On Friday night, soldiers at Fort Riley acted as if they had just seen old friends for the first time in years. They regaled one another with stories about past accomplishments and captured the moment with handshakes and photos. But these were not just any old friends. These were professional wrestlers on tour with International Championship Wrestling.
The wrestling organization travels around the world performing for military personnel. While it was not a major professional wrestling outfit such as World Wrestling Entertainment, soldiers and other fans saw two former WWE wrestlers in Scotty 2 Hotty and Shawn Daivari.
Daivari, who has made wrestled numerous times for the troops, said he has always found the interaction between soldier and wrestler a bit strange.
“They seem so appreciative of what we do, and it’s completely backwards,” Daivari said. “We appreciate what they do so much. We just come out here and entertain, and they’re actually making a difference in the world.”
Scotty 2 Hotty also enjoys working with the troops. This is his fifth event for the troops this year with International Championship Wrestling.
Both Daivari and Scotty 2 Hotty stood in line for close to an hour signing autographs and taking pictures with fans prior to the show.
Fans talked to Daivari and Scotty 2 Hotty about watching them on television and told detailed stories that the wrestlers themselves hardly remembered.
“I was just had one kid come up and ask, ‘Do you remember what you did in Iowa on May 5 in 2004?’ and I was like, ‘No, but I do now,’” Daivari said. “I can barely remember what I had for breakfast.”
Scotty 2 Hotty said it’s strange to see kids who were babies when he was last on television talk about his matches on WWE.
One of the older fans in the audience was Sgt. James Michael Anderson, who said he has watched wrestling his entire life. Anderson said the entertainment of wrestling is what first got him hooked.
“I understand it’s entertainment, but it’s my male soap opera,” he said.
The intensity of fans is another selling point for Anderson.
“If it’s a playoff for other sports, yeah,” Anderson said. “But it seems like for every wrestling event there’s always excitement and more audience participation for a wrestling match than you will have for a baseball, basketball or football.”
Daivari said the interaction between wrestler and fan is different than that of any other sport.
“They’re not just spectators, they’re participants,” he said.
Scotty 2 Hotty said he sometimes brings kids on stage with him to do his famous “worm dance.”
VIP ticket holders at the Fort Riley, just feet from the ring, were able to get a piece of the action.
One fan stood up and encouraged a wrestler to pick his opponent up and slam him on the floor. The wrestler, who goes by the name Lumberjack, egged the fan on before doing a completely different move.
Pro wrestling organizations have traditionally been big supporters of the military and often hold matches on overseas bases.
Anderson said he saw the first WWE match performed for the troops while he was deployed. After seeing the match, Anderson became a “die-hard” fan of one of the participating wrestlers.
“Ever since then, I have become a fan of John Cena,” Anderson said. “As much as I enjoyed it, he was there for us. That’s what I love about wrestlers. As much as we’re cheering for them, they’re cheering for us.”
That love even turned into a TV show that aired on a local cable channel featuring Anderson and his friends having their own backyard wrestling matches. The passion of fans like Anderson is what Scotty 2 Hotty said separates the military events from those he does on the independent circuit.
“I love doing this events,” he said. “I’ll do other smaller events, make a little money and get out of the house, but this is a blast. Everybody appreciates you being here.”