Growing up, professional wrestling was my life.
To put that into perspective, I wrote a wrestling newsletter in the fifth grade, parlayed it into a full-scale wrestling hotline a year later, and ended up with a trivia booth at the WWE International Incident pay-per-view in 1996.
Yes, that actually happened.
As a kid, Wrestlemania was an unattainable dream. During each episode of Raw, Superstars or Action Zone, I’d envision myself sitting front row as Bret Hart hoisted the WWE Championship at the granddaddy of ‘em all. In fact, whenever my Dad bought a lottery ticket, I’d unfailingly ask “if you win, can we go to Wrestlemania?”
While he never won the lottery, my Dad did eventually take me to Wrestlemania. Unfortunately, I was 16, and had (temporarily) outgrown the allure of professional wrestling.
Truth be told, I spent most of Wrestlemania XIX trying to meet Fred Durst after Limp Bizkit’s performance. I have no recollection of Brock Lesnar’s shooting star press, Steve Austin’s curtain call, or the Shawn Michaels/Chris Jericho classic.
Instead, I remember an overweight lady giving me directions to the I-5 after the event (“past McDonald’s, left at Church’s Chicken, past Krispy Kreme, past Burger King, right at Taco Bell, past Jack-in-the-Box, left at Wendy’s”).
Funny, but not much of a Wrestlemania moment.
Today, I’m 26. I watch wrestling on television about 10 times a year, usually in five minute intervals. I don’t order pay-per-views, but occasionally watch with friends. Locally, I attend one event every six months.
In that sense, professional wrestling is a lot like a first love. You move forward, but you never (completely) move on.
If you’ve ever watched Wrestlemania, you’ve probably (loosely) debated attending the event. While this thought usually ignores money, time and existing obligations, it always seems plausible in the short-term. Plus, everyone has two or three degenerate friends who claim they’re “definitely in” whenever the idea comes up (FYI: they’re not).
Admittedly, I’m no different. On several occasions, I’ve said to myself “if I had the money and no exams, I’d definitely go”. Of course, these were just convenient excuses. Even with the money and no exams, I’d surely find some reason not to go. In a sense, it’s part of the mystique that accompanies Wrestlemania, the Superbowl, the World Cup, or any other larger-than-life cultural event. Accessible, but always just out of reach.
But this year, things changed.
In mid-November, blindly ignoring conventional logic, I made the abrupt and unreasonable decision to travel 3,100 miles for a professional wrestling event. Six minutes later, I had a seat in Section 312 of MetLife Stadium ($89), and a round-trip flight to JFK ($387).
No more daydreaming or excuses. I was going to Wrestlemania XXIX.
I arrived in New York on Tuesday, and spent two days taking in sporting events (Rangers/Penguins, Yankees/Red Sox). I also caught Newsies at the Nederlander Theatre, which was highlighted by a chance run-in with Christopher McDonald (Shooter McGavin of Happy Gilmore fame).
While a number of Wrestlemania XXIX advertisements were spotted around Manhattan (see below for JFK Airport, NYC Tourism Center and Radio City Music Hall), I was generally underwhelmed by the event’s marketing. Perhaps ignorantly, I expected Wrestlemania to be promoted on a Superbowl level.
On Friday, I was at the Hammerstein Ballroom (home of the One Night Stand series) for Ring of Honor’s SuperCard of Honor VIII. In many ways, ROH evokes memories of ECW. The wrestling is strong, the fanbase is demanding and several performers (CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins) have gone on to WWE superstardom.
The show itself was decent and featured a terrific undercard match between Michael Elgin and Jay Lethal.
The crowd was another story.
In addition to an alarming number of “yes!” and anti-John Cena chants, the ROH crowd demonstrated a particular adeptness in recognizing the flaws all performers (lack of precision, recent weight gain and off-screen promiscuity). After a while, I actually felt sorry for chief official Todd Sinclair (“he’s counting fast so he can go to Five Guys!”)
If you have the chance to see ROH in-person, I’d strongly recommend it. While their television production is sub-par, the wrestling and storytelling are strong enough that no background information is necessary.
Afterwards, I debated attending the Hulk Hogan Q&A at the Beacon Theatre. In 2010, I attended a similar event in Vancouver, but was disappointed by the unstructured format. Essentially, fans are given free rein to approach a microphone and ask an unscripted question.
In the abstract, it’s a great idea, but ends up being dominated by internet marks who request “wolfpac handshakes” and reference scripted material (“why did you forgive the Undertaker for piledriving you at Survivor Series 1991?”).
With tickets ranging from $30-$300, I ultimately decided against it (interesingly, internet reports suggest the venue was less than 25% full).
On Saturday, I planned to attend the Extreme Rising event in Staten Island. Essentially, this was a group of former ECW stars (Shane Douglas, Sabu, Stevie Richards, Balls Mahoney) promoting an “intimate” event at a local wrestling school. Unfortunately, the card was cancelled in late March due to poor ticket sales. Considering 250 tickets (at $50 each) were required for a sell-out, the future appears bleak for Extreme Rising.
As a result, I was left to choose between the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, and the Nets/Bobcats game. At 5:30 PM, a row 8 Nets ticket was $59, while a nosebleed Hall of Fame ticket was $47. I opted for the Nets game and hopped the subway to Brooklyn.
Sunday was game day. For $6.50, I grabbed the PATH train to Hoboken, and took NJ Transit Rail to the Meadowlands. This was my first trek to the complex (which includes MetLife Stadium and the IZOD Center), and the surrounding area is pretty ominous. If you’re expecting beautiful streets and picturesque neighborhoods, you’ve picked the wrong stadium.
To call the Wrestlemania XXIX crowd “interesting” would be a dramatic understatement. In short, we’re talking about thousands of overweight people wearing Rey Mysterio masks, replica belts, and faded shirts from the Attitude Era (although the Bushwhacker-impersonators doing the hongi around the concourse deserve props).
Before the show, I met up with high-school classmate and fellow wrestling nerd Richard, who was also in town for the event. This was a cool moment to share.
Surprisingly, my seat was quite good. I was in section 312, row 20, with a clear view of the ring and the stage. While I brought binoculars, they weren’t necessary. In fact, I watched the ring (rather than the screens) for the entire event. This is a far-cry from UFC events, where a $250 ticket involves complete reliance on stadium screens (due to grappling intricacies).
In terms of the event, I was generally disappointed. The lack of “Wrestlemania moments” led to a largely disinterested and passive crowd. Even the CM Punk/Undertaker match (which highlighted the card) lacked the fan-fueled electricity synonymous with Wrestlemania classics (Hart/Austin, Warrior/Hogan, Rock/Hogan, Undertaker/Michaels).
I also enjoyed the self-professed “smart fans” in my section who repeatedly chanted for CM Punk, only to explode like 8-year-old marks for the Undertaker. Perhaps expectedly, they also booed every John Cena promo, only to fanatically celebrate his victory (while also criticizing The Rock).
Despite the crowd of over 80,000, it took less than ten minutes to catch the NJ Transit Rail post-event. On the way, I met two Clevelanders attending Wrestlemania for the first time. While they both insisted the event was “terrible”, they assured me they’d be in New Orleans next April.
Strangely, I shared their sentiment.
On Monday, I flew back to Seattle, and read about Raw‘s title changes at the SeaTac baggage claim. In a way, I regretted not sticking around.
So, all told – was it worth it?
Almost every cross-country trip is expensive, fraught with unexpected costs, and turns out differently than imagined. This was no exception.
With that being said, I’m currently looking at flights to New Orleans.
See you guys at Wrestlemania XXX.