Saturday, September 10, 2016

Hitting the Spot: Augusta Expo in Fishersville, VA

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Nestled in the scenic Shenandoah Valley, the Augusta Expo in Fishersville, Virginia was a popular Thursday night “spot show” stop for the stars of Jim Crockett Promotions during the era of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. About a hundred miles northwest of Richmond and about a hundred miles north of Roanoke, “Expoland” served the wrestling needs of fans that were a little too far away from those bigger towns.

The Augusta Agricultural and Industrial Exposition in Fishersville (almost always called “Fisherville” on the local in-your-area promos) opened in 1969, and in the Mid-Atlantic days had a seating capacity of around 3,000. From 1977 through 1984, the Expo was home to Mid-Atlantic cards every few months, and every major wrestler from the territory appeared in this venue at one time or another. One of the earliest Mid-Atlantic cards that got Expoland in the regular spot show rotation was held on January 13, 1977 on a frigid night with temperatures close to zero degrees, where the main event pitted Mr. Wrestling and Dino Bravo against Blackjack Mulligan and Brute Bernard.

Like most of the smaller spot show venues that were part of the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling circuit, the Expo in Fishersville had a few interesting quirks. One of the biggest was that due to the configuration of the building and parking lot, the wrestlers parked in the main parking lot and entered the building through the same entrance as the paying customers. That led to some interesting scenarios when the wrestlers arrived at the building late for any reason!

Long time Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling fan Tracy Doyle, who lived in nearby Staunton and attended a number of cards at the Expo in the late 70’s and early 80’s, remembered a card when the NWA World Tag Team Champions Paul Jones and Baron von Raschke were late arrivals at the Expo. Doyle explained, “During a night at Expo, or as we called it Expoland, the matches had already started. Suddenly I noticed a commotion in the crowd over by the entrance. People were going nuts and giving someone some serious grief. Yelling at them as well as a good number of one fingered salutes. Finally I noticed who the unfortunate ‘victims’ were…none other than #1 Paul Jones and Baron von Raschke! They were apparently very late and had just made it to the hall. They did not know any other way into the building other than the main entrance, and I’m not even sure Expo had any ‘locker room’ entrances. Even though those two were the ‘mean bad guys’ the look on their faces trying to make it through that crowd made them look much more like ‘mean worried guys!’
Paul Cormier, another huge Mid-Atlantic fan from Richmond at the time, remembers attending one of the final regular Mid-Atlantic cards at the Expo on August 8, 1984. Cormier related, “I vividly remember the wrestlers parking in the same parking lot as the fans and coming in through the main entrance. I lost my mind when I saw Nikita Koloff and Paul Jones getting out of the car next to us!”

One of the real pluses of seeing a Mid-Atlantic card at a smaller spot show venue was that the setting was much more intimate, and the wrestlers and fans were literally rubbing elbows with one another. The Expo in Fishersville was no exception, and it truly provided an up close and personal experience for Mid-Atlantic fans. Cormier remembers, “Unlike shows I had seen up to that point in Richmond and Roanoke, I felt like the wrestlers were much more accessible at the Expo. I got to meet most of the guys working on the show, which was much more difficult at the bigger venues. In hindsight, it was kind of like indy shows are today.”

Buzz Sawyer and Matt Borne (Tracy Doyle Photo)
Another example of the intimacy at the Expo was explained by Doyle, who reminisced, “I was hanging out in front of the babyface locker room once during a show as a group of older kids had congregated there. Two wrestlers who I did not know at the time popped their heads out and made ‘kissy’ faces to some of the younger female fans. I had my little Polaroid with me and snapped a pic at that exact time. Those wrestlers were Buzz Sawyer and Matt Borne.”

Soon after Paul Cormier saw Angelo Mosca, Jr. defeat Nikita Koloff by disqualification in a Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Title match on that August 8, 1984 card, Augusta Expo ceased being a regular spot show venue for Jim Crockett Promotions. Big time wrestling did resume at the Expo in later years, principally when the Smokey Mountain Wrestling organization ran sporadic cards there in the early 1990s as one of its easternmost venues. After another gap in time, Expoland again hosted professional wrestling in 2009 and has seen some high caliber independent shows in recent years.

Expo in Fishersville has had tenants ranging from musical acts, to craft shows to even rodeos over the years. But arguably no act that has been booked at the Expo has ever generated the level of excitement that Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling did. While the closest big towns of Richmond and Roanoke got deeper cards of Mid-Atlantic wrestling, the top bouts at the Expo were generally strong. For Mid-Atlantic fans stuck between Richmond and Roanoke, wrestling on Thursday nights every so often at Expo in Fishersville was their wrestling oasis, and it certainly hit the spot!

Ray Stevens works over Ric Flair at the Augusta Expo in Fishersville, VA
(Tracy Doyle Photo)