We arrived at 9:30 AM and found a line of several hundred fans already snaking across the lobby and down the tunnel leading towards the hotels. Since we had already picked up our tickets the night before, we hopped in the long line to wait until the doors opened.
I mentioned in the last post my displeasure at the lack of staff and directions, and Saturday was more of the same. Two lines existed, one for will-call and one to actually get in. Neither line was labeled nor was there anyone out to help direct people into the correct lines. Lots of the fans were voicing their displeasure for there not being a separate line for everyone who had passes for early admission. Confusion ran rampant and there was a lot of frustration at people cutting in line because there was no one there to manage it. You’d see groups of five to ten people joining up with their friends and it really wasn’t necessary. I’ve seen much bigger conventions handle way more people; all it takes is some man power, some barriers, signs, and a little initiative.
As 10:30 approached, someone finally came along the line and told those with early tickets to separate into another line and prepare for our bags to be checked. Things went rather smoothly and we were in the doors within ten minutes. But right before we made it inside, I noticed a large man with a rolling suitcase behind me, and it was none other than Dan “The Beast” Severn. He asked me where everyone was entering and I explained that all of the doors led to the same place. He jokingly remarked back, “But yea, will they open the doors for me in those other places.” I laughed and told him I didn’t think of that and he thanked me for the help before moving towards the same entrance us fans were funneling into. He seemed like a really nice guy.
As we approached the door, I looked for a staff member to ask my one question, “How do I redeem my Terry Funk/Mick Foley photo op?” No staff was around, so I went inside figuring I’d find someone to ask. Of course, I couldn’t find a staff member inside either, but that wasn’t nearly as frustrating as the room layout.
The Fanfest room is 18,300 square feet but a good portion of that is taken up by a wrestling ring, an entrance, twenty feet on two sides for seating and ten feet on the other. That means only a set path can be followed throughout the FanFest floor. This makes for some massive traffic jams and it’s not unusual to get stuck in a crowd for three or four minutes with no moving. It also doesn’t help when the organizers place Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard across from Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express with no more than eight feet between the two tables. It’s not fan friendly nor wrestler/vendor friendly. It’s hard to stop and talk, or to even look at things because there is constantly a massive crowd of people trying to get by you. Lines for the wrestlers become confusing because people are lining up two different directions, and no one can tell who’s in line and who is stuck in the crowd just trying to get through. I said it last year and the year before, the ring has to go. I love wrestling and I was introduced to AML through the FanFest matches, but they do not have enough room with the ring and entrance taking up so much space. It also isn’t fair to the wrestlers and vendors because if you are located near the entrance to the ring, you are constantly doing battle with the announcers and speaker system.
Here is an incredibly crude layout I made in Paint of what the layout looks like. The brown represents tables, the black lines are barriers that you cannot cross, and the arrows represent the traffic flow.
Because of the lack of space, it becomes incredibly hot quickly. We were inside for under an hour and the doors were already being held open by security trying to cool things down. The ring has to go next year. They have to move the matches into another room for the fans who want to watch them or move the vendors and tables into the lobby. Something has to give. It’s not comfortable, safe, or fun when you spend almost all your time just trying to navigate through the crowd.
So, we make it inside and immediately get stuck in the crowd of fans visiting with The Boogeyman, Tatanka, and Curtis Hughes. Once we manage to make our way all the way around to the backside of the ring, we decided to redeem our Jerry Lawler photo op.
I introduced myself to Mr. Lawler and took a photo with him. I was expected to be shooed along, but he took a couple of minutes to talk to us. I was shocked, because the only other wrestler I’ve ever had actually take time and not push me along was Cody Rhodes. I told him I grew up in Memphis and we discussed the various malls in Memphis as well as that show I met him first at since it was held in a mall and was memorable because they put the ring on the ice skating ring. He was incredibly cordial and only confirmed that I had made the right choice in favorite wrestler.
When coming out of the line, I heard a fan say that Terry Funk was not coming. I decided to check the Wrestlecade Facebook page and sure enough, Funk had to fly home after his wife fell ill. I was bummed, but a sick family member is way more important than a bunch of fans. I hope she recovers quickly and maybe I’ll catch Terry the next time he comes to North Carolina.
One of the best parts of Wrestlecade is just standing there and taking it all in. You glance around the room and you see nothing but legends and memories. Everywhere you look there are so many amazing people it’s hard to contain it all or even process where to go next. I ultimately decided to go see how much Jake the Snake was charging for pictures. He wasn’t at the table, but his handler told me twenty bucks and I decided to go get my Brutus the Barber Beefcake photo while waiting for Jake to return.
I mentioned it briefly in the last post, but I didn’t grow up a Brutus fan. In fact, I really didn’t care for the guy. The set sold me on the photo op and once I came over to him, I found Brutus to be very fan friendly. I watched as he made a special effort to make sure everyone got great photos and he took his time and gave hugs freely to fans. He made sure I was comfortable in the chair and that I posed with the clippers properly. I was holding them the opposite way and he told me that was blasphemy and you always had to hold them the other way. I never imagined he’d be so friendly, and it was just another amazing wrestler interaction at Wrestlecade.
Jake came back to his table after he obviously had left to take a smoke break. He was sweating bullets, but looking healthy. I paid his fee, shook the man’s hand, told him how much I enjoyed his documentary, and he smiled and sent us along. It was by far the shortest wrestler interaction, and Jake didn’t seem up to interacting with the fans, but he wasn’t a jerk or anything like that. He just wasn’t overly friendly.
We fought back through the crowd when I pointed out Ken Shamrock to my wife. She immediately jumped in line and informed me that I was getting a photo with him. I was a huge Shamrock fan in both the UFC and his WWF run. Ken Shamrock, like almost everyone else I interacted with at Wrestlecade was very friendly and seemed to enjoy interacting with his fans.
We cut back through the crowd and back towards the entrance taking time to look through the booths to the best of our ability. I noticed Highspots was selling a New Japan ringer shirt that looked similar to the one I saw on ProWrestlingTees. The cool thing about the Highspots booth is many times local wrestlers, who I guess are employed by High Spots, will be selling their merch as well as running the booth. When I walked up “Man Scout” Jake Manning was working the booth so I asked him about the shirt and he mentioned it was long sleeve, but they did have my size. I ended up picking a new copy of Memphis Heat, since I’ve somehow misplaced my original copy, and later that night at the SuperShow I purchased the NJPW shirt.
The matches had begun by this point and things went from loud to super-loud in the FanFest area. The sound of the ring, yelling wrestlers, cheering fans, and a huge speaker system does not mesh well with the whole wrestler/vendor interaction. I noticed Kevin Kelly was watching the action and decided to swing by and get a photo with him.
Like Jerry Lawler, he took a few minutes to chat wrestling with me, and I told him that I was a huge fan of his work with Memphis Championship Wrestling. He seemed to get a kick that I brought that up, especially since he was sharing a table with Kevin Thorne who he met in MCW wrestling under the name of Seven. We both agreed that had HD cameras been around that footage would have been highly sought after considering the roster at the time.
I grew frustrated trying to talk with Mr. Kelly having a speaker blasting in my face during the entire exchange. The temperature in the room had gotten even hotter and by this point the room was even more crowded. We decided to make our way ringside to watch a couple of matches, but it was so uncomfortable we were both ready to go.
I wanted to snag one last photo this time with Katarina Winters now known as The Temptress over at the WOW booth, but it was crowded, so we made our way out the doors to the much cooler lobby and decided to call it a day. I’m not going to lie, I was a little bummed. There was plenty more to see and more wrestlers to chat with (I’d only gotten a split second to tell Super Crazy how much I enjoyed his work at House of Hardcore the weekend before) but I could tell my wife was as done as I was. There was not nearly enough room for the people, vendors, and ring.
We walked a block over to Mellow Mushroom and then swung by the Mast General Store to kill some time before the SuperShow. We made it back to the convention center around 2:30 PM and decided to peek inside and see if the crowd had died down some. It had, not by much, but it gave me time to meet Katarina Winters and browse some more booths.
After the final match, which saw Zane Dawson defeat White Mike, the announcer mentioned that the SuperShow would be opening up at 4 PM for those with early passes and 4:30 for general admission. This was not the same time advertised on the website and Facebook page, so I decided to go talk to the ladies handling will call to see what time we needed to line up. Neither one of them knew, and instead they just kept guessing times, so we decided to get back near 3:30 PM just to be safe.
When we got back to the convention center it was even more chaotic and confusing than it was before. Two giant lines lined both sides of the convention lobby and every person you talked to told you something different. One line was supposedly for food (it was not), another line was for early admission (it was not). I know I’ve said it before, but I just want to convey how confusing and frustrating it is to walk into a massive lobby with hundreds of people everywhere and have no idea where to go or what to do nor have anyone near to ask.
Luckily, we picked the line that they let people in first and the security guys at the door were sending away anyone without an early admission pass. We were guaranteed a seat in rows 1-4, but by the time we made it in, most of the seats had been taken. We picked the best row four seats and our view was this.
See, Wrestlecade also sells table seats that surround the ring. So row four is more like row ten. It also doesn’t help that the flat rectangle room makes for absolutely horrible angles and there is no live video to watch from. I was not happy, not happy at all. I would have been even more upset had I been in the other line that got let in after us.
Luckily for us, the guys in front of us did not have Superstar/Legend passes and once security made a second announcement that they were checking passes, they decided to move out of the seats. So we moved into the third row which was better. Then right before the show started, a group that had empty table seats came over and fetched their friends in the front row and that gave us a chance to move to the front row which was WAY better. We went from being pretty miserable and upset about horrible seats to being very satisfied.
I hope I’m not giving the wrong impression with my recap of the day’s events. It was a lot of fun and I loved being around the wrestlers and around wrestling in general, but the execution and organization of the FanFest and the event as a whole needs some major work. Wrestlecade has grown and they cannot continue to run this event the same way they’ve run it every year. This is not a slightly larger AML event, this is a whole other beast. I realize they do not have the budget nor the staff of a Wizard World, nor do they have enough content to solicit volunteers, but maybe they need to contract a temp agency because the in-ring content and FanFest content is amazing, they just need more staff and more thought given to the fan experience.
With that being said, I do not want to discredit the large amount of hard work that it takes to plan an event like this. It is part convention, part pay per view, and part independent wrestling show. They are managing guests, ticket sales, a locker room, booking matches, managing audio/visual equipment, dealing with building/equipment issues, and I’m sure quite a few egos. I’m sure its stressful just putting on one wrestling event, let alone three, including one that is a live iPPV for the first time with new cameras. It’s amazing that the folks at Wrestlecade manage to put all this together and make it work and they deserve some major kudos for that. I’m also very appreciative that each year they come back and offer us fans here in North Carolina an incredible opportunity to interact with our heroes and watch some amazing wrestling. I just wish they’d stop making the same mistakes each year and improve the fan experience in some areas.
In my final post, we’ll cover the actual SuperShow and why I skipped out on Sunday’s events.