February 12, 2010
L.A. convention maybe the best, most organized ever
By MIKE LANO - SLAM! Wrestling
Daffney hugs her new best friend The Iron Sheik. Photo by Mike Lano, WReaLano@aol.com
As someone who has attended wrestling conventions and related events since the late 1960s -- as well as promoting one of my own for Sam Muchnick in St Louis in 1993 -- I felt the recent WrestleReunion 4 in Los Angeles was one of the best and most organized of its kind.
Promoters Sal Corrente and Michael Bochicchio of Highspots.com paying attention to every detail made for a fun three-day megaevent, and I'd like to share just a few personal memories from Wrestle Reunion IV that maybe others haven't touched on. I'd worked at the first Wrestle Reunion in 2005 in Tampa that felt like the "Disneyland" granddaddy of all reunions with nearly 100 top names. This was no different.
Whenever I think I've met just about everyone in the industry since 1966, I'm proven wrong. "Pleasure for me" as The Iron Sheik says to have finally met most of the incredible Ring of Honor talent like Davey Richards, the energy twins of the Briscoes, Austin Aries and others.
Jushin "Thunder" Lyger and Bruno Sammartino in 1992. Photo by Mike Lano, WReaLano@aol.com
I was resposible for getting Jushin "Thunder" Lyger
(Keiichi Yamada) and "The Great Muta" Keiji Mutoh to their respective signings, photo ops and the ROH show Friday and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla show on Saturday night. Seeing them after so many years was great and Lyger asked me right off the top for my shots of him posing with Bruno Sammartino
from the New York 1992 Weekend of Champions convention. Hours later, I posed him for my camera, holding that very photo with his idol in Bruno for a Beatlesque effect. Both told me they enjoy the huge response the get from the American fans and are flattered by it. They also talked about some of the dedicated Japanese fans who traveled to attend WR4. (I also helped SLAM! Wrestling's Jason Clevett conduct an interview with Lyger -- watch for that here soon!)
Now on to some observations and personal stories.
SHEIKY BEING SHEIKY
The Iron Sheik's relatives apparently have replaced his less-than-stellar former manager or event booker. They said unlike the other individual, they truly care about "Kos" and won't be taking the alleged 70% of his cut from signings and appearances. Two great shirts sold at his booth appear to be instant classics and everyone including Jimmy Hart, Koko B. Ware and Rob Van Dam cracked up when I dragged them over to see them. The shirts basically reference Kosrow's rantings on the Howard Stern Sirius radio show about those he doesn't care for in wrestling. The first t-shirt has Ultimate Warrior's head superimposed onto a classic shot of Iron Sheik in costume, with the slogan "Ultimate Warrior Is a No Good M---f---er!" The other has a shot of Sheiky behind B. Brian Blair with "F Your A, and Make You Humble!" They have to be seen to be appreciated. Jonny Fairplay and TNA's Daffney said in unison "what a scream!"
Jonny Fairplay shows off a speciality T-shirt. Photo by Mike Lano, WReaLano@aol.com
Actually before he even went off on Ultimate Warrior
, Brian Blair, Randy Savage
, Hulk Hogan
and others (perhaps a magnified work) on Stern or his various shoot tapes, Sheik was verbalizing his hatred of them at global signings. Seven years ago, Evan Ginzburg and I were working at the Fields movie/TV star autograph convention in nearby Burbank, California. It was the first time wrestlers were there, including Iron Sheik, Captain Lou Albano
, Greg Valentine
, Nikolai Volkoff
and Lanny Poffo
. Sheik hadn't even had a brewski yet, but just stood up for no reason at all, and loudly went off on Blair, cursing him out. Kos felt he'd been disrespected, claiming "that f'ing Blair went behind me in front of 93,000 at Wrestlemania 3." The boys, let alone the room of Hollywood celebs from Ron Howard to Verne Troyer to Traci Lords quieted down and looked directly at him. The giant convention area was as silent as when Ivan Koloff
pinned Bruno Sammartino at Madison Square Garden in 1971.
At that convention, Kos just kept going, with all the wrestlers starting to crack up. There was no trigger. Albano said "he just feels good and is just getting going." Soon he began calling Savage a "cheap Jew" and his comments regarding Hogan were even worse. It may not be P.C., but then -- as in L.A. last weekend when he did it -- we instinctively began laughing until we cried. Kosrow Vaziri is indeed one great entertainer no matter what he's engaged in.
A few years after Sheik's first diatribe, the RF Video crew capitalized on it, then Howard Stern and Opie and Anthony shock rock shows had him on to recreate it, and before you knew it, Kosrow was part of the Howard Stern Wack Pack United States touring comedy events (The Killers of Comedy) selling out in New York, Florida, California, Washington, Michigan and more.
Terri Runnels and The Iron Sheik discuss old times. Photo by Mike Lano, WReaLano@aol.com
So, it was with glee that the first person Terri Runnels
ran to say hello to and sit down with was the Iron Sheik when she first arrived at WR4. She was given a hot mike by a crew filming Sheik's documentary (they claim it's not a reality show like Daffney's) and began talking to him about the time she came to visit him near his Georgia home. "Remember the baba ganoush and all the other food you had me try Sheiky?" They went over their shared history drawing a growing crowd of wrestlers and fans. And then out of the blue, she said, "Where's that creep Eric Sims? Remember how I kicked his butt?!" The crowd began an ever-growing, increasingly louder continuous "F--- Eric Sims" chant. Sims claims to have been Sheik's ex-manager and has been the repeat butt of jokes on the Stern radio show whenever Kos appears on it, claiming Sims "takes all my money, the m---f---er." I don't think you had to actually be there, because I know many of you are smiling right now. We made sure beers were kept away from him but Iron Sheik is always outspoken and totally hilarious. Do yourself a treat to see the WrestleReunion 4 video that hopefully caught this.
DAFFNEY'S SWEET SALES
Daffney is one of the few who look gorgeous without a hint of makeup and may be the sweetest person in wrestling. The Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla boys all flocked to her, as did Terri Runnells, RVD and others to say hi. She had her own booth next to of all people, the Iron Sheik's, and benefitted from the constant crowds coming to hear what he'd say next. She told me she brought her own pro Sony camera and mike to film goings on for her possible reality show. I couldn't resist and began feeding her Sheik's trigger points to say when she started filming their own patter. "Just bring up Brian Blair, Helwig, Hogan and Savage and watch him go!" She did, spurred further by some of us giving additional audibles, and it was off to the Kosrow races. "I've never seen anything like this. Why'd you have me get him started?!" she said smiling. She, like everyone, thought he was a hoot. She was selling her own Daffney Uncensored DVD which I believe is a shoot tape regarding her start in WCW and then turning herself into a real female wrestler afterward on the indie circuit, being married to a rock star and more of her life experiences. She was sad regarding the rumour TNA let Alissa Flash (Melissa Anderson) and other talents go. And on this day, no telling what's ahead in TNA for Roxxi Laveaux and her. "They said they don't have anything for me, Stevie [Richards] and Raven right now." She was happy to be reminded how dead-on her Sarah Palin impression was, as well as her hardcore in-ring segments last year; and that she often drew the top ratings for Impact. Here's hoping they smarten up and she stays in TNA.
BACK TO THE SHEIK
As I'm writing this, the Howard Stern radio show just called Kosrow "The Ayatollah of Outrage" -- claiming that Russell Simmons and Jamie Foxx are fans and came up to his little cordoned-off interview area at the Grammy Awards (that Sunday after Wrestle Reunion) allowing him to thrust a mike in their faces. "Craptactular" indeed as Stern put it. Well, Kos already was in Los Angeles! What a treasure and it's fun seeing how he's connected with the totally non-wrestling audience on Stern, Ron and Fez and Opie and Anthony's national shock radio shows. They may not know any of the wrestling references he hysterically shouts out, but they just think he's funny. Kos does do some back of the head stuff at the end of his live stand-up which hopefully deters many American's prejudice towards those different from them, in burka and pointy-toe shoes.
A SUNNY DAY
Tanned Tammy "Sunny" Sytch looked great and is working hard actually writing her own autobiography by hand like Mick Foley. "No ghostwriters, I'm doing it the right way like Mick did. Just me typing away whenever I can on my computer, laptop, smart phone," she said. Her book, along with one from Road Warrior Animal's, are the very first wrestling ones for their respected publisher. She was criss-crossing the country to get to L.A., then was leaving to work at a movie/TV star convention in Paris just days later. She was of course devastated by Georgiann Makropolous' passing as we all were.
This brings us to another important, heart-warming aspect of this convention. It was not only dedicated to the memory of Georgie (she loved these events) but Saturday morning, no less than Bruno Sammartino dedicated the wrestler Q&A breakfast to Georgie's memory and the former great WWWF champ told some great stories including how he first met her, how she alone got him to pose with Buddy Rogers in 1991, and more.
Most were touched hearing she was buried with that very picture of her posed between her two favorites in Bruno and Rogers (who really didn't want to pose with one another at all). And now she's forever linked with wrestling which she would've wanted.
HEALTH AND FLIGHT WOES
Bruno's doctors warned him it would be a health risk if he left to attend this reunion, wanting him instead to simply stay home and rest after his recent hospital stay. "My main doctor even called me here at the hotel this morning (Saturday) to see how I was holding up. When I make a commitment to attend something and be part of it, I give my word." Thankfully other than a little pain here and there, he did fine and the fans were grateful he made the sacrifice.
Many, like Bill Apter and Koko B. Ware, had horrendous flights coming out to Los Angeles because of all the ice and snow that continues back East. Koko, sitting at the autograph table with Bruno, was equally the trouper. "Most didn't know how I'd be able to get out of Tennessee and make it here with all the flights cancelled. Some creative schedule shifting, and I somehow made it on time." The promoters were grateful Koko did his best and showed, despite the non-cooperative weather, because they were getting ready to possibly tell fans he might not make it. He agreed this was the "best-run, organized convention I've ever seen, and I loved seeing old friends like Bret [Hart], Jimmy Hart, Demolition, Animal, Sheik and more. This was really worth all the trouble making it here!"
RING OF HONOR IN ACTION
Everyone was blown away by ROH's debut show in L.A. Friday night which was one of the huge crowd draws (translating into most attending the convention itself). The crowd even entertained themselves, especially during the Larry Zbyszko
versus Scotty 2 Hotty match, popping for Larry's very first stall -- hanging out away from the ropes before any possible lockup. "I never knew that was my top highspot," Larry told me. Fans and wrestlers alike again cracked up at celebrity ref Jonny Fairplay trotting out reality show transsexual Christina Arquette as his valet for this match. Both did some mike work putting over "the greatest world champion ever in my brother David Arquette," and some of Johnny's thoughts on ROH and TNA. The ever-present Colt Cabana
may have received the pop of the night after running out to destroy Scotty Taylor when he was about to "worm" Fairplay after Jonny's fast count for Zbyszko.
Cabana thus became the MVP Friday, which is saying something when an incredible Lyger versus ROH champion Austin Aries non-title match followed. And when Jesse Hernandez' ring broke soon after intermission, the crowd entertained themselves again chanting "Best Match Ever" repeatedly when all they were doing was trying to fix the ring! ROH's booker Adam Pearce, ROH's ring announcer, Cabana and "clueless ref" all took turns dancing to try to entertain the crowd in the ring while Jesse and his wrestler crew (including the female wrestler who does Bull Nakano as her "Young Nakano" gimmick) feverishly tried to repair the ring.
The ROH show was off the charts on Friday night, perhaps inspiring the next night's PWG card to equally approach the five-star mark. The Young Bucks transforming themselves right in front of fan's eyes, from the night before at ROH into becoming "Generation Me" the next night at PWG was the "work" of genius.
Paul London's fully realized Apollo 11 spacesuit outfit complete with laser shooting toy ray gun has to be seen. Matches by Super Crazy, Muta and Lyger and then RVD to top it all off had proverbial standing and continuous standing ovations. And how many good things can be said about Davey Richards (Dynamite Pegasus anyone?), the Briscoes, Roderick Strong, Chris Hero, Claudio Castagnoli, Human Tornado (best entrance music ever and he almost wrestles in a suit and sportcoat!), Scott Lost and Joey Ryan and everyone who worked both nights. There's a reason PWG is called the ROH of the Left Coast.
VAN DAM - THE LOVE STORY
Finally, the moving, enduring love story that remains Sonia and Rob "Van Dam." I've seen a lot of couples in the biz -- some of whom actually make it; but one can always see the 24/7 love in their eyes for each other. It's truly heart-warming. The "Inseparables" are also the best of friends, obviously there for each other in health and sickness plus helping lend their credibility to various causes. We need more like Rob and Sonia. I teased Rob about his live band playing one two many riffs of "Rob Van Dam-Whole F'ing Show" before, during and after his main event win at Saturday's PWG show.
TO CONCLUDEWrestleReunion Photo Gallery - Posed photos
WrestleReunion Photo Gallery - Action photos
January 31, 2010: Reflecting on WrestleReunion 4
January 31, 2010: Fans and wrestlers connect on day 2 of WrestleReunion 4
January 30, 2010: ROH, Liger kick off WrestleReunion
January 28, 2010: ROH, PWG pulling out all the stops for WrestleReunion weekend
January 28, 2010: Discrimination was always a part of Chavo Guerrero Sr.'s life
January 27, 2010: RVD talks WrestleReunion, indy shows, and, maybe, TNA
January 26, 2010: DDP focused on fitness and WrestleReunion
January 19, 2010: Los Angeles an untapped market for approaching WrestleReunion 4
January 4, 2010: The Austin Idol Interview
Wrestle Reunion 4 ended up possibly being the "whole F'ing show" of fanfest conventions. And because it drew so well all three days, fans are blessed that Sal Corrente publicly announced they'll be returning to Los Angeles next year, January 28-30th. From the legends mingling with fans, outstanding wrestling cards, Breakfast Q&A and 24/7 convention area, it exceeded all expectations.
WRESTLEREUNION 4 STORIES AND LINKS
Dr. Mike Lano, DDS, has covered wrestling, boxing, MMA and TV/movie celebs around the world since 1966, and has many radio projects on the go. He is the official photographer for the Cauliflower Alley Club. Email him at WReaLano@aol.com.