ARLINGTON, TX – For a brief moment last weekend, wrestling fans might have thought they were riding a time capsule back to the days of mayhem in the Mid-South, breathtaking action in Calgary, and an era of credibility in and out of the ring.
And a very good moment it was.
The Wrestlecon fan festival organized by Texas promoter Britt Britton brought together a bevy of stars who once were at each others’ throats, but now greeted each other, and fans, with warmth and camaraderie.
Among the guests were WWE Hall of Famer Ernie Ladd, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Terry Taylor, and Skandor Akbar, all of whom drew huge crowds in the gone-but-not-forgotten Mid-South promotion, among other territories.
Former world tag champion Tully Blanchard, his valet Baby Doll (Nikla Roberts), and his legendary father Joe were on hand, as were Killer Tim Brooks, Killer Karl Kox, Canadian star Bruce Hart, and former WWE diva Terri Runnels. Several current TNA stars, including Ron Killings, Jerry Lynn, D-Lo Brown and Dallas, also turned out for the show.
About the only downside to the festivities was the fact that the WWE cancelled a scheduled appearance by Miss Jackie. Britton said WWE officials told him they would not allow her to appear on a show that also featured a contracted TNA wrestler.
“Dallas was the only TNA guy I had lined up at the time, and he’s local,” Britton said. “I don’t know what they gain from that.”
As an unexpected bonus, though, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson stopped by to fraternize with Ladd, a former opponent and teammate who later became a full-time wrestling star, at the Wrestlecon banquet Saturday night.
Dawson recalled that the 6-foot-9 Ladd broke in with the San Diego Chargers while he was at the helm of the Dallas Texans (who became the Kansas City Chiefs in 1963). “He was the largest person I had ever seen in my life … 6’9″ and 325-330 pounds. He was quick. He had all good body parts at that time.”
Ladd was as competitive off the field as he was on the field or wrestling ring, Dawson remembered. “Ernie used to play two of my teammates at the same time in chess, one over here and one over there, beating both, and the playing dominos with somebody else. He was an outstanding player.”
Ladd, who has been battling colon cancer in recent months, had an uplifting health report. The Louisiana resident missed the February Wrestlecon event because of surgery and chemotherapy treatment.
While his doctor’s initial prognosis was bleak, giving him months to live, Ladd, a deeply spiritual man, said he told the physician, “You’re working with a miracle when you work with me.”
After two months of treatment, Ladd had a bone scan to check on his progress. “I had improved 80 percent,” he said to applause, adding that with his faith, “I’m fighting this thing.”
Among the good news and fond memories, wrestlers added more than a large dose of humor to the weekend festivities. During a story-telling session at the banquet, Brooks recounted, tongue-in-cheek, how he got the moniker “Killer.”
“I killed Toledo. I killed Cincinnati. I killed Detroit. I helped Fritz [Von Erich] and his boys kill Dallas,” he said to uproarious laughter.
After Brooks passed along a hilarious tale of how he and Roddy Piper once tried to woo a live snake from their car, Kox poked fun at the story-telling as he cracked: “You just killed Dallas again.”
For many, the highlight of the event was a passionate and eloquent defense of wrestling by Blanchard, one of the finest grapplers of the 1980s, who has turned his life to God and ministerial work.
Blanchard recalled his disbelief when he encountered a crowd of 1,000 fans at a legends reunion show in Charlotte on Super Bowl Sunday in Charlotte.
“I was speechless. I couldn’t talk. The Panthers are in the Super Bowl, they’re going to play in two hours, and these people are up here getting autographs. And I said, ‘You know what? We provided entertainment. We gave them their money’s worth or they wouldn’t have been here this day.’ And like never before, I appreciated the wrestling fans,” Blanchard said.
“I’ve never had more fun, more joy, more friendship, and sometimes more disappointment than in the wrestling business. But I’ll tell you what -– I wouldn’t trade one minute of it.”
Britton is planning another Wrestlecon for the Dallas area next spring, and looking at other sites in the south for wrestling-themed shows.
Terry Taylor (center) and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Len Dawson. – Steven Johnson