Inspired by the saga of "Wrestling Superstar Virgil," 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."
Back in the mid 90's I was doing age group swimming at the YMCA. Our coach, also the Y director, came in one afternoon before practice and asked us if we knew who Leon White was. Of course, we didn't have a clue, even though as 12 year olds we were avid wrestling fans. He told us that there was a wrestler coming in to do some community service, that he had to get some hours from a DWI he got a few months prior. We asked his name again, and Coach went and got his file that the court sent over. Came back and said, Leon White (Vader) emphasizing to us that Vader was in parenthesis. BIG VAN VADER! Then he said that where it lists special skills or trades, someone had written, "heavy lifting, and high-flying aerial moves"! At the time it just didn't occur to me how ridiculous that was, being put on a community service form. I think someone from the court was having a laugh about that.
After practice we rush to get dressed and we go looking for him. We find him in the basketball court moving folding chairs from an earlier function. I swear the man had between 6 and 8 aluminium folding chairs in each arm. Standing at the doorway too scared to say anything (he was a villain after all), my friend Charlie yells, "VAAAAADER!", and then hauls ass down the hallway, leaving me to look like the dick who yelled. He looks up, and with all the chairs still on his arm, he raises it, points to me, and gives me the "wassup, bro" head nod. I nod back (I think) and take off. Nothing crazy about this one, just a really cool experience for a 12 year old.
Back in 1998 or 1999, my dad took me and my brother to a WCW pay-per-view in Louisville. We booked at room at a random Days Inn and arrived in the afternoon, five or six hours before the event. Went we went to check in, we ended up in line behind Curt Hennig (Mr. Perfect). At the time, we figured it was a random coincidence, but that was soon dispelled when Hulk Hogan walked into the same lobby. We said hi, got an autograph, and asked if a lot of them were staying there. Turns out they all were.
About an hour later, My brother (13) and I (17) decided to go check out the internal courtyard area, which had a big jungle gym/play apparatus. We're sitting there goofing around when a young kid named (maybe 10) approached my brother and started telling him this sob story about another kid (maybe 12) who was bullying him on the playground. He wanted my brother to go threaten the kid and possibly beat him up. My brother, not wanting to get involved in playground fights between two strangers, declined, but kept talking to the kid. We asked him if he was here to see the PPV, and he responded that he was. I thought he looked familiar but I couldn't quite put my finger on why that was the case. I asked him his name and when he replied "Reid," I suddenly remembered that WCW had recently completed an angle involving Ric Flair and his 10-year-old son Reid.
I'm angry that my brother turned down the opportunity to forever earn the respect of the Flair clan by fighting Reid's playground battle for him.
A number of years back when my uncle was head of marketing for Famous Players he became friends with Carl DeCarco (President of WWE Canada..not sure if he still is) and took us to one of WWE's "house shows", ones that dont air on TV.
After the show was done my brother, my cousin from Chicago, and I were invited backstage to meet various wrestlers. Some were polite, others weren't, but seeing these guys hanging out was pretty cool. I really just wanted to meet Steve Austin or the Rock, but a publicist informed us that the last wrestler coming out would be Test. In a moment of disappointment that that was going to be the final wrestler I'd meet I say audibly "Aw really? Test sucks..."
A young kid behind me that I hadn't seen before starts crying. I notice people coming over and rudely looking at me while comforting the child. I ask the publicist what I had done that seemed to offend everyone. The publicist then informed me that the child was visiting from the Make-A-Wish Foundation and his wish was to meet Test.
This was mid-eighties, when Hulkamania was at its peak. A bunch of us drove a couple of hours to see a WWF extravaganza featuring many of the biggest names back then, with the main event being Hulk Hogan vs. Paul "Mr Wonderful" Orndorff. Most of us had seats about midway up in the arena, but about a dozen or so somehow got ringside about 10 rows back.
So the night goes on, and finally we're in the big match. There's about 10,000 plus in the arena, going absolutely bonkers for Hogan, who's getting his overly-tanned behind kicked by Orndorff, as it always happens before the big turn of events and the finish. However, one of my ringside pals—a guy affectionately known as Hog Leg in our hometown due to his stocky, muscular frame—apparently didn't care for the beating Hogan was taking. So fueled by countless beers, he decided the Hulkster needed a helping hand.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Hog Leg make his way to the front, jump the barrier when security was looking the other way, and roll into the ring. Needless to say, all of our jaws dropped. 10,000 people in the joint and suddenly a guy we know is standing next to Hulk Hogan. Surreal doesn't quite cut it.
I think at this point ol' Hogsy realized what he had just done. Hogan quickly motioned for him to get behind him, seeing all that could possibly go wrong here. But Orndorff wasn't having any of this. He grabbed Hog Leg, raised an elbow, and cracked him in the noggin. Nothing fake about that shot—the bruise that showed up later was a testament to that.
By this time, security had gotten into the ring and they pulled HL out. We didn't see him until much later. I can't recall if charges were filed or not, but I don't think there were any lasting repercussions. If anything, he can tell his grandkids he was Hulk Hogan's tag team partner for about 3 seconds.
I was 20 years old, and a brand new one-stripe airman in the USAF. I was flying from Texas to Spokane to attend a survival training course at Fairchild AFB. This was 1987, and back then we had to travel in our dress blues uniforms—jacket, coat and tie. I was travelling with another buddy of mine who was going to the same training, and we were sitting at an airport bar/restaurant waiting for our connecting flight to Spokane, getting a bite to eat and having a Coke.
In walks Greg 'The Hammer' Valentine with a hottie on each arm. People literally stopped and looked, and then kind of went back to their business. I told my buddy "Hey, that's The Hammer", and he looked at me like I had a third eye in my forehead—he was not a wrestling fan. Valentine sat down with his ladies two tables over, and I said something completely dorkish like "Hi, Mr. Valentine", and he just sort of nodded in our direction. I didn't dare go up and start talking to him, because Valentine was one of the biggest heels in the WWF, and the dude was just huge, looked very intimidating. I really feared a drop kick followed by a figure 4 leglock. Hey, back then, that shit was REAL.
A few minutes later, two beers come to our table and the waitress says that our check was being taken care of by that 'gentleman with his two lady friends over there'...and she didn't even ask for our IDs. So as we left, we walked up and thanked him, and he said it was his pleasure, and thanked us. Whoa. Back in 1987, before it was chic to do so. We chit chatted for a minute, then we had to head to our gate to catch our flight. He might have been a TV heel, but he was anything but that on that day, and is one of my all time favorite wrestlers.
WCW was promoting an event in Buffalo and had Shane Douglas and Torrie Wilson signing autographs at a Tops Supermarket in Cheektowaga, NY. This was prior to a matchup which would pit Douglas against Buff Bagwell at their next PPV. My brother and I went to get autographs, and my brother (who was 13 at the time) asked Douglas how they decided who won matches. Douglas replies "whoever is the best looking wrestler". He made the mistake of saying then, "so Buff Bagwell is going to win the match then?"
With a smirk, Douglas replied, "You think he's cute, huh?"
My brother didn't talk for the rest of the day.
I'll never forget my 15th birthday. A friend of mine's dad was one of the higher-ups at the old Nashville Municipal Auditorium, and he got me tickets to go see ZZ Top and Jackyl. This was my first concert, and I was over the moon. We went into the arena through the backstage entrance, and were ushered directly to the velvet-roped VIP section. Three rows in front of us were country band Diamond Rio. A couple rows behind us sat Reba McEntire. But none of them mattered, because seated directly next to me was The Undertaker! Oh HELL yes. Already, before the music has started, this is the best birthday I've ever had.
As Jackyl went though a surprisingly blistering set, I managed to find the balls to strike up a conversation with the largest man I've ever seen. And he was a complete teddy bear. Immediately, he dropped all pretentious nonsense. Every word that came out of his mouth was sincere and gracious. His girlfriend or wife started some shit with him, and walked away all angry, and he just looked at me, shrugged and said "Women." When it came out that it was my birthday, he blew me away. He asked me how old I was, wished me a happy birthday, then asked "Would you like to go for a ride on my motorcycle after the show?" Oh HELL yes! But wait. My father told me that he would be outside waiting for us at exactly 11PM. And my dad is not the kind of fellow you want to keep waiting. So I was furious that ZZ Top played a 3 hour set! By the time 11PM rolled around, the music was still going. I was forced to bid farewell to my boyhood hero, and take the long walk outside to 3rd Avenue, where my dad was waiting. As we got on I-65N in his Nissan Altima, I whimsically imagined myself burning through the streets of Music City on the back of The Dead Man's Harley. I told my father (as big a fan of wrestling as I was) about what had happened. He seemed absolutely dumbfounded that I didn't take The Undertaker up on his offer.
When I lived in Calgary we used to go to a local pub that was frequented by Jim 'the Anvil' Neidhart. He was approachable to begin with, talking about times wrestling and his time in football. Between getting totally blitzed on beers and shots he would even offer up great tips- such as using Viagra before working out will make it a double workout!
Anyway, one night we were in the pub until closing time. The bartender (who was about 21 and 140 lbs) had already dished out last orders and was asking everyone to finish up so he could go home (if I remember correctly we had stayed past the legal closing time). Jim was insistent that he have one more drink. The bartender declined saying he wanted to go home, and it was illegal. While going to clean up the empties, Jim approached the bartender and pinned him against the wall and demanded a drink. The bartender scurried back the the managers office where the owner (a big dude) was doing the receipts for the night. The owner came out to confront Jim and told him he was never to talk to his staff like that or to lay a hand on anyone at the pub or he would be barred. Jim had been barred from a few other local pubs and it looked like this threat might have gotten through. He apologised and asked if he could apologise to the bartender for being out of order. The bartender reappeared behind the bar and Jim offered his hand. When shaking it, Jim pulled the poor guy over the bar and told him that he was the only one to decide when he had enough to drink, and never to pull that shit again on him. He threw him to the ground, got in his car and drove home.
WrestleMania XXVIII was this past April in Miami, FL. The hotel my brother and 2 other buddies were staying at was around 20 minutes from South Beach. The hotel was having a Wrestling Reunion in some ball room of our hotel and a bunch of the older wrestlers were either staying at my hotel or making appearances there. Being the fan that I am, I decided to check it out with my buddy. Before entering the ball room, I walked by Jake "The Snake" Roberts and asked, "Hey Jake, how are ya?" He doesn't even look in my direction and responds, "Miserable, how about you?" I have never gotten a better answer in my life than that.
Of course you pay $20 to get in the ball room and then you pay to meet each individual wrestler from there. Of course, we had to get a picture with Jake. As my buddy and I paid Jake's "guy" to get a picture with him, he put his arms around the both of us and said, "Here, let me grab your titties," as he proceeded to squeeze our nipples. Awesome.
Up until I was about 12 years old, I was completely obsessed with professional wrestling. However, being part of the non-rich kid faction, I was still rocking the Nintendo and Super Nintendo. And because of this my favorite wrestlers remained guys from a previous generation: The Ultimate Warrior, Jimmy Snuka, etc., etc.
Jake the Snake Roberts was my ultimate favorite, and when a special "Legends of Wrestling" event came to Kearney, Nebraska, I was beyond thrilled to find out Jake the Snake was there. Koko B. Ware and Superfly were both present as well. Couldn't have asked for a better show......if you were 12 and had zero expectations.
Mid-way through the event they tell us that during the event they will be filming for a wrestling movie that will come out in the next year or so.....Beyond the Mat. I make a mental note to rent that shit on VHS as soon as it's available. After the show we go to our hotel, and what do you know, it's the same one they booked for the wrestlers. Jake Roberts ends up signing my t-shirt and I'm thinking "I'll remember this until the day I die." That entire night I kept escaping into the hallways to see if I could see any of the wrestlers hanging out. No success, but it was still cool to stay in the same hotel as pro wrestlers.
When the movie came out I was excited to see whether or not I could see myself in the crowd. What I found out instead was that 1) wrestling was fake 2) Jake the Snake Roberts was a pervert and 3) Jake the Snake Roberts smoked crack cocaine that night and in the same hotel I was staying at.
We close, as always, with a Virgil story. Anthony:
Two years ago, when Siren Music Festival was still on Coney Island, my roommate Golden and I were drunkenly walking the boardwalk when he pointed out "some wrestler" sitting at a card table alone. It was Virgil, with the now standard misspelled sign and stack of glossy Million Dollar Man 8x10's. Being a recovering wrestling nerd, I briskly walk up to the table, and shake his hand, telling him how much I loved watching him and DiBiase in my youth (I'm 29 now, but Money Inc will forever be a canonical Tag Team). Virgil comes off as bored yet appreciative, and asks if I'd like to purchase a signed autograph. Knowing the limits of my fandom/wallet, I tell him that I sadly have no money, but it's nice to meet him.
Golden, who is quite stoned, excitedly tells me to stand closer for a picture, but I stop him (a non-wrestling fan) and explain that this is Virgil's job, and I don't want to be a dick and scam a free photo-op. As Virgil thanks me for being considerate, Golden laughs and says "Who fucking cares, it's only Virgil", and starts taking pictures of the interaction. Virgil (whose upper teeth consist of a single dental plate) rises, and starts berating my roommate, threatening to throw him in the ocean, and suggesting that "nobody would look because (he) knows people in high places" and "has hung out in Vegas with Mayor Bloomberg."
I look on in shock, while Golden taunts Virgil for another 90 seconds, closes with "Whatever, Virgil", and then continues wandering towards the Nathan's for another round of giant beers.
And James sends along this photo, from this week's Three Rivers Regatta Festival in Pittsburgh: