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A Family Together:
A Look Back at the 2008 Hall of Heroes
by Bruce Mitchell, Pro Wrestling Torch
It's easy for anyone who knows the
truth at the center of the professional wrestling business to lose
faith that there is anything to the sport beyond a cheap thrill and
bitter disappointment. It takes something like what happened in the
three days surrounding WrestleMania to find, for a moment, the
bruised, battered heart of this particularly American art form.
Greg Price's NWA Fanfest, held at
Charlotte's University Place Hilton in August, provided, for those
who were there, more of those moments. Fanfest is no WrestleMania,
and in some ways it's better for it.
One of the highlights of the annual
three-day event is the NWA Wrestling Legends Hall of Heroes Banquet.
For paying fans, it's a chance to eat dinner and talk shop with a
famous wrestling personality, usually from the sport's past.
For the professional wrestlers inducted
into the Hall of Heroes at the banquet, their families, and their
friends, the banquet is a sometimes surprising reaffirmation that
there are still fans who will always love and respect the wrestlers
for the years of entertainment they provided. It's a time to
re-unite with the travelling family they may have lost decades ago,
a chance many thought they'd never have again.
"These are the moments we live for."
-Chris Cruise, Hall of Heroes Ceremony
Cruise, the former WCW play-by-play
announcer best remembered for working as the Crispy Cruiser on the
NWA Pro Wrestling show along with Terry Funk, said that after
hearing Wendi Weaver, the daughter of HOH inductees Johnny Weaver
and Penny Banner, speak at the banquet.
Her mother, Penny Banner, was, in the
view of many who closely followed the women's wrestling scene, the
single best worker of her day. Battling the cancer that would take
her life, Banner had been inducted into the Hall the year before by
the Perfect 10 of the '80s, Baby Doll Nickla Roberts. The banquet,
and the entire weekend, was about the kind of bonds only a
travelling outlaw show can forge, so it was no surprise to learn
that Baby Doll, one of the pioneer valets as pro wrestling companies
went national, was the daughter of Lorraine Johnson, one of Banner's
wrestling partners and best friends in her era.
One of the truths about a weekend like
this that celebrates a by-gone time in American culture, is that
time is short. Banner died a few months before this banquet. Her
estranged husband, Johnny Weaver, made the decision to finally allow
promoter Greg Price to induct him, something he had refused even
though he rightfully, as the top babyface for Jim Crockett
Promotions in the '60s, belonged in the first class of any
Mid-Atlantic wrestling hall of fame.
As Wendi Weaver explained in her
emotional acceptance speech accepting the honor for her father,
Johnny Weaver didn't believe anyone much remembered him anymore, and
that attending a Fanfest weekend would just be a painful reminder of
that. It took the persistent efforts of fans like the Mid-Atlantic
Gateway's Dick Bourne, David Chappell, and Peggy Lathan to help him
understand that wasn't the case, that the internet could connect him
again to fans who missed him, and to friends like his old broadcast
partner Rich Landrum, and so he finally agreed to attend the banquet
and go into the Hall of Heroes.
Johnny Weaver, too, died in the months
before this event, and it was left to his old rival, Rip "The
Profile" Hawk, to make the induction without him. Hawk, who dryly
noted the presence of the young wrestlers who would take the sport
forward after he was gone - newer stars like Jack Brisco and Paul
Jones, didn't just wrestle Weaver a few thousand times, he initially
recommended Weaver for a job with Jim Crockett Promotions. It was
the break of Weaver's career.
Hawk recognized Wendi Weaver as she
waited to speak, recalling her as a child in the wrestling business
- a child who took delight in stealing his shoes.
Fanfest is a time for family memories.
Wendi, in her own speech, was
understandably overcome with emotion as she shared her memories of
her life growing up as the daughter of the top wrestler, and top
women's wrestler, of the territory . The wrestlers who came to the
family home to start the long rides, the ones who babysat her, the
fans who loved her parents, and the father who would have finally
known, had he lived to be there tonight, that he was still
remembered and what that would have meant to him, it all came
rushing out with the kind of eloquence that only comes from a
"My father would have loved this
And then there was the quiet, not quite
forgotten Thunderbolt Patterson, the African-American pioneer who
caused about as much political trouble for promoters as he sold
tickets for them. His old rival and booker Ole Anderson, the
on-and-off-air bully who has become the profane teddy bear of these
weekends, inducted Patterson by recalling how he worried about main-eventing
Greensboro with Patterson because of the "racial" nature of the city
at the time (meaning there were a lot of racist peckerheads in
Greensboro who'd root for the heel Anderson and there might be a
That didn't happen. Patterson was too
over with all the fans.
Anderson didn't know why Patterson did
the things he did, he just knew that Patterson drew the house, and
many more throughout the South.
Then the to-that-moment-placid
Patterson took the mic and demonstrated to anyone who didn't know
exactly why he was called Thunderbolt. Modeling after the great
preachers and prophets of the '60s and '70s, and showing why some of
the best promo men in the sport's history stole as much as they
could from him, T-Bolt tore the house down with a five minute
you-better-call-somebody-I'm-so-full tour-de-force promo-sermon that
was the last word on
had my mouth open in awe for about four of those five minutes.
And a clear-eyed Michael Hayes and a
bald but "Gorgeous" Jimmy Garvin humorously brought back Fantasia
for their friend, the man Hayes called the most important Freebird,
Buddy Roberts. "Number One" Paul Jones did his trademark rambling as
he reminisced about his life during and after wrestling, and
reminding the men in the audience to get their prostate checked
because he beat cancer. "The Russian Bear" Ivan Koloff too
demonstrated he could still cut a Cold War promo before seamlessly
losing his accent to give his Christian testimony.
And the night rolled on, as a family
too long apart gathered together one last time.
Bruce Mitchell is a columnist for the
Pro-Wrestling Torch newsletter.
© 2008 PWTorch.com. This article was
republished here with permission.
Photo by Blake Arledge