I have done The WrestleMania Weekend Thing once before, back in 2013, but I slept in my own bed that time. The weekend has only gotten crazier since then, and this year the confluence of a jam-packed slate of events and a return engagement in New Orleans finally wore me down. So I went to New Orleans. I saw the shows. This is what happened in my attempt to see how much wrestling one person could take.
Wednesday Night: Low-Ki, one of the headliners of the weekend’s first show, bows out of his battle with the titular star of Matt Riddle’s Bloodsport, citing a neck injury. Game Changer Wrestling’s Twitter account promises that a silver lining is coming a few minutes later.
A Few Minutes Later On Wednesday Night: New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Minoru Suzuki, previously just booked on Friday afternoon’s Revolution Pro show, is announced as Low-Ki’s replacement. The fact that Low-Ki was ever booked in the first place is forgotten instantly.
Thursday: Flight gets in a little after 10:00 a.m. local time. Airbnb check-in is 4:00; the first show is at 3:00 and close to the airport. A friend who’s on the card at Bloodsport lets me charge my phone and drop my stuff where he’s staying and then I head over.
Thursday, 3:00 p.m.: The show starts about 15 minutes late, which ends up mattering not even a little bit, and not just because it’s only a two-hour show. The Suzuki booking attracted a strong crowd, a healthy number of which also bought meet and greet tickets. The broader show is a weird one, at least conceptually—indie wrestling meets MMA meets The Kumite meets ’90s Japanese shoot-style pro wrestling, all done without ring ropes. The execution is marred a bit by some of the non-wrestler personnel clearly not knowing the rules—ring announcer Larry Legend didn’t appear to know the term “technical submission” for a referee stoppage in a submission hold, for instance, and one of the referees, maybe by design, was hopeless. Overall, though, it was fun, it was different, and we all got to sing along with Suzuki’s entrance music for the first time of the weekend. Here’s to it becoming an annual tradition.
Thursday, 9:30 p.m: The first of the weekend’s big anchor shows was Wrestlecon Supershow at the Sugar Mill, directly opposite the convention center where WWE’s Fan Axxess convention was being held. In the form it’s taken over the last few years, with unique matches and lots of surprises, the Wrestlecon Supershow has become the most dependable sellout ticket of WrestleMania weekend. This year, only three matches were announced, and much of the crowd seemed surprised by those. The event is clearly a blind buy for a lot of fans now.
Seeing a line wrapping around the entire building had me and my seatmates concerned, though I pointed out that given that the show sold out a month in advance, the organizers couldn’t possibly have oversold it, right? In what feels like an aberration, they didn’t—they sold only the appropriate number of tickets, added additional general admission seating, and wouldn’t start the show until every fan had someplace to sit. This may seem like damning with faint praise, but given the usual seating situation at major indie shows the staff at Highspots, the wrestling merchandise vendors and video producer that puts on Wrestlecon every year, deserves a ton of credit for going above and beyond to get things right.
During intergender specialist Joey Ryan’s Andy Kaufman cosplay, the crowd got its first big surprise—the arrival of Jerry Lawler. The King walked out to a huge reaction and then shot a fireball at Ryan’s dick. (Don’t ask.) While there were some other big surprises, like British NJPW star Will Ospreay, who arrived straight from a booking out by the airport, none were bigger than in the featured six-man tag team match. NJPW stars Hiroshi Tanahashi and Minoru Suzuki joined teams of Americans and things got insane, with gleeful fans literally jumping up and down with excitement. At an event that also included two of the very best matches of the weekend earlier in the show, this stood out as an instant and undeniable highlight.
The second of those memorable matches was a lucha libre tag-team match in which Rey Fenix and Rey Horus defeated Bandido and Flamita; fans immediately reacted with the Mexican tradition of throwing money into the ring after a great match. Given the location of my seats were and terrible throwing arm, I opted to just hit up their gimmick tables after the show instead.
Friday, 4:00 p.m.: The United Kingdom’s Revolution Pro drew another packed crowd to the Sugar Mill, with some New Japan stars as the big draw. Match for match, top to bottom, this may have been the most consistently strong card of the weekend, and not just because the crowd got to sing along to Minoru Suzuki’s theme song TWICE in one show. While it didn’t have the “ZOMG!” factor or newsworthiness of a lot of other big shows (aside from a title change in the main event), it should be at or near the top of the list of Mania weekend shows to watch.
After the show, I grabbed dinner with David Starr—who opened the show with Martin Stone (better known as Danny Burch in WWE NXT)— across the street at his hotel to log some interviews for some future stories. After we’re done, he had time to head to his room and grab an hour of sleep before…
Friday, 11:55 a.m.: It’s time for the biggest independent show of the weekend, in terms of both buzz and paid attendance—Joey Janela’s Spring Break 2. The Pontchartrain Civic Center by the airport was completely packed, but the event got started a bit late. One guess as to why: the WWE Hall of Fame event back in town ran late—so late, in fact, that most of the WWE talent on the floor of the event left early. If stories from last year were any indication, they may very well have been leaving for Spring Break. Whether it was because of the Hall of Fame or otherwise, that late start would have consequences later on.
Thanks both to Janela’s Twitter comments and the incredibly self-referential and memetic nature of Spring Break in general, it was no secret that the wackiness with the Louisiana Boxing and Wrestling Commission was on everyone’s minds throughout the show. A tweet from Gabe Sapolsky of WWN, which was the host promotion at the Civic Center, assured everyone that only piledrivers would be an issue, but nobody flinched when Eli Everfly won the opening six-man scramble match with a double underhook somersault piledriver from the top rope. Later, in The Clusterfuck, a Royal Rumble-style match and the event’s semifinal, last year’s winner, Jimmy Lloyd, squared off with The Invisible Man (just roll with it). Their exchange built to the big moment during which Lloyd hit an illegal piledriver on a nonexistent human and was promptly ejected from the match by “a representative of the athletic commission.” After being laid out with this crippling move, everyone forgot that The Invisible Man was there, and he scored a quick flash elimination to win the whole match. That wasn’t even the most ridiculous thing that happened in a match that saw Dan Severn square off with Alabama Doink, the current most well-known impersonator of WWE’s famed wrestling clown gimmick.
From a great match standpoint, the highlight saw WALTER, the Austrian big man who may very well be the best wrestler in the world, taking on Pierre Carl Ouellet, best known as former WWE Tag Team Champion Quebecer Pierre. (He is also evil pirate Jean Pierre Lafitte, if you’re keeping score.) After returning from his latest hiatus last year, Ouellet has gone about securing his status as one of wrestling’s weirdest misses—he’s a huge hoss of a man who could do almost all of the cool high flying moves that were becoming popular in the 1990s, but somehow never made it past a short run at the middle of WWE cards. At 50 years of age, after a career full of risk-taking, Ouellet still does everything he used to do and more, and this was the perfect stage for him to really relaunch his career. WALTER was the perfect opponent, taking the fight to PCO until he could absorb it all, turn the tide, and win the match. It was one of the true must-see bouts of the weekend.
Unfortunately, the late start (in both senses) and The Clusterfuck going long had drained the crowd by the time the main event got started. That match, which pitted Janela vs. Japanese legend The Great Sasuke, was still an incredible spectacle of risk-taking, but because it was being held in front of an audience that was becoming intimately familiar with Lyft and Uber’s surge pricing, a lot of the crowd seemed distracted. Having to spend $150 to get back to New Orleans will do that. As a result, a lot of the crowd—me included, sadly—bolted when the match ended and therefore missed both wrestlers singing Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.”
Saturday, 12-something p.m.: I awaken to learn that one of my Airbnb roommates has ten comps to the afternoon session of WWE Fan Axxess. With nothing else on my plate other than trying to get some interviews with wrestlers across the street at The Sugar Mill, I accept the offer. Overall, the event wasn’t really my thing, especially since the cool museum-style history exhibits were no longer out in the open. The long lines to get into those exhibits were not nearly as long as most of the autograph lines, or even the line to get your photo taken inside the Elimination Chamber cage. That said, I did enjoy the main ring, which featured WWE legend Q&A sessions as well as matches featuring talent from NXT and WWE-affiliated indie promotions Evolve and Progress. Getting to see Evolve Tag Team Champions Doom Patrol and manager Stokely Hathaway make their WWE debut was one of the cooler moments of the weekend.
Saturday, 6:00 p.m.: Part of my group takes a cab to UNO Lakefront Arena for Ring of Honor’s biggest show ever in front of 6,000 fans. The first half was awesome and moved along well. The post-intermission second half of the event, even with a quality Cody Rhodes vs. Kenny Omega match, dragged so much that it wore on the resolve keeping me awake. Let’s not speak of it again, at least outside of the ROH article I’m working on.
Sunday, midnight: We split a cab back to New Orleans with some guys we met at ROH, and catch up with my friend Matt, who scored a buddy pass in and out of town for the night and caught the NXT show. We found a hole-in-the-wall bar with awesome 24-hour breakfast food and called it a night.
Sunday, 11:00 a.m.: It was time for the final session of Wrestlecon. The first two days were widely reported to be too crowded, which made me glad that I waited for Sunday, which was just full and loud enough and also carried a cheaper price tag by virtue of being the shortest session of the weekend. There, I finally connected with AIW promoter John Thorne at his table and bought stuff that I knew sure I could pack easily: Magazines, trading cards, some incredible poster prints from Erik Hodson, etc.
Sunday, 4:00 p.m.: Having decided to skip the WrestleMania pre-show because I didn’t want to spend seven hours in an arena, I meet up with Bleacher Report’s Nathan McCarter to grab a pre-show seafood meal at Deanie’s, where the platters are both gigantic and awesome. One of my few regrets from the weekend was that I didn’t get to hit Deanie’s more than once. We bump into Joey Janela and GCW video editing genius/the other half of Joey’s brain Giancarlo Dittamo there, and then it’s time for Grapplemania.
Sunday, 6:00 p.m.: We get there right on time for the main card, and wow, five hours of wrestling is definitely still too long. Like ROH’s Supercard of Honor, the show started incredibly strong— the Intercontinental Title match, Charlotte vs. Asuka, and Ronda Rousey’s in-ring debut were all great—but went downhill quickly from there. What was on paper clearly the best WrestleMania ever didn’t quite turn out that way at all in the real world. After being served the last bland course of the banquet by Brock Lesnar, we walked back to the French Quarter in search of a palate cleanser. So….
Monday, 12:45 a.m.: I went to the Kaiju Big Battel afterparty thing in the warehouse district, which was otherwise a complete ghost town. And my God, it was exactly what I needed. From the video I’d seen, I was sure that Kaiju wasn’t my thing. But live, in a bar where the ring sat under a perfectly sized balcony and with an assortment of weird guest stars, watching wrestlers in monster costumes doing weird shit to each other was a fucking blast. Keith Lee, cutting loose for once, was the host; we finally got to meet a year after I profiled him here. If we’re grading purely on fun, this was my favorite wrestling-related activity of the weekend. It was completely and totally out of hand, in the best way possible.
Janela eventually arrived and took over the show, putting on a match with wrestler Penelope Ford, who is also his girlfriend. He also joined Lee in getting the crowd to sing along with the Pokemon theme. Piledrivers were everywhere, apparently because both of the weekend’s Kaiju shows were deemed performance art and not pro wrestling. Things somehow got even wilder after the show, with fans flooding the ring to take Stone Cold Stunners from various wrestlers. That’s just the Cliff’s Notes, as there were tons of other insane things going on that night—I remember Janela jumping off the balcony and Munenori Sawa, who unretired for the weekend, doing his Lingerie Mutoh gimmick (literally Keiji “Great Muta” Mutoh in lingerie) in a fight against a hamburger, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t make either of those up.
Then I slept basically all Monday through the start of Raw.
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY who co-hosts the Between The Sheets podcast every Monday at BetweenTheSheetsPod.com and everywhere else that podcasts are available. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and view his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix