Documentary explores Charlotte’s wrestling history

“Mid-Atlantic Memories,” a new documentary film covering the golden years of professional wrestling in Charlotte and the South in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, makes its world premiere Thursday during the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest’s opening night at the University Hilton.

In the 1980s, Charlotte was the center of professional wrestling in the South. On the strength of the talent of the Four Horsemen, Dusty Rhodes and the Midnight Express, the Charlotte Coliseum (now Bojangles’ Coliseum) sold out shows routinely, drawing fans who took the action so seriously they were known to storm the ring.

“My granny went to her grave thinking the moonwalk was fake, but wrestling was real,” says Jim Ross, the film’s narrator. Those were pre-Internet years, when wrestling’s secrets were highly guarded. “It was before wrestling was so big.”

“This film covers the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, before anyone ever envisioned there would be an NBA or NFL team in the Carolinas. That was before NASCAR had a weekly TV show. Those men on those shows became local celebrities,” says Ross, who served as a top announcer for the WWE for 21 years and also worked for World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA).

“The people involved in this documentary lived the life as performers or referees, as fans, promoters, broadcasters or concessionaires. The Mid-Atlantic wrestling product touched their lives, and that’s what we cover in this film.”

The golden years came to an end in the Carolinas when Ted Turner purchased the almost 60-year-old Crockett Promotions and moved production to Atlanta under the name WCW in 1988.

Yet many wrestlers (some of whom still call the area home) gather semi-annually for the four-day Fanfest. This year’s guests include Ross, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Ivan Koloff, Scott Steiner, Jimmy Hart, The Honky Tonk Man, Ole Anderson, Magnum T.A., Rob Van Dam and Jim Cornette.

Ross will host a Q&A for VIP ticketholders following Thursday’s movie premiere. Matches, Q&As, autograph and photo ops and other activities take place throughout the weekend.

The film includes footage from unaired matches from the ’70s and ’80s that were rescued from a dumpster when Turner bought Crockett Promotions.

“For people like me who’ve spent all my adult life in the business, it’s enormously intriguing,” Ross says. “Let’s say, for example, that one would be a Ric Flair fan and wondered what he looked like or what his matches were like in the ’70s, when he first started. This film is going to have a young Ric Flair included in some of that rare footage.”

Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest

WHEN: FanFest is open to the public from noon to 5 p.m. for free Thursday. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Matches are held at 8 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Hilton Charlotte University Place, 8629 J.M. Keynes Blvd.

TICKETS: Single-day general admission passes are $20 for adults, $10 for ages 10-17 and free for children under 10. Weekend VIP all-access passes are $99; single-day VIP passes are $49. The premiere of “Mid-Atlantic Memories” is free to those who purchase a copy of the documentary on DVD for $24.95.

DETAILS: www.nwalegends.com; www.midatlanticmemories.com.