As I ride down the a lonely road from Evansville, Indiana on my way to Memphis with the sunset off in the distance, I can't help but think about those wrestlers who spent a lifetime doing this for a living.
Spending Friday night with some of the most famous wrestlers of all time who all traveled that state road certainly had a ton to do with my thought process.
Friday night was “The Gathering of The Juggalos.” Its an annual event that Insane Clown Posse puts on that features a several stages of music, comedy and wrestling. Lil Jon, Charlie Sheen and wrestling all in 1 event! Similar to other major festivals, its spread out over a large area with thousands of campers, tents and bonfires. Difference compared to those other typical music festivals is the hardcore, underground and just flat out insane atmosphere that is created from the music and the people. The escort and time it took for us to get to drive in to the backstage area was about 10 minutes as we weaved in and around thousands of people who were jamming, mindlessly wondering or passed out while we went a grand total distance of maybe 1,000 yards.
This was of course after driving 2 hours because of the extremely remote location this event was held in. More on that in a bit.
The wrestling show on Friday was “Legends & Icons.” No expense sparred on production cost that had top scale lighting, staged entrance way and a live internet broadcast. The cost of the roster was something else that was impressive......well maybe if this was 15-20 years ago.
In the case of most of the wrestlers, I don't know what they got for making an appearance but you could certainly look around the backstage and gather that for many of the guys it simply a night to lace the old boots up and do it while sitting next to a guy they did it with when they were 20 years younger.
It was beautiful and sad all in the same breath.
Beautiful to see these guys who hold such great memories and inspiration to so many fans and younger wrestlers in their element. Doing what they love. Getting dressed, in character, stretching and talking over their match with whoever they were working with that night.
Sad to know that the “match” they were gonna put on was both in time and work rate a fraction of what they were once able to do. I don't want to say its sad that some of these guys NEED to do these shows for the money because I don't know each of their personal financial situations but I would guess out of the amount of names that were there, sadly the odds are in the favor that the NEED factor is applicable to some of them.
The overall mood though was positive. Everyone smiling, shaking hands and telling stories. For someone like me who is in the middle of it all, I am just happy to be listening. Happier to be spoken too and included in the conversation. Speechless to have some know your name or face and even pass you some sort of compliment because of what they have read, seen or heard from a mutual friend in the business.
Roddy Piper, Terry Funk, Kevin Nash, Sean Waltman, Scott Hall, BG James, Kip James, Jimmy Snuka, Raven, Rhyno, Sabu, Shane Douglas, Rock N' Roll Express, Midnight Express, The Headbangers, Tito Santana, Greg Valentine, Doink, Zach Gowen, Tony Atlas, Koko B Ware, Rikishi, Al Snow, Carlito, Balls Mahoney, Mick Foley (on commentary), Big Daddy V, Bob Backlund and yes.....former Wrestlezone columnist Disco Inferno.
Just some of the names but you get the idea of the range of talent that was there. Pretty impressive to have all of these names in one location for a wrestling show that was in the middle of nowhere and started AT 2:30 IN THE MORNING.
Oh yes. Everyone was staying at a hotel that was a 2 hour drive away that GPS couldn't even locate the back roads to get us in the entrance we needed to be at and on top of that you were making that drive at 8pm because the show is suppose to start at midnight. The plan is for whenever the main stage of music is over done then the wrestling starts. The main stage featuring acts like Ice Cube was running behind so the first wrestling match of Tito Santana and Greg Valentine having a cage rematch of their 1980's classic in Baltimore didn't start until 2:30.
I looked up at a clear sky and knew I was in a location in the middle of the forest. I was as in as middle of nowhere possible and a wrestling show featuring many I grew up watching was about to take place. This was a very interesting few hours emotionally for me. Somewhere in those early morning hours after a long day on the road doing some work for a project I am working on, being at this show and then knowing I was to hit the road after the show with another city as my destination, I realized this feeling of all you have to be surrounded by is the guy beside you, some laughs and the road signs is a lifestyle all of these guys have lived for decades.
We have all read the books, watched the interviews and heard the stories. You hear about the life of a wrestler on the road but when you can actually see and taste it for yourself is an important flash that goes through you. Its different then WWE. Performing in WWE has a busy schedule but it has a certain organization to it. This was the stories you hear from the guys who are on the road in the territory days or trying to make it to WWE. Its an important flash and one that only adds new layers of appreciation and love for those who were in that locker room (tent) and the craft they were performing in that ring.
This was also for the first time getting a one on one introduction to Scott Hall. A lot has been said an speculated about him over the past months and years. All I can say is while he doesn't look or seem completely like the guy I watched in the 90's, 5 minutes with him sitting on a golf cart you know this guy has a good heart and is at home. The amount of wrestlers who made a point to come say hello and see how he was doing was impressive. The smiles on his face and tones that came out in certain sentences let you know that while he wasn't taking bumps on that night, he was still happy to be around so many old friends and colleagues.
Overall it seemed that it was a show of entrances. There was a 20 man royal rumble. Easy work when you are in a battle royal match so really it was all about hearing the countdown from 10 and seeing who came out of the curtain that you hadn't see or heard from lately. I didn't get to watch a whole lot of the in ring action but from what I did see, heard from few eyes who watched, the show was a display of names. Hearing the music, David Penzer announce their names and them appear on the entrance stage with the lights and smoke was your payoff.
The tag team match of DX versus NWO went well but otherwise you weren't getting an elaborate story told to you in the ring. If you got a match that entertained you then it was a bonus but it was all about seeing the guys you haven't seen in a while and might be seeing for your last time as a fan.
For some of the wrestlers it was one more time to get dressed up and experience the fans and for some of the fans it was one more time to experience the wrestlers.
For me it was getting an all access seat of watching some of the all time best in their most purest of forms.
For me it was the greatest educational experience of understanding what it means when a 60 something says “I'm still a professional wrestler and I still love this S**t.”
Follow Justin LaBar on Twitter