One of my most vivid memories from my youth involves wrestling. I must have been 8, maybe 9, and I was sitting in my living room eating a bowl of Cheerios watching our old big cabinet TV. We had just gotten cable and it was 6:05 on a Saturday night. Suddenly, a large man wearing a ridiculous fur coat showed up on my screen - lisping and gesturing wildly at the TV. Dusty Rhodes was reaching out to his fans and I was ready to reach back.
That started a more than 30-year love affair with the "sport" of professional wrestling. Pro wrestling has had its ups and downs over the years - but I'm a diehard.
So, when MCW Pro Wrestling brought their show "Chaos in Culpeper" to town Saturday night as a fundraiser for Eastern View High School's Boosters - I had to go.
What I found, as former WWE star Melina said, was "family."
The performer, soon to be appearing on the NWA YouTube show “Powerrr,” said she enjoys the intimate connection of a smaller show like MCW’s Chaos in Culpeper.
“It’s because it’s family, I love being able to see fresh new talent - you see someone and you’re like ‘they’re going to be a star someday,” she said. “It just reminds you of where you came from. Everybody loves the same thing.”
She’s been in the wrestling profession for almost 20 years and has been on the biggest stage of them all - having been a WWE Women’s Champion. She took a few years off, but returned because of her love of it - and the family feeling.
She loves visiting towns like Culpeper, and raved about one of the top 10 towns in the country.
“It looks so sweet,” she said. “It’s beautiful, the houses look so cute. It looks like a movie set. But then you turn on Route 666 and I’m like ‘wait a minute.’”
She interacted with fans at the meet and greet, including Zander Gigliotti, a fifth grader at Waverly Lee Elementary School in Madison. The Culpeper native got into wrestling because of his dad Noah, a lifelong wrestling fan.
Zander, a self-admitted Ricochet fan, was excited to meet the stars of MCW.
“I like how it’s fighting and how they make the storylines into it,” Gigliotti said.
Zander said he watches the show with his dad every night, it’s a great bonding moment for the father-son duo.
“When he was 3, I was watching Monday Night RAW and Ryback came out, and I didn’t even know he was out there with me and he’s saying ‘feed me more’ on the couch,” Noah said. “I knew he was hooked.”
Brothers Brian James and Ray Ruffner, of Culpeper, have been hooked for years. Ruffner said he’s been a fan since 1998 and he was just excited to have wrestling come to Culpeper for the first time since the 1980s.
“This is amazing to have it in your backyard, is incredible,” Ruffner said. “To have a Hall of Famer like Billy Gunn here, it’s crazy. In my town? It’s crazy.”
“Culpeper doesn’t get that level of entertainment,” James said. “We have to drive to D.C., or Richmond, or Charlottesville. To see it more often would be great. To get it, you have to be here.”
The two have traveled to WWE shows, AEW shows, Wrestlemanias - they are part of a community, one that is full of other diehard fans that love the escapism that professional wrestling brings each week.
“The electricity is there, you have some of the greatest athletes in the culture of pro wrestling,” James said. “We’re hoping they come back.”
According to EVHS athletic director Mark Settle, they’re hoping to bring MCW back.
Saturday’s card was a success Settle said. The boosters raised about $2,500 and had 350 fans show up to cheer on their favorites and meet up and coming stars.
James and Ruffner shook hands with Billy Gunn, a WWE Hall of Famer known for his run from the 1990s until the early 2000s.
“I love it, I’ve been on the big stage, I’ve been at the top of the heap, I’ve been at the bottom of the heap,I’ve been at the middle of the heap - this is a lot more intimate,” Gunn said. “It’s making sure these people leave hear having had a good time. I’m going to go out here and entertain these people because that’s what I do.”
The crowd cheered just as hard for up and coming stars Dante Caballero and his Cartel and Breaux Keller. Harrisonburg’s own Brandon Scott had a long line at intermission walking up to shake his hand and take pictures. One young man even had a chance to chop Greg Excellent’s opponent.
It’s an experience the fans in attendance won’t soon forget - and will hopefully be able to relive in the spring.