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Wrestlemania: A Fan's Journey

The Main Event
Wrestlemania. If you're a fan of professional wrestling (sorry Vince, "Sports Entertainment") then there is nothing quite like the mecca known as 'Mania. It is the absolute tip top when it comes to the wrestling world and is something you have to go to if you have any love for the squared circle. It is our Mecca. And with Wrestlemania 32 only two days away, the excitement is building. But as I sit here, wondering which match I should watch to get me excited for the festivities this weekend, a thought comes over me: why not just relive last year. See, I was able to attend Wrestlemania 31.

But to really understand just how important that fact is, I need to go into a little bit of history. Now, this is the part where I get a bit into my personal history with wrestling, so if you're just wanting to see things on Mania 31, then scroll down to the Ronda Rousey pic.

written prior to leaving for California in March 2015. I really wanted to capture my excitement for the event and had plans to do the article for "Wolf in a Gorilla Suit." Due to the lack of interest in wrestling on the site, I pulled the article and never published it anywhere. Here it is.

Looks further than it was.

The Journey

To say I'm excited is a little bit of an understatement. I suppose I should give a little history lesson to catch you up. As a child, I was obsessed with the World Wrestling Federation. There was no such thing as World Championship Wrestling in my life and that's the way I liked it. While this may have been mostly due to the fact that my older brother, Marc, was into WWF, I took it and ran with it. We would rent tapes from Hollywood Video and watch them to no end. I can specifically remember the Royal Rumble tapes and the Hell in a Cell tape. That's right, I got to watch Michaels/Taker in the HIAC when my age hadn't even hit double digits. I can only imagine how I reacted back when I thought wrestling was still completely real. "Shawn Michaels NOOooooo!"

We were just kids though, so that meant that we weren't going to be watching Pay-Per-Views. Sure, our parents put up with our wrestling watching, but neither were huge fans themselves. In fact, our dad hated the sport (and even unfollwed me on twitter during this article's Wrestlemania festivities). So good luck getting them to drop $30 on a PPV once a month. No, we were going to be relegated to VHS tapes and the occasional Raw. And of course our awesome toys, that we'd put on matches with for hours upon hours.

Then we grew up and the Attitude Era was in full swing. At this point we were watching most Monday Night Raw's and loving it. We were able to see the Austin beer bath, Mankind's title win, and so many stunner's to McMahon we lost count. And we saw them all right when they happened. I'm grateful to have even been able to see those moments. I couldn't even fathom actually being at one of these events. Especially during that Era. We went through video game after video game, loving No Mercy all the way to Wrestlemania 2000 (that's a joke, they're practically the same game).

"The Boss" is not impressed.
Then as many kids do when they start growing up, our interests changed, and we stopped watching wrestling. I would see it every now and then but I didn't know much about it. Marc got back into the product around '06 and stayed through past Wrestlemania 23, which he was able to attend. I couldn't have cared less though. Wrestling was stupid and fake and I'd have no part in it. Hell, even a girl I was involved with my junior year liked wrestling (okay, I think she may have just been obsessed with John Cena), which turned me off from her completely. Wrestling just wasn't for me anymore. Then Marc got me a video game.

I remember receiving Smackdown vs Raw 2007 and being a little excited. I hadn't played a wrestling game in ages and it was kind of mine and Marc's "thing." I proceeded to play it and be absolutely terrible so I quickly stopped and let Marc have at it, getting all the achievements he could. Then I just kind of forgot about it. I wasn't that much into wrestling anymore, and knew none of my friends back home would play it with me.

I figured it would just sit my shelf and gather dust but over the years I would casually play it--usually just in order to break up the monotony of all the Halo and NCAA Football that I was playing at the time. But I'd still play it and have fun. I knew several of the wrestlers because they were around when I actually did watch, and John Cena had permeated pop culture enough that I knew of him.

Cut to late 2009.

I was a freshman in college and actually had my dorm room to myself for once. Since most of my freshman year consisted of drinking as much cheap vodka and/or beer as possible, I wanted to take it easy. So, wandering Youtube, trying to figure out what to watch (this was right before Netflix Instant turned into the powerhouse it is today) I decided to look up some of my favorite wrestling matches. I started with all the Hardy's TLC matches, a favorite from my childhood. Then moved onto the first Hell in a Cell, eventually landing on the Michaels/Hart Iron Man match. There was no turning back. I read the wikipedia entries for every Wrestler I knew, from start to finish. I felt like I had just watched 20+ years of wrestling in just a weekend and was beaming with knowledge. Oh how naive.

This started the beginning of my foray back into the world of sports entertainment. I did some research and found out Smackdown usually had more wrestling, so I sought out the last few episodes online. That John Morrison sure looks and acts like a young Shawn Michaels. Undertaker is still around and he's the champ? Awesome. Who was this CM Punk and why was he acting like Jesus? I wanted more.

HHH's Mania 30 gear.
I watched Raw and couldn't believe how many people I recognized. And hell, Bret Hart was returning to Raw the next week! He was such a hero for me growing up (probably due to the fact that he would put his glasses on a lucky kid during his entrance). This couldn't get much better. Oh how silly I was. See, this is not a period of time that many wrestling fans would consider "good." We were deep into the reign of Cena with no end in sight, and the product was often silly and unwatchable. Seriously, watch those "Guest Host" segments from Raw and try not to cringe. The talent was there but not being properly utilized. CM Punk was in his Straight Edge Gimmick getting more heat than I thought possible, yet he kept being booked poorly. Ziggler was a great seller and worker who kept being relegated to the whimpy heel role. His association with Vickie soon became more of a burden than anything. Still, something about it hooked me and I tuned in every week.

And that's how it went for several years. No one in my life was an active wrestling fan (Marc had lost interest in 07) so I had no one to talk about it to. I had a girlfriend that thought it was a huge negative that I even liked something "so silly", and several friends that would lightly make fun of me for even watching. But I didn't just watch. I watched EVERY Raw and EVERY PPV. It was my passion. I wouldn't listen to the people that berated me for watching it. Hell, if I did, maybe it would have been enough to convince me what I was watching wasn't good. But that didn't matter to me. I just loved wrestling. And that's my response whenever someone goes "If I had gotten back into it then, I doubt I would have stuck with it." I just love wrestling. Whether it's good or bad, I just love the storytelling, classic good v. evil dynamics, and athletic display. I latched onto wrestlers like Punk, Ziggler, and a little later Bryan because of that. And they're my favorite wrestler's working because of it too.

Eventually I was able to attend a Raw taping in Indianapolis. But this wasn't just any Raw taping; they were taping two Raws in one night. So much wrestling. This is the last time they've done this (to my knowledge) so it felt pretty unique for WWE. This was back before they had switched to 3 hours but the product hadn't quite recovered. It was also Jericho's last night in the company for some time. I got pretty lucky in that regard. I was also lucky enough to convince two friends to come with. They enjoyed the spectacle but they didn't really care about wrestling. I was just grateful I could get anyone to go with me, plus they were good friends of mine. Still, it was clear that they weren't really fans and it was a lot of work to even get them to go. Those wrestling fans out there that don't have fellow fans for friends know just how hard it can be to get someone to go to a wrestling show. So I didn't go to anymore WWE shows during college as a result.

Then I graduated college and had planned to move to New Orleans to work in film and television. Lucky for me, Wrestlemania 30 was also taking place in New Orleans just eight months later. The world was aligning just for me to finally go to a WWE PPV. And not only that, but go to the biggest PPV in the companies history. Needless to say, I was excited. Then I shortly realized that being in New Orleans, that meant I had to STAY in New Orleans. That just wasn't gonna happen.

See I've never hated a place more than Louisiana. I hated the drive down, entering what felt like another world. I hated everything I was missing out on by being there. I hated the people that constantly told me how it was okay to drive drunk. I hated the grime that seemed to cover every surface of the city. I hated the industry that I was suddenly trying to work my way up a chain, that seemed less appealing at all rungs. I hated everything about Nola. So I left.

Taker's burned casket from Mania 30.
I always considered moving back in with my parents post-college to be a huge failure. Long before I even graduated I made the decision that I wouldn't be doing that no matter what. Step in Marc, who offered me a place to stay in Colorado and probably saved my life in the process. It was exactly the offer I needed at precisely the time I needed it. So I moved in and with it came my huge obsession with wrestling. Something that Marc had also been obsessed with in the past. This was great news... to everyone except Marc's wrestling hating girlfriend.

Needless to say, after the two broke up and the house was just one big bachelor pad, the wrestling started flowing, and flowing hard. Then the WWE Network was released and our wrestling knowledge reached all new heights. Every PPV in the companies history was now at our fingertips and we took advantage. Both of us caught up on the era's that we had missed out on -- 2003-2009 for me, and 2008-2014 for Marc. With that, we were covering pretty much all the the current crop of superstars.

Now, for those that made it through that, I thank you. It may have been long-winded but the simple message to take from that is that this journey to Wrestlemania hasn't just been for the length of this "Road to Wrestlemania", it's been a half-decade long journey to get to the Grandest Stage of Them All. To arrive at the wrestling fan's Mecca. Well guess what, fans.

We've arrived. Let's go to Wrestlemania 31 weekend in San Jose, California...

Looking super awkward with The Hardy Boyz

WrestleCon and Axess

We got into the Bay Area on Friday and while our Wrestlemania Axxess tickets weren't until Saturday, we did have Friday tickets for Wrestlecon that had pretty much every wrestler we grew up on being featured. From Ric Flair to Mick Foley, all the way to Brutus the Barber Beefcake, our childhood seemed to be featured prominently. So it didn't matter that we weren't going full WWE yet, we had awesome things to do. Or so we thought.

While we were able to meet several wrestler's, the experience soured me on Wrestling conventions. The ticket to get in was -- just that -- access to the event. You're going to have to (awkwardly) pay the wrestler X amount for them to make small talk for two seconds then take a quick picture. Not the most fun when some pictures were running $50. The event, mind you, is being held in a shitty hotel a couple miles away from Mania. I can't say I'll ever be attending one again.

Meeting the Dudleys was awesome since Marc was able to get a pic with them shortly before Bubba took off. They were nice and we even got acknowledgment of the picture he retweeted. Then we had to meet the other tag team from our childhood: The Hardys. We went into it thinking it'd be disappointing but it was great. Matt was extremely personable and talked with us for a little bit. He even told Jeff that he needed to see Finn Balor's entrance (I was wearing a Balor tee). He also lit up seeing Marc's KO shirt since they are apparently friends with him. Jeff was… well what do you expect? He rarely smiled and didn't seem like he wanted to be there. Still, Matt was awesome enough to make up for it.

Then to the most disappointing of the night. Mick Foley. He was signing with his daughter Noelle and while I figured he'd be really nice and outgoing, it just felt like all business. I told him I loved his "What the Fuck with Marc Maron" episode which didn't get much of a response. His daughter just kind of sat there, signing autographs for the pure fact that she's a wrestling legends daughter. I was there for wrestling, so I declined the autograph from her.

Samoa Joe is the fucking MAN.
Carlito, Hurricane Helms and Samoa Joe were the others we met, but they were nothing but awesome. We even saw Carlito with Chris Masters later and I was able to tell him that "David Otunga is God" (go to his Twitter if you want in on the joke). And I had a moment walking into the hotel with Lita on her phone right next to me, clearly talking to Trish Stratus on the phone, figuring out where they could meet up. Honestly it was one of the most surreal moments of my life. If only more moments like that happened and less Mick Foley interactions, then maybe it would have been salvaged. Wrestlecon just felt like a huge rip off. You're paying extra for something that you can get for free at Axxess. Speaking of which...

Saturday was all Axxess, all day. Marc had a VIP ticket for Bray Wyatt while I had one for Seth Rollins. They didn't overlap so we didn't spend much time at Axxess together. That's okay though because there's just so much to do! If there's a non-VIP superstar signing, you just had to wait in line. Sure, sometimes people would be swapped out before you got to them but outside of tickets for entry, it was over. You just had to wait. That was something I could certainly do.

Marc and Bray "BO-LIEVE"
When it came to meeting Seth Rollins, I knew I was gonna do it right. Session 3 had two VIP superstar signings: Ambrose followed by Rollins. So I had two hours to wait for Seth. What better way to wait then to wait in line. At the front. Yes, that's right, I was the first person to meet him during his signings. To say that I was excited is a bit of an understatement. I was practically jumping out of my seat. The two hours of waiting flew by as I watched the NXT show (with much less talent around due to Hall of Fame taking place concurrently) and talked to a local Californian about the spectacle of Wrestlemania weekend.

Funny, before I got to Mania, there was a debate as to whether I'd see Rollins or Ambrose for the VIP signing. I love both wrestlers but, given that Seth had the Money in the Bank and was prime to cash in any day now, I figured he would be the safest bet. Boy am I glad I made that decision. While waiting in line for Rollins, I got to watch as Dean took part in his signing, an experience that had to be similar to torture if you were to ask him. Yeah, it really appeared that bad. He just did not seem like he wanted to be there and was mostly quiet and disinterested. Not exactly something I'd want to happen given the hefty price for the signing in the first place.

I'm beyond pumped here.
Meeting Rollins took all of thirty seconds but it was great. I was able to tell him that he was the legitimate future of the company and that the Pheonix Splash was one of my favorite moves ever. He thanked me and seemed pretty genuine, an advantage of being first. Speaking of which, I'm not first at anything. I walk up to lines and go "Wow, those people up front must have some real dedication." That was finally me. And honestly, it didn't take much work at all. I sat and watched the NXT Axxess show while I waited, and chatted with wrestling fans about the big event. I couldn't have had more fun waiting in line. I don't think I've ever uttered that sentence any other time in my life. Wow.

While I can't imagine ever going to another WrestleCon again (I don't really feel like paying to be really depressed for a couple hours), I'm counting down the days until I can go back to Axxess. It's everything a wrestling fan could hope for, providing for plenty of opportunities to meet the superstars and see more legendary gear than one could hope to see in one's lifetime.

This man spilled his beer on the camp. Idiot.

Wrestlemania XXXI

Waking up Wrestlemania morning is a lot like waking up on Christmas morning as a child -- you're excited, you can't wait for it to start, yet you never want it to end. But it all does and it's an absolute whirlwind. With the event taking place in California, and Mania having an hour earlier start time than usual, plus the two hours of pre-show, meant that this was an all day affair. Seven hours of wrestling, out in the hot California sun. I couldn't wait.

Waiting in line outside of Levi's gave us a little taste of what to expect inside. Chants were loud, although brief. And it was hot. Damn hot. But we were finally here. It was no longer just Axxess, where everyone was talking in the future tense, saying what they WILL do on Sunday. No, we were finally here to see the Grandest Stage of Them All. The Wrestlemania banners were out in full force, and we were mere hours from witnessing the show of shows. It's been a year since this day, yet it remains in my head, vividly.

Tyson Kidd and Cesaro.
Wrestlemania itself was unlike anything I've ever experienced. Wrestling fans can be dicks though. Some idiot was repeatedly yelling during the Taker/Wyatt about Taker being too old to wrestle. He was clearly the only person around that felt that way, but he had to make his thoughts known on it. This wasn't met with the greatest response from my brother and I, two actual wrestling fans that view Taker as the greatest of all time. So there was a brief moment where I thought we'd end up getting into a fight with this asshat that wouldn't stop hampering everyone else's good time. But then the finish of the match came, and everyone was able to move on. The hype for the Main Event was already at its max.

Most of the people I met in San Jose didn't want Reigns to win the title and wanted anything but that to happen. That is literally what every person I talked to about Reigns said to me. This is insane to me, since Roman is the top babyface, and therefore should be getting some positive encouragement at the biggest show of the year. But no, everyone wanted him to lose and they wanted to see Lesnar absolutely destroy him in the process. Which is why the ending of Mania is one of my favorite wrestling moments of all time.

When Seth Rollins' music hit towards the end, Marc and I freaked out. We were jumping up and down in our seats, absolutely going nuts. I even gave Marc a look of "They better not be just bringing him down here so that he can lose clean to Roman" to which he agreed. And then it happened. Reigns speared Lesnar out of the ring, dropping Rollins out of the F-5 and allowing him to his Roman with the curbstomp for the 1-2-3. That three count and following celebration is one of the happiest moments of my life, I kid you not. Marc and I were running all around, freaking out with the seventy thousand other people, still in disbelief that they had just pulled off one of the greatest Wrestlemania's of all time.

Mania 32 set.

So to Summarize...

Attending Wrestlemania 31 was an experience unlike any other. It was the culmination of many years of anticipation and that momentum carried me forward into one of the best weekend's of my life. Getting to be a part of that spectacle was incredible. Seeing all the highlight packages in the following year, all featuring the Mania that we were at, is something that I won't soon forget.

I originally intended for this article to end in a leadup to Wrestlemania 32, as Marc and I planned on going to Dallas for it. But with the terrible build, and the lack of desire in seeing Reigns in yet another Wrestlemania Main Event without Seth Rollins nearby to save the day, we decided against going. But given that I already had a pretty large article written, with plans to release on Mania weekend, I didn't really want to see the material go to waste.

I hope you enjoyed going through my wrestling journey. Hopefully this will give you a little bit of insight into why it's so important to me and to wrestling fans in general. This is our Mecca and the event we look forward to throughout the entire year. Once the Monday after Mania rolls around, the anticipation for next year's Mania ramps up along with it. Especially since, you know, Wrestlemania 33 is in Orlando and a certain brotherly duo will be attending.

Can't wait.

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