For more than three decades, I’ve been a fan of professional wrestling. It started with my grandmother. She was a huge fan of a show called Studio Wrestling that was produced locally during the days of the Wrestling Territories. My mother recalls taking her to the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh for a bunch of matches in 1972, featuring Bruno Sammartino and Larry Zbysko among many others.
I wasn’t around yet for that experience, but after Studio Wrestling folded, my grandmother started watching AWA and WWF programming and became a huge fan of a guy named Hulk Hogan in the AWA who made a much bigger name for himself when he moved to Vince McMahon’s WWF.
When I spent time with my grandmother, we’d watch wrestling together on Saturdays, with WWF programming in the morning and AWA programming in the late evening. Eventually the AWA went away and that programming got replaced by the NWA which got replaced by WCW.
When my grandmother passed away, we buried her with a Hulk Hogan trading card. She didn’t live to see Hulk Hogan turn into a bad guy and the leader of the NWO and I stopped watching for a few years until that happened.
I tuned in to an episode of WCW Nitro to see what all of the hype was about. Hulk Hogan, now calling himself “Hollywood” Hogan had turned on the fans and with Kevin Nash, formerly Diesel from WWF, and Scott Hall, formery Razor Ramon from the WWF, had “taken over WCW” as the New World Order.
It was interesting to see Hogan as a bad guy, but the more powerful scene on that episode of WCW Nitro on August 26, 1996, for me was the very end of the show. Ted DiBiase, the WWF’s Million Dollar Man, showed up in the crowd and did a count on his hand. Ric Flair had a group called the Four Horsemen. DiBiase held up five fingers after his count. Was DiBiase joining one of my favorite wrestling factions?
Ted DiBiase had captivated me without saying a word from the crowd on television. I was hooked again. When DiBiase was revealed to be the fifth member of the NWO, I latched on to their faction and continued watching.
The rest is history. Life moved on. I moved on.
While I’ve always kept up on the ongoings of the WWF, now WWE, and other organizations around the country and across the globe, it was like those folks who read the scores in the sports section. It wasn’t as big of a deal for me and I couldn’t invest the tens of hours each week on following every moment of their programming.
Six months ago, I made the conscious effort to invest time in watching all of the professional wrestling programming I could consume before WrestleMania 31 arrived at Levi’s Stadium this past weekend. I started following WWE, TNA, New Japan, AAA and any random independent promotions I could find and watching whatever that week’s programming offered. I wanted to be as up to date as possible on the current product going in to WrestleMania.
On November 14, 2014, I attended a WrestleMania Pre-Sale Kickoff Party at Levi’s Stadium. I paid a reasonable amount of money for the opportunity to meet Hulk Hogan. My grandmother’s favorite wrestler was going to be a special guest of the VIP party and I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
I already had WrestleMania tickets on November 13, when at around 7AM, I picked up two seats that I thought would have a decent view of the action. They weren’t thousands of dollars, which was also a big plus.
So I went in to the Pre-Sale party with the only agenda being meeting Hulk Hogan. Instead, I was in the VIP area when the media showed up and almost all of the WWE personalities that were scheduled to be a part of the public kickoff downstairs were in the room with us. I got to meet Hulk Hogan and his longtime friend Jimmy Hart, but I also got to meet 6x world champion Booker T and get featured in a photo with him on WWE.com. I got to meet Wade “Bad News” Barrett, the first man to win at NXT. I met Ric Flair’s daughter, Charlotte who was at the time the NXT Women’s Champion. She was one of the nicest people I’ve met, shooing away the media to spend time with “the fans who paid to see me.” I also met Rosa Mendes and Tyler Breeze.
Charlotte being so kind to her fans made me check out the more recent incarnation of NXT. I fell in love with wrestling again. The WWE main roster product has become a juvenile show where people call each other “turds” and steal clothing from locker rooms to make it so their opponents can’t compete. In fact, in the closing minutes of WWE’s signature weekly show, Raw, last week, the show ended with World Champion Brock Lesnar playing tug of war with the title with his opponent at WrestleMania, Roman Reigns. The main roster product sucked for almost all of the six months that I’d been watching it. I had low hopes for WrestleMania.
Watching NXT though, a show produced by Vince McMahon’s son in law, Paul Levesque, who is better known to many by his stage name “Hunter Hearst Helmsley” or “Triple H”, reminded me of what my grandmother and I loved about professional wrestling when I was growing up.
NXT is the WWE developmental promotion. They tape a weekly program that airs on the WWE Network, a monthly subscription based service that also hosts on demand all of the WWE, WCW, ECW, AWA and many other pay per view programs with a limited selection of thirty or forty years of television programming as well. The NXT show is taped at Full Sail University in Florida and the production that they are putting out is phenomenal.
I’ve quickly become a fan of stars like Hideo Itami, a rising star here in the United States, but a hugely established wrestling icon in Japan as KENTA, Finn Balor, formerly known as Fergel “Prince” Devitt in Japan and the UK, Sami Zayn, a man who came up through the North American independent promotions under a mask as El Generico, Sasha Banks, a woman who wrestled in New England for five years under the name Mercedes, and Kevin Owens, who sat atop the pile in the independent promotions as Kevin Steen. I started watching NXT one week because Charlotte was kind to me at the pre-party. I kept watching because it was an awesome show.
I watched every Pay Per View for six months and most of the weekly programming that WWE put out. The absolute highlights of that six months were all NXT shows.
I went into WrestleMania weekend with tickets to many events. The first event was a very special show at the San Jose State University Event Center. NXT for only the second time ever was leaving Florida and putting on a live show. I was very excited to be able to see some of the new stars of wrestling battle it out in the ring live in front of me.
The NXT live show didn’t start until 10PM on Friday, so I figured I would be able to go to work and then take BART and CalTrain south to San Jose and have dinner with my wife and then we could go to the show.
I ended up leaving work a couple of hours early and taking a walk around downtown San Jose. I stopped by the Monopoly Board in the park, which is a really cool piece of art, which I assume would be playable just like the real game.
My next stop was the WWE SuperStore at their WrestleMania Axxess event at the McEnery Convention Center. Friday night had Triple H as a VIP headliner at Axxess and I looked into getting one of those tickets on Craigslist, StubHub and even through ticket brokers, just to meet the man and tell him how much I loved what he was doing with NXT. I failed in my search, as I’m sure hundreds of other fans were trying for the same thing. My theory was confirmed as when I arrived at the SuperStore there was a guy at the entrance asking everyone as they walked in if they had an extra Triple H ticket for him to purchase.
The WWE SuperStore had a massive selection of shirts in Sizes Large or Small, mostly Small and a bunch of miscellaneous products, many of which I wouldn’t have expected to exist. A good example was a shark with WrestleMania 31 logo and the date of the show on the side. Another was a light up bling necklace with the WWE logo on it. I looked into purchasing the classic Big Gold Belt that was held by many during the WCW days when the NWO and the Four Horsemen were riding high and also in a storyline I enjoyed with my grandmother where Ric Flair left WCW with the belt and declared him self “The Real World’s Champion” when he moved to the WWF. I love that belt so much I bought a cheap crappy plastic and foam version that was packaged with action figures and is intended for small children.
The belt cost too much. It was $320. Granted, it sells for $380 online, but I was hoping to get a bit of a deal buying direct and locally.
I settled for the crappy plastic and foam version.
Outside of the belt, the only thing I wanted to buy in the SuperStore was a clear tote bag that was officially allowed to be carried in to Levi’s Stadium. The bag was a good $5 investment but not worth the wait for the cashier in the SuperStore.
After stepping out into the lobby, I discovered a table selling those same bags with no line. SCORE! I also checked out Rob Schamberger painting a great picture of Randy Savage, which he worked on all weekend in the lobby.
Then I left and headed out toward the San Jose State University campus. Along the way, I stopped by The Pita Pit and had a nice salad for dinner, getting my wife a pita for when she arrived. I stopped by My Milkshake next door and ordered a almond milk, frozen yogurt, strawberry and nutella shake they nicknamed “Spider Man” because of it’s reddish color. My wife arrived while I was waiting for the order and we split the milkshake while she ate her chicken pita.
After dinner, we headed to SJSU and got in line with the hundreds of others already waiting to go in to the Event Center. It was only 8:30 and the show didn’t start until 10 and there were no general admission tickets. We just all wanted to be in line for some reason. There were folks high fiving as they went down the line to get to the end of the line. Lots of people with championship belt replicas and almost everyone was decked out in some form of pro wrestling tee shirt. A few had very creative signs and some had basic signs they planned to hold up for the stars in the ring to read. It felt like a combination of a rock concert and a sporting event.
When they let us in the building, a bunch of folks ended up heading directly for the merchandise booth. They had tee shirts, programs, autographed 8x10s of a bunch of NXT stars, replica NXT belts, costume parts, tons of stuff. I bought a Kevin Owens NXT tee shirt and my wife convinced me to buy the WWE/NXT Live Event program which is actually really awesome.
Our seats were fabulous. We had a perfect view of the ring and the wrestler entrance ramp. The capacity crowd of around 5,300 people used up all of the chairs in the venue. Backstage, they had tons of legends of professional wrestling and current WWE employees watching and listening as the crowd responded to the events taking place in the ring. It felt magical. Being in that arena, as a part of that live show, truly was something special. It was the highlight of my WrestleMania weekend and I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to attend. My wife, who doesn’t care about wrestling at all and came with me as support and as my documenter, taking photos for me and keeping tabs on social media about the events, even had a good time.
The show opened with NXT Announcer JoJo Offerman singing the National Anthem. She sang it very well to loud cheers from the crowd. My wife was impressed that she was even in attendance.
Then, Corey Graves came out with a microphone that wasn’t working, which lead to a “you fucked up” chant from the crowd. When Graves took a working mic from JoJo and said that before the wrestling started he needed to tell a story, he was met with resounding boos from the crowd who were there for the awesome wrestling action. Graves told tale of the origin of NXT and how it started as Florida Championship Wrestling, a developmental company and rised to the NXT that can sell out 5000 person venues in just a short period of time. It was a good introduction to the brand, but we all knew why we were there.
The show properly started with Hideo Itami versus Tyler Breeze. These two have been feuding on NXT’s weekly Full Sail show for a few months. The match was nothing like the ones they’ve shown on that program. It had comedy. It had action. Both guys showed their personalities and told a story and neither one of them said a word. Through gestures and actions, they told a more compelling story in 20 minutes than the WWE main roster told in six months.
They also made the crowd very happy when Hideo Itami used a move that he created, the Go 2 Sleep or GTS for short, which CM Punk stole from him a decade ago, to win the match.
The second match was the worst of the night as Bull Dempsey faced Jason Jordan. Neither of them are really all that great at professional wrestling, whether it be storytelling, choreography or actual grappling. The crowd got behind Bull by chanting his catchphrase BULL followed by a pause and then SHIT. Okay, maybe that’s not really getting behind him. They turned on Bull at some point and started chanting “Let’s Go Jobber” rooting for Jordan. Jobbers are the guys that “do the job” and lose in professional wrestling, so I guess that wasn’t so complementary either. At any rate, after some form of bodyslam of the bigger heavyweight guy, Jordan won.
Match Number Three was a women’s tag team match with hometown girl Bayley and Alexa Bliss up against Becky Lynch and Dana Brooke. I’ve never seen Dana Brooke wrestle before. She’s some form of a bodybuilding fitness star outside of NXT and kept flexing her muscles both outside of the ring and inside the ring. Bayley and Bliss made a good team, with Bliss playing the “face in peril” for much of the match, trying to get a tag to Bayley but the villainous Lynch and Brooke kept dragging her into the opposing corner and beating her up more. Eventually, Bliss was able to tag in Bayley to a loud roar from the crowd and Bayley scored the victory.
They did a short interview with Bayley and Bliss afterward talking about how Bliss had gotten to perform in front of her hometown crowd in Ohio earlier in the month and Bayley had her hometown show tonight. I hadn’t made the connection but see how that could lead to the tag team arrangement for the show.
They pulled out a trampoline, which my wife noticed and thought was a table, so I knew that the Lucha Dragons, who use the trampoline to magically leap over the top rope from the floor and into the ring, would be coming to the ring next. It ended up being just Kalisto, a Mexican luchador who was once a tag team partner to La Parka, my favorite luchador of all time. Kalisto was facing Solomon Crowe, formerly known as Sami Callahan in other a bunch of North American independent promotions. The crowd chanted “Lucha! Lucha!” at Kalisto but the biggest chant was “Turn the lights off! We can’t see shit!” from the back of the arena. The message came across and the bright lights that were shining in their eyes were turned off part of the way through the match. In the end, Crowe came out on top.
Baron Corbin was announced next and I told my wife his match would be short. Then Rhyno’s music hit and the crowd went crazy. Rhyno has been around in many different wrestling organizations since 1999. He just recently returned to the WWE with NXT and the crowd were very into his appearance in San Jose. Corbin ended up heavily booed, winning the match with his End of Days finishing move, but then Rhyno got up and did his “Gore” tackle to a giant cheer from those in attendance.
After that match, it was intermission time.
When intermission ended, Corey Graves returned to the ring and apologized in advance but again, we couldn’t move on to wrestling just yet because he had a surprise.
Triple H’s music hit and the crowd went crazy. He came down to the ring and told us some of the WWE luminaries in the back, and even pointed out former WWE commentator and the guy he replaced as WWE Talent Relations manager, Jim Ross was there with a front row seat. Ross wasn’t the only talent there. Vince McMahon had even come to the event and was backstage, with his daughter and Triple H’s wife, Stephanie and a whole host of legends and current superstars. But as Triple H rightly put it, none of us cared about those people. We were there to see the future stars. He thanked us for being a part of their biggest show yet.
Up next was a three way tag team championship match with current NXT Tag Team Champions Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy against The Vaudevillains (Aiden English and Simon Gotch) against Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady.
Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady have a introductory speech and a couple of catchphrases that make them very over with crowds. People love them. Cassady is a big guy and a pretty skilled wrestler. Amore is a good talker and not a very good wrestler. They bring a woman wrestler named Carmella out with them and she usually leads to them losing in one way or another. I’m expecting at some point they’ll turn on Carmella and win the tag titles.
On Friday night, Cassady pinned one of the Vaudevillains and the crowd thought they may have won the tag titles. Instead, JoJo announced that the Vaudevillains had been eliminated. After Carmella tried to interfere and ended up bumped off of the ring apron, Murphy rolled up Cassady for the pinfall and the champions retained their titles.
The next match was NXT Women’s Champion Sasha Banks against Charlotte. The woman that introduced me to the new version of NXT was challenging for the title that she held when I met her. They put on a great match, with near pinfalls and near submissions happening throughout the match. Sasha even pulled out Charlotte’s hair extensions at one point. I had no idea what was lying in the ring but my wife let me know what it was. The crowd were very into the match, chanting “This is wrestling” and “Better than Mania” and “This is awesome” several times. It was a great match. Sasha won after making Charlotte submit to the Bank Statement.
Sasha did a brief interview about how she’s the greatest women’s champion ever in NXT. There were only two women’s champions before her, so that’s likely accurate. After Sasha headed to the back, the “recovered” Charlotte left the ring to a “Thank you Charlotte” chant.
Up next were two guys that would have been in the main event, but they were injured. Instead we got a spirited debate between Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. They both cut promos that told part of their story of coming up through the North American independent promotions to finally join the WWE in NXT. Then they berated each other as only two great friends and bitter rivals can do. It was just a promo, but it let the crowd see the two stars many of them paid to see. I’m glad they still came out to the ring, even if neither is currently capable of wrestling.
The main event was Adrian Neville, formerly known as Pac in independent organizations around the world against Finn Balor. Balor came out in full face/body paint, a gimmick that he only reserves for special occassions and something he didn’t even do for a title match against Kevin Owens on the most recently broadcast weekly show. The crowd, who already knew we were a part of something special, cheered loudly “Holy shit” and “This is awesome.” It was awesome. The match was high flying and competitive. Balor ended up winning with his Coup de Grace finisher.
JoJo thanked the fans and the best event of the weekend ended over three hours in. Seeing as how NXT is normally a one hour show, I expected maybe 80 minutes. We got over three hours and it was excellent.
Our second big event for WrestleMania weekend was WrestleCon. WrestleCon is an independent convention booked annually around WrestleMania to capitalize on the huge number of wrestling fans that will be in a given town at the same time. It is a smaller gathering, only having capacity for around 800 people per session, and for San Jose featured 100+ wrestling talents from around the world. I found out about WrestleCon shortly after the VIP guests for the WWE’s Fan Axxess convention were announced and I did a search for Ric Flair. He and Bret Hart were both VIP headliners at Fan Axxess commanding premium prices of $194 each. At WrestleCon, it cost less for both of their autographs plus photo ops and admission.
WrestleCon was being held at the San Jose Airport Garden Hotel and started at 9AM for their second session of the weekend, and the first we had tickets to. We got there early enough to get a parking space and wandered around trying to find where we would get our registration wristbands. We obtained them and were the first folks in line for the 9AM signing by Diamond Dallas Page. Page was not a multiple time WCW World Heavyweight Champion but has also in recent years legitimately saved lives of some of his peers through an extensive Yoga and wellness program he markets as DDP Yoga. After shuffling from one signing area to another and back to the original location, Page was settled in and the first of several big highlights for the eight year old in me happened. Not only did I get to take a photo with a wrestling legend, he hoisted his big gold belt onto my shoulder as we posed together doing his Diamond Cutter hand sign. It was a special moment for me and one I will likely never forget. Page also signed a photo and a DDP Yoga flyer for me after I thanked him for saving lives. Once I’m cleared to start a real exercise program, DDP Yoga is definitely something I am planning to look into which makes that brief interaction all that more special to me.
We headed next to the line for the Nature Boy himself, Ric Flair. When watching NWA and WCW with my grandmother, Flair and his group, the Four Horsemen were almost always my favorites. Lots of kids looked up to Sting and Lex Luger, I liked the villainous guys who were jet-flying, limousine riding, kiss stealing, wheeling and dealing sons of guns. It wasn’t a long wait in line, and Flair was a very nice guy, telling the tale of how in 42 years he has only missed 4 matches and three of them were because he was at his late son Reid’s wrestling meets and he didn’t want to leave.
Flair and his handlers had replica belts and presigned Hogan/Flair photos that were very nice for sale at their table. I’d have loved to have spent the $125 on the Hogan/Flair photo but I have both of their autographs now. Instead of paying $750 for a replica Gold Eagle 80’s Era WWF title, I had Flair sign my 2003 foam and plastic toy era big gold belt. When we posed for the photo, Flair held up the four finger sign of the horsemen and I derpily almost didn’t do the same. I was so starstruck when I sat down next to the man. Again, an honor to meet such a legend.
We headed back to the main convention ballroom in search of Kevin Nash’s table. I circled the ballroom a couple of times before finding several other folks that I’d also prepurchased autographs and/or photo opportunities from or added to my list of folks I’d like to meet. I met and took a photo and autograph from Samoa Joe, one of the kings of independent wrestling and WWE competitor TNA Wrestling. I met Eric Bischoff, the man that made Ted Turner’s WCW the top wrestling promotion in the world for a good portion of the 90’s with the New World Order angle. It was while I was in line to take a photo with Bubba Ray and Devon Dudley that they made the announcement that Kevin Nash would not be appearing due to his induction in the WWE Hall of Fame later on Saturday evening.
While I was about to get my Dudleys photo, Oscar from Men on a Mission took the mic and did a rap about the wrestlers in attendance at the convention. It was a great freestyle rap which showed that Oscar still has it. We were all distracted and captivated by Oscar’s performance. After he finished, PJ Black, formerly Justin Gabriel in WWE came over and said Hi to the Dudleys and then I got my photo.
We got in Scott Hall and Sean Waltman’s line next. It was fairly long but moved along pretty quickly. I noticed that Scott Steiner was being advertised in the next row and my wife confirmed after I described him that he was there. We jumped out of the line and I got a photo and autograph from Steiner. Then we jumped back into the end of the Hall/Waltman line. As we got near the front of the line, Sean jumped from behind the table and went off in search of a pain reliever. His back was bothering him. He was unsuccessful in his search but I got a cool photo with Hall and Waltman. Hall, Waltman and Steiner were all members of the New World Order. Together with Hogan, Nash, Bischoff, Dibiase and many others, they brought professional wrestling into the mainstream in the 90’s.
Up next we headed outside again to get in line for Bret Hart. The Hart line was the longest of WrestleCon for us, but we managed to get in and get my photo and autograph from him in plenty of time to finish up the last few legend meeting opportunities that I wanted. Hart became one of my favorites because his last name was the same as the first part of my last name when I was a kid. Meeting him, as well as everyone else throughout the weekend was an amazing experience.
We headed back to the main ballroom and I met legendary manager and commentator Bobby Heenan next. Heenan was stricken with throat cancer in 2002 and his appearance and voice have changed dramatically, but he is still very much alive. He had a bad fall in 2014 in which he broke a hip, which also means that he is now confined to a wheelchair. While he couldn’t really speak, it was still an honor to meet the man who brought a lot of joy to both my grandmother and I with his time as “The Brain” in the WWF.
We headed out to the Ballroom Foyer and met Japanese legend Jushin Liger next. My wife was my photographer all weekend long, but after she snapped a photo of me and Liger, even though he knows limited English, he made her hand the camera to his handler and take a photo with all three of us together. Liger was charging less than many of the people who lived in the United States for autographs and photos and yet was so appreciative of us being there that he gave us several more photo opportunities for free. It was the second huge highlight of the session for me. He’s also always been one of my favorite competitors and was the primary reason why I bought tickets for a second session at WrestleCon, Session Three, which happened later Saturday evening and was a full Wrestling SuperShow with some of the wrestlers from the convention mixing it up in a ring in the ballroom starting at 7:45pm.
After meeting Jushin Liger, we watched as Brian Kendrick played some Cards Against Humanity with fans and then we headed across First Street to NYPD (New York Pizza and Dogs) for lunch. My wife got me a nice house salad with chicken and a very welcome caffeine supplement in iced tea. She had a pizza slice and some garlic knots. After finishing my meal, I headed back to WrestleCon to inquire about a refund for our prepaid Kevin Nash autograph and photo opportunity. I couldn’t find any answers regarding a refund but as I walked down their aisle, The Addiction (Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian) roped me in to buying a “heavily discounted” $10 photo op from them. It was a ploy it seems to get me to take a photo of them with their friend Shelly Martinez and make a few dollars as well. As I was a fan and it was a reasonable price, I complied and Shelly took a photo of me and the guys first on my phone and then handed me hers to take her photo with them.
That photo op ended my WrestleCon session and I met up with my wife and we headed to the VTA stop to go into downtown San Jose for the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony at SAP Center.
The Hall of Fame ceremony was bloated with a bunch of inductees and the only one I really cared about died in 2011. I had bought tickets when they became available with only Randy Savage as a named inductee. The chance to see Jushin Liger wrestle live made me no longer want to go to the Hall of Fame ceremony, but since the tickets were pretty much unsellable, we made the trip to see at least a portion of the event.
We were there to see the wrestlers and their families arrive via the red carpet and then for the first three inductions of the night.
Rikishi was first and was inducted by his two sons, who now perform as Jimmy and Jey Uso for the WWE. His speech was all about his legendary wrestling family and had so much focus on them that he neglected to mention his tag team partners in Too Cool, which judging by Twitter really pissed them off.
Larry Zbyszko was up next, with fellow Pittsburgher Bruno Sammartino handling his induction. Zbyszko is a talented talker and he tried to remain humble in his speech. Per online reports, his story of trespassing onto Bruno’s property through his backyard hedges and falling into a rabbit hole that became his wrestling career, only to come out on the other side of that rabbit hole as a hall of fame inductee, was the best of the night.
Madusa Miceli, who was inducted under her WWE name, Alundra Blayze was up next. Natalya Neidhart handled welcoming her for her induction. Madusa’s speech felt fake entertaining phoney, with the main focus of her induction and speech being about her throwing the WWF Women’s title into a trash can on WCW Nitro on December 18, 1995. A trash can was produced partway through her speech and after pulling many other items out of it, she pulled out the WWF Women’s title and said it was now back home where it belonged.
We left after that third speech, as it was already 6:30 and WrestleCon Session Three started at 7:45. It turned out leaving was a very good idea, as the next award was the Warrior Award, which was being awarded posthumously to Connor Michalek, a child who died of cancer shortly after last year’s WrestleMania. His Make A Wish trip to WrestleMania really touched the WWE performers and following The Ultimate Warrior’s death two days after WrestleMania last year as well, they established this award as a tribute to both Warrior and Connor. Apparently The Ultimate Warrior’s wife Dana spent a very long time talking about Warrior and then a very long time talking about Connor before introducing Daniel Bryan who talked for a very long time as well before introducing Connor’s father to accept the award to chants of “This is Awesome” from tools in the section we had been sitting in. Despite the fact that there were signs and verbal warnings multiple times to not catcall or chant or yell at people on stage during the ceremony a few dumbasses ruined the experience for everyone else watching at SAP Center and at home. A kid dying from cancer is not awesome.
Connor’s brother came up next and talked too. We got all the way back to WrestleCon and the award was still being presented.
We got back to WrestleCon for Session 3 and I grabbed seats in the corner that had lights shining directly in our faces. Then I noticed those same lights were in each corner of the ballroom. There wasn’t a good view to be had anywhere. The crowd continued to fill in throughout the first half of the show. The ballroom’s fire code capacity was 1142 and I’d say for the “main event” of the first half, there were probably 1000 plus the ring and lighting rigs in the room.
While NXT felt like the future of wrestling, WrestleCon’s SuperShow felt like a gritty underground wrestling event that was about to get shut down for fire code violations.
Here’s my brief match notes on everything up to what I considered the main event:
Disco Inferno over Mr. TA following a swinging neckbreaker.
Jessicka Havok over Tessa Blanchard after a chokeslam.
John Hennigan (billed as “Morrison”) over ACH following some flippy shit (it was actually Starship Pain, a move the crowd had asked for).
“Your Teacher” Matt Striker over “Cub Scout” Jake Manning following I can’t see because people were standing in front of me and the light was shining in my eyes. (Online reports indicate it was the Pedigree, which is Triple H’s finishing maneuver as well and that the match really only consisted of that one move.)
During the Striker vs Manning match, Striker took a microphone and challenged a fan in the audience who said that he should “stick to commentary” to get into the ring and he would show him why being a wrestler was his first love. The fan declined.
World’s Cutest Tag Team (Candace LaRae and Joey Ryan) over World’s Dudest Tag Team (Caleb Konley and Zane Riley). (The crowd seemed into this match. Not only could I not see, but I didn’t care.)
It was at this point in the show that the WWE Hall of Fame Ceremony finally ended.
Brian Kendrick over Cedric Alexander. (Kendrick did Sliced Bread, one of his signature moves, but Alexander kicked out. Alexander tried a frog splash but Kendrick caught him and rolled him up for the pin. This match didn’t seem well rehearsed but I suspect that Kendrick, who wasn’t advertised for the event, was added in place of Samoa Joe who did not appear.)
Aerostar came out with pyro shooting from his costume as part of his ring entrance. (It turns out this was a legit portable flamethrower.)
Aerostar over Jack Evans and Andrew Everett. (This match had a lot of flying acrobatics. It would have been my match of the night, considering the pyro and the flying around, but another later match completely topped this one and didn’t require any pyro to do so.)
Up next was the main event of the first half of the show: Team Funny Draws Money (Colt Cabana, Big Ryck, Tommy Dreamer, Matt Sydal, Bubba Ray and Devon Dudley) over Team Chris Hero Ain’t Nothing to F*ck With (Chris Hero, Drew Gulak, Tommaso Ciampa, Brian Myers, James Storm and Abyss). Brian Myers was pinned by Matt Sydal after pretty much everyone on Colt Cabana’s team hit their finishing move on him. There was a lot of comedy in this one and it felt like a spotfest mixed with a bunch of nostalgia. The crowd was also at its biggest for this one as they filed in from the hall of fame around the point that this match got started.
Intermission came next. A lot of folks left, so the only real nemesis for the next match was the flood lighting.
The match of the night and the last one we stayed for was Jushin Liger, A.R. Fox and Ricochet over Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian and Roderick Strong. Daniels and Kazarian came out dressed as the Legion of Doom, complete with full face paint. Road Warrior Animal, the surviving member of the Legion of Doom was in attendance in the audience. This match was amazing. A.R. Fox and Ricochet were flying all over the inside and outside of the ring for good portion of this near 15 minute matchup. I’d never heard of either of them but they’ve worked for independent promotions for most of this decade and Ricochet under the ring name Prince Puma and under a luchador mask is the current champion of the Lucha Underground promotion. After watching this match, I’ll definitely be seeking out more A.R. Fox and Ricochet footage. They are tremendous wrestlers.
Liger at 50 years old doesn’t do as much high flying as he did 20 years ago, but he still did a ton of power moves in the ring and scored the pinfall victory over Daniels following a brainbuster.
The two biggest highlights of my day were meeting Diamond Dallas Page and Jushin Liger and the best match of the night for me was Jushin Liger, A.R. Fox and Ricochet over Daniels/Kazarian and Strong. Hard to imagine when I also met Ric Flair and Bret Hart on the same day!
We left before the main event, which featured Matt and Jeff Hardy against Sabu and Rob Van Dam. Online reports indicated they broke a table in half in the ring and Rob Van Dam pinned Jeff Hardy. We missed the Hall of Fame inductions of The Bushwhackers (inducted by John Lauranitis, whose brother Road Warrior Animal was at WrestleCon with us), Tatsumi Fujinami (inducted by Ric Flair), Randy Savage (inducted by Hulk Hogan and accepted by Lanny Poffo), Arnold Schwarzenegger (inducted by Triple H) and Kevin Nash (inducted by Shawn Michaels). The show ended with long time “Kliq” and friends Triple H, Nash, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman and Shawn Michaels celebrating.
It was nice to be home and ready for bed a bit after midnight.
Sunday morning, we needed to be at the McEnery Convention Center at 8AM for WWE Fan Axxess. The general admission lineup included Roddy Piper and he was the one other legend that I really wanted to meet. I had heard tales of really poor fan experiences at Axxess all weekend. I had seen first hand at the SuperStore the huge crowd for the Bella Twins, two women that aren’t good wrestlers and I’m pretty sure shouldn’t have a giant demand. I expected the worst but hoped for the best.
We arrived on time and got to watch Ric Flair induct Tatsumi Fujinami and part of Hulk Hogan’s speech about Randy Savage in the queue room on the way in. We got inside and Piper wasn’t listed in the 8-10AM block of autograph signers. We instead jumped in line for the Elimination Chamber Photo Op, which let us step into a steel cage wrestling ring and take a photo with WWE performer. We had no idea who the performer would be but it ended up being 2 Time World Heavyweight Champion, 4 time Intercontinental Champion, 1 time Tag Team Champion, 1 time United States Champion, Slammy Award Winning and very talented wrestler Dolph Ziggler. I was shocked that Ziggler was our photo op. He was about to have an Intercontinental Championship match at WrestleMania just hours away and he was spending his morning getting hit with flash bulbs and hugged by random women who walk through the exit straight past the security guy.
Our photo op turned out pretty awesome and the WWE folks approached us afterward to sign a waiver. We may show up in footage on WWE.com or even Monday Night Raw or WWE Network highlights of Axxess.
We headed next toward the NXT area and I noticed the TapOut stage where Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and Sgt. Slaughter were signing autographs. We tried our luck in the line and the line was cut off just a few people before us. We had a selfie my wife took of us in front of the table while we were still in line with the two legends in the background with us. What I thought was the coolest part at the time was Steamboat and Slaughter stepping down and handing presigned autographs to a bunch of us. That didn’t end up being the coolest thing. Several minutes later it was confirmed that the next two autograph signers to come to the TapOut stage were Ted Dibiase and Roddy Piper!
We were fourth or fifth in line and despite the 20 minute delay in them coming out we were through the queue quickly, meeting two of the greatest villains of WWE history. It was the best possible outcome I could have asked for at Axxess.
While in line for Steamboat/Slaughter, we got to see Bayley and Mike Rallis beat Carmella and Colin Cassady, a Q&A with recently re-signed Brad Maddox, a very good Q&A with The Big Show, Bull Dempsey over Marcus Louis, Baron Corbin over CJ Parker and had an obstructed view for Sasha Banks beating Becky Lynch and Charlotte to retain the NXT Women’s Title in the ring directly across from the TapOut Stage. It was awesome.
We tried to get in the NXT autograph line for Kevin Owens but it was closed, so we walked around and went to the Sharknado 3 Photo Booth and then the WWE memorabilia exhibit before heading out through the SuperStore and getting free posters from Mattel in the lobby.
We headed to our car, which my wife drove to her current workplace, which is conveniently located near a VTA stop on the Mountain View line. We parked, hopped on a VTA train and got to WrestleMania in time to hear Taiko drummers soundchecking for Sting’s entrance. They opened the gates around 1:40 and we slowly made our way to our section. Our seats were in direct sunlight and had a somewhat obstructed view due to the lighting rig around the ring, but they weren’t bad and we could see three jumbotrons to follow the action. We were also not on the camera side of the stadium, which meant that for the majority of the big moves and celebrations, the wrestlers had their backs turned to us. My wife spent the majority of the show in the shade at the top of our section. I sat through the best matches of the show in the direct sun. Sunscreen dripped down my face into my right eye at one point which burned a bit, but otherwise, I got no sunburn or lasting effects in my eye.
We had ice cream before we got to our section. I had an It’s It sandwich and my wife had frozen custard. It was a good choice.
I’m not going to talk much about WrestleMania’s matches. If you want to know more than the brief summaries below, check out the WWE Network or buy a DVD or Blu-Ray.
There was a four way title match between Los Matadores, The Usos, The New Day and champions Tyson Kid and Cesaro. Kidd and Cesaro won. The Big Show won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and Damian Sandow broke away from The Miz during the match. Those both happened on the pre-show.
LL Cool J in a prerecorded statement opened the show, followed by Aloe Blacc singing America The Beautiful.
The first match of the main WrestleMania program was a seven way match for the Intercontinental Title. Pat Patterson, the first Intercontinental champion brought out the title and it dangled above the ring in a ladder match. Daniel Bryan beat Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth, Dean Ambrose, Wade Barrett, Stardust and Luke Harper to win the title.
Randy Orton beat Seth Rollins which also included interference on behalf of Rollins by Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury.
The Triple H versus Sting match was next and is the one I’ll be writing more about, so I’ll leave that for later.
AJ Lee and Paige beat the Bella Twins. Basically it was just AJ beating Nikki Bella with Paige and Brie Bella on the ring apron for almost the entire match.
Triple H and Stephanie announced the new attendance record for Levi’s Stadium for WrestleMania and were talking in character how it was all thanks to the two of them when The Rock interrupted which eventually lead to an altercation between Ronda Rousey and Stephanie and Triple H and The Rock. It would have been better if The Rock’s words weren’t written so juvenile.
John Cena beat Rusev for the United States title but the real winner was Rusev’s entrace, which included cannons firing, a tank and a bunch of actors dressed as Russian soldiers.
The Undertaker beat Bray Wyatt in a really shitty match following a bunch of technical glitches during his ring entrance.
Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns fought a match where Lesnar dominated Reigns and then Reigns recovered just in time for Seth Rollins to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase contract and pin Reigns to leave WrestleMania as the new WWE champion.
The highlight of WrestleMania for me was the Triple H vs Sting match. It included run ins from Billy Gunn, Road Dogg, X-Pac (Sean Waltman) and Shawn Michaels from Degeneration X and Hollywood Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall from the NWO. It was everything that the WWF vs WCW Monday Night Wars were encapsulated into one match a decade and a half later and it was the best WrestleMania match I could have asked for. When Triple H and Sting shook hands, I knew that the time was now. I was ready to give up constant consumption of WWE programming. I can close the thirty plus year chapter of my life on that high note.
It was a huge weekend. I am incredibly grateful to my wife for tolerating it. Many awesome memories and a 8,000 word blog post later, and I’m no longer that 8 year old boy but it was one hell of a nostalgia trip!