I Once Spent WrestleMania With The Iron Sheik and Virgil.
From left to right: The Big Rybowski, The Iron Sheik and yours truly (w/belt).
The year was 2010. The television show "Lost" was in its final season; Raw and SmackDown were still somewhat separate brands; "Inception" and "Iron Man 2" were tops at the box office; and a young Conan O'Brien was teaching the nation how to laugh again.
Okay, fine - 2010 wasn't really that long ago. But I still have a cool wrestling story to share...
We were a few weeks away from WrestleMania 26, and while I knew I wasn't going to make the trek out to Phoenix to watch the event in person, I figured I could do better than our usual "watch in someone's home" or "drop 30 bucks to watch it in a local movie theater."
So when I found out that local entertainment powerhouse Magen Boys Entertainment were holding a WrestleMania party in the Toronto area with special guest THE IRON SHIEK, I knew that I would - nay, had to attend. You see, wrestler-hosted Mania parties may be the norm in some major North American cities, but Toronto hadn't held them all that often. Plus, the price was unbelievably reasonable ($10 plus a non-perishable food item for the local food bank) and my cohort The Big Rybowski was in.... so how could I possibly say no?
On March 26th, Rybowski walked into Rinx - a combination hockey arena, roller-skating rink and, for one night only, home to a WWE Hall of Famer. We walked in, set up camp at a table, grabbed some food and shortly after arrival.... The Iron Sheik walked in and greeted his legions of adoring fans.
Unlike certain celebrities we could mention (actually, I can't name any off the top of my head, but work with me here), Sheikie came around and chatted up anyone who was interested in.
The legend asked for a beer and we hooked him up. I mean, obviously. You're telling me that you're sitting with, let's just say, The Giant Gonzales, are you wouldn't fall all over yourselves to get the man a brewski? Granted, it would be tough because El Gigante has been, technically speaking, deceased for several years. But still.
In a rare role-reversal, myself and Rybowski were bodyguarding Virgil for the night.
Were those the only wrestling stars we'd meet up with that night? "OH HELL NO!" Stone Cold Steve Austin would say if he were on hand for the WrestleMania Party.
Unfortunately, he wasn't.
Who was? None other than Jessie Godderz, whom at that point was just a character on Big Brother and meant nothing to the wrestling world. Like, absolutely nothing. No one even knew he was involved at this point,.
However, Rybowski and him managed to have a serious talk about his career choices and convinced him to "keep at this wrestling thing, and one day, who knows, you may even become one half of the TNA World Tag Team Champions with an embarassing name like The Bro-Mans?". Obviously, Mr. Pec-tacular took this advice to heart.
Also in attendance? Survivor: Micronesia contestant and former TNA personality Jon "Johnny Fairplay" Dalton. Not sure why TNA has a penchant for hiring reality-television stars.... but hey, it's probably as effective a tool as anything else they've come with over the past decade and a half.
And not that this guy was a wrestling personality, or any kind of celebrity for that matter, but we also met some guy who was dancing around and crabwalking for no apparent reason. He took photos with our group (obviously) and at one point took my BlackBerry away from me so he could add me to Facebook. We've since parted ways on FB, but we'll always have our crab walk.
Respect the legend, bubba.
Shortly after our arrival, we also noticed an unadvertised but welcome surprise - the man, the myth, the legend Virgil!!! And this was before he became an Internet meme, so it was even more enjoyable!
Despite the reviews I've read on Deadspin and other sites, Virgil isn't just in for the autograph - he also stood for a photo with us. Sure, it cost $10, but you have to consider (a) I was already ahead on the overall cost for the evening, and (b) it was a photo op with VIRGIL! Laugh all you want, but I still feel this was money well spent.
In fact, a few months later (after Virgil's brief WWE run as Ted DiBiase Jr.'s bodyguard - which, oddly enough, began in Toronto), I saw him again at a sportscard show in the west end of the city. We made eye contact, he smiled, shook my hand and said "How about an autograph, man?"
Reality and rasslin'.
"Hey, Virgil. Wake me up in ten minutes."
Eventually, Mania begins and the crowd goes.... well, perhaps not "wild", but they were definitely into things.
All of us grabbed our seats as the show began, while the wrestlers hung out at the merch table.
The setup of the party was quite informal, so you would walk around wherever you wanted during the event, chat up The Sheik, buy some food or merch, whatever.
It was at this point, we noticed that Sheikie Baby was starting to get tired. But when I think about it now, WM26 truly wasn't the most exciting lineup in the world.
Quick, name me the top matches at WrestleMania 26 without looking at Wikipedia! I couldn't and I can remember the full lineup (and match order) for the first six Manias. Just to refresh your memory, the matches were:
John Cena vs. Batista (WWE Title)
Edge vs. Chris Jericho (World Title)
The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels II (Career vs. Streak)
Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon
Randy Orton vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Ted DiBiase
Christian, Kofi Kingston, Jack Swagger, Evan Bourne, Drew McIntyre, Dolph Ziggler, MVP, Matt Hardy, Shelton Benjamin and Kane (Money In The Bank)
Big Show and The Miz (Showmiz) vs. John Morrison and R-Truth (John Truth?)
Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk
Beth Phoenix, Kelly Kelly, Mickie James, Gail Kim and Eve vs. Team Laycool, Vickie Guerrero, Alicia Fox and Maryse
Not a terrible card or anything, but certainly not what you'd think when you envision "The Showcase of the Immortals", you know?
Anyways, the WrestleMania event moved a brisk pace, with lasting memories such as..... wait? Did The Iron Sheik actually fall asleep?!?
I believe the word you're looking for here is "Zzzzzzzzzzz."
Yes, he was. The man who once defeated Bob Backlund for the WWF World Heavyweight Champion was now jobbing to the Sandman. He was leaving the New York territory in favor of Slumberland. He was trading in the camel clutch for a catnap. Bedtime for bubba. A Sheikie siesta. You.... get the picture.
The funniest part, however, was how the former bodyguard for the Shah of Iran put his headlock on hibernation. By slipping on his sunglasses, the WWE Hall of Famer figured no one in the crowd would notice he was applying the ol' slumber suplex for a bit.
Yes - exactly the same thing Homer Simpson did while he was on jury duty.
Forty winks aside, I have to say that meeting The Iron Sheik (and to a lesser extent, Virgil) was by far my WrestleMania highlight that year. Both were extremely gracious and generous with their time, and it's one of those events where a good time was had by all (not that I really want to speak on behalf of Crab Walk guy). What's more, it was a true WrestleMania Moment that I'll never forget.
Now I just have to cross "SummerSlam with Mr. Fuji" off the ol' bucket list.