CHARLOTTE, NC – I’ve been to a lot of wrestling fan tests over the years both big and small. I probably am no longer the target market for these things. I don’t buy memorabilia, I don’t get autographs and am not going to pay to take photos with wrestlers.

Instead, I go because I have friends I want to see both wrestlers, vendors and fans. And that was what brought me to The Gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina, on a sweltering Saturday, August 5. I missed the first day on Friday of photo ops, autographs, panel discussions and an awards dinner.

I arrived on day two about 11 a.m., to the University Hilton in Charlotte, once the domain of Greg Price’s NWA Fanfests, now run by T-Mart and Tehran Red as The Gathering. The line-up included a who’s who of living legends from the territory days, WWF and NWA 1980s, the ’90s including WCW, and ECW stars, as well as a nice mix of Indy stars past and present.

The focus of these events has seemingly changed from autograph sessions to a more photo-opportunity centered aporoach. The main room had a miss of vendors selling books, action figures, T-shirts and photos. The vendor room was very well organized, with plenty of space. The crowd was not large compared to Wrestlecade, which is run in Winston-Salem on Thanksgiving weekend, where thousands of fans pack a larger convention center over many rooms, featuring a mixture of the biggest names in AEW, Impact, and the indies mixed with the biggest of yesterday’s heroes.

The Gathering had its share of those like Arn Anderson, Brock Anderson, Kurt Angle, Magnum TA, Barry Windham and Tully Blanchard. The photo-ops had deep lines to get in and the different combo options made fans old and younger happy. The vendor room, on the other hand, was line free. Chatting with the vendors, some were doing well with sales, others not as much. Many of these legends have appeared here many many times, where as others were maybe not remembered as well. All the legends I spoke with were very fan friendly and willing to chat.

It was great to see old friendships rekindled, like “Boogie Boogie Man” Jimmy Valiant seeing Big Mama the first time in many years.

"Lodi" Brad Cain at The Gathering in Charlotte, NC, on Saturday, August 5, 2023. Photo by Greg "Count Grog" Mosorjak

“Lodi” Brad Cain at The Gathering in Charlotte, NC, on Saturday, August 5, 2023. Photo by Greg “Count Grog” Mosorjak

For me, seeing old friend Lodi (Brad Cain) just six weeks after his major bypass surgery was a treat. Female stars the Glamour Girls (Judy Martin and Leilani Kai) were a pleasure to see and chat with, and I got to watch fan Reggie Harp happily sharing his belts for them to take photos with.

Long time friend Pete Lederberg was with Kevin Sullivan and Andy Anderson and I was happy to have lunch with him and Dale Spear. I got to get a photo with old friend Scott Romer along with Rip Rogers and Brett Sawyer.

My long time protege Beastmaster Rink Link looked good and is always a pleasure to chat with, and it was great to see another protege, Timber the Lumberjack. Bobby Fulton, Baby Doll, Jimmy Valiant and Princess Victoria are always a treat. The Princess said she had a very profitable weekend. Tommy Dreamer and I chatted about my Baron Scicluna T-shirt. Mike Jackson told me about recently wrestling my old friend Jimmy Cicero.

The vendor room was supposed to go until 5 p.m. but by 2 p.m. many of the wrestlers either packed up and left or were off chatting with their old collegues. The fans went back to their rooms to get ready for a live wrestling show. With most of my friends already gone or packing up, I decided to do the same, and I said my goodbyes and headed back home.

I think The Gathering was well organized and priced fairly. The move to z more photo ops centered fan fest was a smart move but I was left with the feeling, how longer will these be around? As the older territory wrestlers die off or become too old to attend, will the young generation see the value in doing these? Or will they price the average fan out of them? Is the Comic Con model, with thousands of customers be more profitable for them?

I don’t think you will ever be seeing a John Cena, HHH, CM Punk or Roman Reigns doing these any time soon.

Will the mega-ones continue to be profitable or will much smaller ones be the new fashion? Will wrestling fans continue to have the disposable income to make it all profitable for organizers and vendors?

I saw a lot fewer of the normal faces I usually see at these but then again a whole generation of wrestling fans are out there with their own ideas of who they want to see – and many had traveled to Detroit for SummerSlam and all the events on the same weekend.

In the end, the successful promoters will be the ones giving the people what they want.


TOP PHOTO: Brian Blair, Steve Kerin, Jerry Brisco, Kevin Sullivan and Bob Roop at The Gathering in Charlotte, NC, on Saturday, August 5, 2023. Photo by Pete Lederberg