Wrestling fans will have the opportunity to meet their favorite personalities up close and personal at an inaugural convention centered around the sport. River City Wrestling Con is a daylong event that features meet and greets, autograph sessions, Q&A panels and photo ops with wrestling legends and current stars. Events include live wrestling, video game tournaments, cosplay contests and a large assortment of vendors with their own unique wrestling memorabilia.
“This is Jacksonville’s first wrestling convention. Of course, there’s been a lot of pop culture conventions like Collective Con and Wasabi Con but this is the first one that’s exclusively wrestling related,” says RCWC founder Nick Bateh.
“It’s kind of interesting because a lot of people wouldn’t think that cosplay and wrestling go together but whenever you go to a wrestling show, at least in my experience, there’s always at least one guy that will dress up like Hulk Hogan or Macho Man. One guy will paint his face like Sting and go out in these really elaborate outfits. It gives them an opportunity to enter the cosplay contests and everyone knows who they’re dressing up as and they get to meet their favorite wrestler dressed as their favorite wrestler. They can get their own unique wrestling experience along with it.”
Guest personalities include members of the North American Wrestling Organization (NAWO) which consists of Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Sean Waltman, who is a 2019 Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee. Also in attendance is Ricky ‘The Dragon” Steamboat, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Billy Gunn, Vickie Guerro, B. Brian Blair, Rocky Johnson, Teddy Long, J.J. Dillon, John Crowther, Tessa Blanchard, Alicia Atout, Sunny The California Girl and Tennille Dashwood.
“Most wrestling fans, and even people who have never watched wrestling but kind of skimmed through it in the ’90s will recognize the NAWO. They were the top selling merchandise wrestlers of the ’90s. They had so many people involved like Macho Man [Randy Savage] who was in it at some point. Hulk Hogan was one of the more famous members of the NAWO,” notes Bateh.
“And then, of course, we have Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and Barry Windham, the three of them were involved in the infamous Four Horsemen of the ’80s. They ushered in what we affectionately refer to as the ‘Golden Age of Wrestling.’ It’s kind of an interesting scene because we have both the best of the Golden Age and the Best of the Attitude Era, which is the 90’s period of wrestling. We’re getting a good fan response because a lot of people this is the wrestling I grew up watching and something I want to take my kids to so they can have the experience I had growing up.”
Most activities are included in the general admission and VIP ticket packages, which also comes with convention-exclusive prints and an event swag bag. Performers have their own fee structure ranging from $10-$40 for selfies and autographs. Prices are listed on the website.
Bateh says the matches are paired according to preference and some will be staggered throughout the day. Others might perform in a special showcase. Performers include Kiera Hogan, Jon Davis, EFFY, Saieve Al Sabah, The Ugly Ducklings, Gym Nasty Boys, Matt Sydal, Rey Fury and more to be announced.
“Some talent will come to us and say ‘I prefer to work against this person’ or ‘I want to try something new and wrestle this person’. All of that is mutually agreed upon prior to the match announcement,” says Bateh. “The UFWA has been helping us strategically present the matches and organize how they play out. Of course, I can’t give too many details on that.”
Bateh says his favorite thing about promoting the event is meeting with fans and hearing their individual encounters with a favorite wrestler, whether running into them in the grocery store or meeting them in a local restaurant.
Elijah Burke is one of the more famous Jacksonville-based wrestlers. He operates the non-profit called The Love-Alive Charity which benefits the local community. Burke is known for his time with IMPACT Wrestling and WWE.
Also from Jacksonville is Barbie Blank, a former WWE champion and a well-known model who is making her return after five years. Formerly known as Kelly Kelly, she dominated the women’s wrestling scene as a premier member of WWE’s women’s division. Alongside a four-month reign as Diva’s Champion, Blank would return to WWE during the Evolution battle royal.
“They share these amazing stories of meeting wrestlers. A lot of them live in Florida. A few live in Jacksonville but the majority of them live in Central Florida,” says Bateh. “I’m just like everybody else. I started off as a fan and I used to assist volunteering at different conventions like Zombie Con, Collective Con, Ancient City, and Jekyll Con. I always wondered about doing something wrestling-related because I’d go to conventions and there would be one wrestling guest or no wrestling guests and I’m like all these guys live here. They’re such amazing and talented people. I feel like we should showcase them. This year, I finally got the opportunity to branch off and do my own thing and we’re going all out.”