When we left off last week… last month… well, in the time since I’ve last shared my experience of being in the NY/NJ area for WrestleMania Weekend, the Blu-Ray / DVD of the event (and Hall of Fame) has been released, the Shield has continued to have great matches, and Daniel Bryan has become even more awesome than he already has been. I also became a year older, so that’s something, again a whole year in a month… sorry, I forgot where I was going with this in my old age. When we last left off, I had almost tripped and fallen at MSG like Ultimo Dragon, but I didn’t. Let the adventure continue!
The morning of Sunday, April 7th had arrived. I took in the hotel breakfast with several other wrestling fans, a very mixed crew (children in John Cena gear with their parents, older fans in some official WWE attire such as CM Punk shirts, and the crew wearing ROH, CZW, and other indy fed shirts) and I kind of felt for the one family sitting in the corner with some understanding that something was going on, but kind of lost in all the Mania-mania going on at their hotel of choice. I had a ticket to go to Fan Axxess for the 12:30 session, and while by Sunday I had already been hearing negative comments that had filtered to the internet (and for devotees, those guys standing outside a deli smoking when I walked by on Friday) but having been robbed of a chance of going to a fully actualized Axxess session during the WrestleMania 23 Mall Tour version, I had to see this. I went back to the room for a bit, and then at noon it was time to take the hotel shuttle to the IZOD Center.
Fans lined up waiting to get into the IZOD Center
I shared the hotel shuttle with a fella from the UK who has been making this an on-going tradition of his. I’m making no great revelation here, but it does seem that travelers from Europe make up a very large part of the out of town fan influx over the weekend – I didn’t go to the post-Mania Raw, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was at least a 50/50 European / North American fan split that night. The shuttle driver warned of not over-paying for a cab when I went back to the hotel at night and the English bloke shared a story about a guy wanting $200 when he was in Miami in 2012.
Waiting to get in to the IZOD Center was practically worth the whole experience. Guys dressed as Rick Martel, wearing Savio Vega t-shirts – just a lot of real superfans, talking with everyone about everything wrestling related. At this point it dawned on me that this whole thing is like a ComiCon for wrestling fans – everyone is with “their own kind”, they don’t feel like the world is looking at them for having strange interests, people wear their shirts, and people dress up… and there isn’t a looker amongst them (I kid, I kid). After a bit of a wait, we all got to go in and explore the arena formatted version of Axxess.
Finally, I got to see the belt… I mean championship collection! The best part about Tommy Dreamer’s Hardcore Championship (which just appears to be a European title with a license plate) was while I was standing around taking the photo, no one knew what it was. I had to explain it to some people that were asking. I guess it’s memorable appearance on an episode of Raw didn’t resonate with everyone like it did with me. There was also several different autographed wrestling attire on display, including the above “Macho Man” Randy Savage outfit from WrestleMania X. That was has always been a favourite of mine, despite it looking like it could double as a custom guest referee outfit (Savage DID have a custom special ref outfit for a Virgil / DiBiase match on Coliseum Video, but that’s another story).
The autograph sessions seem to be what people were most contentious about, as a ticket covers 3 hours and meeting a current “WWE Superstar” is a wait, and you get carted through there pretty quickly. Meeting a Legend, on the other hand, is about a 20 minute wait and they’re very personable. It was an interesting set-up that the line queue for meeting a Superstar or Diva allowed you to sit and wait in the arena, where you could see some NXT matches going on for the live crowd. That was a neat touch, but sometimes from the arena concourse you would have no idea what kind of wait you were in for until you were inside and realized rows of people were already waiting. I don’t know what a “normal” Axxess was like in a convention hall with everything on the floor but the narrow arena concourse hallways would get rather congested. The whole “the arena set-up does not work” argument is definitely something I now understand, and I guess the autograph hounds had a great time at the local WrestleCon convention, but for what I was expecting to get out of this, I enjoyed it! I know some people bought tickets to every session in an attempt to do as many autograph sessions as possible, but I’m not really into that scene. Having said that, let’s recap the 4 people I did meet:
Terry Funk: Fresh off an excellent induction speech for Mick Foley at the Hall of Fame (side note: I did re-watch the Hall of Fame on Blu-Ray and it stood up as being a great show, but also really showed me that some of the reactions I was hearing were specific to my section – Maria Menounos was still boo’d and heckled, but in the TV presentation it takes some time to hear it set in. In my section it happened within 2 minutes, or so it seemed anyway), I got to shake hands with the legendary Mr. Funk. I told him I thought he did a good job at the HOF as my “one comment” I was allowed before moving the line along, but this got Terry very talkative about how great Foley is and such. I thanked him again and moved on. Nice guy!
Ted DiBiase Sr. / Jr.: This was actually supposed to be a line for The Great Khali and Natalya. I’m almost 6’5″ so I wanted to meet someone who makes me look short, and I thought it might be nice to meet a Diva too. The event staff did warn me that there was a 2pm talent switch, but since I didn’t know how the line worked I thought it would be fine. After sitting around watching some NXT matches from a distance, the people waiting noticed the talent swap and many felt this was for the best. I was happy too, but to be honest, Ted. Sr. kind of seemed like he would rather have been anywhere else. He was still a nice guy, and maybe I was spoiled by The Funker, but he was very “Hello, goodbye, you’re welcome” in conversation. His son is a different story – he LOVES talking to people. There was a kid ahead of me in line wearing a DX shirt getting an autograph. Ted, upon seeing the shirt, said to the kid, “DX? They kicked our butts a whole bunch! But we beat them that one time…!”. You have to imagine his voice inflections as he says that last part and I can’t really do it justice, but I really liked it. He was cool with me too, and I didn’t have much to say other than “hope to see you back on TV soon”, but I was amused when he said “I’ll sign right next to my old man’s signature”. So, Ted DiBiase Jr, class act.
Larry Zbyszko: Now there’s someone I wasn’t expecting to see at a WWE autograph session. I had heard he was around town on Bruno Sammartino’s behalf, but this was still a very pleasant surprise. Maybe it was a bit silly, but I just had to greet Larry by asking how the “human game of chess” was going (“unfolding before our very eyes” was the answer). I asked him nicely if he would sign the WrestleMania X8 portion of the official program, which was just a big picture of the nWo, and write “New World Odor”. He obliged, though was unsure how to spell it (“I don’t have to spell much these days”) and my Canadian answer of putting a “u” in it didn’t help, but we got it squared away. Larry was very nice, very chatty, and was the highlight of the meet and greet sessions I went to.
Before leaving, I took in some NXT action. I was lucky enough to see Paige vs. Summer Rae (before she was called up as part of the Fandango act). For those of you not familiar with Paige or Summer Rae, well, do a “something search” for them. Summer’s gimmick here was that we were not good enough for her to remove her t-shirt, so the psychology of the match was built around Paige finally removing it and Summer being reduced to her plain old wrestling attire. Fun stuff.
After finishing up at Axxess, I took the pedestrian walkway from the IZOD Center over to MetLife Stadium, where I was thrown right into another sea of humanity. Eventually we all got in (as people chanted YES! YES! YES!, then some back with NO! NO! NO!, and a few MAYBE! MAYBE! MAYBE! chants too) and it turned out I had a pretty great seat, with access to an enclosed area called the “Lexus Lounge” where there were minimal line-ups at the concession stands. Those pillars in the sets looked neat from my seat, but I heard some people were not so lucky and were fully obstructed. I managed to connect to the free WiFi being offered briefly (they wanted people to tweet from their seat) but very early into everything – like, before the show even started – the WiFi wouldn’t work, presumably due to overload, and those on-screen requests to tweet went away. It felt really cool to sit in a huge outdoor stadium for a wrestling show, and the set was quite impressive. Seeing it on TV is one thing, but being there is a whole other level completely.
The Canadian Sweetheart Renee Young – the former Renee Paquette, who is always very nice on twitter over at @WWEReneeYoung – made her WrestleMania debut on the pre-show. We both made it to Mania this year, Renee!
A post sundown shot of the WrestleMania XXIX set in all it’s lit up glory.
So, the show… well, it was a show. It’s been reviewed, dissected, praised, hated, whatever all over the net and here in June, there isn’t much of relevance I can add other than it did seem a lot more fun live than on TV, and I still haven’t actually watched the televised version of the event. Jericho/Fandango actually was pretty fun live (even with the weird ending) but I’ve heard it came of sloppy or rushed on TV. Henry / Ryback was bad no matter how you look at it, but that was probably the low point. In what seems to be a controversial statement, I thought Rock and Cena did a tremendous job playing off last year’s match and yeah, they did restholds in the middle, but it seemed like a well worked match that I had no complaints about. A lot of the live crowd in my section really hated Cena, or Rock, or both, and became almost drunkenly angry about the whole thing, but hey, people are sick of Cena so it happens. There were younger fans around who just loved the man though, and some even had a “You mad?” sign with that weird looking internet troll face, so even they seem to get it in a way. Also, it’s not lost on me that I said I had “nothing to add”, then reviewed parts of the show anyway. However, for me, Mania was made for me this year by one match. One segment where being there live was amazing.
The Undertaker vs. CM Punk. Undertaker’s WrestleMania entrance and win celebration are just so phenomenal that being there live, I can’t help but be in awe like a little kid, smiling with a huge grin at the entrance and giving a standing round of applause – with everyone else – after the match. The build for the match was so underwhelming too that I really didn’t know what to expect going in – I thought Lesnar/HHH would steal the show in a wild brawl and they didn’t even come close – so I loved every minute of this match, being there live for the dueling “UN-DER-TAK-ER / C-M-PUNK” chants, people going insane at the near falls, and all previously mentioned (and pictured) festivities that went with it. It particularly enjoyed that after the match, it didn’t matter if people were chanting for Taker or Punk, they all stood up to cheer “the match”, not just “the winner” (which makes perfect sense in wrestling, when you think about it).
Overall, as I said from the start, the purpose of these two articles was to express how much fun the “WrestleMania Weekend” experience is. I hope I’ve made it clear that I had an absolute blast this year and, while it won’t be WrestleMania XXX, I’m hoping to do this again soon. I hope the readers have been able to take something away from any of this, even if only that I almost tripped and fell or people don’t like John Cena. Take care, and just like James Bond and Tony Stark, I will return.