There are some things you'll never forget from your childhood. Meeting King Mabel was one of them for me.
My grandfather had close working relationships with promoters and members of the Maryland State Athletic Commission. He eventually found himself working on the business side of things for many independent wrestling shows when I was a kid. This was all happening during the boom period of wrestling in the '90s.
I had been watching since I could walk, and having someone close to me who was able to let me see the side of wrestling most kids don't was an experience that helped lead me to where I am today.
It was the fall of 1997, and I was just approaching my 10th birthday. A wrestling show my grandfather was working with was going on in New Carrollton, Md. A locker room filled with quite the mix of names: Bam Bam Bigelow, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, The Headbangers and even Duke “The Dumpster” Droese. It was one of Shark Boy's first shows, who is now a veteran in wrestling but at that point had just started having matches a few months earlier.
I have memories, stories and pictures with all of them as a kid. One that makes me laugh is when Bam Bam Bigelow would playfully pick on me when I had a Baltimore Orioles baseball jacket on, as he was a New York Yankees fan.
However, one guy stood out above them all. King Mabel.
His size was incredible. Growing up, the only other person I'd ever seen who compared to his build was Yokozuna, whom I sadly never got to meet before he passed away. Seeing Mabel in person was a thrill. He was the biggest person to whom I'd ever been standing that close. His relevancy was still fresh in my mind, as it was only two years earlier that he had been fighting for the WWF world title and had won the King of the Ring.
I watched him from across the locker room. He had just sat down claiming his spot where he would dress. A long line of tables with food was out for the boys on the other side of the room. This is where everyone else was gathered.
This left the big guy quietly alone on a locker room bench. I was excited but somewhat shy to approach him. He saw me coming before I could even make a move. He pointed at me and then motioned his finger for me to come over to him.
Now even more nervous, as I still had only ever seen the character he played on television, I'm walking the plank toward him. Needless to say, the giant was the most gentle of the men in this locker room fraternity. We made small talk as you would expect for a boy speaking to a big-name wrestler.
I thought once the idle talk was over and I troubled him for a picture that would be it. In the most sincere way he simply asked if I was going to hang out there with him. Of course I said yes as if it was my plan all along. We got to talking some more and now I was talking faster and with more confidence as the nerves had gone away.
I told him a story about me watching wrestling with my father, who wasn't really a wrestling fan but occasionally would watch with me. WWF was building to SummerSlam 1995 where the heel Mabel was challenging Diesel, who was champion. On an episode of Raw, Mabel's sidekick, Mo, was going to take on Diesel. My dad insisted that Mo was going to win because it was a non-title match and they would try to make Diesel look vulnerable before his big SummerSlam match.
I bet him $10 that Diesel was going to win. He took the bet. I made the bet because my 8-year-old booking mind at the time figured Mabel would interfere in the match, causing a disqualification and Diesel to win on the technicality. That was exactly what happened, and I collected.
I told this story to Mabel.
Looking back at this conversation as I got older, I realized that made an impression on him, as not many kids that age would have been able wrap their minds around that part of wrestling. He even said later in the conversation when I was recalling some trivial piece of wrestling history, “Man, you remember a lot.”
We spent the rest of the time before the show sitting there talking while he got dressed and we grabbed some hot dogs from the catering table. He told me how he was from the Tennessee area, which was a new piece of trivia for me. I only knew him to be potentially from New York City, as that's how he was billed on television.
Mabel as a heel would win his match that night.
From then on, he was always a babyface to me because of that experience. When he showed up again in WWE in 1999 as Viscera, part of The Undertaker's ministry, I was probably the only kid cheering for him and not scared.
I was so intrigued by the different layers of this guy, whom you really had to see to believe. Monster size, unusual athletic abilities in the ring and such a sweet tone about him when he wasn't working. I got to meet a lot of wrestlers; most were nice guys who differed from their characters. Mabel always stood out, though. He made such an impression on me as a kid.
I was lucky enough to sporadically see him at WWF wrestling shows over the years. He kinda started to feel like that distant relative who would see you every few years and comment on how big you're getting.
Approximately 10 years had gone by until I saw him again. It was the first time in a long time and would turn out to be the last. I saw him backstage at a show in Illinois. This time I was finally there not as a fan seeking autographs, but for work purposes. When the right time came, I approached him. I surely didn't expect him to remember me.
I politely introduced myself and began to tell him I had fond memories growing up meeting him backstage many times as a boy. I told him one of the coolest memories was him complimenting my wrestling passion and memory. Before I could say anymore, that triggered his memory. He cut me off and said, “Yeah, yeah, you the little blonde-hair kid who would always be at the shows in Maryland.”
I was stunned he could recall that. We laughed and chatted for a few minutes. With the same sincere tone I once I heard in 1997, he smiled and told me he was happy to see I followed my passion and was working in the wrestling business.
Thanks to social media, we were able to remain friends and stay in touch that way. I had always hoped we would get a chance to do an interview or work together again since we had last seen each other. Sadly, our schedules and timing never linked up.
Hearing the news of his passing was a huge shock to me. If he made that much of an impression on me during the sporadic times we spent together over a 15-year period, I can only imagine the pain those who were a close part of his daily life are feeling.
Big Daddy V, as he's most recently remembered, was a talented performer. Nelson Frazier was a gentle giant. I'm glad I got to enjoy both. Rest in peace.
Justin LaBar is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the creator of the Chair Shot Reality video talk show and Wrestling Reality radio show. He's been featured by various outlets including several appearances on NBC Sports as a wrestling analyst.