Wrestling fans got up close with legends of the ring Saturday at the Benton Convention Center.
The Wrestlecade Fanfest brought out the likes of Jake “the Snake” Roberts, Diamond Dallas Page, The Rock and Roll Express, Ivan “The Russian Bear” Karloff, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and others. The event – which gave fans a chance to chat and get autographs and photos of their favorites – was a lead-in to the main Wrestlecade event held later that day. It featured several matches, some pitting legend against legend. Fanfest whetted attendees’ appetites with live wrestling that took place during the event in a conspicuous ring.
Tracy Myers, owner of Frank Myers Auto Maxx, founded Wrestlecade last year. The inaugural event drew 55 wrestlers and 1,200 fans; the meet and greet was so popular that it was extended from one hour to four hours and dubbed Fanfest this year.
“If you’re going to do something, don’t do it small,” said Myers. “Let’s don’t do the little bingo show, nothing wrong with those; let’s see how big a show we can put on.”
Proceeds from the event benefitted the Salvation Army Christmas Toy Drive, which provides gifts to families in need. Myers said last year’s event raised $5,000 for the charity.
Fans came from across the state and beyond to experience one of the biggest independent wrestling events in the Southeast. Deidra Stewart drove from Greensboro with her son, DeAndre Houston.
“My son just recently became a wrestling fan this summer and since today’s his birthday and the event fell on his birthday, I figured this would be the best birthday present for him,” said Stewart, who also brought her daughter, Asia Evans, and her father, Jesse Spear.
DeAndre said he’d heard about wrestling from a friend and liked what he saw when he followed up online. The WWE fan spent all day at Wrestlecade, receiving several free autographed photos from the wrestlers as birthday gifts.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he said.
Salisbury residents Bobby Fulton and his son Dillion came as fans and participants. The elder Fulton had a career as a professional wrestler from 1977, when he was 16, until 2001. In the 1980s to mid-90s, he and Tommy Rogers were the championship-winning tag team The Fantastics.
The Ohio native said that being a wrestler was “a dream come true,” a “whirlwind” that took him all around the world. At the age of 53, he still wrestles once a month, most recently on Thanksgiving Day in Thomasville.
Bobby Fulton enjoyed signing autographs and meeting his fans. He says wrestling has always been a fan-friendly sport, in which even the superstars give their supporters access to them.
“I think it’s wonderful because I’m also a fan of wresting,” he said. “Most people who got in it loved wrestling to start with. We understand what the fans like and this is a chance to get to relive their past, to get to see some of the wrestlers from the past, present and future.”
Up-and-comers joined the legends at Fanfest. Lei’D Tapa, who attended with her husband and manager Royal Red, met and greeted the crowd.
A native of the Polynesian island of Tonga, Tapa was trained in Charlotte, where she now resides, by professional wrestlers George South and The Barbarian, a fellow Tongan wrestler who is her uncle.
After cutting her teeth on the indie circuit, she got her big break when she appeared on “TNA (Total Nonstop Action) Gut Check,” a reality show where unsigned wrestlers learn from professionals and display their skills in the ring in hopes of landing contracts. Tapa, who wrestles other women, did well, earning the TNA Knockout Wrestler distinction.
“It’s a great experience,” she said of being with TNA. “I feel honored because there’s so many wrestlers out here in the world and only a handful of wrestlers get picked.”
Myers said Wrestlecade will continue as an annual event and will soon evolve to include a local wrestling show on Triad CW 20 that will begin filming and airing weekly matches In January.
See more photos from Wrestlecade Fanfest here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.683166401715565.1073741859.355902327775309&type=1&l=b60f56ce77