BUFFALO – In my duties as a SLAM! Wrestling writer, I’ve seen hundreds of wrestling shows in the past couple of years. Going to so many, it can be hard sometimes to remember how fun they can be attending as a fan rather than as a critic. This past weekend, I got to see a show through the eyes of a child — my buddy’s six-year old son. And thanks to him, and the cast and crew of TNA Wrestling, I got to remember just how much fun a wrestling show can be.
The event: TNA’s Basebrawl, a house show held at the Coca Cola Field, home of the city’s minor league baseball team, the Buffalo Bisons. The occasion was Andrew Brown’s sixth birthday (Andrew being the son of local indy promoter Burt the Hurt). The result: a fun-filled day for all.
We (me, Burt, Andrew, and our friend JP) had all bought the VIP Experience, which included a meet-and-greet with Hulk Hogan before the show. There was originally some confusion as to what each ticket package offered — despite the pricey VIP ticket cost, it seemed that anyone could enter the building early and buy cheaper backstage passes for later in the show. A few VIP fans voiced their displeasure to Don West about this, as he was the one selling the packages, but he assured us that the VIP deal was going to be a truly special experience. Andrew didn’t seem phased by this turn of events, though he seemed a bit scared by the initial rush as all the fans raced towards the field for the pre-show autograph session.
Fans lined the ringside barricade, as the stars came out and signed programs, photos, or whatever else were held out for them. It was a bit chaotic at times, with people who weren’t right up front reaching over each other in order to have their item seen and signed, but fortunately nobody got too pushy. Andrew was lucky enough to get his program signed by several stars, including “The Pope” D’Angelo Dinero, Matt Morgan, the British Invasion, Eric Young, Orlando Jordan and Winter among others. Even though he wasn’t necessarily familiar with all of them, Andrew’s eyes widened when they came up to him, especially Morgan who towered over him like a real-life giant.
At 6:30, the VIP experience began, and we lined up to head upstairs for the session with Hulk Hogan. Only 100 VIP tickets were sold, but with him spending several minutes with each person, we spent a while waiting in line before seeing him. Andrew was getting kind of bored, but that sure changed as soon as we rounded the corner and saw the legend in person. To his credit, Hogan was amazing, treating everybody like an old friend come to visit. He happily chatted with everyone, signed whatever they had brought, posed for pictures, and joked around. Andrew was wearing Burt’s vintage “Hulk Rules” shirt that was bought at the 1986 Big Event show in Toronto, and Hogan commented on the shirt and shared stories with us about his match with Paul Orndorff that night. Even though Andrew had never seen Hogan live before, and was only familiar with him because of Burt, he was in awe, just as much as Burt, a life-long Hulkamaniac.
And you know what? Even though I was never a Hulkamaniac growing up (Bobby Heenan was my hero as a kid, and since he was always on the other side of the ring from Hogan, so was my support), in that moment, I have to say, I felt like a little Hulkster myself.
The meeting certainly recharged Andrew, and for the rest of the night, he was completely amped. Once the opening bell rang, he barely sat down for the rest of the night. Watching him get caught up in the matches, cheering and booing as the action unfolded, it took me back to my childhood when the illusion still held true. Watching the show like he did — without caring about whether I agreed with the booking or not, or questioning why certain stars “went over,” or fixating on whether someone botched a move — it was an incredibly refreshing experience, and Burt and I were soon chanting along with him.
The wrestlers noticed it too, and when The Pope came out, Andrew was the poor kid who he punked by teasing giving him a pair of sunglasses, only to take them away at the last minute. While that might have soured his view on the show, it instead had the opposite effect — particularly when he learned that his image was shown on the giant stadium monitor, and that the match was being filmed for Spike TV and it’s likely he will make a future broadcast.
To make up for it, when Jeremy Borash and Earl Hebner were handing out passes for people to go backstage during the intermission, Earl made a beeline towards Andrew to give our group access. As if the night couldn’t get any better, it did, as several of the other stars were back there, including Kurt Angle, who posed and signed for everyone there, and The Pope, who actually apologized to Andrew, proving that even heels aren’t always bad all of the time. Hogan was there too, and when he saw Andrew, he recognized him from the earlier session, and posed for a few more pictures before autographing Burt’s shirt, poking fun at Burt who was so star-struck at the first meeting that he forgot to get it signed then.
After the intermission, we headed back to our seats for the second half of the show, which concluded with a spectacular fireworks display. Exhausted by the day’s events, Andrew crashed in his car seat, while the rest of us reveled in the memories of the day, excitedly going over the day’s events, just like we were kids again.
Show Results: Kazarian beat Eric Young; Tara pinned Winter after a Widow’s Peak; Matt Morgan beat “The Pope” D’Angelo Dinero; James Storm and Alex Shelley beat the British Invasion, after an assist from Robert Roode; Gunner beat AJ Styles; Kurt Angle beat Scott Steiner in a match where Hulk Hogan was the special ringside enforcer — he helped Steiner at every opportunity, but was eventually chased away by Beer Money, after which Kurt got the win.
Bob Kapur isn’t really a baseball fan. But he does enjoy peanuts and Cracker Jack. Root, root, root for him at [email protected].