Inspired by the saga of "Wrestling Superstar Virgil," pro wrestling's saddest man, we continue with readers' encounters with the titans of the squared circle. If you've had your own run-in with wrestlers past or present, e-mail us, subject line "Virgilbag."
In 2000, I was in school and working part-time at Blockbuster Video. It was an easy enough gig. I'm holding the place down by myself one weekday afternoon. The store's pretty much empty when the doorbell chimes. I look over to see Raven sporting a black Wolverine tee and basketball trunks. It's strange seeing someone you've watched get bludgeoned to a bloody pulp just walking around all casual. Normal even. I've met wrestlers before, but being alone in a store with that guy put me a little on edge. Needless to say there was no way I was making this man pay late fees.
After a few minutes of looking around he walks up to the front counter. I can say that the words that would come out of his mouth were nothing like I'd imagined. "Do you have the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series?"
I stood there for a split second and could only respond, "I don't know." I looked it up in the computer, nothing. Walked him over to the TV section, still nothing. I apologized and he mumbled something resembling, "That's cool. Thanks anyway." He ended up leaving empty-handed. I never mentioned that I knew who he was. I was just so bummed out that I couldn't help Raven get his Buffy! I ended up seeing him again at the Cumberland Mall, checking out some sneakers or something. He was rocking another comic book tee. The man had good taste.
It's 1991, I'm nine years old, and my dad picks me up from school. It's close to summer, and it's an extremely hot day for a Southern California beach city. Probably a blistering 79 degrees. Instead of going straight home where I could take off my pants and watch some goddamn cartoons, my pop tells me we have to go to his work and pick up his paycheck. Ugh. We pull into his work, a warehouse by the airport. He goes into the office area to get his check, and I stay outside. Since I'm a kid, I get bored after waiting for 11 seconds. I decide to go explore. During my short expedition, I notice some kind of shipping container. Obviously, I can't NOT go inside of it and close the door behind me. That's what I do. And of course, now I'm stuck.
If you remember what it's like being nine years old, you know you have zero sense of pride and self-awareness, especially in what seems like a dangerous situation. I didn't even wait a minute before I started screaming at the top of my lungs. Some guy finally comes over and sees me. There's a clear plastic window in the door area, and I can see he's sorta laughing to himself. THANKS MAN. Eventually he tries to open the door, but it won't budge. It locked itself somehow. He tells me he's going to find someone to open it for him, but I'm kinda freaking out and I ask him not to leave. He calls another dude over and they're both just looking at the door, looking at me, looking at the door, and laughing. OH COOL GUYS. NOT LIKE IT'S HOT IN HERE OR ANYTHING. After a few more minutes of these chuckleheads doing nothing, my dad finds me. I can tell he's a little pissed, but he doesn't want to explode in front of people. One of the dimwits that was hanging around tells my dad he's going to get his brother to help out. He says he's a big guy and can probably just pull the door off. My dad looks at him weird and says okay, but says it with a tone that means you're absolutely no help and I'm glad you're going away. Couple more minutes pass, a couple more guys come over to try and get me out, with no luck. One more guy comes over. It's the dude's brother. AND IT'S FUCKING ZEUS. ZEUS. FROM NO HOLDS BARRED. THE MOTHERFUCKER THAT FOUGHT HULK HOGAN IN ONE OF THE WORST (GREATEST -9 year old me) MOVIES EVER MADE. I don't believe it. My dad doesn't believe it. Neither of us believes it when Tommy "Tiny" Lister grabs the door and pulls it off from it's fucking hinges.
Deebo saved my life, or at least saved me from an additional few minutes of sweating in a little box. Almost immediately after Tiny gets me out, some management types arrive at the scene, and they don't look too happy. That is until Tiny introduces himself and calmly, but firmly, explains the situation to them. They melt like butter. It was awesome. Everyone chats it up for a few minutes, talk about Hulk, make fun of me, he signs a few autographs, and that's it. He grabs my shoulder a little, tells me to be careful, and him and his brother leave. My dad and I leave right after, lest the management guys decide to blame him for the damaged container. Our ride home was quiet and somewhat surreal. I think my dad was just happy my dumb ass didn't get him fired. I was wondering how I was gonna tell my friends the bad guy from that Hulk Hogan movie rescued me from certain death.
I was on a flight to Tampa around 2000 or 2001, when a flight attendant comes up to me and my brother telling us that a bunch of pro-wrestlers were sitting up in first class. Being a massive WWF fan (who was also about ten years old), I nearly shat myself. The flight attendant offered to take my boarding pass to get autographs from all of them, which would include The Big Show, Chris Jericho, Gangrel, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and Dean Malenko. However, things became rather confusing for me when I turned to my right and realized that one of the wrestlers was not fortunate enough to be awarded a first class ticket. This extremely large man (around 6'3, 300 lbs) was Dennis Knight, or Mideon from the "Ministry of Darkness". He was the ONLY one of these guys sitting in a coach seat, and was easily the largest (aside from the Big Show, who had two first class seats to himself). In person, he truly looked like he had taken larger craps than Dean Malenko, but he seemed to be a nice guy who obviously knew his role. Funny to see that the pecking order of the WWF even translated to airline seats.
I'm from Westville, OK, a town of about 1,000 people whose only claim to fame is being the birthplace of Jim Ross, also known as Good Ol' JR. It's a very rare thing for him to actually come back to town, and when he does, he's usually visiting family and keeps his visit private. However, the year after I graduated from high school, the school superintendent got in touch with his family and asked if he would come speak to the students. Because of the size of our school auditorium, and it being a K-12 school, every assembly is basically conducted twice, once for elementary and then again for high school. I was working as a substitute at the time, so I was at the assembly for the elementary students.
JR comes out to huge cheers from the crowd, of course, and starts his canned "believe in yourself" speech. Our school didn't exactly have the best AV equipment, and during the speech, the audio started to cut out. He immediately began cursing, loudly enough that everyone could hear (the students are seated so that the youngest are up front), about how the "goddamn school" and it's "piece of shit" equipment were "wasting my goddamn time," pretending to do it under his breath. They got the mic working and he spoke for about another minute or so before leaving the stage, and we could still hear him backstage, telling the administration the one assembly was enough and that "I'm getting the hell out of here right now."
[Ed note: Jim Ross calls this story a "total fabrication."]
From 1998-2001 I worked part-time at the Value City Arena in Columbus while I was in school at Ohio State. This was slightly before the city built Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus, so all the big shows/concerts/events came to the campus arena. During this time nothing was bigger than the WWE and Monday Night Raw in the eyes of many college students. Raw came to Columbus 1-2 years per year while I worked at the arena. Of course, when Raw was in town, every single part-time worker wanted to be on the schedule all day long to see the wrestlers come in.
On one occasion, at the height of the Attitude Era, I had an unforgettable experience/interaction with The Great One, The Rock. I was lucky enough to work "security" at the arena, which wasn't really security at all. I, and my co-workers, basically sat in an office and buzzed people into the arena via the locked backstage door. We openly made fun of every other part-time worker who had to carry or push massive things around while we sat in an office and made hourly rounds of the building (which mostly consisted of staring at girls during events).
As wrestlers started to pour into the arena to prepare for Raw that night we had to keep buzzing them into the locked door one-by-one. It was completely monotonous, but we got to see everyone come in (Austin, 'Taker, Trish Stratus, Lita, etc.). At one point I had my back turned to the glass as someone came in. I heard them angrily trying to open the locked door so I quickly turned around to let them in. It was The Rock. When I turned around I completely froze and just stared at him. I was, and still am, a huge Rock fan. Seeing me just stare at him he says, totally in character, "Open the damn door and let the Rock in the building you jabroni." I must have hit the button 27 times in 5 seconds trying to let him in. He just stared at me and other people in the office the entire time and, even after entering the building, stared at us until he was out of sight.
Five minutes later I heard someone pounding on the office door (which was also locked) and it's The Rock. I really thought I was going to throw-up. When I opened the door he was just starting at us. He stood there for a few seconds...then completely broke character and started laughing. I was a little confused and still didn't know whether he was going to punch me or not. Turns out he was just screwing with us; he was by far the nicest celebrity I ever met while at that job. He talked to all of us for about 20 minutes, asked us what our majors were, etc., etc. He even told us who was cool to ask for autographs and who to not even make eye contact with (anyone with the last name of McMahon).
When I was younger, about 12-13 years old, I was blessed to have a father who knew a guy who knew veteran referee Mike Chioda. Mike blessed us with press box tickets for the (then) WWF event in Philadelphia. My brother, my friend and I spent the entire show asking various wrestlers for autographs, which they begrudgingly signed.
Later in the afternoon, I went to the bar in the press box to ask Savio Vega (my 16th favorite superstar at the time) to sign my WWF the Magazine. He put down his ice cream cone to take the pen and magazine from my hands. After signing some chicken scratch, he turned back to finish his coveted custard, only to find that the bro next to him (not a wrestler) devouring it. Savio, already annoyed about signing an autograph, replied, "Hey man, that's MY ice cream." The bro, who didn't seem to know (or care) who THE Savio Vega was fired back, "Oh...SORRY," saying so with as much, if not more, attitude than he received. He then turned away and continued to finish off Savio Vega's ice cream.
Savio left the press box shortly thereafter.
I've worked in radio for about 12 years now and have had several interactions with wrestlers during meet and greets. Usually they're shockingly nice guys who are perfectly happy to sign and take pictures. One meet and greet has stuck with me for more than a decade now though.
Back when WCW was still on top of the world they brought a show through our town and actually taped a few matches for their "Thunder" show, so we had some pretty big names show up. The meet and greet we did had three wrestlers: Juventud Guerrera (right before he became The Rock's favorite punch line), Konan, and Rey Mysterio, Jr. All three walk in and ask me where they sit. The first thing I noticed is how quite they were. Then I noticed they all had a perma-smile going. And really, really red eyes. I quickly figured out they were stoned as stoned can be. No big deal, all they had to do was sign some autographs.
When we did our meet and greets, we would bring in food from a local chicken place, so the room has several tables with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, etc. on them. As soon as the trio saw the food, they literally started to drool. Konan very sheepishly asked me "Hey, is that food for everyone? Like, can we have some too?" I told them "yeah of course you can" so they got in line with everyone else and came back with two plates full of food each.
I have to give them credit though, when they hit the ring about half an hour later they were spot on.
We went to go and see Rowdy Roddy Piper at a book signing. The entire time my friend was talking about how he was going to try and get Roddy to give him a chop to the chest. When the time came he asked Roddy, who said that he wouldn't do it. He did however offer up the consolation prize of being put in a sleeper hold. So he goes to put my friend in a sleeper hold, and this was no show sleeper hold, he legitimately started choking him for a couple of seconds. After it was done, he checked to see if my friend was OK, to which my friend said that he "was seeing stars." Roddy then told him "See, you don't have to do drugs anymore. Next time you wanna get high I'll just put you in a sleeper hold." Seriously one of the most awesome moments ever.
A few years back some friends and I attended a local arena football game. While walking through the main concourse I saw what appeared to be an Elvis wannabe sitting at a table. Figuring the team was running some dumb promotion, I didn't think anything of it. When we got closer to the table I discovered that it was no ordinary impersonator, it was non other that The Honky Tonk Man.
He was there to promote a match he had the next time for some small time rasslin' organization. On his table he had stacks of 8x10 glossy photos and as it was labeled "My official guitar from the WWF." Being a fan of shitty old wrestlers I went over for an autograph.
The Honky Tonk Man was HAMMERED. He had no idea where he was or what was going on. He just said "at half time, I'm playing my song, buy a photo ... uhh ... or I'll sign something, ain't no one came up to my table yet. Bunch of assholes, don't know when they are in the presence of the greatest" I told him my name and asked him to sign a promo sheet I had on me. I spell my name for him, yet he manages to add 3 new letters and leave out two other ones. He asked if it was right so I told him how to spell it again. He looked up at me and just said "It's close enough, I don't need this shit, I'm the champ. Not you. Not any other of these people wanting my name on their shit. I'm THE BEST!"
There was no one else with in 20 feet of his table.
At half time he went on the field and botched his theme song for 3 minutes and left. There was supposed to be another autograph signing afterwords, but he no-showed. Talking to the promoter after the game, he said that I was the only one who went up to his table all day and that at one point the Honky Tonk Man started yelling at people in the concession line.
We close, as always, with the Virgil story. Douglas:
I attended a card show at the Freehold Mall in NJ in the late 90s/ early 2000s. I must have been ten at the time, old enough to get really excited for a NJ mall autograph signing headlined by the immortal Larry Zbyszko. After waiting around for quite some time, we were informed that Zbyszko had cancelled his appearance. Im sure some reason was given, however this was lost on my young and very
disappointed self. My older brother acting fast, came up with a solution to end my turmoil: Virgil.
He noticed Virgil standing at a table not far from where we were. There were very few people at this event to
begin with, and none of them seemed very excited. We made our way over to Virgil and started to chat him up. To a little kid this giant man with an interesting name and mildly intimidating 8x10 photo seemed
At first Virgil asked us if we wanted to take a photograph with him. We happily obliged. Next, Virgil said that he would give me an 8x10 photo of himself for free! We happily accepted. After Virgil handed me, a ten year old boy, this free photograph, he then asked me if I wanted him to sign it.I happily asked.
After Virgil signed it and gave it back, I imagine that I stared in awe-struck glee. Thinking I had just been giving an autographed photo I started to walk away. Before I could go Virgil stopped my older brother, who was barely 18 and said, "Yeah, that'll be 20 dollars."
Years later, my brother still reminds me that I don't appreciate that signed photo enough.