Four years ago, I visited the Dan Gable Museum, home of the Tragos/Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, for the first time. Three years ago I made my second visit, this time during Hall of Fame weekend. I remember it being a fantastic fan experience. Not only does the museum house an incredible collection of memorabilia, the Hall of Fame event brought fans and wrestlers together in a much more personal way than any fan fest. You could sit down in the hotel lobby, a booth at the hotel bar, or any room at the museum next to someone and ask questions. To use a phrase you hear a lot during induction weekend, it felt like family.
I attended my second Hall of Fame induction this past weekend, and it was even more enjoyable than the first. I was thrilled to see attendance had grown from my previous visit, but I was even more delighted to see the open, friendly atmosphere of the event remained intact. From the Impact Pro Wrestling show Friday through the Saturday night banquet, the whole weekend was more of a family reunion than a fan fest.
What really sets this event apart is how much access attendees have to the “Distinguished Guests.” The wrestlers don’t hide out in their hotel suites or private green rooms. They’re in the lobby of the museum, the lobby of the hotel, or one of the many bars and restaurants in the area. They come to see the fans, to take pictures, and to tell stories, and I didn’t see anyone leave disappointed.
Two incidents stand out the most for me. The first came Friday afternoon, when a couple cut through the lobby of the convention center not knowing a wrestling event was taking place. They decided to stick around and joined the line to buy tickets.
That’s when Cowboy Bob Orton, Jr., entered the building.
Imagine a child coming down Christmas Eve at 1 a.m. and catching Santa. Imagine big, wide eyes filled with wonder and a mouth wide open in astonishment. That’s the look I saw on a grown man’s face seeing a legend in person.
The second incident took place a few hours later. I was carting my books back to the hotel when another man not attending the event came along side me. “You here with the wrestling show?”
“Yes, I am,” I said.
“I just bought a beer for Sgt. Slaughter,” he bragged. “How cool is that?”
Waterloo, Iowa may not be on many people’s radar for a summer destination, but if you’re a wrestling fan, I assure you, it will become one of your favorite places in the world. You’ll make friends with fellow wrestling fans from all corners of the nation and all walks of life. You’ll hear stories of days gone by and see some incredible photos and memorabilia in the museum’s collection. And you’ll make memories with wrestling heroes past, present, and (possibly) future in an environment no comic con or fan fest can match.
As master of ceremonies Chad Olsen told all in attendance Saturday night, when you come to the Hall of Fame, you become part of the family. It’s a family worth joining, and a family that will urge you to bring a friend. Mark your calendar for July 21-23, 2022, and keep an eye on the Facebook page for the George Tragos/ Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. This is one family reunion you will truly enjoy.