Promotions, his wife Shirley, and two sons Carl and Elliott who ran the territory.
The Murnicks allowed me to use my regular 8 and super 8 cameras to film the matches at the Hampton Coliseum and Norfolk Scope, while sitting next to the ring announcer. This gave me the opportunity to see and film wrestling up close and personal during the early 1970s and early 1980s when professional wrestling was in its heyday.
And Mid-Atlantic Wrestling/Jim Crockett Promotions was THE hotbed of wrestling during those years. All the stars of that era came through the territory. Not only did I become friends with some of the wrestlers at the time, I also had their matches on film. My footage is a who’s who of pro wrestling. From Ric Flair to Ricky Steamboat, from Roddy Piper to Harley Race, from Blackjack Mulligan to Wahoo McDaniel, and on and on, you get the idea.
What I filmed for my pleasure back then, became my treasure 40 years later. My rare footage has become very valuable. Last summer, Highspots Video purchased for a limited use a small portion of my footage and used it in the Jim Crockett Promotions Documentary http://www.highspots.com/p/crockett-doc.html directed by Michael Elliott that went on to win the best professional wrestling DVD of 2013.
And that brings us to the present with WWE, and what a present it has been. After very lengthy negotiations with Ben Brown, in charge of the archives at WWE, that included WWE COO Paul Michael Levesque better as HHH and WWE's Director of Asset Management George Kapetanakos as well as Matt Brucatto WWE”s Media Content Manager, we came to an agreement and my footage has now been purchased by WWE and will soon be seen by fans worldwide.
A trip to Stamford Connecticut where WWE is located was next on the agenda. With limo rides from my house to the airports and back, to putting me up at the Hilton, to tours of the WWE TV studios, warehouse and cooperate and finally being interviewed for the WWE Network for over an hour by Tavis Tenney in order to tell my behind the scene stories of my footage and being with the wrestlers, I was made to feel like the million dollar man.
For a true wrestling fan like me, going inside to where few have been, The WWE warehouse was like winning the golden ticket to Willie Wanka’s factory. Everything from the old WWWF, WCW, other promotions and WWE props, cages, rings, belts, robes, signs, and so much more was there. I was indeed humbled with how much history was at my fingertips. I even saw, touched, and took pictures with the original WWF ring from the first WrestleMania and now thanks to WWE, they treated me to a once in a lifetime experience, attending WrestleMania 30 as well as all the added excitement of WWE Axxess and the Hall of Fame Ceremony.
Ace photographer and writer Jonathan McLarty did an outstanding job describing the events of WrestleMania 30 in a previous issue of The Flagship and here is the link to it.
My adventure was only beginning. Another event called Wrestlecon that schedules itself to complement WrestleMania was also going on down the street in New Orleans. Wrestlecon brings together vendors, fans and legends of pro wrestling all under one roof. It is a Godsend for all wrestling fans. Here I had the opportunity to help out and also reconnect with many wrestlers.
From spending good quality time with former World NWA champ Terry Funk who is a big fan of Vanguard Championship Wrestling (VCW) www.vcw-wrestling.com the promotion that I am the Commissioner in Norfolk, VA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZgJ9Y2SFns to talking with former WWF/E champ Bret Hart, to WWE 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Razor Ramon/Scott Hall to having ECW/WWE/TNA superstar Tommy Dreamer put me over to Bubba Ray and Devon Dudley and Velvet Sky anything can and did happen on this magical weekend.
The weekend kicked off with WWE Axxess, an interactive opportunity for fans and wrestlers to mingle together. Current WWE Superstars and Legends were available for fans to meet, chat and take photos with. I had the opportunity to meet Pat Patterson and Jimmy Hart. They were gracious with their time. Fans were also able to attend NXT live matches. A museum of WWE wrestling memorabilia was also set up from the WWE warehouse that I had visited for fans to see. I enjoyed seeing the fans reactions to such items as the Ultimate Warrior’s jacket, the Undertaker robes, Harley Race’s robe and crown, different WWWF/E World Heavyweight belts and so much more. I smiled knowing that this was just a fraction from what was located at the warehouse. I was honored and humbled when I helped escort the Andre The Giant Memorial Trophy out of the museum. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_qakvSkI5U There was so much more to see and do at the WWE Axxess that you needed at least two days to see and do it all.
Attending the 2014 WWE Hall of Fame was an amazing experience. Being present and seeing these great athletes getting what they finally deserved was a great privilege.
Then came WrestleMania itself. A party atmosphere if they’re ever was one. More than 75,000 from all over the world had gathered to be entertained and be entertaining. I was part of WWE history, I saw the Undertaker loose his streak and Daniel Brian become champ to the delight of all 75,000 thousand.
Also with much happiness and joy I witnessed Cesaro win the first ever Andre The Giant Memorial Trophy. I texted him with my congratulations after his match. He is an old friend. We had worked together in the past in VCW. After an exhausting, magical weekend, I returned to my hotel ready to collapse only to receive a text back from Cesaro thanking me for the well wishes. A classy gesture from a classy man.
The excitement continued the next day at the airport when the opportunity arose again to see and say goodbye to new friends, fans and wrestlers. I enjoyed spending quality time with Diamond Dallas Page, his wife Kimberly and Kevin Nash. Also there, were legends like Ron Simmons, Jerry Brisco and I renewed my friendship with Paul Orndorff. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise was that of Nick Bollea, son of Hulk Hogan who I met for the first time there at the airport. He was a very polite young man who quickly gave up his seat for me at the crowded dining area. I was very impressed with how humble he was. He has matured a lot and I was very glad to have met him and see his maturity level.
I feel very blessed to have been able to participate and partake in all the WrestleMania 30 and Wrestlecon activities. Thank you WWE and all the people involved through the years that have helped to make this once in a lifetime experience unforgettable.
My wish is for all pro wrestling fans to have the opportunity and experience live what WRESTLEMANIA is all about…an adventure be on your wildest expectations!