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 pro wrestlers past or present, e-mail us, subject line "Virgilbag."
My buddy and I are leaving a house show in the Reading area, think it was about 2003. I tell him I want to stop by the nearest Burger King to grab a Whopper, my buddy tells me he's going to stay in the car. As I'm at the ATM, who comes strolling out of the bathroom? Rob Van Dam. Being a huge ECW fan, I said something like "Hey RVD, big fan" and he said thanks and went to the counter. I'm behind him in line and I didn't really want to bother him but a guy goes up to him and grabs his by the shoulder, I thought " This skateboarder punk is starting shit with Van Dam", turns out it was Jeff Hardy.
I said "Hey Jeff Hardy" and he gives me a big grin and shakes my hand and for the next 5- 10 minutes we discuss the direction of his character, his brother Matt's new heel turn, and that he really doesn't like wrestling in Philly because we can be quite mean to him. He didn't appear to be on any drugs or anything, which has become commonplace for him now.
His order arrives and I thank him for the nice discussion, he shakes my hand and leaves. My buddy who was sitting in the car the whole time, runs in and says "I think I just saw RVD and Jeff Hardy." I told him "I know, we were just chatting for awhile." He said "RVD just dropped his Whopper on the ground and ate it."
I was in Sanibel Island, FL on vacation with my family when I was in 6th or 7th grade, and I was getting sick of the beach. I went up to the pool to grab something to drink and who do I see floating on a raft in the pool with blatant disregard for the rules which clearly state no rafts in the pool? Scott Steiner himself. I drop my drink on the ground, sprint across the pool deck (because if Scott Steiner can say "Fuck the rules," I can too...right?), elbow drop into the shallow end (also against the rules as I would soon find out), surface right next to him, flex, and, in my best Steiner voice, say "Big. Poppa. Pump."
He just sits and stares at me. I'm in middle school, so I figure that he must have been impressed with my form. He says verbatim: "What the fuck are you doing? I'm on vacation, go away." He then squirts me with a water bottle.
The year was 1999 and WCW Nitro was killing Monday Night Raw, with the nWo and the Four Horsemen leading the way. Some friends were I hitting the bars at Myrtle Beach and all of a sudden everybody in the bar starts "woooooooooo"ing like crazy. The Nature Boy was in the building, and apparently had been in the bars for some time, because he was shitfaced.
After a couple of hours Flair attempts to leave the bar, but is so drunk that his son David and Ric's wife have to drag him out of the bar. I decided we were going to follow him out. Flair's wife and son plop him down on a bench, and his wife (who is really pissed by this point) yells that she's going to get the car and will be back in a minute.
I realize this is my moment to strike, my chance to speak to the 16-time champ. I sit down next to the legend and say "How's it going champ?" Unfortunately Flair was in a wrestling match with a barbecue shish kabob and had sauce all over his face. He was hammered, staggering, and had Heinz 57 all over his grill. As pitiful as he was I still wanted my picture taken with him, and he really had no choice but to comply, where was he going to go?
As his wife pulls up to get him, Flair (who realized a crowd had gathered) staggers to his feet, "woooooooooooo"s, struts, and then does the Nature Boy flop into the backseat of the SUV. Mrs. Nature Boy angrily comes around from the driver's seat and slams the door shut and speeds off.
When they left I wondered how many times his wife had to do this for him.
It's May 2010 and I'm in Charlotte, N.C., for work and staying at a Hampton Inn, which as it turned out to be one of the nicer Hampton Inns or hotels of that level I've stayed in. I don't get to the hotel until around midnight because of a flight delay (thanks Delta!) or something shitty like that. After parking my rental car and dragging my luggage toward the front of the hotel, who do I spot sitting outside on a bench just to the side of the entrance but none other than the Nature Boy Ric Flair in all his blonde locks and uber tan glory. By himself. Drinking a glass of red wine. Just sitting there. I pause momentarily as I walk by and continue on to check in, thinking, 'Holy shit that's Ric Flair! Wooooooo! ... And why the hell is he sitting outside a Hampton Inn in Charlotte, N.C.? Doesn't he LIVE in this town? Wouldn't he be at a better hotel?'
So I check in, go up to my room, drop my stuff ... and proceed back down to the lobby to see what the deal is. By the time I get down there, Flair is getting his Nature Boy on, talking to some hot (and 20-something year old) chick who is driving if memory serves me a red corvette. It's parked in the front of the hotel and she's in the driver's seat while Flair is kneeling down outside the passenger side, window open and the two of them talking. Not wanting to get in the way of Flair and his to-be-the-best-you-have-to-F-the-best game, I wander around the lobby, buy a soda and head back to my room.
Curiosity is killing me though so I head downstairs maybe 15 minutes later. No Flair. No woman. No car. I think we know the outcome, though. Woooooooo!
I graduated high school in 2005, but we didn't get our yearbooks until the next year. So it was Easter weekend 2006, and me and my a few of my friends were home for spring break and had just picked up our yearbooks and were looking for something to do that night. Our local triple A team (at the time they were the Red Barons, part of the Phillies farm system) was playing that night, and the game had the added appeal of a Mick Foley autograph signing. Having all been middle schoolers in the Attitude era, we were all huge Mick Foley fans, so we decided to buy a few bleacher seats and meet one of our wrestling heroes.
We get in line and it's some pretty standard stuff, glossies for five, polaroids with Mick for ten, or free autographs if you brought something to be signed. Thinking quickly, I remembered that I had my yearbook in my car. So I stroll up to the Hardcore Legend, and tell him I'm a huge fan and ask if he would sign my yearbook. He seemed a little surprised, but not shocked by any means, until he got a closer look. Right on the cover the yearbook in bold letters, "Class of 2005," it of course was 2006 at the time. This didn't phase him, but then he opened it up. It was completely blank. Now I had just gotten the book that day, so standard year book protocol of getting people to sign it definitely hadn't happened since I graduated almost a year earlier, but Mick Foley didn't know that. So there I was, this kid with a white guy fro, a sleeveless jean jacket, and probably shooting some crazy eyes, handing off an empty high school yearbook for one lonely autograph. The look on his face was a priceless mix of pity and maybe just a little fear, that I treasure far more than the autograph itself.
After graduating college in the Central Florida area my best buddy, we'll call him Nitro, invited me to stay with his family and work at the seasonal Christmas shop they operated in Clearwater, FL. Being a generally outgoing person I got the bird dog selling technique down and was soon a decent Christmas tree salesmen. On a busy Saturday night none other than Hulk Hogan and a 20-something blonde bombshell, who looked eerily like his daughter but was not, walk in. This is around the time he was going through that messy divorce. I'm quickly told to go help out the Hulkster and am more than happy to. I ignore everyone else but Hulk until he eventually settles on one of the biggest trees. While making his purchase the owner of the shop asks for the price and when I respond the Hulkster yells back "Brother, I thought we agreed on $180? Do I need to come over there and bodyslam you?"
I could have died right then and there. Nitro does all the deliveries and Hulk asks him to stop by later that night when we close up to deliver the tree and some poinsettias he bought. Being the good friend that he is Nitro makes up some bullshit excuse why we need two people to make the delivery so I get to tag along.
After we close up we throw Hulksters tree in the truck and head out to the address he provided. Turns out its some bang shack on the beach and not his real place but whatever, I'm driving straight into Hulkamania. We walked in and it was everything you would imagine. Plaid carpet, Hulk paraphernalia everywhere, and a massive painting right as you walked in of some blonde (presumably his ex-wife) bursting through the canvas tits and all on an easel. Fantastic. We set up the tree, bring in the poinsettias and start to leave but not without our tip. Hulkster stops us, gives us each a $20 bill and leaves us with the following wisdom: "Brothers, I know you've got the Christmas spirit in you, but wear condoms."
I was friends with someone whose older brother actually worked at the (then) WWF, as an accountant back in the early 90's, whom I'll call Tom. One night he was able to get tickets for us to a small event at the Westchester County Center. Not a big deal, certainly not a TV event, but a few big names were in the house: Macho Man, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, one of the von Erichs, Dusty Rhodes. Eventually our guy was able to get us up to a stage area where we had access to the backstage, and once the show was over we were hanging out amongst the talent. Cool!
Neidhart was the nicest guy, very polite, shook our hands and asked if we knew where he could get a beer and a hot dog. Complete reversal of his ring persona. The von Erich brother (I want to say it was Kerry) was out of his mind, pacing the area like a wild animal after his match was over. We all assumed he was mid-roid rage and kept our distance.
The best of all was, obviously, Macho Man. The first thing that surprised me was that his voice was almost the same as it was during interviews with Mean Gene. Either he really talked like that, or wasn't ready to break character just yet. He was the biggest star there and the last one to leave the venue. Knowing there were about 100 kids crowded around the stage door, he asked Tom if he could go get his car and bring it closer. Tom asked me to tag along, and the thought of riding in Macho Man's car (not to mention sitting where the Lovely Miss Elizabeth likely used to sit) was enough to get me to say yes without any prodding. We open the door and the kids swarmed, and since Tom was a pretty big guy they quickly thought he was at the very least, one of the scrubs. As for me, they knew instantly I was nobody and told me so. Pricks.
We get the car and bring it to the base of the stairs, and the kids figured out pretty quickly what was going on. About half of them swarmed the car while the rest stayed near the door, just in time to see Savage emerge from the stage door. He pushed his way to the car, and we got out and stood guard by the doors lest one of these little shits decided to become a stowaway. As he got to the door, the kids were blocking his access and he couldn't get in. Without missing a beat, or breaking character, he screamed "GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM MEE!" at the top of his leathery lungs. Instantly, the kids scattered like cockroaches when the lights come on. Scared, yes, but most of them were just psyched that he yelled at them. Macho got in and pulled out of the lot. Awesome.
Brad (who comes off like an asshole here):
Back in the early 2000s some friends and I went to an indy show (I believe it was Dusty Rhodes' short lived Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling) at the National Guard Armory here in Lawrenceville, GA. One of the guys on the card was former WCW "star" Lodi. When he came out he got a pretty big reaction (due to the fact that he was one of the most recognizable faces on the show, as well as using Welcome To The Jungle as his entrance music). Well I just wasn't feeling well and had a massive headache and basically sat there with my back turned and no-sold his entrance completely while many of the more dentally challenged attendees popped like he was Stone Cold in a beer truck. So I'm sitting there and all of a sudden I feel this HARD smack on my back and jump up out of my seat and turn around to find Lodi standing directly behind me. He was apparently offended at my lack of enthusiasm and gave me an open-hand slap on the back. Needless to say I was pretty pissed. Throughout his match he continued to hold up his signs and taunt me, which I understand is all part of the show, but due to the slap I was taking it personal. I was about 23, 24 years old at the time and quite the hothead, plus who the f*#* is Lodi anyway?
So the show ends and my group of friends and I decide to grab some food at Chili's. The Chili's is in the same parking lot as IHOP and as we circle around trying to find a parking space we pass Lodi and some girl going into IHOP. Immediately I look at my boys and yell "There's Lodi, let's kick his ass!" Out of the four of us, three of us were totally game but one of my friends was trying to be the voice of reason and talk us out of unleashing carnage. I wasn't having ANY of that nonsense, so we parked and got ready for the main event of Pancakeslam. I go charging into IHOP and start baiting Lodi to come outside and try slapping me again. He apologizes and tells me it's all part of the show, he's just playing a character, etc. I'm berating him, calling him a jobber and a jabroni and a punk and whatnot, asking him which one gets on all fours between him and Lenny, making a total scene when the manager comes over and threatens to call the cops if we don't leave. So I bail without kicking his ass but at least I got a pretty funny story out of it.
I was in my early twenties and working at Home Depot while still in college. My brother also worked there and was a manager so he was aware of any hirings that went on. One day, my brother comes up and tells me that a Glenn Ruth applied and his resume said he worked for the WWE and was a 2x tag team champion. Being the wrestling fanatics we were, we quickly realized it was Thrasher of the Headbangers.
After making sure that Thrasher was hired, I was fully prepared to meet him on his first day. Naturally, I brought his figure in and was told he was on one of the computers doing training. When i went back, I don't even think I said hello, I just whipped out his figure and giggled like a school girl. I don't think he was as excited as I was saying something like "Aww mannn, how are you going to do that?" He laughed it off, but I don't think he was expecting someone to be showing up with his figure within 10 minutes of his 1st day on the job.
Thrasher worked in Millwork and was right by my department in Hardware. The highlight of my encounter was when I taught him how to replicate keys on the key machine. It was just very surreal working alongside someone you grew up watching on TV. He told me how the years of wrestling had beat him up and it was difficult to get out of bed in the morning. He was a really nice guy and only worked there for one or two weeks. I'm sure his departure had to do with me and a few other guys bugging him about wrestling all day (including writing Thrasher on a Home Depot apron and drawing a picture of him in full skirt, make-up and apron) and this annoying lady who tried to get free tickets and other stuff out of him. I really don't blame him for getting the heck out of there.
The weekend of April 3, 2011 was memorable for many reasons (most good, with one not so good). Wrestlemania 27 took place in Atlanta (just a few short hours away from my hometown of Charleston). My cousin hooked me and my best friend up with free tickets and a free place to stay, which was only minutes away from the Georgia Dome. But my stomach looked forward to the trip as well, because I could eat at Abdullah the Butcher's House of Ribs and Chinese Food (yes that is the real name of the restaurant).
Having already patronized his business was not enough for a picture, however. Everyone in the restaurant was told if they wanted a picture, it would cost $20. My friend declined, deciding it was not a wise investment. But me being the mark I am gladly ponied up the dough and grabbed a plastic fork to make this picture possible.
My mom returned from a vacation in Jamaica about a year ago to tell me that she had made some very good friends at her resort. She goes on telling me about them and said there was one lady she got to be great friends with from Tennessee that she actually ended up exchanging phone numbers with and was keeping in touch with. She says that I would have really liked this lady, stating that the reason was that she used to be married to an old ex-WWF wrestler. I had only been half listening to that point. My mother knew the soft spot I had in my heart for WWF in the 80's and early 90's, as she had spent many saturday morning sifting through grainy channels in hopes of finding Vince McMahon's traveling carnival of characters to please her one and only son for a few hours.
I began to poke and prod her about who the wrestler was. She didn't remember off-hand, which was inexcusable in my mind. I continued to make her guess as I rambled off a string of 80's wrestlers and played the "if I said his name, would you know it" game. The only thing my mom remembered was the woman's husband was somehow related to current WWE star Randy Orton. Immediately I figured it had to be the Cowboy, Bob Orton.
This guessing game went on every time my mom and I talked for a few weeks. She claimed this woman told her many stories in Jamaica about growing up a WWF wrestling wife. "She knew them all" my mom exclaimed. One day I get my mom to call her up. After about 10 minutes I get sick of listening to small talk and I ask my mom if I can speak to her friend. "He wants to ask you about Wrestling. I apologize but he's an absolute freak about this stuff." I never really thought of it that way, but what else do you call a late 20's man with the urgent importance of knowing which WWF superstar this stranger/friend of my mother's was married to? I guess my mom was right.
I finally get on the horn, and after introducing myself I ask the woman if she was Cowboy Bob Orton's ex-wife. She laughs and says no. She was married to none other than Barry Orton, Bob's brother or something. "Barry O" was his moniker during his WWF days. Many searches of YouTube turned up an endless string of shameful jobbing he did to the real stars. Sure enough, I did faintly remember him upon looking.
I ask her like a stunned kid "so you actually know Randy Orton?" She laughs again at me and says that she has known Randy since he was a baby and changed his shitty diapers many times. I asked her to tell me a story. She says there are so many, she would need to think. This was around the time that Macho Man Randy Savage passed and he had been on my mind. I ask her did you know Macho Man? Yes, she loved Randy and he was crazy as could be. They spent a lot of time partying with Macho and had become close with Miss Elizabeth to.
She then mentioned that she was even better friends with Randy's brother. I had long forgotten that "Genius" Lanny Poffo was Macho Man's brother. She said her and Barry O had spent a lot more time even with "The Genius". I asked if she had any stories about him. She laughed and said many, and one night they were all sitting around and "Genius" got so loaded and was so flexible, that he made a $100 dollar bet with Barry O that he (The Genius) could suck his own dick. Within a matter of seconds, Barry O owed a Ben Franklin to Macho Man's brother. She said he was really good at it too!
Around 1999 I worked at the Home Depot in Holiday,FL. While working in the garden center, I noticed a giant looking at flowers. His stature and scraggly hair piqued my interest, so I decided to provide excellent customer service and see if he needed any help. As I got closer, I noticed his tattoos and realized that the giant with the unkempt mane was none other than the Undertaker. I asked him if he needed help and he mumbled something under his hair and that was my cue to leave him alone and stalk him through the racking like a jungle cat. I watched him pick out flowers and then go inside to compare light bulbs. There was something so strange about watching the Undertaker shop for housewares. Usually when you see stars out of their element, they tone their shtick down a little bit. Not the Undertaker. He was just as creepy and strange looking at hibiscus trees as he was lurking into the ring.
In 1978, while in 8th grade, I started working part time in a local seafood restaurant which happened to be popular with the NWA wrestlers of the day who were based out of Memphis, but came to Louisville every Tuesday night for matches. I regularly saw and waited on all the big-name guys who were in the promotion at the time, but the one run-in that stands out the most was around 1981 when I waited on two very large Asian gentlemen who had never been there before, but I recognized from TV. They were very polite, but intimidating and not far out of character. They each ordered one of every item on our menu, which was about eight entrees each, plus side items, which they proceeded to devour.
Turns out it was Professor Toru Tanaka and Mr. Fuji, who were in town for some sort of special match. The interesting part came after they finished eating. At the time, it was late afternoon, before the dinner rush, and only I and the two owners of the restaurant were working. I went to the kitchen for something while these dudes were still sitting at their table, and as I started to go back out to the dining room I ran into Tanaka coming at me, looking very serious, walking sideways down the hall. He was about 6 feet tall, but he had to weigh 350 lbs. and had to turn sideways to get down the narrow hallway to enter our kitchen. I had no idea why this dude is coming back to our kitchen and I thought maybe he was pissed because there was something wrong with the meal.
I managed to stammer out a "Can I help you?" without pissing on myself, and he says, with a serious, pissed off look: "Where you boss?" I pointed to the closest one of the owners and hauled ass out of the kitchen once I could get past him.
Turns out the Prof owned a seafood wholesale business and wanted to talk my boss into buying a load of shrimp from him.
In the summer of 1997, my dad and I attended WWF Summerslam at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. I convinced my parents several months earlier to buy the tickets as my 10th birthday gift. I had been to house shows before, but I couldn't have been more excited to attend my first live pay per view. It was great, but not nearly as memorable to me as the moment I had after the show.
On the drive home, my dad pulled off the highway into this little dank dinner to get a bite to eat. I don't know if you're familiar with some of the neighborhoods in northern Jersey, but let's just say they are not the ideal places to drive down and stop off of at night. Nevertheless, we risked life and limb because we couldn't make the 45-minute drive back home without some greasy eggs, rock hard bacon, and watered down orange juice first. I don't know what the name of the diner was, but there was giant neon side that said "Lookers". My dad explained that "Lookers" was actually the place next door that "only adults are allowed into."
My dad noticed across the restaurant 3 large men in biker outfits who were guys we had seen on the show that night. I turned around and quickly identified them as the D.O.A., a stable of bikers they had at the time who used to come to the ring on actual motorcycles. The members of the group were Crush, Primetime Brian Lee/Ted Dibiase's Undertaker (the only one absent from the diner), and The Harris Brothers. After we finished our meal and were on our way out my dad told me I should say hi, but being just a shy little boy I was far too nervous to say anything to these gigantic men I had seen on TV, right in the middle of their meal. My dad, however — never being the shy one — stopped by their table and said something about how we had just came from Summerslam and wanted an autograph for his son. I expected them to flip their table and start beating on us, but it turns out that 10-year olds who grow up watching too much wrestling end up with colorful imaginations. In reality, they simply smiled and happily signed my ticket stub from the show. They couldn't have been any nicer to us.
They then asked me who won the main event that night between Bret Hart and the Undertaker. I couldn't have felt more important to inform them that Shawn Michaels had cost the Undertaker the title that night by hitting him with a chair, when he was aiming for Bret. They then looked at the clock and told us that they were supposed to be meeting the Undertaker next door (at Lookers) in a few minutes with (whatever Brian Lee's gimmick name was). I asked my dad if we could stay a few extra minutes to meet the Undertaker. He said no. I was begging and pleading, desperately wanting to meet one of the biggest stars in wrestling history. He said I wasn't allowed in there and told me, "Maybe when you're 18." The DOA guys got a good laugh out of that one. I can now say at age 25 that I finally understand that "Lookers" is a strip club.
Way back in 1989, As a Bar Mitzvah present for me and my cousin (who was one month older than me) our Uncle flew us out to Los Angeles for a week in California. It was a great time and as two 13-year olds, we were thrilled to be on a trip away from our parents. On our flight back home from L.A. to Newark airport, we sat in the two inside seats of the row and waiting for the poor unlucky bastard who would have to sit next to us for the 5+ hour flight. What happened next was amazing. Rick Rude gets on the plane, and by some amazing twist of fate, has the third seat in OUR row. Rick was at the top of his game at the time, having recently won the intercontinental championship at WrestleMania 5 (which I attended in to see the Mega Powers explode in Atlantic City) from the Ultimate Warrior.
As two kids completely wrapped up in wrestling, we were thrilled. And you would think he would be upset and just want to ignore us, but that could not have been further from the truth. The guy was extremely nice, chatted with us and answered a host of questions throughout the whole flight. He assured us wrestling was not fake ("It's still real to me!") and he even got his belt down from his overhead compartment and showed it to us. He traveled with the belt! Even after the flight, at the baggage carousel, he stopped by to check on us, and made sure we had a pickup scheduled. I was hoping my parents bailed so we could get a ride home! When he passed, I honestly felt bad as I knew he was a really down-to-earth guy.
I grew up in Jackson Miss in the 60's and 70's when wrasslin' was king. The coliseum would pack in 10,000 people to watch Cowboy Bill Watts stomp Waldo Von Erich and the Spoiler. I never missed one.
My wife and I were flying through Houston a few years back. When we were changing flights, I noticed a very large elderly black man slowly moving down the walkway ahead of us. He had 2 young men assisting him. He was hobbled and bent and moved very painfully and slowly.
As we got closer, I was pretty sure it was one of my childhood heroes. Even though he played the bad guy, you couldn't help but love him. So I walked up behind him and said "I'm gonna beat you like a dirty sock!". Startled, he tried to straighten up and turn around. It was him. "The Big Cat" Ernie Ladd. He had an ear-to-ear grin as I told him what a big fan I was. He was on his way to an event with his grandchildren assisting him. He was a 6'9" giant of a man when he wrestled and was probably no more than 6'2" when I saw him. And in terrible pain. But still larger than life. He gave me a bear hug and said "son, you have made this old man very happy." Tears were streaming down his face. It was one of the most touching moments I've ever experienced. He died not long after. One of the last of the great Titans.
We close, as always, with a Virgil story. Marc:
This past spring, I went to a Comic Book show in Calgary. I always wear a New York Yankees hat, and I take alot of flack for it, and that Saturday morning I heard "Hey Yankees!"
At the time, I was upset, then I realized... "This guy is at a Comic Expo on a Saturday morning charging 50 bucks for a picture and an autograph... I think he needs it more than me".
I paid the man, and it was awkward when I walked past him for the rest of the weekend.