It was a smoldering June morning and a wrestling legend was scheduled to appear at the Dutchess Marketplace, a dusty indoor flea market located in Fishkill, New York.
The Marketplace was a little over 20 minutes away from my girlfriend’s house and she agreed to making the drive over. The Marketplace is a rather large building that’s filled with vendors looking to sell you their junk. Walking through the maze of dust collectors, you’ll occasionally find something that piques your interest. Still, after walking around aimlessly for 10 minutes, I couldn’t find the one thing I was looking for.
The flyer said Steele would be appearing at Collector’s Realm inside the Marketplace. I asked the other vendors if they knew where the Collector’s Realm was and, surprisingly, none of them knew.
And then, finally, I spotted a small line of people. They were surrounded by WWE action figures just waiting to be sold and played with. And, more importantly, at the end of the line was a table with multi-colored Sharpies and a stack of 8x10s lying obediently on top.
Seated behind that table was the man I came to see:
George “the Animal” Steele
A “combo” – an autograph and photo op – was only $25.00, a bargain for meeting a WWE Hall of Famer and undisputed legend. I wasn’t alive during The Animal’s prime but I grew up learning about him, Hogan, Savage, and the other stars of the 80s. Steele was the guy who ate the turnbuckle, had a green tongue, and was hairy. Really hairy. I even had his JAKKS Classic Superstars Action figure that actually had fur all over it.
He greeted me with a warm smile and a strong handshake. I had him sign his entry in the WWE Encyclopedia, Vol. II. It was now time for the photo op.
I went behind the table to pose for photo. My girlfriend aimed my phone and told us to smile. She took one picture before Steele told her to get in the photo.
Jenna’s is the farthest thing from a wrestling fan and only comes with me to every convention because she enjoys seeing me meet the men and women I grew up watching (and to help me). She did not expect – or desire – to be in this photo. After some more prodding by Steele, she reluctantly made her way behind the table.
Steele looked up at me and said, “Watch this. I’m going to make you look like a hero!”
Jenna came over and Steele told her to squat down beside him. He immediately (and gently) grabbed her hair. Steele quickly told me to get him in a headlock, so it looks like I’m saving the day! I followed his instruction and the Collector’s Real employee quickly took photos.
After it was done, we all shared a laugh and Steele thanked me for coming. I shook his hand and said goodbye. Jenna and I looked through the pictures and were hysterically laughing.
What a nice man, I remembered thinking.
I was excited to see that Steele was added to the Legends of the Ring XXI Superticket in October of 2015. This would be our second encounter, one that I was really looking forward to.
When it was my turn to meet him, he once again gave me a warm smile and strong handshake. I had him sign the Odditties entry in the Encyclopedia, Vol. II, and it was time for our photo.
He immediately took my hand and put it around his throat.
We both cracked up after the photo was taken and he thanked me for coming down.
That was the last time I’d meet the Animal.
Ivan Koloff, “The Russian Bear”, was one of the top heels throughout the 1970s. While that was well before my time, Koloff etched his name in professional wrestling history when he did the unthinkable: ending the nearly 8 year WWWWF Championship reign of Bruno Sammartino.
When Koloff was announced for Big Event X – along with Nikita Koloff – I knew this may be my one and only opportunity to meet him.
Koloff was seated beside Nikita and I pre-ordered a combo for both of them and purchased an extra autograph for Ivan. I brought with me an 8×10 of The Russians – Nikita, Ivan, and Krusher Khruschev (Smash from Demolition) for them to sign, plus Ivan had to sign my Encyclopedia.
Both men were perfect gentlemen. What surprised me, though, was that Ivan was insistent on standing for every single photo. Ivan was not in the best of health and, yet, he demanded to give every fan his or her money’s worth.
They signed my 8×10 and took one of the best photo ops I could ask for. I remember thinking how cool it was for Ivan to bring the belt along with him for photos.
Afterward, they both shook my hand and thanked me for coming down.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, this was my first and only opportunity to meet Uncle Ivan.
Tommy Dreamer, a long time Hardcore Legend and former WWE superstar, had started his own promotion.
House of Hardcore was coming to Queens, NY, and brought with it a colorful cast of wrestlers. I decided to make the long trek from Jersey to Queens, mainly because I wanted to meet the wrestlers.
The pre-show meet and greet was VERY eventful. You could read about it here. I met the likes of KES, Chris Hero (Kassius Ohno), Sami Callihan, and Little Guido.
During intermission, I was contemplating on leaving when I spotted someone who looked VERY familiar sitting in the bleachers: Nicole Bass.
Bass was the former World’s Largest Female Bodybuilder, Howard Stern “Whackpacker”, and former WWF & ECW wrestler.
Bass was roaming around the floor during the intermission meet and greet. She didn’t have a table set-up; as it turns out, she wasn’t even apart of the show. She was simply checking it out and seeing her old friends.
I approached Bass and asked if she would take a picture. “Of course,” she said with a warm smile. She shook my hand and told me it was nice to meet me. She ended up taking photos with anyone who wanted it, free of charge.
I wanted her to sign her entry in the Encyclopedia but I didn’t have a Sharpie on me. Next time, I thought.
“Next Time” was supposed to be this March 4th, at Big Event XII. She was being brought in by Scott Wilder Promotion’s and I was looking forward to adding her signature to the Encyclopedia.
“Next Time” will, sadly, never happen.
People always ask me why I partake in this hobby. “Why would you spend money to meet wrestlers?” is a very common question that I’m asked.
I hope the stories above answer that questions (or questions like that).
Thank you for the memories. May you rest in peace.