January 29th-31st are big dates for west coast wrestling fans. WrestleReunion 4 invades the LAX Hilton in Los Angeles for a weekend filled with wrestling superstars of the past, present and future. From legends like Bruno Sammartino, Jushin “Thunder” Liger and Stan Hansen to the present and future of wrestling in the form of Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla there is something for everyone.
WrestleReunion is the brainchild of Sal Corrente. The first three events were held in Florida and Philadelphia in 2005. After a hiatus the convention moved out west. It’s an opportunity to visit an untapped market, as Los Angeles has never had a wrestling convention, a staple on the east coast.
“Even though I was born and raised on the east coast I am an L.A. guy at heart, I spend a lot of time there. It is a large area with an untapped market. We figured why get in the middle of everything in the Northeast where everyone is scratching and clawing and give somebody a nice place to go in the wintertime. It is the same basic premise we had for Wrestlereunion 1 in Tampa,” Corrente told SLAM! Wrestling. “If wrestling fans want to go to a convention they will go. We do have people travelling in. I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to the Western Canada market, maybe I should have and that is my narrow-sightedness. I was more thinking about the Greater L.A. area, there are a lot of people here and nothing happening convention-wise.”
The location presents many pros and cons, as many of the wrestlers are flying in from the East for the event. Others like Rob Van Dam and Diamond Dallas Page live in the area. Bringing in Japanese stars Jushin Liger and The Great Muta was also made easier with a shorter flight across the Pacific.
“Some of the scheduling of wrestlers was a challenge because they are not used to having to come all the way across country. Someone like Rob Van Dam for a change doesn’t have to go anywhere; he is right down the road. It was easier to work with Muta and Liger because they only have to fly 12 hours from Japan rather than having to travel 18 hours to New York.” Things don’t always work out the way Corrente plans. “I just spoke to DDP tonight, He only lives a short way from where the convention is, but he is going to be on the East Coast promoting his YRG fitness system and he has to fly back to L.A. for the convention then go back East. I thought he was just going to stroll down the block but he is crossing the country.”
A lot of work goes into planning the convention. While there are less superstars than at past conventions, WrestleReunion 4 promotes quality over quantity.
“It doesn’t have a stacked legends wrestling show on it. There are a few legends wrestling but it is more focused on the youth and future in the wrestling matches. Ring of Honor is making its L.A. debut, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, which has a strong presence on the West Coast is part of it. We are doing some different things with video and photo opportunities, trying to mix it up and see what people like and don’t like. It is always a guessing game. You can say, ‘I think this is going to work’ and many times they do, other times they don’t. They thought Wrestlemania 1 was going to be a success and it was, they thought the Gobbledygooker would get over and it didn’t. You can sit here and try and use common sense and logic but it doesn’t always work out.”
The important thing was having talent who wanted to be there, to maximize the experience for fans.
“We really got together a bunch of superticket guys who we felt would really give the fans the proper experience. You’ve got Austin Idol who hasn’t done a lot of conventions. Chavo Guerrero coming back to L.A. where he was a really big star. Super Crazzy is another guy who is excited and never done a convention like this. When you are paying someone to come out you want to feel like they were happy to come to work and we have a crew of guys like that. Everyone that is there I feel will interact with the fans in a positive way. I am not sure about the communication skills on Muta and Liger but I expect happy smiles, they are very excited. We were just contacted by the New Japan office and they have announced Liger’s trip to the States so it is a big deal to them. Everyone really wanted to come and that is why negotiations went so well. We reached out to some people who were not interested in being part of something like this. I give a lot of thought to that in hopes that it is guys like Nick Bockwinkel who is a class act all the time that is there. I feel comfortable that if someone is at Wrestlereunion they are going to be satisfied and say, ‘This is a place I want to go back again.’ Someone who isn’t there will hear, ‘It was a weekend you really missed because everyone was there to make people feel at home and welcome.'”
There is definitely a buzz about the lineup, both for the convention and the two wrestling cards.
“Some convention fans are diehards and every time you make a move you hear from them, others you won’t hear from at all. There isn’t a 100% buy in on everything. People are pretty excited Bret Hart is going to be there, that is very clear. We are hearing a lot about him. As far as everybody else, everyone has got their fans and people who love them. Other than your headliners, you can book anybody and have a certain percentage of people who think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. You can book one guy and if you knock him out of the box and put someone else in, it may be a different group of people but the same amount. There are people who will straight up tell you they don’t think you booked the right thing. When I booked 95 wrestlers at the first WrestleReunion the problem was, ‘What about this one guy you didn’t have?’ When does it end? You try to please everybody but realistically it’s not going to happen.”
This year has some new ideas including the chance to take home a video cutting a promo with one of the stars of the event, and a breakfast with the wrestlers.
“Other than the eating, which will be substantial, we will have a Q&A session with Bruno Sammartino, Stan Hansen and Larry Zbyszko. Anyone who understands the history of those three characters will be quite pleased. Bill Apter will be hosting the breakfast. It’s not a formal dinner but several of the wrestlers will be there mingling and have a chance for a few words. It won’t be a full blown two-hour Q&A session but there will be the chance to ask questions. You have never seen Sammartino in a Q&A session with these other guys, it’s never happened and it may be the only chance to ever see that,” Corrente said. “The video opportunity, you are writing your own promo. You could have the talent talk or be the one who talks. If I pick Jimmy Hart I am going to let him talk about how I am the greatest thing since sliced bread. If I pick a wrestler I may be the manager talking about the team while they look tough or mean or happy, whatever you want them to look like. It gives the chance to a person to emulate what they have seen these guys do on TV for years and years.”
Can’t make it to L.A.? Need RVD or Muta’s autograph to complete your collection? WrestleReunion also offers mail order. You can order your autographs through the SLAM! Wrestling store.
“If people can’t make it but they want the signatures, God bless. We are there to serve people, within reason. To me it is more about the experience than the autograph but for some folks it is just about collecting autographs. Everybody has something different that is important to them. I am going to be there hanging out and doing whatever I can do but we have other people who are just looking for autographs. So we are trying to accommodate as many people as we can. We didn’t offer mail order in Tampa. Maybe we should have but with 95 wrestlers it would have been a logistical nightmare.”
Corrente has relied on his reputation as well as the support of others to make the convention happen. Being in California caused some concern due to Wrestle Fest, a 2007 convention disaster in San Francisco. Corrente had no involvement in that show and some talent needed to be reassured.
“If we had any problems with Muta or Liger, or anyone else that we may or may not have talked to it was because of that. The minute people heard the word California the red flag went up. I had to have people who believed in me and had faith in me assure them everything would be okay. We heard about San Francisco on numerous occasions while putting this together. I have been in the business since 1981 and I have always done what I said I was going to do. Over time you cross paths with everyone and if you don’t you know someone who has. Some people love me, some may not but there are no stories out there about me saying something was going to happen and then something else did. That is the key.”
One of the biggest supporters of WrestleReunion has been Bill Apter, who will be hosting the weekend.
“He will always be a part of WrestleReunion. If you have ever been around Bill, he is a happy-go-lucky guy who just goes around mingling. He will probably have a microphone in his hand for most of the weekend and if people want his signature on one of his magazines it won’t be a problem. Bill and Jimmy Hart are the two biggest WrestleReunion cheerleaders. They really enjoy the event and with them it really is more about helping create the experience for the fans. Bill is based out of Philadelphia, it is a long way for him to come but he wouldn’t miss it for the world and I appreciate that. He has always got a smile on his face and looking to help and assist. Honestly, when we got started with WrestleReunion Bill Apter put his name on the line like it was his event.”
Whether a frequent convention attendee, or experiencing one for the first time, WrestleReunion promises to be a memorable weekend for all involved.
“I don’t expect anything but excitement. We have put together something that the fans will like. The one thing I am proud of is that we really didn’t get any negative feedback from what we put on in WrestleReunion 1 and 2. You could always do more but other then the fact that the actual videos of those events never came out due to issues we had with Clear Channel/LiveNation and that is the only negative we ever heard. It takes a lot of hard work and tears to make Walt Disney World a place where everyone is supposed to smile, and these wrestling conventions are the same. It takes a lot of work behind the scenes in making an event where everyone leaves with nothing but positives to say. I work with celebrities for autograph shows as well and some people really should just stay home, not be out there signing autographs. It is very important to me after having all this access to people and working with them to know who is going to be glad to be there, and make people feel that way.”
Jason Clevett is excited to be covering his first wrestling convention, and to go to Disneyland. Going to L.A. completes his unintentional “revisit cities he saw Wrestlemania in” tour of the last two years.