Today I was up bright and early to catch a bus to Wrestlecon at the Meadowlands Convention Centre in New Jersey. This was the first year of the event and it had a huge range of stars from the past, present and the stars of the future. The huge convention floor was filled with names from wrestling past, ranging from the obscure to the iconic.
I was there to meet Hulk Hogan but his line was huge as you can imagine so I spent a few hours walking around the convention floor. There were vendors selling all sorts of memorabilia and collectables, some of which were astronomically expensive! I even saw one booth that was selling bootlegged DVD’s from past wrestling events. That had to be illegal! It seems “tape trading” has become a money-making venture. There were reps from a range of independent promotions trying to get their name out there, some of which I have never even heard of and I’m a fanatic!
Some of the stars were charging a lot for autographs and photo ops so I only had so much money. If I had tried to meet everyone I wanted to I would have been broke! I did get a chance to meet former WWE star and Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle. We snapped a photo together and he was very mind and gracious, saying “God bless” as we parted ways.
Eventually it was time to meet the hulkster! I was one of hundreds but he still took the time to greet me and thank me for coming out. I got a signed photo of him Andre at Wrestlemania 3. I also got a great picture (see above) with him. As expected the meeting was brief but I was delighted to meet the man who literally built the wrestling business as we know it. I never thought I would get that chance.
I got one more treat before the convention began to wind down. I got the chance to meet legendary cruiserweight, Jushin “Thunder” Liger. The masked icon was in full costume and it made for a really cool picture. Despite the language barrier he was very polite and happy to meet all his fans.
Independent promotions are running events at the convention all weekend and after the convention, I caught a Chikara Pro event. Chikara is an alternative wrestling company that specialises in lucha libre style tag team matches. Their ethos is fun, family friendly entertainment with quirky characters and unorthodox storylines, including but not limited to time travel. They also make use of comedy in their matches, often breaking the fourth wall and letting the fans in on the joke. The highlight of our show when one wrestler applied a Boston Crab to a chain of no fewer than seven other wrestlers. They don’t take themselves too seriously and embrace the inherent silliness of products wrestling.
Unfortunately, the show kicked off late so we had to leave early to catch our bus back to the city for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. However, what I saw was a lot of fun and I would definitely go again. I later found out that Jushin Liger wrestled on the show which made our leaving that much more painful.
Our bus was late arriving and we only got back to the city five minutes before show time. We were a sight to behold as we sprinted from 42nd to 34th street, the home of Madison Square Garden. We were completely out of breath as we reached the world’s most famous arena but we were in lit seats for 8:07 including will-call! Not bad if you ask me!
We arrived just as fellow hardcore legend, Terry Funk was about to induct his longtime friend. Funk gave a humorous speech, roasting Foley and his strange ways. However, he concluded by saying that he was a great wrestler that gave his all for the fans and for hid opponents every night before introducing Mick.
Mick got a huge ovation with loud chants of “Foley” and thank you Mick”. Foley gave a humorous and heart felt speech recounting his career and history in the Garden. Highlights included when he finally beat Chris Jericho, having never best him during his career. Y2J got on stage, lay down and let Foley elbow drop him right on the stage. Former WWE champ CM Punk jumped on stage to act as referee and the garden crowd counted the three with the straight edge superstar before erupting in celebration. I was not expecting that! I also didn’t expect Micks beloved Santa Clause to appear and embrace him at the end of his speech.
Next up was the first ever “Diva of the Decade”, Trish Stratus who was inducted by Stephanie McMahon. Trish thanked all those who had helped her during her career, including her trainer, Dave “Fit” Finlay and best friend and longtime rival Lita. Trish produced a shock at the end of her speech when she told the MSG crowd that she would be delivering a “little stratusfaction” in September. This is her first child since retiring in 2006.
Booker T entered the hall next, inducted by his brother, Stevie Ray. Stevie spoke about their relationship as kids and time together as a tag team. He also spoke about the adversity Booker overcame. The brothers lost their Parents at a young age. This led Booker down a wayward path that would see him going to jail for two years. Stevie said the “deck was stacked against him” but he was overcame it all and he had made it all the way to the Hall of Fame.
Bookers speech followed similar themes and he ended with his characteristic “Can you dig that sucka?” and a Hall of Fame spinnerooni on the stage. Another cool moment.
TV host and friend, Maria Menounos did the honors for Bob Backlund. She spoke of their friendship and expounded at length about his virtues and accomplishments. So much so in fact, that the crowd began to boo her, which I thought was not fair.
Backlund strutted out, took off his jacket and stood there in silence for well over a minute. This was the calm before the storm. Backlund gave an erratic speech and jumped between topics with reckless abandon. At times he shouted like a mad man. The fans started go poke fun at his display of lunacy but they came round. The night was getting on so Vince McMahon had to come out and half jokingly encourage him to wrap it up. Backlund obliged but continued to strut around the stage shouting at members of the audience. This was a highlight, but for the sheer craziness of it! Check it out if you get a chance.
Vince McMahon inducted celebrity honouree, Donald Trump. He talked about “The Donalds” history with Wrestlemania and WWE.
Donald was not at all well received by those in attendance, who were booing him before be even came out. As a result, Trump kept it short. He recounted what Vince said and challenged him to a fight at Wrestlemania 30. He thanked everyone for the honour and made a swift exit.
And then it was time for the main event. Madison Square Garden Legend was inducted by Hollywood superstar, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He talked about meeting Bruno in the 60’s and being in awe of his sheer size and strength. He also spoke about his record of selling out the Garden 187 times.
Bruno was humble and talked about how lucky he was and all that Madison Square Garden had given him. The profile it gave him awarded him headline status all over the world. He talked about his youth, growing up in Nazi occupied Italy a day how his mother saved his life by risking hers to get the family food. It was hard not to get emotional listening to his story. He nearly died several times as a child but eventually worked until he became one the strongest men in America and one of the greatest wrestlers ever with an astounding 4,040 days WWE champion.
Aware that it was getting late, Bruno finished up by thanking the fans for all their support and crediting them for his success bringing the night to the close. With Bruno taking his place the Hall of Fame was now complete.
The ceremony was long at nearly four hours but it was a great class this year and they provided many memorable moments.
And now it has finally come! Tomorrow is the big event, Wrestlemania 29 in Metlife stadium. I cannot wait! Can you?
Sport Is Everything. Ken Kidney.