TAMPA — Once among the nation’s premiere professional wrestling promotions, Tampa-based Championship Wrestling From Florida shuttered in the 1980s.
But there are still dedicated fans.
Barry Rose provides them a place to congregate online through his “Championship Wrestling From Florida Archives” Facebook group, where members share memories. A digitized memorabilia collection that has hundreds of thousands of pieces spurs conversations.
In person, fans gather via the CWF Legends Fanfest held biannually in the Tampa area since 2017.
The next fest is 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Residence Inn by Marriott Tampa Suncoast Parkway at NorthPointe Village in Lutz.
Featured legends include Gerald Brisco, The Grappler, Buggy McGraw and Barry Horowitz.
There are multiple ticket packages. Fans can have coffee with Jerry Jarrett, participate in a two-hour Q&A with The Rock ‘n Roll Express, watch The Grappler’s one-man show, peruse the convention floor for autographs or do it all.
Visit the CWF Legends Fanfest! Facebook page for tickets that range from $59.99 to $189. All options allow fans an opportunity to spend time with the legends.
“We want fans and the wrestlers to have the ability to have intimate conversations,” said Rose, 58 and of Philadelphia.
His Facebook group has nearly 9,000 members who are a mix of fans and legends.
Brian Blair, Don Muraco, Lanny Poffo, Bushwacker Luke, the Cuban Assassin, Mad Maxine, Jody Malenko and Steve Keirn are among the retired wrestlers who interact with the group.
“Did the Briscos wrestle anyone more than the Funks?” a fan once asked Brisco, who, along with his late brother Jack Brisco, often grappled the brotherly duo of Dory and Terry Funk.
“Nope. We competed over two decades with each,” Brisco replied.
“Why did you not continue tagging with Mike Graham in Tennessee?” a fan once asked Keirn.
“Mike wanted to stay in Florida, but I wanted to go everywhere,” Keirn replied.
On another occasion, Keirn shared a story about his first wrestling road trip outside of Florida.
“They booked me in Guatemala for five weeks,” he posted. “It was a real education.”
“Why withhold a memory that can touch somebody’s heart?” Keirn told the Tampa Bay Times. “I can’t tell you how many times I hear a story about Grandpa taking someone to a match and how it was the greatest time of their life. Grandpa is gone, but they have that memory.”
Before the WWE dominated professional wrestling, states and regions had their own promotions.
Championship Wrestling From Florida was founded in the 1950s. The promotion was headquartered in Tampa but travelled the state. Wrestlers who made their names with it include Dusty Rhodes, Rocky Johnson and Boris Malenko.
Rose’s memories date to 1971 when, as a child in Miami, he attended matches with his father.
“I would later also go to the matches in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale that were less than an hour away,” Rose said. “I was doing three cards a week and, whether it was a program or a poster or a photo or newspaper clipping, I hoarded it.”
As an adult, Rose found opportunities on eBay to add to his collection. He launched a fan website in 2001.
“I digitized everything to share, thousands and thousands of images,” he said. “But it wasn’t interactive. Facebook provides that community feel.”
The Facebook group was created in 2013.
Retired wrestlers and their families donated memorabilia. Most prefer to remain nameless, Rose said, but others, like Nicole Gossett, did so publicly.
Gossett’s grandfather and father performed as Eddie and Mike Graham and ran the promotion.
After they died, Gossett said, she disconnected from professional wrestling.
Rose reached out to her about becoming active on the Facebook group
“I was hesitant but agreed,” she said. “It’s been nice connecting with the fans and reconnecting with the wrestlers and their families. I then sent Barry scrapbooks that my great-grandmother put together. I also had all these photos and back office stuff like letters. It’s history that was doing me no good in a box in my garage. It’s been therapeutic to share. I’m grateful for what Barry does.”
If you go
CWF Legends Fanfest
When: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m, Nov. 6
Where: Residence Inn by Marriott Tampa Suncoast Parkway at NorthPointe Village in Lutz
Tickets: Visit the “CWF Legends Fanfest!” Facebook page for options.