Back when I was still a student at Ohio State, I had already started training to be a professional wrestler, and I had a handful of matches under my belt as I started my senior year. As a Journalism major, I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time my senior year going to different sporting events and either photographing them, or writing about them. When the 3rd Annual Brian Pillman Memorial Show rolled around, I used some of my contacts in the wrestling business to get a press credntial, and I was able to cover the event for The Lantern. I was able to get backstage access, and to be at ringside to take photos of the event.
While the match between Chris Benoit and Lord Steven Regal has achieved an almost mythical status, the
entire card had an amazing atmosphere, and was a real "event". More than just an evening of wrestling matches, the spectacle lasted most of the day with a "Fantasy Camp" and a "Legends Fest" where fans had access to the wrestlers for pictures and autographs. The card itself was absolutely loaded. Les Thatcher's Heartland Wrestling Association was the promotion putting on the show, and if you were an independent wrestler, it was a career-making booking. Naturally, Thatcher used this event as a stage for the students of his wrestling school, as well as his chums in the business. The card itself was amazing, as it was one of only of a handful of events where the different talent from the major promotions, WWF, WCW, and ECW, were able to not only appear together, but interact in some cases. The atmosphere was different than any indy show, or a major promotion's house show - it was a real event. When it was all said and done, I
don't think anyone left unhappy.
Rory Fox & Logan Caine vs Jeremy Lopez & Jet Jaguar - Fox is the "Paperboy" from the MTV True Life
special. Caine is Al Snow's brother, and for quite awhile was traveling partners with Chris Hero before a series of knee injuries made him cut back his schedule; I ended up working a lot of shows with him, but as he advanced farther thru medical
school, he wrestled less. Lopez was a Dean Malenko trainee that was a regular at NWA
Wildside, and was often appearing on the Jimmy Hart
version of WCW Saturday Night. Jet Jaguar was a hot indy name in Florida for a long
time, and may have been a Malenko student too.
BJ Payne vs Rico Constantino - BJ Payne was in
development forever, and never got the call up. This is the same Rico that ended up getting called up to the WWE a few years later as the flamboyant manager for Billy & Chuck.
Chuck Palumbo vs Sean O'Haire - two WCW guys, who at this point in their career were just stating to appear as enhancement talent on WCW's B-Shows like Worldwide and Saturday Night. In a few months they would both start to get pushed on the main WCW shows as part of the "Natural Born Thrillers" stable.
Scotty Sabre vs Reckless Youth - Two developmental guys... if Reckless was still under contract at that time. Reckless Youth was one of those guys that was just a bit before his time. Back in the mid-1990s Youth was one of the most celebrated indy wrestlers out there working the circuit, but he never really made it to tv for a major promotion, and was pretty much semi-retired before the indy boom in the early 2000s. One of the founders of Chikara with Quack.
Cody Hawk & Anthony McMurphy vs Flash Flanagan & Matt Stryker -
This was a pretty good match, if I remember correctly, but the crowd
didn't really care because they were all local HWA guys (Flanagan
working both HWA & OVW regularly). I think the finish of this match
saw heel valet Hellena Heavenly get involved, only for Taxi
(McMurphy was known as "the Taxi Driver", as he did a taxi driver
gimmick) to gorilla press her and throw her over the top rope onto Stryker/Flannagan
on the floor. This Stryker is the one who made a name for himself in ROH, the "unibrow" version, not the future Lucha Underground commentator. Hawk ended up
being the head trainer at HWA, and eventually bought the company from
Thatcher. Thatcher later repossessed the company's assets when Hawk failed to make his payments on time, before selling them off piecemeal to various folks.
Shark Boy vs Jamie Noble - This was at the
absolute peak of Shark's indy notoriety, as Discovery Channel was there
filming vignettes for "Shark Week". At this point Shark had
been booked for darkmatches and tryouts for WWE, had been on WCWSN as Shark, and was mythical on the indy circuit. This was the start of the "main show", and it was a great opener
for the HWA Cruiserweight Championship. Tony Mamaluke was there in Noble's corner,
and when he interfered Shark bit his ass, it got a massive pop.
Race Steele vs Chip Fairway - Up until this
point, HWA had never really had a heavyweight champion, because the
first champion they crowned (D-Lo Brown) was signed by WWF, and never
came back to drop the strap. Race Steele was a big muscle head, and
Fairway (doing a heel golfer gimmick) was a helluva hand, but too short
and stocky to have a real chance at one of the big promotions, despite being good enough to work dark matches for WWE against Kurt Angle. These guys did as much of a brawl as Les would let his guys get away with, and Fairway got a good match out of Steele, who won the strap. A few years later Steele would leave wrestling to pursue an MMA career, and Fairway would have a near-fatal car accident. Fairway died in his sleep in 2011.
Anthony McMurphy vs Cody Michaels - Taxi
did double duty because someone no-showed, but I cannot remember
who. Michaels was a Dom Dennucci trainee that had a pretty solid career in Memphis, and had trained alongside Shane Douglas & Mick Foley. Michaels was a successful chiropractor in his hometown of Pittsburgh, and still promoted and wrestled on indy shows in the Pittsburgh area.
Tim Horner vs Tom Prichard - This was two old-time wrestlers that didn't really go out and do anything memorable. Two guys that had been mid-card talent in the territory days that were booked on their show because of their connection to Thatcher. I don't think a vast majority of the fans at the show knew who these two were.
The Harris Brothers vs Billy Kidman & Disco Inferno
- I totally do not remember
any of them being there. Or perhaps I was just hanging out elsewhere
because it was Ron & Don Harris.BIlly Kidman was massively over at this point as a multi-time Cruiserweight Champion in WCW, and he was accompanied by Torrie Wilson, who was also massively over. The Harris' and Disco were not.
Vampiro vs General Rection - At this point Vampiro was a fresh face in WCW and was crazy over, and the former Hugh Morrus was getting the biggest push of his career as the leader of the MIA. Both men were at their WCW peaks, and these guys went all
over the building and had a helluva brawl. Everything on this show had
pretty much been in the ring at this point, and these guys went up in
the stands and the crowd ate it up. Morrus powerslam. Vampiro Driver.
Chris Benoit vs Steven Regal - The fact that this was not the main event was crazy. Thatcher was getting off on this match; He started watching this match from the Gorilla position, then crept out from behind the curtain, and by the end of the match was at ringside
and grinning like he just ate a shit sandwich. This match took place after Regal had been released by WCW a second time, but before he debuted in
the WWF as William Regal. According to interviews with Tom Pritchard, this match won Regal his WWF spot. Lethal submission! Crippler Crossface! Benoit! Piledriver! With
as many awesome wrestlers that I have worked with, and shows I have
been on, this is the best match that I have ever seen live and in
person. I don't like watching it on video because it doesn't come off
the same way. Awesome match, and the crowd ate it up.
Diamond Dallas Page vs Shane Douglas - This was scheduled as a match, but the match didn't happen. Douglas came out in street clothes and gave a heartfelt speech about Pillman. Then he started going heel, which brought out DDP, who hit the cutter, and walked away. That was it, and it got a better reaction then if they had worked a 20 minute barn burner.
Justin Credible vs Raven - At the time, this was one of the top feuds in ECW. Raven had just recently jumped back from WCW, and these two were feuding over the ECW Championship, held by Credible. They worked an ECW house show championship match. Although Regal had hardaway color from headbutts earlier, Credible did the only legit color job of the night, getting a lot of blood going. Not a classic by any means, but a solid match, where Raven was over with the crowd. Raven was on something, and was bitching in the lockerroom about the quality of the lockerroom and catering spread for the wrestlers.
D'Lo Brown & Eddie Guerrero vs Perry Saturn & Dean Malenko
- I believe that this main event was supposed to be Guerrero vs Brown,
with the winner being named "King of the Frog Splash" or something like
that. That was how this match started, but Malenko & Saturn attacked and turned it into a tag match. This
match wasn't anything special, and was basically a house-show tag match
where they screwed around and had fun. At this point in time a lot of
the Cincinnati Reds were really big wrestling fans and quite a few of
them were involved with this match. Closer Danny Graves was in the corner of D-Lo Brown, while slugger Dmitri Young was with Guerrero. Can you figure out who the referee for this match was?
Kevin Nash was there to do two things: 1) Drink Beer 2) Fuck Missy Hyatt.
A big part of the festivities was auctioning things off for the Pillman family. Missy Hyatt was there to auction off her wedding dress. Kevin
Nash was probably a case deep by this pint in the show, and he came out
to ringside and grabbed the mic. He then offered to donate $20K to the
Pillman family if Hyatt got naked right then and there in the middle of
the ring. Les was in the ring hosting the auction, and tried to play it
off like Nash was just joking, but then Nash pulled out a credit card
and said he was serious, and that if Hyatt got naked right now the
Pillman family would be $20K richer. At this point it got reeeeeeeeal
uncomfortable, and Hyatt started yelling at Nash not to do this here,
because there were kids. Finally Nash took a seat at ringside, but it might have been because he was too drunk to stand anymore.