If you watched WWF in the ’80s and ’90s, then you probably recognize the person pictured above in the glasses. His name is Vladimir, aka the superfan. He was wrestling’s equivalent to Where’s Waldo as he was a permanent fixture in the front row of the major events from Wrestlemania to SummerSlam. I remember seeing him at all those shows and just being in awe of how he got such good seats at every event and how cool it must have been to witness all of those spectacular matches in person.
Meeting him always seemed like a fun possibility because he must have many fun stories to tell. The first time I saw him in person was at Wrestlemania 14 when he and his friends stood in front of Half Time Pizza across from the Fleet Center. I was determined to introduce myself and talk wrestling with him, so I crossed the street. When I got within five feet of him, I kept walking; I was star struck, and I had no idea why. It’s not like he was a wrestler whose autographs and pictures I hounded like a prowler. He was a fan, just like me.
Eight years later, I was given a second chance to meet him at ECW’s One Night Stand. He was talking to some fans outside of the Hammerstein Ball Room, and he seemed like a nice guy as I watched him engage with everyone. “See Atlee, he’s cool,” I said to myself as I walked over to listen to some of his war stories. Again, when I got within five feet of him, I just kept walking. This was ridiculous! I’m the furthest thing from shy as I have made myself look like a fool in the ring on numerous independent shows, yet I didn’t have the courage to talk to this one person.
Fate dealt me a third opportunity at the New Japan Pro Wrestling show at Basketball City in New York, which was really a warehouse filled with portable outdoor basketball hoops and a cement surface instead of a playground’s smoothness court or hardwood floor. I regained my composure before I went over to him and wondered, what if I chicken out again? I even justified not going over to him because I figured he must have heard the same questions repeatedly regarding his procurement of excellent seats.
Finally, the adult in me kicked in, and I went for it. I walked right over to him, extended my hand, and introduced myself, and he did the same in return. He said his name was Vlad with a big smile, which I had not known until that moment. Of course, I mentioned seeing him at all of those shows, and he nodded in agreement and said: “I have some connections,” which was a preemptive strike for the next obvious question. I didn’t want to dig any deeper on that one because, just like me, he was there to enjoy the show. I asked if any of the shows stand out, and he mentioned the Madison Square Garden shows. We chatted like school girls over various wrestling topics until the ring announcer, Stephen DeAngelis, gave us the five-minute warning, and that was our cue to part ways with another handshake and head to our seats.
Looking back on it now, this guy was a part of my childhood in a weird way. As a kid, I planned my whole life around professional wrestling. I woke up at the crack of dawn to watch Wrestling Spotlight and listened to the sound of basketballs dribbling and baseball bats cracking from my bedroom window as Wrestling Challenge and Superstars invaded my television set. Why should I have thought of being a firefighter or a doctor when I grew up when I could just travel the globe and attend wrestling shows? To me, Vlad was living the dream.
Below is a video of Vlad on an episode of Piper’s Pit