October 21, 2007
SF convention a complete disaster
By BOB KAPUR - SLAM! Wrestling
SAN FRANCISCO - In terms of man-made disasters, Wrestle Fest 2007 can be compared to the Hindenberg crash-landing onto the Titanic. The event, which started off promising on Thursday, and managed to overcome some obstacles on Friday to entertain the fans, Saturday devolved into a fiasco of epic proportions, culminating in the skipping town of the promoter, scores of unpaid talent, angry and disappointed fans, hotel fistfights, and a foreboding mood for Sundayís portion of the show.
Though there was a general sense of disorganization on Friday, on Saturday, this hit an entirely new level. At 11 a.m., the area that would only an hour later host headliner Bill Goldberg for an autograph session was completely devoid of any organization. No barriers were set up to control lines, fans were confused as to where to buy the special tickets for the session, tables hadnít been set up. And the promoter was nowhere to be seen. The take-charge attitude of Jeremy (last name with-held on request) from Dadís Sports Emporium, onsite to help with the setup, saved the day. Giving directions to the event and building staff, the area was set up in record time. The only problem? No Goldberg.
Organizers have confirmed to SLAM! Wrestling that Goldberg was strongly considering not attending in a message of solidarity with the other workers who had not been paid and who had learned that Chris Cramer, the principal organizer of the event, was not going to be able to pay them as promised. Though SLAM! Wrestling was not on hand to see this "negotiation", apparently, Cramer refused to answer his door or his phone to avoid the confrontation. Ultimately, it seems a deal had been garnered and Goldberg and many others came to the show after all. For his part, Goldberg was a complete class act, spending time with every fan, signing whatever items they had, posing for pictures, offering some kind words and graciousness, and generally making everyone feel like a champ. If not for the professionalism of he and all of the other stars at Wrestle Fest -- new faces to Saturdayís lineup included Molly Holly, the Godfather, Ted Dibiase, Nikolai Volkoff and Christian Cage -- the day would have ended up even worse of a mess, which wouldnít seem really possible. Credit has to go to the professionalism of the wrestlers involved, though itís possible that those who just arrived that day or were staying at another hotel (the organizers apparently dropped the ball here and some wrestlers werenít provided rooms at the main site), it could have been a case where ignorance was bliss.
And that seemed to be the position of many of the fans too. Though some had heard rumblings about the pay issues, most had not, and others didnít seem to care. Oblivious to the backstage shenanigans, they heartily enjoyed meeting legends like Harley Race, Roddy Piper who also held his one-man show that afternoon, and Nick Bockwinkel who appeared at the Cauliflower Alley Club booth.
But those were probably the only positives of the day, and it soon took a sharp u-turn and proceeded at rocket speed to destination debacle.
The scheduled "Brawl 4 it All" mixed martial arts show was cancelled by the California State Athletic Commission who cited a faulty ring setup as the reason. Fans were told of the decision at the Cow Palace shortly before the show was supposed to begin, and they were ushered back to the hotel by shuttlebus, to hang out and join several disgruntled wrestlers (those who had not left during the course of the day as a result of not being paid), mixed martial artists and their various entourages at the hotel bar. Then things got really interesting.
Short-staffing in the bar (a common gripe among many attendees) led to crowding, people being pushed out to the lobby and an overall sense of frustration/anger. As wrestlers and fans milled around to talk about the catastrophe that Wrestle Fest had become, violence erupted in the hotel entranceway, in the form of the bodyguard of Leland Chapman (from Dog the Bounty Hunter) running up and sucker-punching and knocking out MMA legend Don Frye, and then running away. Fans and wrestlers, including Scott Norton tried to apprehend the thug but to no avail.
At this point, it is believed hotel management called the police who came into the lobby, but really didnít do anything. Rather, a fellow named Rob (last name with-held on request) assumed control. He ushered all the talent and fans that were assembled in the lobby to join him in the bar for an update. There, he became the de facto man-in-charge, and made a series of announcements. First, he disassociated himself from Chris Cramer, then stated unequivocally that by taking charge, he would still not be accepting responsibility or accountability for paying the wrestlers. And that any cheques that wrestlers had received from Cramer would "bounce like a basketball at a Lakers game." This, as can be expected, didnít sit well with the talent on hand who had been stiffed, but there was little else that could be said.
Second, he announced that, even though he wasnít part of the organizing committee but rather contracted only to help organize the autograph sessions, he was still going to do whatever he could to ensure a positive experience for all concerned. He assured fans that Sundayís headliners, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Cryme Tyme, had been paid in advance, so any potential setbacks in terms of their appearing was entirely on their shoulders. And, responding to questions from some of the wrestlers that were expecting payment to pay for their transportation back to their hometowns, that he would do whatever he could to make sure that they got to wherever they needed to be, even asking for volunteers from the fan base to help drive home people like Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, April Hunter and JD Michaels, and the Sandman, who were scheduled to fly out from a different city. Beyond that, he said, he hopes fans enjoy themselves on Sunday, notwithstanding the circumstances.
While the event still has one day to revive itself, there is a general sense from the fans that this has been a colossal failure. Several fans expressed to SLAM! Wrestling their disappointment with the affair, including several who had traveled long distances for the weekend. "This sucks," many said. "I want a refund," cried others, commenting that the overall price for the weekend, which may have totaled $1,000 or more depending on the package purchased was not worth the experience. Or, in the words of a fan who had traveled from Europe, "This was not worth it. It was so poorly disorganized. American organization is much different from European organization ... we expected that it would have some problems. But even in terms of American organization, this was terrible."
What this means for Sunday is still unclear. Rumours are that Austin may not attend, choosing to not associate himself with such a catastrophic failure. Though Rob claims otherwise. SLAM! Wrestling has confirmed that Cryme Tyme, one of the other headliners, is in the building, but whether they choose to appear or not remains to be seen. Speculation is abound that the scheduled Ring of Honor card may be in jeopardy as well, though the Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer reported that it is still a go.
What is known is that Wrestle Fest 2007 has all but completely collapsed under its own weight. Despite the best intentions of the organizers (and one can only hope that they did have the best intentions when planning this, and that any "screwing over" of the talent and fans was not their intent), they essentially bit off more than they could chew. As a result, Wrestle Fest 2007 should rank up there as one of, if not the biggest failures of its kind, and will undoubtedly be spoken of for years to come ... though, unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons.
Bob Kapur canít help but note with irony that his horoscope on Saturday morning read: If you spent all day immersed in a book, it wouldnít be a waste. He will be at Wrestle Fest 2007 to the bitter end. Send him your condolences at email@example.com.