TORONTO — The strange thing is that WrestleReunion 8 was in the backyard of SLAM! Wrestling, Toronto, where a number of the writers and photographers call home, and yet we had almost no coverage all weekend.
That is easy to explain.
We were having too much fun.
Herein, you will find some contributions from staff members who were in attendance, in various capacities. Enjoy!
GREG OLIVER, Producer, SLAM! Wrestling (sold books, organized the volunteers): WrestleReunion was an experience unlike any other. It’s more commerical than the Cauliflower Alley Club — where I am heading while I write this. It is not like the hall of fames in Amsterdam, NY and Waterloo, Iowa, where the weekends are centred around honouring deserving candidates. It is not even like WrestleMania weekend, of which I’ve been a part of a few.
Maybe I have been jaded through the years with my own access to so many legends and I had forgotten what it was like to be a fan. But I could see it everywhere at WrestleReunion.
The fans that came to meet stars young and old were awesome, friendly, patient. Yeah, some tried to skirt the rules and get photos or autographs when they were not supposed to, but that is going to happen regardless. There were people with babies, and fans who have been following wrestling for decades.The wrestlers and managers were so accommodating and professional, whether they were big name VIP guests
I didn’t hear a lot of grumbling (well, until we oversold the Titans in Toronto 5 breakfast, and some didn’t have a place to sit), and I thought it was a fabulous weekend.
As much as the fans had a great time, I was privileged to be there when Bruno Sammartino reconnected with Sweet Daddy Siki and The Wolfman Willie Farkus, two people he specifically told me he wanted to see again. There was 85-year-old Bob Adessky telling Harry Smith about working with Harry’s grandfather, Stu Hart, over breakfast. Magazine editor Bill Apter had never met frequent contributor/photographer Roger Baker until Saturday, and Apter shared his impression of their old boss, Stanley Weston, that only a couple of people in the whole building would have appreciated.
On a personal level, I marked out for Howard Finkel, one of the few people at the event that I had never met before and wanted to.
DAVE HILLHOUSE (VIP room volunteer with Harry Smith, Buffalo airport run): Harry Smith was very gracious, always asking to whom he could sign his autograph and always listening attentively. It’s hard to say if he truly appreciated every second person telling him how much they miss him being in the WWE, but he certainly lit up every time someone wanted to share a memory about his father. He surprised one fan from England with his very Canadian accent, and surprised everyone else with his apparent spray-on tan overdose.
CW Anderson was similarly very appreciative of the help all of the volunteers were to him. I ended up driving him to his early morning flight in Buffalo, but he badly needed a trip to Perkins first. We met up with some of his friends, where the dinner highlights included the whole table forgetting about their own food for a few minutes to watch Rhino dismantle a heavily cream-laden dessert before suggesting to the waiter that topping it with Reece’s Pieces next time would really seal the deal, and also watching Tommy Dreamer demonstrate how he awkwardly smiled and waved while being introduced at the Rogers Centre during a Blue Jays game as “The Sandman.” Also, a word to the wise: he hates being called “The Dreamer,” so get his introductions right. He was a great storyteller and took over the table every time he spun one.
Anderson, for his part, was very reserved until he very loudly complained about an elbow from Dreamer earlier in the evening that he had been expecting up high on his back and got down low instead, causing him great surprise and pain. Yes, he was also driven through a table in that match, but he made sure to tell Dreamer that the elbow was the stiffest move of the night — and he got an apology for it.
Anderson slept for most of the ride to the airport, and we spent the rest of the time ruminating on the lack of discipline of those darned kids these days (yes, we sounded a bit like grumpy old men). Classy guys, all around.
ROGER BAKER (VIP room volunteer for Howard Finkel):
This reunion was a very satisfying event for myself, as it was the first time that I’ve personally attended a wrestling event that had so much to offer the hundreds of fans, including one that told Howard Finkel he came in from Lancashire, England.
It also provided me with the wonderfull opportunity, to meet several of SLAM! Wrestling team members at this awesome wrestling venue. As I walked in to the huge room that was hosting the the many vendor tables, who do I see? Bob Kapur, and this was my first opportunity to meet Bob.
I had a package of wrestling photos that I’d taken in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, back in the mid sixties of Bruno Sammartino which I planned to present to “The Living Legend” when the opportunity presented itself. This didn’t take long, Bruno came into the room soon after and out came cameras from dozens of eager fans. Amid all of the activity directed at Bruno, I was able to present the champ these many exciting pictures that I had taken so many years ago.
As well, I finally had the chance to meet wrestling guru Bill Apter, and Greg Oliver did the honours of the introduction.
Speaking for myself, the highlite of the weekend was sitting at a table a few feet away from where Bruno recieved a full five-minute standing ovation from all present in the room at the Titans in Toronto 5 breakfast. He gave a speech from the heart, and spoke about all the great wrestlers, that he worked with, as well as the great affection that he had for the late Toronto promoter Frank Tunney.
ANDREA KELLAWAY (Photographer, VIP room volunteer with JJ Dillon): I spent the better part of saturday with JJ Dillon, helping him at his autograph table. I watched as he interacted with many fans. He was more than happy to sign autographs, and take pictures. One fan asked, “Did you bring the jacket?” I watched as a smile came across Mr. Dillon’s face. He pulled out the jacket from underneath the table. The fan started drooling, he looked at JJ for a second before asking… “Can I try it on?” JJ’s smile grew as held out the jacket for this life-long Four Horseman fan. You could just see JJ was enjoying this just as much as the fan. During this four-hour period, we had a little down time, and spent it chatting about family, and what an honour it was for him to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year. I guess you could say we bonded, cause after the signing was over JJ included me in an interview he was doing with The Score. It was a very memorable experience. I love being surrounded by people who are passionate. WrestleReunion made me proud to be involved in the wrestling business. Thank you to JJ Dillon, Dominic DeNucci, Bruno Sammartino, Sweet Daddy Siki, and many more for allowing me to take your portraits, and get to know you better.
ANTHONY SICILIA (interviews for future stories): As a fan of wrestling I was in awe from the opening bell of WrestleReunion. As I spoke with the many faces of wrestling’s past and present, one theme reverberated throughout my interviews and from events of yesterday.
That theme and topic on everyone’s mind was all about respect and gratitude. Arda Ocal of The Score’s Aftermath explained the respect factor to me: “I’m like a kid in a candy store. At the end of the day I’m a wrestling fan too and it’s just nice to say hello and pay my respects to the legends of wrestling’s past.”
Whether you’re a fan, a media mogul like Ocal or a pro wrestler, everyone in attendance at WrestleReunion had a common bond — they love the sport and skill of professional wrestling.
YVES LEROUX (VIP room volunteer for Strike Force): What is a mark in professional wrestling? Depending on who you talk to, it’s either an avid wrestling fan, or a fan who still believes that wrestling isn’t scripted. But mostly, it is synonym of a fan who just loves the sport entertainment that pro wrestling is. Now you might think that most of us writers here on SLAM! Wrestling just become immune to the mark “syndrome” and as such, every time we meet a wrestler for the first time, we don’t get butterflies in our stomachs. I will tell you that I have been with SLAM! Wrestling since 2000 and have met many big names in our great sports entertainment business, but those butterflies are very alive and well every time I meet someone I haven’t had the pleasure to interact in the past. By that thought, this past weekend could be described as a Monarch butterfly migration to Mexico — it was impossible not to mark out.
To be taking tickets from VIP fans at a table with Strike Force (Tito Santana and Rick Martel) and spending four hours interacting with them was probably the highlight of my SLAM! Wrestling career. I have had the fortunate pleasure to have met Martel many times in the past to the point we know each other on first name basis (not that difficult for me, you could say) and still, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. To be in a 20’x20′ room with the likes of Vader, Scott Steiner, Tommy Dreamer, Shane Douglas, Rhino and many more was like being in wrestling heaven. Later on Saturday evening, after the wrestling card, many of us from SLAM! Wrestling ended up in the hotel bar as we were a bit thirsty from standing all afternoon. Already there were Roddy Piper, Honky Tonk Man, Tito Santana, Raven, Fit Finlay, Ricky Johnson, Rick Martel. Some of them came to chat with us, which was an euphoric moment. We were just guys finishing a work shift and talking about our day. Meeting some of the SLAM! Wrestling staff that we write to and interact through the internet almost on a daily basis but had never actually met in person made that weekend that more special.
Those of you that met me there and told me I looked very relaxed, well, I just was able to hide those butterflies well. As a writer for SLAM! Wrestling, even though I get to meet many pro wrestling celebs, I would never miss any type reunion or the next Titans in Toronto … so just imagine if you are not involved in the business the sheer number of butterflies would swarm your stomach getting an autograph, picture and chatting for a few minutes with any of those idols we look up to. Simply priceless.
JASON CLEVETT (WrestleReunion Photographer – Deluxe Photos)
My fourth WrestleReunion was less about meeting wrestlers as it was supporting an event that I believe in and the chance to hang out with friends. There were still a few guests in attendance that I hadn’t met – Howard Finkle, Rhino, JJ Dillon, and Rick Martel – and I made sure to take advantage of the opportunity to do so. Having been recruited to help out in the past I brought that experience and my camera along to capture the fans delux photo op experiences. Most times at conventions photos are wrestlers dressed in their everyday clothes, but for these photos the wrestlers dressed up, or down in one case. Gene Okerlund, Vader and Jushin Liger were in full gear, while Miss Tessmacher posed in a bikini. The ECW reunion featuring Tommy Dreamer, Raven, Shane Douglas, Rhino and CW Anderson was a popular photo, I got one myself and have it signed by all five which is one of my favorite keepsakes from the weekend. Being that up close doing the pictures really showed me what it meant to the fans, who were all so polite and you could see how excited they were. I lost count of the number of times fans approached me to thank me for taking the photos, which showed what it meant to them.
After the in-ring photos I was transferred to Piper’s Pit, where I handled photos for the long, long line of people. Piper took time with each one and was pretty amazing to watch. On top of that he called a friend of mine who has been ill and left her a heartfelt and amazing voicemail which really brightened her spirits. Roddy Piper is a complex individual, but he certainly gives everything to the people that come out to see him. The highlight for me was 5 year old David, who was thrilled to meet a man whose heyday was decades before he was born. It was a pretty sweet moment to be a part of.
I always end up kind of down at the end of WrestleReunion. I wait with such anticipation and in the blink of an eye it is done and the hotel was empty, leaving me to entertain Harry Smith. Part of it is exhaustion but part is the realization that not only is the weekend done, but unfortunately WrestleReunion is done for the foreseeable future. But it isn’t long before I realize I shouldn’t be sad it is over, but be happy it happened and for the memories.
BOB KAPUR (VIP room volunteer for Miss Tessmacher, Buffalo airport run): Even though I’m a writer for SLAM! Wrestling, I’ve always considered myself first and foremost as a fan. So even if I hadn’t gone as a volunteer, I would have definitely been at WrestleReunion this past weekend.
I had so many great experiences this weekend, I could probably write a short book about it. Instead, I’ll just list some of the highlights: catching up with my friends CW Anderson and Shane Douglas, both of whom I’ve known since the ECW house show in Mississauga back in 2000 (CW and I actually missed Shane arriving, as we were talking in the restaurant, and thankfully he didn’t “Franchise” the both of us when he found us sitting there); getting my picture in Piper’s Pit; getting heckled by extreme legends Raven, Tommy Dreamer, Rhino, and CW after my pitiful lock-up attempt with Shane; hearing Mean Gene Okerlund say my name in his legendary booming announcer voice; randomly running into Vader after his match, and learning that, despite his in-ring persona, he’s one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met; buying a boss Destroyer shirt; meeting and joking around with Finlay at the Titans in Toronto Breakfast; making amends to Harry Smith for once writing that I’d gone to buy a pretzel instead of watching his match while at a house show; interviewing the lovely Maria Kanellis (though once again she rejected my marriage proposal); and talking formal fashion with the Necro Butcher.
Of course, I would be remiss to not mention the three hours that I got to spend with Miss Tessmacher during the VIP autograph session. I can honestly say she’s one of the nicest, most engaging and charming people I’ve ever met – not to mention that she’s simply gorgeous, which goes without saying if you’ve seen her. I didn’t know what to expect when I was assigned to her table, but in the end, I’m grateful that I was.
I’m also grateful to have got the chance to see many of my colleagues at SLAM! Wrestling, some of whom I met for the first time. We, and everyone who attended the weekend’s festivities, share a bond over professional wrestling. I hope that events like WrestleReunion can be used to deepen these friendships in the future.
PATRIC LAPRADE (VIP room volunteer for Jimmy Hart): Three hours with Jimmy Hart was an awesome experience, as I saw how dedicated he was. I mean, he didn’t sit one single second, didn’t take one sip of water as it was all about the fans for him. Then I got to interview him for 10 minutes on his days managing the Rougeaus, Dino Bravo, The Mountie.
WrestleReunion wasn’t just about Jimmy Hart as I had also the opportunity to interview “Mean” Gene Okerlund, Nikita Koloff and JJ Dillon.
If all of this wasn’t enough, this event will have repercussions for the next few weeks when I’ll get to talk with Bill Apter, as well as “The Living Legend” Bruno Sammartino, who wrestled in Montreal in the early 1960s and then again in the Grand Prix Wrestling days. I also was able to talk with some other journalists like John Pollock and Arda Ocal, which will be very useful when my book gets released.
BLAINE VAN DER GRIEND (Vendor room volunteer with Rowdy Roddy Piper): This was actually my first time attending WrestleReunion and I would say that it was a very pleasurable experience. As a life-long wrestling fan and even now as a wrestling journalist, I still find it a little strange to see all these wrestlers that I used to watch as a kid in such a casual setting.
I really enjoyed sitting (actually, standing) in on the Q and A sessions during day one, as I quickly remembered what it felt like to be a fan again. I loved just listening to some of the stories and impersonations of fellow journalist Bill Apter, who is such a respected and talented man in our profession, and I hope to one day accomplish even half of what he has accomplished in this business. Roddy Piper certainly made his mark on everyone who attended from day one, and he seemed as interested in his fans’ life stories, as they were in his. Jimmy Hart told an amazing story about The Ultimate Warrior that day and also seemed excited to be there. And I almost teared up with JJ Dillon, when he got very emotional, describing his career, leading up to his WWE Hall of Fame induction this year.
On day two, I was a photographer at the Piper’s Pit set, and it felt great to finally introduce myself. Piper was a class act all the way and despite the fact that he had the longest line at the event, he still made time to interact with his fans. This was much more than just a meet and greet. He was asking everyone about their own lives, before telling stories about himself. A couple of people mentioned that they had either a significant other or child who would have loved to have been there, but were unable to for whatever reason, and Piper actually had the rest of the line wait, so that he could speak to these people on the phone. And I doubt that anyone complained, as they were all given equal time. At one point, Piper even turned to me and asked if I wanted a bottle of water or something. I was also briefly paired with Miss Tessmacher, who was also very classy and extremely nice.
Overall, I had a great time, and I would love to go back to an event like that in the future.