Tige Washko left his home in Livonia, Mich. at 5 a.m. Saturday and made the four-hour drive to Chicago.
Just to meet Hulk Hogan.
A fan of professional wrestling since he was a kid, Washko couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet Hogan and fellow wrestling legend Ric Flair.
“It was a dream come true,” said Washko, who stood in line to get a photo with both Hogan and Flair at the National Sports Collectors Convention. “The opportunity to get them both together is like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Photo Gallery: Scenes from The National
Washko was one of thousands of wrestling fans who descended on the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center on Day 4 of The National. The five-day show featured 120 legendary athletes, including 60 Hall of Famers, signing autographs and posing for photos, but Hogan and Flair were by far the biggest draw.
“Their time is long gone, but yet look at this crowd for their autographs,” wrestling fan Chester Kilian of Chicago said. “Their time has come and gone, yet they are going to outdraw a lot of the current superstars in wrestling and sports today. They have stamped their legendary seal forever.”
“It just proves that he’s still got a big following,” Brett Kowalski, a sports memorabilia collector from Cleveland, said of Hogan. “He’s still active and his brand and name still carries on. You see all the other big sports names, but he’s the one attracting the most people.”
Kowalski flew to Chicago with his daughter, Becca, just to meet Hogan. Before attending the show on Saturday, they watched some old wrestling matches “just to get into the spirit.”
“He’s just such a larger-than-life figure, it’s weird to be in the same room with him,” Kowalski said.
Kilian grew up a wrestling fan in the ‘80s, which he considers the “golden era” of wrestling. He met Hogan in Chicago in 2019 and returned this year to meet Flair. He was wearing the same championship belt he wore two years ago.
A Cubs fan, Kilian appreciates the effort that stars like Hogan and Flair made to entertain fans.
“I appreciate the new athletes, but the ‘80s and ‘90s were my favorite. They went through a lot of hell to entertain us and I really appreciate it,” he said. “We all know wrestling is choreographed but it’s choreographed like a ballet and these were the two top stars in the sport and they put fans in seats. It’s sports entertainment, but it’s still fun.”
Luis Mendez of Woodridge, Ill. was a wrestling fan during the Attitude Era of the late-90s and early-2000s. He jumped online and bought tickets as soon as Hogan’s appearance was announced. When he arrived at the convention center, he was told he had ticket No. 1 and was first in line to meet the two wrestling legends.
“I’m pretty excited. They are two all-time greats still alive and kicking, so it’s an honor to be here,” he said.
Jeff Luxon of Browns Lake, Ill. traveled to the show with his wife, Amy, and their two children — Abby, 5, and James, 2. Abby was holding a Hogan action figure when they met the two wrestling legends.
Luxon, who collects wrestling memorabilia, met Hogan and Flair when he was a kid. He wanted his family to share the experience.
“Wrestling was such a big part of my life that I wanted them to be able to experience it too,” he said. “They have been watching the classics of Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan from the ‘90s, so it’s very exciting for them to see Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair as well.”
Louis Maiellano of Philadelphia was wearing a Hulk Hogan T-shirt when he met his two heroes. He became a wrestling fan because of “the whole Hulkamania vibe and Ric Flair stylin’ and profilin’.”
“This is a true bucket-list moment for me,” he said. “Hulk complimented me on my shirt. I told him I had a wardrobe change in the back for when I go see Ric Flair for an autograph.
“This is the highlight of the entire week for me.”