This article was originally published as a VIP Exclusive for the PWTorch Newsletter #1041. It is republished here, for our permanent archive, with the editor and author's permission.

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A Family Together:

A Look Back at the 2008 Hall of Heroes Banquet

by Bruce Mitchell, Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter


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 M.C.

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 wrestling lifetime.

"My father would have loved this night."

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 riot.)

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 while-the-work-in-the-ring-may-be-generations-better-script-THAT. I 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 This article was republished here with permission.

Photo by Blake Arledge


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