Unmasking the greats of pro wrestling

Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006

Bill Eadie, the professional wrestler formerly known as ‘‘The Masked Superstar,” stood at the front of a ballroom at the Doubletree Hotel in Rockville and waited for a question. A man, wearing a shirt emblazoned with the phrase, ‘‘I scare my own family,” and sporting a tattoo of a scorpion around his left eye (a possible explanation for why his family was scared) stood up and sauntered up to a microphone.

‘‘Can I ask,” he said, ‘‘who your toughest opponent was?”

The question was of the softball variety, but it underscored why so many professional wrestling fans traveled to Rockville for the Capitol Wrestling Legends Fanfest. Through the question-and-answer sessions on Friday night, to the autograph and photo opportunities on Saturday and Sunday, fans had a chance to catch up with almost 30 wrestling stars from the 1970s and 1980s, including such icons as Brett ‘‘The Hitman” Hart and ‘‘Superstar” Billy Graham. There, fans finally asked the questions they had wondered about and debated on Internet message boards. Often, the questions were so detailed they even caught the wrestlers off guard.

‘‘There’s a hardcore group of fans that has followed this sport for many years and it’s surprising how much they know,” said Eadie, 59. ‘‘They know more about my career than I do. It’s humbling.”

The Capitol Wrestling Legends Fanfest was a chance for wrestling fans to get together and linger and talk about the early days of professional wrestling. With the production values and theatrics of contemporary wrestling, there is something of a wistful nostalgia surrounding the days when colorful characters drove wrestling and tough guys like Eadie, who traveled from Roswell, Ga. for the event. In his days as the Masked Superstar, he often was the villain that fans loved to hate. It allowed for some peculiar advantages.

‘‘I was a bad guy depending on where I was,” Eadie said. ‘‘I guess it was the way they perceived me and I was comfortable with it. The fans respected my ability, but they let you hear it. I had more control because if you were a fan favorite you had to be available. I could punch a clock, and then I was an average Joe.”

Yet, whether they were ‘‘average Joe’s” or bona fide superstars, all the wrestlers assembled had the ability to turn even the most intimidating fans into smiling acolytes. Trent Zimmerman, of Frederick, stood along a wall and watched as his 13-year-old son Tyler thumbed through some still photographs. With three piercings in each eyebrow, and a long goatee, Zimmerman, 36, was also a professional wrestler, going by the name ‘‘Switchblade” when he wrestled in smaller-tier professional events, like the Mason-Dixon Wrestling series, in West Virginia. On Friday, however, he showed up in Rockville as a fan.

‘‘This is the first one of things like this that I’ve been to,” Zimmerman said. ‘‘I’ve been in the locker room with some of these guys, but to see them out and about and interacting with fans is pretty cool. I was afraid that it was going to be a little hardcore and [Tyler] would be bored, but that hasn’t been the case.”

Not all fans were of the same generation as the stars, however. Brian Livingston, 19, and Evan Abo, 18, of Fairlawn, N.J. spent five hours in the car to attend the Capitol Wrestling Legends Fanfest. Livingston called himself a wrestling historian, and wearing a T-shirt dedicated to old school legend Kurt Angle, he flipped through a small book filled with pictures of wrestlers whose primes were in the years before his birth.

‘‘We’ve been planning the trip since February,” Livingston said. ‘‘I love the old-time guys. I try to watch old tapes and stuff whenever I can. It’s tough to explain; it’s like if you like wrestling you know why. If you don’t, well it’s not for everybody.”

As he filed into the ballroom to take his seat near the front row of the Masked Superstar’s question and answer session, Abo gave a simple explanation as to why he was there.

‘‘I’ve been following these guys since I was a little kid,” he said. ‘‘I wasn’t going to miss this.”

For most of the fans in attendance, the Capitol Wrestling Legends Fanfest was a ‘‘can’t miss” event. They vocally corrected to M.C. when he mistakenly announced some incorrect information about the Masked Superstar, and then gladly sat and nodded along to Eadie’s stories and observations. Among the famous figures he wrestled were Andre the Giant, and Big John Stud, but when asked about his toughest opponent, Eadie did not hesitate.

‘‘That’s easy,” he said. ‘‘My toughest opponent has been the same person for my whole career — my wife.”