We attended the first ever For The Love Of Wrestling convention this past weekend at Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena. For those unaware, Monopoly Events are the brainchild behind the likes of Liverpool Comic Con and For The Love Of Sci-Fi. The audience crossovers are notable for these extravaganzas, and appearances from major wrestling stars often result in the most interest. It is this fascination with the wonderful world of sports-entertainment which paved the way for a large-scale fan event all about the turnbuckles, ring ropes and bodyslams.
For The Love Of Wrestling was announced last autumn, and the massive names confirmed for the show was very exciting, almost to a fault. Could the FTLOW team really succeed where similar organisers have failed in the past and deliver an experience that would create memories to last a lifetime for attendees? Thankfully, the answer was a definite “Yes!” (“Yes! Yes!”), and For The Love Of Wrestling was a resounding success.
In total, 23 performers (past and present) were on hand to take photographs and sign autographs for fans. They consisted of The Undertaker, Bret Hart, Ric Flair, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Booker T, Chris Jericho, Ted DiBiase, Lita, Eric Bischoff, Rob Van Dam, Pete Dunne, Brutus Beefcake, Sid Vicious, Kelly Kelly, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Virgil, Emma, Marty Jannetty, Christian, Summer Rae, Jimmy Hart and The Brooklyn Brawler.
It’s quite an eclectic list, especially when you analyse their credentials further. Undertaker has been a major star in the WWF/WWE for close to 30 years, and in keeping with his silent, brooding yet devastating and highly-popular Dead Man character, he very rarely does events such as this. In fact, this marked his first UK appearance for such an occasion, and it could also be his last. He was without question the biggest draw, being highly-priced and with lines running for over an hour for both pictures and signatures; however, the unanimous view was that it was all worth it to meet this all-time legend.
What’s more, Bret and Ric are both in the conversation for the greatest in-ring performers of all-time, and either could have easily headlined this convention themselves. Nash, Hall and Bischoff were vital in creating the nWo, a revolutionary faction that took over WCW television, at one point helping it to become number one wrestling organisation over the WWF during the infamous Monday Night Wars. Booker T is a five-time WCW Champion, a former WWE World Champion and a two-time WWE Hall Of Famer, having recently been re-inducted. Another inductee from the 2019 HOF class was Brutus Beefcake, and as I’ll explain, the Barber brought something else with him!
Elsewhere, we had further Hall Of Famers in DiBiase, Lita, Duggan and Jimmy Hart. A future Hall Of Famer in Chris Jericho is about to play a major role in AEW, a company which hopes to compete with WWE on a significant level in the coming years. Van Dam is just about to return to another important organisation in Impact Wrestling. Sid, Virgil, Marty and Brawler were all fondly-remembered characters from the golden age of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Kelly was at one time WWE’s top female superstar, while Emma and Summer continue to compete independently around the world, with the possibility of a WWE return someday. Christian is a former two-World Champion in WWE, and a former two-time titleholder in TNA (now Impact). And Dunne works for WWE right now, having just lost the United Kingdom Championship that he held for an astonishing 685 days. His star is still rising, and ultimately represents a bright future not just for WWE, but for British performers as a whole.
All of these were on hand to meet fans, and they also participated in a number of Q&A sessions, which were also broadcast as part of a Pay-Per-View package on FITE TV for spectators who couldn’t make the event to watch either live via streaming or on demand. The cast could have been even bigger: The Honky Tonk Man had been announced, but a condition of his HOF contract prevented him from appearing, while Jeff Jarrett was a late omission due to work commitments removing his Sunday slot, and then a delayed flight transfer making a Saturday absence unavoidable. But the near-two dozen who were live and in person more than satisfied the estimated two-day crowd of 10,000 attendees.
Spectators travelled from around the UK and also from all areas of Europe just to be here, in large part to meet Undertaker. Some had their favourites and had their day made by shaking hands with their childhood heroes. And a few took the brave step of meeting every single star on hand, no matter the cost (we can neither confirm nor deny that a member of our team may fall into this category!).
At an event like this, it is important for fans to feel that they got their money’s worth, especially since an Undertaker photo op was £150, with £50 downwards being the charge for other stars based on name value and demand. The queues moved very fast, ensuring that every single fan who paid to meet a specific wrestler got their opportunity. The picture quality was high-definition, meaning that the photos themselves were top-drawer. And of course, the performers are the people who truly make the day for fans, so it was good to hear how so many of them – most, if not all, actually – took the time to speak, shake hands, pose and generally do their thing, as only they know how, allowing attendees to come away with a smile on their faces.
In the centre of the venue was a ring, which is where the Q&A conversations took place. We also had a cosplay competition for those who most resembled their wrestling favourites (many of these costumes were outstanding likenesses, some of which you had to see to believe!), and for the post-convention slot on Saturday evening, a live wrestling card from Future Shock Wrestling, which was free for all attendees. This showcased some of the best up-and-coming British talent, and there were a few notable names competing. Hacksaw laced up the boots himself for some action, as did NXT UK Tag Team Champion Zack Gibson. And Pete Dunne wrestling drew a big reaction, mainly because everybody assumed he was only there to meet and greet, as opposed to throwing suplexes and clotheslines.
Around the interior space, the photo booths were on the opposite side to the autograph stands, which helped to make it easier for fans to locate where everybody was. The screens by the ring showed timetables for activities, from Undertaker’s marathon photo session to the nWo confabulation. Grapple Arcade played a key role by offering fans to play current and classic wrestling videogames, ranging from today’s WWE 2K19 to classics like WWF No Mercy, gems like WCW/nWo Revenge, forgotten titles like WWF Royal Rumble for Super Nintendo, and some truly obscure yet highly entertaining games that I’d never even heard of before seeing them here.
We also had showcases for all sorts of wrestling memorabilia, like vintage action figures (from the old-school Hasbro era), championship titles, collectable chairs from WrestleManias down the years, magazines, DVDs, toys and games ranging from jigsaw puzzles to stuffed wrestling buddies, and even the likes of food trays and bed covers that were a staple of WWF catalogues back in the day (some of which I actually had when I was a young ‘un!). There was also the chance to pose with the UK Taker in a custom coffin, along with Paul Bearer, Braun Strowman, Finn Balor and other authentic dress-ups of major wrestling names from down the years. In addition, traders ranging from WWE DVD UK to Pin Me Pay Me also had stands for fans to visit.
And then there were the sets. All of the above would have been fine, but the FTLOW crew took the extra step of bringing us some backdrops and props from classic wrestling moments. This included Piper’s Pit (Rowdy Roddy Piper’s interview stand), the Prime Time Wrestling desk (a fondly-remembered show hosted by Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan), a Money In The Bank briefcase hanging high from the ceiling (complete with a ladder, of course), and The Barber Shop, Brutus Beefcake’s area of choice. This played host to a famous betrayal which saw Shawn Michaels hurl Marty Jannetty through the window with a shocked Brutus on hand, and so fans were able to meet both Beefcake and Jannetty in this very zone. Bruti’ even cut one fan’s hair for charity!
Having attended both days for the duration, I have to say that as a lifelong wrestling fan, I was very impressed. Virtually everybody looked happy to be there (including the performers themselves, who seemed to be having a whale of a time), and I have seen many positive messages on social media. Liverpool was a great destination, partly because it’s a draw for the legends (most of whom had never been able to visit the city before), but also because the Exhibition Centre was just the right size and scale. Oh, and as a Liverpudlian myself, travel was minimal!
There were so many big names to meet, and even just one or two would have made somebody’s day. As alluded to earlier, the promised line-up almost seemed too good to be true, but FTLOW delivered above and beyond, as well as using logic to handle the likes of outdoor queues in the rain by ensuring that people could wait inside to get tickets checked and thus avoid Storm Hannah (on the first day, anyway). There was plenty going on, so even if you were just walking around casually, there would be something to capture your interest, and while some of the photograph costs might have seemed questionable to a few people, everybody agreed that they got value for money.
In terms of improvements for next time: the queues to pick up printed photographs were notable, in that their lines lasted longer than those for some meet and greets, resulting in a few minor rushes to make allotted times for photo ops. That being said, the Real Times crew were very professional and friendly, and helped everybody out as best they could, which included holding onto pictures for those queuing elsewhere. I would simply suggest that their numbers be doubled next time, to make for a more speedy wait to collect photos. I also felt the audio could have been louder for the Q&As (only those near the ring could truly hear them, unlike that Comic Con Liverpool where everybody in the room could listen in), and greater use of authentic wrestling music in between Q&As would have been nice. This is more about the venue, but closing out the seated sections above the cafes was not ideal, especially at an event which requires a lot of standing and with very few seats around the main floor.
These are just minor quarrels, though, because I thought the event as a whole couldn’t have gone any better. FTLOW 2020 is already set to go on sale later this evening, and with one successful convention in the books, demand will be higher for next year’s instalment. While a fair few have already hinted at returning, my mind has wandered to those who would be ideal choices to star at FTLOW 2. Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley and Edge are regulars at events like this, while other 80s/90s legends such as Road Warrior Animal, Demolition, Arn Anderson and the aforementioned Honky Tonk Man would fit in well. Representatives of the Attitude Era like Ken Shamrock, X-Pac and Dean Malenko would also be cool. In terms of a truly top name, I’m not sure if Monopoly Events could pull it off, but having Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin on hand would garner massive attention. And is it too much to ask for Brock Lesnar, if he is between WWE and UFC commitments? (Answer: probably yes.)
Overall, I absolutely loved For The Love Of Wrestling, both as a longtime fan of the bizarre but addictive universe that is sports-entertainment, and as someone who has attended events like this before and been impressed, only to be wowed by what FTLOW had to offer here. The verdict is pretty much 100%; For The Love Of Wrestling was awesome, and I for one am already looking forward to FTLOW 2020!