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."
Prior to my senior prom in 1993, at New Canaan High School in Connecticut, there were rumors that the administration had hired a WWF wrestler to make an appearance. Being that the dance was in the same city as WWF headquarters, in Stamford, the story had enough legs to make it around most of the student body, even if most of us thought it was fake.
Supposedly the wrestler was supposed to be Sgt. Slaughter, who would pull up in his camouflage limousine and then come in an greet the students. Slaughter never arrived and as the night went on the appearance of any wrestlers seemed unlikely.
My friend and I stepped outside for a cigarette and as we were smoking we heard a distinct voice growl from behind us. "Cigarette break boys?"
We turned around and to our amazement, there was Randy Savage in full Macho Man regalia.
"Ya shouldn't smoke, it's bad for ya," he said as he entered the hotel. We quickly threw our butts on the ground and followed him inside. He was taken into a room with our Assistant Principal while we ran to tell everyone who we just saw.
As we were doing that the music stopped and "Pomp and Circumstance" began to play. Most kids had no clue why but as a wrestling fan I knew exactly what was happening and on cue Macho Man came whirling into the ballroom, took the mic, said a few raspy words and told everyone he would be in the hallway for photographs.
My buddy and I got on line and had this Polaroid taken of us making our best wrestler promo faces that I still keep in my desk at home. Savage was awesome and stayed until everybody got a picture.
Three years later my brother had Mr. Perfect come to his prom as the tradition continued.
In October 1995, the new big thing among all of the hardcore wrestling fans of the day is ECW and their monthly shows at the ECW Arena in South Philadelphia. I happen to be at the hotel where the ECW crew is staying (the Travelodge, or as it came to be known, the Cylinder of Sin) waiting as we're about to go to the show when a small Hispanic man, who looks all of 16 years old, comes up to me and compliments my New Jersey Devils hockey jersey. I thank him and he walks off, not thinking anything of this interaction, other than thinking it was weird to get complimented for wearing Devils gear in South Philly. My friend, who had done some photography work at a Mexican wrestling show the year before, comes up to me and informs me that the guy was none other than Mexican high-flyer and future WWE champion Rey Mysterio.
Fast forward to intermission at the ECW show. I'm standing around talking to some friends when the man who is promoting Mexican wrestling shows in the US at the time, former radio show host John Arezzi, comes over to me and informs me that both Rey Mysterio and Psicosis like my jersey and are willing to trade me the masks they wore tonight in exchange for the jersey, and it's my choice who to trade with. It took me about three seconds to say yes and me being 16, I tell him I want the cooler looking mask...Psicosis.
I go behind the curtain with Arezzi, and Psicosis comes out with a towel on his face to protect his identity. He points out that the mask is autographed, and was clearly match-worn as it has the smell of used sports equipment. I hand him my jersey, thank him very much, and go back out to watch the rest of the show with my new trophy.
The cool thing is, I've seen matches from Mexico years later with Psicosis wearing my hockey jersey, so he clearly liked it. A few weeks later, I went to a Mexican wrestling show in Chicago, and damn if Rey Mysterio wasn't wearing a Devils jersey of his own. Who knew the Devils were so popular south of the border when they can't even sell out their own rink?
Of course, Rey turned out to be the far bigger star of the two, so I kick myself every now and then for not going for his mask. But I still have a pretty cool mask, which now sits in a display case in my basement, and I have a good story to tell, so I can't complain about that.
In 1999, my roomate and I decided that we would go to the Georgia High School Football Championships being played at the Georgia Dome. So we sit down, watching the game, when the one and only Lex Luger is sitting directly in front of us! My friend and I immediately mark out since we were HUGE wrestling fans. Since we didn't want to be total jerks, we decided we just would say hello and maybe shake his hand. No biggie right?
I tap him on the shoulder and say hello, and he totally ignores us. (Please keep in mind, there is NO one around us.) A minute or so later, his wife turns around and says, "Lex doesn't do autographs for adults." I politely respond, "That's good, because we just want to say hello and shake hands." (Please remember, HE IS RIGHT BESIDE HER!). She relays the message and then Lex turns around and gives us a quick handshake.
A year or so ago, I went to an independent wrestling show that was put on by a church, and Lex was speaking. Apparently, going through a few tragedies in life and finding Christ has changed Mr Luger's attitude. This trip, I brought my 5-year-old and I can't tell you how nice he was to us both.
Back in the late '90s, my friends and I have tickets to a house show at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Charlie, one of my friends and an especially enthusiastic wrestling fan, managed to get us second-row tickets. We were so thrilled that we got to AC several hours early. We were planning to just walk the boardwalk and people watch, but it was oppressively hot and we decided to kill some time in Caesar's, which is very close to the arena.
We sat around a little table in the lobby savoring our time in the air conditioning, when who walks by but HHH and Chyna?! That was a thrill, but they weren't in the mood for fans, so they just kept walking. No biggie, because as I recall, they weren't super-duper stars yet. Still, we were all pretty geeked that we saw some semi-famous people walk by us.
I was sitting across from my friend Harley when suddenly, his mouth opened as wide as it could. He was trying to make words come out but simply could not control the English language he ordinarily uses with great ease. I manage to infer from his breathless gestures that someone (or something) is behind me that requires my urgent attention. I turn to see none other than the Texas Rattlesnake, STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN!! He's got a duffel bag and fanny pack and is walking toward the hotel check-in like any other guest would do. He's more or less in character the whole time.
Because our seats were going to be so good, we all brought cameras to get up-close action shots. We're all so excited we can hardly contain ourselves. Mind you, we are all in college at the time and you could say we were the collective "future of America" – I became a pharmacist, a couple others in our group are doctors, Charlie is a nationally-renowned physical therapist and trainer, and Harley is an advertising genius. But we're seriously marking out over this – Austin is standing mere feet away from us! We weren't sure if we should approach him for pictures, but finally Charlie mustered up the nerve to go over and ask him for a picture. We all followed his lead and got pictures (except Harley – he chickened out at the last minute) and it made our day.
SAfter getting our pictures, we scurried away back to our table in the lobby. Austin finished checking in and had to walk to the elevators to get to his room, but to do so, he had to walk past us. Charlie, being the intrepid soul that he is, announced to Austin, "Hey Steve, we're sitting in the second row tonight. Be sure to check us out!" Without missing a step, Austin replied, "When I go like this" – he waved his hand over his shoulder, "y'all hit the ring." What a night.
He beat Mankind later on that night – without our help.
In the summer of 2006, WWE brings Raw to the campus of Penn State University at the Bryce Jordan Center. A few friends of mine were professionally trained in the art of wrasslin, and one of which was selected for the great art of pre-televised dark match jobbing. So, of course we went all out cheering for the dark match that by definition would never see the light of day to anyone outside of the BJC that night.
There was a second dark match though, one with a PSU graduate that acted as another jobber to a newer heel that was gaining some steam. He had a great showing and the PSU crowd was 100% behind him.
After the show, my buddies and I decide to hit Taco Bell before the 45-minute driveback to our mountain town that has no Taco Bell. In here, I notice the other jobber from earlier that night. We chat a bit, and I ask him if he'd gotten a second opportunity. He just laughs and smiles and says. "I'm sure you'll see me around"
The following day ECW made its return on the Sci-Fi Channel. It was an exciting time, as we had no idea what to expect. Was the WWE going to make it true to its name and push the envelope? Or would it sit back and do what the network wanted it to do?
What I saw next was this.
But I noticed something. The night before I had shared a Taco Bell conversation with this very Zombie.
Of course, as it turns out Sci-Fi did not like that WWE's way of making fun of the situation of having a wrestling show on a science-fiction channel would be to have the Singapore cane swinging, beer drinking Sandman beat the hell out of science-fiction characters on a weekly basis, so the idea was nixed very quickly.
Long live the Zombie as the shortest gimmick of all time!
I am from Toronto, and when I was about 13 or 14 years we took a family trip over the border to Buffalo with another family. When we got to the hotel and saw the other family we were meeting, their son came running over to me with a look of excitement on his face. He proceeded to tell me that Andre the Giant was sitting at the hotel bar.
My friend and I proceeded to calmly walk over to say hi to Mr. Giant. When we finally were standing next to him, I can not accurately describe how large this man was. He was taking up two stools and could not believe his overall size. This man truly was a giant. His teeth were dark and brown and were bigger than me. He could have probably mistaken me for a toothpick. Finally after about 30 seconds of standing there (which probably felt like 10 minutes) I built up the courage to speak to him. To the best of my memory this is the conversation that happened between me and Andre the Giant:
Andre: (says nothing)
Andre: (says nothing, and I assume since he is so big he must not hear little me trying to speak to him.)
Me: (In a much louder voice) Excuse me…Hello?
Andre: (proceeds to turn and look down to me and in his big deep French voice, possibly the scariest voice I have ever heard, says…) "DON'T YOU HAVE ANY FUCKEN RESPECT.……FUCK OFF!"
Honest to god I don't think I had ever been so scared. Between the deep voice and accent and his large teeth and his sheer size I almost fainted. I literally became pale white, turned around and ran away (leaving my friend behind as an appetizer for the Giant) to my mother and father sitting at a table in the hotel bar and restaurant. She took one look at my face and thought I had seen a ghost. She asked what was wrong. I could barely speak but managed to get the words out….."Andre told me to F off". Any other time I am sure if I told my father that a grown up had told me to F off he would have gone over and said something. But not this time. Andre would have crushed him. Needless to say I was not the only unfortunate fan who felt Andre's wrath. The waitress explained that prior to me going over there, two twin girls had asked him for his autograph. Apparently he replied with a loud and long NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO (in his deep French accent).
I have read his book and seen his biography on the Biography Channel and they always reference him being the nicest Giant you could have ever met. Based on my one encounter I would have to disagree, however please note that at the time I met him his health was probably deteriorating. As I recall, it was during the period where he would walk around with those crutches. Anyways when I think back, the fact he told me to F off definitely made for a much better story in my later years rather than him giving me that status quo autograph and handshake.
As a kid I played hockey at a high level so I did a fair bit of traveling for tournaments. One time, while at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, I had a random encounter with Andre The Giant. This would have been 1988 and I was 13 at the time, so you can visualize the extreme size difference. Anyhow, a teammate and I are walking through the terminal, chatting away and not paying any attention and...BAM...I walked right into a massive pillar holding up the ceiling. Fuck me, talk about embarrassing. "Are you all right, little man?" a voice boomed down at me.
Wait, what? I must have hit the concrete pretty hard to hear voices. I remember looking at my buddy, expecting him to be pointing at me and laughing, but he had this look of awe on his face and he was looking. Way up. I followed his gaze and, sure enough, there's the absolutely massive face of Andre The Giant looking down at me. "Are you all right, little man?" he asked again in his garbled, accented English. I stuttered out something like "Yeah, I'm okay. I'm sorry." and he laughed and patted me on the head. Then he shook my hand and said "I'm glad you're all right."
My buddy and I walked away going "Was that really Andre The Giant?! Holy shit, that was Andre The Giant!!!" I remember looking back as we walked away and seeing him pick up this comically undersized suitcase which, of course, was a regular sized suitcase that just looked like a midget prop in his hands.
At a strip club (Lumberyard) in Des Moines, Iowa around '04-'05. It was the beautiful Miss Iowa contest and the star emcee was none other than the Honky Tonk Man. Honky had a table set up trying to hock his merch. Interestingly enough Honky also had a white baby tiger with him. No clue how this tiger got there, but I think they were doing some fundraiser for wildlife or something. The Lumberyard is very charitable.
The contest is ready to get started and Honky picks up the tiger and makes his way to the main stage with his entrance music blaring. Along the way he has to cut through the crowd. People are getting loud and crazy as this is a BYOB club and people are tanked. Honky is getting pissed and tries rushing through the crowd. As he passes me I try petting his tiger. The tiger proceeds to bite my finger on his way by. A bit more beer put out that fire and Honky gets to work with his little shimmy dance he did and introduces the lovely ladies of the night. What a showman!
My wife and I were in the Oklahoma City airport after packing up our lives and moving from Okinawa. It was the weekend of Unforgiven, which was being held in OKC. I hadn't watched wrestling in a while, but I bought tickets anyhow.
So we're standing in baggage claim after about 22 hours of combined airport and plane time, and I was obviously really tired. I look up and immediately see Matt Hardy, who I never much cared for. I look at my wife and say "Hey, look...that's Matt Hardy. God damn did he get fat!" in what I thought was a whisper. Uh, not so much. He whipped his head around with this super pissed off look on his face, just as our last bag came through.
Fast forward to the following day, we decide to go to Toby Keith's shitty restaurant in Bricktown. There is a WRAPAROUND line and we couldn't figure out why...until we got closer to the front. Wrestler after wrestler walks in, and by the time we get to the front, I was truthfully kind of over it...I was starving! Until a limo pulls up...and out steps Ric Flair. I have never been star struck in my life until he walked right in front of me, summoning my youth by giving him the "four fingers" to which he replied with the same gesture, a rousing "WHOOOOOOO" followed by a hearty back slap and a small strut before entering. I was in awe.
Before the show the next day, they had a meet and greet at the bar inside the then-Ford Center. We bought some wristbands and went in, grabbed a beer. Eugene, a very talented wrestler playing the character of Eric Bischoff's retarded nephew is walking through in character playing with a toy train. He is right next to our table, driving the train on it when I blurt out softly "Man, you're so much better than this." To which he replies after a HUGE eye roll "Fucking tell me about it." Not in a dickheaded way, but in a "you're right" way.
I was working for a TV station as a camerman in Upstate NY about 12 years ago when ECW came through and we went down to the arena to do some interviews. We talked to a couple wrestlers who you could tell had taken their fair share of head shots. Well I turned around and there is New Jack, who is quite the intimidating figure, especially when you're 20 years old. He was a nice guy though. He was just standing there holding a fork and my reporter asked him if that was for his supper and he goes "No, I plan on stabbing somebody with it tonight." (Sure enough he did later at the show. He jabbed it right into the top of a dude's head). As we were leaving he called me over and goes "Why don't black guys play hockey?" I had no idea what to say or how to act since New Jack is African-American and I wasn't sure if it was a joke or a serious question, and I really didn't feel like pissing off the guy who still was holding the fork he planned on using as a weapon later. So I said "Uhhhhhh, I....don't know" and he goes "Cuz we can't fight on skates!" and starts laughing his ass off. I didn't really know what to do do I just stammered out a "Ha...ha that's...funny" and took off to find my reporter.
When I was younger my mom took me to a house show in Calgary. This was right around the time when Steve Austin was starting his rise We decided to go to Ed's which is a chicken wing place downtown Calgary and is near the Saddledome. We arrived pretty early and there was only one other car in the lot, and we parked beside it. As we got out of the car I noticed three large men coming towards us. I realized it was Steve Austin, Bart Gunn, and Billy Gunn.
As they got closer Billy Gunn could be heard letting out a flurry of swears. As soon as Austin realized my mom could hear the swears, he told Billy to not curse with a lady present, and apologized to us. My mom asked if they were wrestlers and they said yes. We went into the restaurant and they carried on listening to whatever it was that had pissed off Billy Gunn. When we sat down at the table my mom remarked how she had noticed that they had left their two little cowboy hats in their car's backseat.
When I was living in Los Angeles in the late '90s, I used to go to Las Vegas occasionally with my wife for some gambling and a show or two. Due to some work connections, I was hooked up with some passes to the Tyson/Norris fight in 1999 and the Showtime VIP party at the MGM. The party took place before the fight, and as a schmuck in his late 20s, all I thought of was "hey, free food and booze before the fight, nice!"
We were having a great time, and as we're walking around, I spy Hulk Hogan and Scott Hall across the room. I was a pretty big WWF fan in the '80s/early '90s, but I had pretty much stopped watching around the late 90s. Still, Hulk was a guy I grew up watching and had to say something/ask for a picture. This was before cell phone cameras, but my wife had the foresight to bring our camera with her. So after being too nervous to approach them, my wife strides up to Hogan and Hall and asks if they would pose for a quick picture. I am sure the surroundings influenced how they acted, but Hogan and Hall couldn't have been nicer. I just wish my wife was a better photographer.
Both of these stories happened during a trip my girlfriend won to the 2009 Royal Rumble. Since she won the contest through WWE, we were put up in a hotel with the wrestlers.
1) The thing about these events is that the hotel lobby is FILLED with sleazy people hounding wrestlers for autographs, clearly to sell on eBay. They have shopping carts full of merch, just waiting for any wrestler to come by so they can mob them. We were just sitting in the lobby, watching the wrestlers arrive and get bothered by these people. Obviously we weren't going to approach the wrestlers after seeing them get bugged by these eBay sellers, but it was cool to just see the stars in person.
After a little while, we decide to go to our room. So we head down the hallway towards the elevators, and behind us we hear a voice.
"Do you know which way to the elevators?"
I turn around, and it's CM Punk in his trademark beaten-to-shit Cubs hat, asking a greasy-looking woman where to head to the elevators. Unfortunately for him she ended up being one of those autograph hounds, and she led him in the OPPOSITE direction, back to the jackals with the merch.
We end up getting in the elevator, and we hear "HOLD IT!" So I hold the elevator, and an EXTREMELY pissed off CM Punk gets in. At this point we're both freaking out a little, since we're huge Punk fans, but we're way too afraid to say a word after seeing the look on his face.
2) On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is this meeting: we were waiting for the elevator to head down to the lobby, going to head to the Rumble event itself. The doors open, but the elevator is packed to the ceiling with suitcases, and a few people inside... including, right at the doorway, John Cena himself. He gives us a sheepish smile and a shrug, saying "sorry guys, looks like we're all full".
The doors close, we stare at each other in shock for a second, and we think that's that.
Fast forward to later in the night. Part of the prize my girlfriend won is that we get to go to a meet and greet event with some wrestlers. So we hang out with some midcard talent like Crime Time, the Divas, it's all pretty fun. Then who should walk in but John Cena! When it was my girlfriend's turn to talk to him he gave us a big smile, and said "Hey, I knew it would all work out in the end!"
I used to be a television anchor and reporter in Alpena, Mich. In the summer of 2009, a small independent promotion was running a show at the county fairgrounds. I had developed a good working relationship with one of the wrestlers (he lived in the town but traveled all over Michigan to wrestle) and had done a profile on him a few months before. He was going to be wrestling on this show, so he invited me to come to this one as well.
I got there about halfway through the show, just in time to see the night's headliner, Chris "The Masterpiece" Masters (fresh off his first WWE release) finish his match and do an autograph session during the intermission (on these small shows the headliner sometimes goes on before the main event just for this purpose). After "The Masterpiece" was done signing, he came to the "backstage" area, which was just a stage with a trailer and a curtain to separate it from area where the fans sat. Masters said he'd be willing to go on camera to talk about the show, so I began lobbing him softball questions about how much hard work goes into wrestling, performing in front of the fans, etc. I was looking for something I could use on that night's 11 p.m. show. Nothing elaborate, just a ten second or so soundbite that I could pair with some of the footage from the show. Sounds easy, right? Not so.
I was only able to get a couple of words out of him after any question. Nothing that I could really use. I kept trying, because I needed something to fill time (at the time, Alpena was the 4th smallest TV market in the country, but I somehow had six minutes to fill every night) and at least this was somewhat local. The "Masterpiece" was having none of it, so he finally stops me and says, "I didn't know this was going to take this long, I've got s—- to do." I told him I was just trying to get something I could use, but if he needed to go, I wasn't stopping him. As he walked away, I started to pack up my camera and equipment. As I was doing this, I noticed Masters walking around asking all of the other wrestlers if they had a cigarette. After he got one, he went to the farthest corner of the stage and took a trip to flavor country. And that's what he did for the rest of the show.
This isn't exactly a wrestler run-in but I don't know who else to tell. There is, somewhat inexplicably, a strip club in a rural Tennessee town 25 minutes from my hometown. A couple years ago my friends and I were drinking there on occasion, and we kept seeing a guy with bleached blond hair wearing a robe. One night I was drunk enough to talk to him. Upon closer inspection the robe was emblazoned "Nature Boy." I asked him why and he matter of factly said Ric Flair had gotten him through some tough times and this was his way of honoring him. I nodded, got the attached pic and backed away slowly.
We close, as always, with a Virgil story. Ryan:
About four or five years ago, I was walking around the mall with my girlfriend. There happened to be a card show and random tables filled with sports memorabilia, which I was aimlessly browsing through. Out of the blue, she says, "Look! It's Bobby Lashley!" She knew who most of the popular wrestlers were mainly because of me and my love of professional wrestling. I turned around IMMEDIATELY, not to see Bobby Lashley, but instead... VIRGIL!
I walked over to his table, which had a huge sign that read MEET WRESTLING SUPERSTAR VIRGIL. Again, it was probably 2007. Not exactly Virgil's heyday—if he ever really had one. I've always been a huge wrestling fan, so I was pretty pumped to go talk to one of four men to ever hold the Million Dollar Championship, and judging by the empty table he was sitting at, thought he could use some company. I ended up shooting the shit with him for almost 45 minutes, all while he tried telling me some serious bullshit, like the time he won the Intercontinental Title (never happened); how he trained Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (ya kidding me?); and how he made over $15 million during his time in the WWF (VERY doubtful).
Bullshit aside, Virgil seemed like a genuinely nice guy, and hooked me up with a free autographed picture (of himself, Ted DiBiase, and Andre the Giant), probably for giving him something to do for 45 minutes. He signed it: "To Ryan, BE COOL! Virgil."