Originally published on TWM News on 2nd June 2017
Life seems to have got back in the way since coming back from Orlando, but Charlie Boy from our ‘That Wrestling Podcast’ reflects on his trip to his very first live Wrestlemania weekend.
Wednesday 29th March 2017 saw Article 50 triggered to start proceedings for the UK to leave the EU. I graced my Facebook page with a rare status teasing that ‘I suppose I better get a head start and leave the country before I get an invite to leave’. Yes, I was leaving the country to go to my very first Wrestlemania.
I made the impromptu decision to go at the beginning of the year when Kurt Angle was announced going into the Hall of Fame. I jumped straight online and searched for Wrestlemania 33 tickets. I looked for tickets in any section, I didn’t care where it was as long as I was in the Citrus Bowl. A message came up saying that ‘500 people were looking at seats in this section now’. So the time had come, I was put on the spot, am I going to Wrestlemania or not?
The drastic plastic card came out, I pumped in the details, and then I waited for 10 seconds….then 30 seconds…..then another 30 seconds….and finally BOOM! I secured a ticket for my very first Wrestlemania, followed immediately by confirmation of the special delivery date by FedEx. I laid in my bed and thought to myself, “What the f*** have I just done?”
Ten days later, my Dad informed me that he signed for a delivery for me from Federal Express, and I went round to my Mum and Dad’s as fast I could, there was a A3 size envelope, I opened it carefully, and out it fell, my ticket. I stared at it for a few minutes, it hit me. I was finally going to Wrestlemania.
My first Wrestlemania was number 6 featuring Hulk Hogan v Ultimate Warrior for the World and Intercontinental Championships. My Nan who was the biggest wrestling fan in my family came round to watch it live. At the end of Mania 6 I said to my Nan “When I grow up I’ll take you to Wrestlemania”. Wrestlemania 6 was a symbolic one for me as it was the first and one of the last Wrestlemania’s that me and my Grandmother would watch together.
I use to watch World of Sport Wrestling on ITV with my Nan in the early 80s when I used to spend the weekends with her, and I thought it was boring, but on the other hand my Nan use to love it. Then in 1989 I saw WWF for the first time, again I thought it was rubbish, but when I realised that most fights had a purpose to them, and that wrestlers were feuding with each other I got hooked on it.
Twenty eight years later, I’m still a wrestling fan. It seems that many adult wrestling fans hide the fact they still watch it like its some dirty secret. In recent years I took a break from watching it, as the switch from TV14 back to PG just didn’t initially appeal to me, however I would casually dip in to watch WWE in the run up to Mania. I gradually got drawn back into it with the introduction of NXT, and at the same time I started going regularly to independent wrestling shows.
WEDNESDAY 29th March
I began my journey to Florida with a stop off in Toronto to change for my flight to Orlando. I planned to get some sleep on the seven hour flight to Canada, but the strange dude sitting next to me decided to watch the movie 12 Years A Slave which you would appreciate made me feel slightly uncomfortable to say that least. I did manage to get some sleep for about three hours, and in due course manage to piss the12 Years A Slave viewer off as I do believe I was mildly snoring. One-nil to Charlie Boy!
The stopover in Toronto was for nine hours, and luckily my older sibling lives there, and not too far away from the airport. Surprisingly he was actually on time at the airport to pick me up, and we went for a quick drive around Toronto to the soundtrack of Drake’s new album who is a Toronto native, and we headed back to his apartment where my nieces were waiting for me, which incidentally is a two minute drive away from the SkyDome where Mania’s 6 and 18 were held. I thought I’d shoehorn that fact in.
My brother also pointed out that he lives a few blocks away from the Air Canada Center where the Toronto Raptors basketball team were playing at home that night. He also informed me that he get discounts to any events at the venue, and said I could of come over for Survivor Series last November. Well thanks Rick for telling me this four months later.
THURSDAY 30th March
I probably got about an hour’s sleep before my brother dropped me back to the airport in Toronto. I was waiting in the departure lounge, and then a growing number of fellow passengers turned up wearing numerous wrestling merchandise, which validated I was definitely really on my way to Wrestlemania. Again I tried to sleep but couldn’t because of some bastard hyperactive kid who looked like he was related to Shinsuke Nakamura started kicking off! I arrived in Orlando 9am local time which was 2pm UK time, so I’d been awake for over 24 hours, and the jetlag was kicking in hard.
I needed to answer a call of nature when I got off the plane, and I walking through the airport like one of the zombies from Shaun of the Dead. Not looking where I was going I accidentally bumped into this dude on his way to the toilet, he politely apologized, and I said it was my fault not looking where I was going.
I don’t know if it was the jetlag kicking in, or my mind playing tricks on me, but I thought, he looks familiar, it was only Kevin f@#ing Owens! Once I made my way outside of the airport to grab my airport transfer, again I bumped into him, and this time I thought he was going to break into character. We both laughed, and he asked me where I was from, and what brought me to Orlando. I gave him the answers to both his questions which resulted in perhaps one of my greatest pictures ever.
On the way to the hotel, my transfer minibus driver gave me a nice narrative and background to Orlando, I could genuinely see out of one eye by now, as he told me loads of alligator stories, and I politely nodded in acknowledgement with heavy eyelids. I arrived at my hotel on Orlando’s International Drive, I wasn’t able to check in for a few hours which was fine, so I trampled on some lizards, went across the road to the shop, and grabbed a pair of new sunglasses and a giant can of Orange Red Bull to wake me up.
I messaged my wrestling pal Adam from Reading who had been in Orlando for four days, and he came and met…sorry rescued and guided me along the sidewalk like Gene Wilder did to Richard Pryor in See No Evil, Hear No Evil in the direction of the massive Orlando County Convention Center to grab my Saturday morning ticket for Wrestlemania Axxess.
Whilst we were in the Convention Center I had kind of woken up again thanks to the Orange Red Bull, and dived into the packed Wrestlemania Superstore. And who was the first person I bumped into? TWM’s head honcho Dean Puckering. We exchanged pleasantries, and I went and literally grabbed a Seth Rollins Kingslayer shirt which were going like hot cakes, and had a brief look-around.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, there were fans there who paid $500 for life-sized replica championship belts, you could also buy New Day’s Booty-o cereal, JR’s BBQ sauce, and more. I had to be financially sensible as just from looking around I had already spent about a grand in head. I left the superstore to head back and check in at my hotel, and link up with Matty and Kymberly to record a Pre-Mania ‘That Wrestling Podcast’ whilst trying to keep lizards from running into my room.
After a quick shower, I headed up the Wyndham Orlando Resort for the Wrestlecon Launch Party which was one of the many non-WWE events that was happening in Orlando so independent promoters could capitalise on the wrestling crowd in town. Wrestlecon is a convention where you can meet ol’ skool wrestling stars like Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Jake Roberts who were there to sign autographs, and you can buy merchandise from them etc.
The launch party was a Q&A session hosted by Matt Striker, and the guests were none other than Sting and Ric Flair. Let me tell you something about Ric Flair — he is the most respected wrestler, and genuinely considered as the greatest wrestling world champion of all time in North America, he is genuinely loved and respected over there. And it was a privilege of mine to also be in the company of the greatest play-by-play commentator, Jim Ross who said that he didn’t have to be in Orlando for this event due to the recent passing of his wife, but he said he was going to be there, and didn’t want to let all the people down that had given up their time and money to come and see him.
The session was in full swing, and most of the questions where directed at Flair ranging from his thoughts on John Cena equaling his number of world title reigns, to which he replied that he has no problem with it whatsoever, because Cena has a strong work ethic. If he is asked to do an interview at 5am he’ll do it, this guy always puts other people before himself, and is still at heart a wrestling fan”. Other questions from the audience to Flair included the taboo question of “why didn’t the Flair vs Hogan not take place at Wrestlemania 8” Also questions directed to Sting and Jim Ross ranged from “what they thought of the current wrestling product” and “how they felt when WCW finally closed down”. Sting also revealed that it was Scott Hall who suggested the Crow character gimmick for him in the nWo Wolfpac.
Sting and Flair had to leave the Q&A session early so we were left in the company of JR, if felt surreal as it was like he was having a chat in his living room, he was giving us his thoughts on Mania and announced to us exclusively that he was going to be commentating on the show, and how he was coping with his recent loss, he is a true wrestling professional, he could of gone on for hours.
After the session concluded I went and grabbed something to eat, and then headed back to my hotel to sleep off the jetlag.
FRIDAY 31st March
I got woken up by an impromptu Whatsapp call from my little brother and his girlfriend, I ask him what time it was, he said “it’s quarter pass midday isn’t it?” I looked to my right on the alarm clock next to my bed and I said to him in Back to the Future style “well it’s 7:15 am here in good ol’ Central Florida you cheeky chimp”. They phoned to wish me a good time and to enjoy myself, with that blessing I was up very awake a few moments later, and I was ready to get up and out into the Florida heat to top up my tan and get flame grilled!
A five minute walk from my hotel was the new Hulk Hogan Beach Shop which was opening, so I took a stroll up there. He was doing signed autographs during Mania week in his store which was selling most things related to him, and was also a part museum displaying championship titles, a custom-made Hogan Dodge Viper (which I was told had to be craned through the window), and a NWO-branded Harley Davidson.
There was a long queue of fans waiting to meet him for a signed autograph and photo opportunity. I was at the front of the store on the non queueing side with others who wanted to get a glimpse of him in person. The man is still in serious shape for a 63 year old, he is genuinely a flipping big dude. One fan who had just left the store looked a bit disappointed and said “Jesus, that was the quickest $200 I spent, it was quicker than swipping my card”.
I had a few hours to kill so I spent that getting familiar with the surroundings and sites in Orlando, the heat was just bearable and in the words of Chris Jericho I just ‘took it in maaaaaaaaaan’.
I was back at the Wyndham Orlando Resort but this time I was there to witness another history making event, it was the first time that Rev Pro UK an independent organisation I follow host their first live event in North America. The vibe was very different to that at York Hall, mainly because there were a lot of American fans who had difficulty adapting to the British wrestling style. Nonetheless they settled into the vibe, and the couple sitting next to me asked me questions about Rev Pro UK, and were totally won over, and admitted that it was an eye opener for them, British wrestling is smashing it right now
Another historic event on my list, and it was my first WWE event in North America even though no action was involved, was the 2017 Hall of Fame. Me and my mate Adam met up at a bar next to my hotel, and we shared an uber and headed to the Amway Center in downtown Orlando.
I headed to my seat, and I just in awe of what I saw. Regardless what event that WWE put on, you don’t appreciate the amount of work that goes into making everything look so grand and spectacular until you see it in person. I could make out most of the current superstars and legends walking out to their seats, it was fair to say I spotted The Big Show easily, even though he’s trimmed down.
The Red Carpet Special on the WWE Network was in progress, and massive cheers filled the arena when AJ Styles and Shane McMahon squared up to each other on the interview podium off-camera, and AJ Styles chants echoed throughout the arena.
I was seeing in person for the very first time the likes of Eric Bischoff, one of my favourites Jim Cornette who was pretty tame when inducting the Roll n Rock Express who surprised me with their entertaining acceptance speech, kicking it all off was DDP with his story of starting out at 35 years old really cut through to me, along with his stories of Randy Savage, and his mentor Dusty Rhodes. He was the perfect inductee to start the night with, even though there were thousands of fans in attendance, it was like was just chatting to small group of mates telling genuine stories. DDP just gives out genuine positivity, a true legend. I also found myself clapping a bit too loud and long when Kurt Angle and Teddy Long came on stage respectively.
Other highlights for me from the evening included a drunk fan shouting out at Rick Rude’s cute little cherry pie of a daughter ‘how you doing?’ and rightfully so, until her BIG brother who stole the show with the induction of his late father informed the drunkard that his little sister had just finished high school.
Also, we got a glimpse of Titus O’Neil’s girlfriend fast asleep on his shoulder during the Warrior award acceptance speech, who someone behind me was either slightly confused, or pissed and asked “which one is it accepting the award, Kenan or Kel?”
I experienced first-hand the genuine boos for Roman Reigns and John Cena. I came to the conclusion that some wrestling fans, in particular those who go to WWE events are a bit thick, as they never fully justify why they boo the likes of Cena and Reigns, other than justifying that it’s cool to do so.
This year’s show was certainly one of the best in recent years, I didn’t go to the toilet once during almost four hour show considering the small Dr Pepper I had was in a cup which resembled the size of a small bucket. Once outside the Amway Center in the mild nighttime Central Florida heat, I met my mate Adam to grab an uber back to International Drive, and we bumped into Dean once again from TWM News who’d just seen RVD. I asked whether RVD was smoking a spliff? Dean still hasn’t answered me that question.
I spent about 45 minutes waiting for the price to drop on my uber app as it was quoting $60 to get back to my hotel as every man and his dog leaving the Amway Center was attempting to get one.
SATURDAY 1st April
I woke up exactly at 8am local time having got back from the Hall of Fame after 1am. My mate messaged me a picture to confirm that he was already in Axxess, and it didn’t take long to get in. I quickly went to the breakfast room at my hotel, and demolish a couple rounds of scrambled eggs on toast, and then headed back to my room to tarmac the toilet pan, and get cleaned up, and I put on my new Kingslayer top, shorts, trainers and new shades and shifted off to the Convention Center for some Axxess action.
There were around three or four sessions for Axxess which ran for four hours at a time, the morning session started at 8am, and when I rocked up to the entrance for Axxess I apologised to the African-American security guard for arriving on BBMT (Black British Man Time), to which he chuckled quite loudly and said “brother it’s the same the world over, I would of let you in here for free for making me laugh this morning”
Once the short impromptu comedy segment was over, my head started to spin and I was laughing to myself as I had entered the Aladdin’s cave for a WWE fan. The opportunity was there (if you were prepared to queue) to perform entrances, meet WWE superstars, cut promos, and check out memorabilia, I was in Wrestlemania Axxess.
In addition at this particular session we were in the great company of NXT General Manager William Regal, a Q&A session with Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat, and matches from talent from 205 Live, Progress Wrestling and the WWE UK Championship including Akira Tozawa, Ariya Daivari, Wolfgang and a successful title defence of the UK Championship by Tyler Bate against Joseph Conners, who was jumped by Pete Dunne at the end of the match setting up their title match on Wrestlemania morning at Axxess.
The morning session of Axxess had ended on time, and I accidentally made a turning into the Superstore, so it was rude not make a few ‘sensible’ purchases in there, which included an official Wrestlemania 33 hoodie, and a pleasant chat with the cashier who actually know about Reading Football Club who he said in his own words that ‘Reading will have the opportunity to play in the Championship next season’, surely he meant Premiership.
I went and grabbed some lunch and made arrangements to get to the stadium for Mania the next day as my mate Adam who got an official WWE travel package was getting a coach from his hotel to the stadium.
I arranged to share an uber with a couple of Scottish wrestling pals staying at the hotel next to me, and they felt comfortable being in the presence of a black guy, seeing as the stadium was in the ghetto of Orlando.
My final arrangements to Mania were sorted, and I had a few hours to spare before having to get ready for NXT Takeover, so it was only appropriate for me to top up my tan by the hotel pool. Not only did I top my tan, I also gained tan lines from where I fell asleep with my sunglasses on.
A few hours had flown by, and I headed to the bar across the road from my hotel to meet Adam to grab our uber once again downtown to the Amway Center for my very first WWE wrestling event in North America, the NXT Takeover. This NXT event felt double extra special, as it was the one the day before Mania, and it was in the birthplace of NXT as Triple H voiced in the opening of the event.
Before I knew I taking part quite loudly in the ‘10’ chants for Tye Dillinger, ‘Use The Table’ in the awesome tag title match, but the lasting memory of Takeover in Orlando was the standing ovation for Shinsuke Nakamura. I stayed to the very end of his salute as the show went off air. I genuinely cannot put in the words the standing ovation and chants for him at the end — this was one of the standout memories for me of my Wrestlemania weekend, and also seeing the grand entrance of NXT Champion Bobby Roode, and the swan song from The Revival before their call up to the main roster as couple of days later.
Outside in the mild Florida night time heat me and Adam played a game on the Uber app trying to hustle the cheapest ride back to our hotels, in the meantime we decided to take a stroll down the main bar street in downtown Orlando, and you could feel the Mania atmosphere was the air.
Even my Uber driver had a Crunk mixtape of the all the WWE theme tunes, which his mate makes for every Wrestlemania weekend. He also gave me his viewpoints on Vince McMahon saying that he’s losing the plot with some of the decisions he makes, but it wouldn’t stop him from going to Mania. Once back at my hotel the driver wished me well, and advised me to take a deep breath and take the atmosphere in at Mania.
SUNDAY 2nd April
I got woken up by a few messages from mates back in the UK wishing me well, and forgetting the time difference. I reached into my bag, and grabbed the envelope which had all my event tickets in, and there was only one left. I stared at my Mania ticket for a few moments with mixed emotions reflecting back to 27 years ago watching Wrestlemania 6 live with my late Nan. The day I talked about for years was finally here.
I took one last trip to the Superstore at the Convention Center. I almost bought the WWE Encyclopedia of Sports Entertainment but held off this to save for a future purchase on Amazon, after the next pay day. I popped into a bar to catch the second half of the Arsenal v Man City and then headed back towards the hotel. I was wearing my Kingslayer t-shirt, and walking back to the hotel like-minded fans were greeting each other ‘Happy Wrestlemania’ — that was funny but surreal.
It had seem to be a bit quiet on International Drive, but was the calm before the storm. I grabbed a burger from Five Guys because I knew I wouldn’t of been able to eat anything for hours. I had a picture message from Adam who had already arrived at the stadium, of the ring with a little spoiler of purple ring ropes signalling that the Cruiserweight Title was going to be the first match.
4:30pm local time had come, the time I arranged to meet up Scottish pals to grab an uber to the stadium. I was out the front of my hotel wearing my Arsenal 1971 Double Winners top, and shorts — and then I look up and I see a slim chap wearing a Hot-Rod t-shirt, yep it was my Scottish pal Jack, and his cousin. Our uber had turned up bang on time, and we were off to Mania.
After 10 minutes of driving along the highway, we started to see a slow build up, but steady moving flow of traffic heading towards to stadium. I sat in the front of the uber quietly, as my heart started beating fast, and I thought this is not the time to have an anxiety attack — the stadium for Wrestlemania was really in the Orlando hood. We had to get and walk a few hundred yards to the stadium, but a few seconds I realised that I had nothing to worry about, as most people would of thought I was a native of the area.
We queued up for about five minutes in our section which flew by chatting to fellow fans, who were dressed up as The New Day, Roman Reigns, referees etc — the atmosphere was amazing. One our tickets were checked, we were the in — well not quiet, there were two massive escalators to go up, and then finally, we reached our seats. It felt like I could put my hand up and touch the sun as it was amazingly hot. But once we grabbed some water, I just sat there looking out at what I could see, and just took the atmosphere. I must have been quiet for about five minutes, and then it went mental for about the rest of time there. And people around me kept patting me on the back as all I said for the first couple of hours was ‘I can’t believe I was at Wrestlemania’.
Hearing the start of Austin Aires theme music signalling the Cruiserweight title match will be a moment that will stay with me forever, it took me right back to when I booked my back in January. WrestleMania is a spectacle on TV, but being there in person takes you to a completely different level.
The amount of effort from a production value was amazing for this year’s Mania, the set alone cost $5 million which included the massive LCD board as part of the ramp, and if you’re not a fan of really loud fireworks, then you’ve been warned.
This year Mania was marketed cleverly as the “ultimate thrill ride” as you taken of a rollercoaster of emotions — you cheer and boo who you want, I’ll say it again but the boos for John Cena and Roman Reigns were thunderous in the stadium, and that was just when they popped up in the opening titles for the main show. The show in total including the Kick-Off was seven hours long, but I’ll be honest with you it didn’t feel that long watching it in person, think how quickly 90 minutes flies past in a football match, well a good one.
You all know the stand out moments of this year’s Mania but I never thought I would see The Undertaker’s final match in person, I’ve watched this legend’s entire 27 year career in the WWE, and its teased that men never really grow up, and watching that was like one of the final links of my childhood coming to a close. Seriously, there was guy in his 50s next to us hugging his son with tears in his eyes who jokingly said “the pollen is right bastard at night in Central Florida”.
But that moment made sense, this guy like me had grown up watching The Undertaker, and part of their childhood has gone forever.
And deep down, we all know that’s what being a wrestling fan is all about. It allows us as adults to hold on to our childhood, acting as an escape from today’s world. Holding my phone up during Bray Wyatt’s entrance, and jumping up and down and shouting like a lunatic when The Hardys made their surprise return, and the whole experience of being with like-minded fans — all wearing the shirts of their favourite stars — are happy to chat about the week’s events, and meeting and seeing legends from yesteryear was escapism. That’s why it takes a little while to deal with the post-Wrestlemania blues, that’s why it took me so long to put this feature together.
And the whole experience — flights, hotel, tickets, spending money cost me in total short of £800. So it is doable, you just need to save, and just live a little. Look at it this way, we won’t be here in 100 years time — if you’ve always wanted to go for a helicopter ride, or go and see your football team play in a cup final, or you want to go and party one more time in Ibiza for a long weekend, or going travelling — just do it, and plan effectively.