There are some who would say that WWE is wrestling company in flux.
That, despite the fact WWE has the support of the majority of wrestling fans, there's something relatively off about their biggest event of the year.Brandon Stroud of Uproxx said it best:
"Remember last year with the whole “yes yes yes” thing? And the sick kid in the front row, and all the confetti, and the … no? Aw okay."
Yep. That's where I think most people are, collectively.
Things like this weekend, like Axxess, like events such as The WWE Hall of Fame and the overall big event at Levi's Stadium, they make you momentarily forget about the fact that Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns haven't had any real chemistry leading up to the big show.
It makes you forget that the annual, all-important-sounding Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal has now been reduced to a pre-show throwaway match -- as if it matters anyhow. After being completely misused for nearly a year, Cesaro is a co-champion, teaming with Tyson Kidd and his wife who only seems to be relevant when she's on NXT.
They make you forget that the two most interesting matches on the card feature three guys who are way beyond their prime.
They make you forget that, after making a great, big deal out of Daniel Bryan -- only to see him vying for a title that's become a punchline.
There's a lot wrong with WWE right now. Nobody can deny that.
Events like the one tonight allow one's inner mark come out to play. It's an expo for wrestling nerds such as myself and others.
Let's get to Day One of WrestleMania Weekend!
First, I must say that, as a resident (and native) of the good ol' Silicon Valley, I was blown away at how easily the city has handled this event. The event was scheduled to begin at 5 PM (PST) which, let's face it, means you usually need to get off of work early or else you're sitting in traffic thick as mud. However, imagine my surprise when I discovered that getting in was fairly easy. Getting near the Convention Center, surprisingly routine and simple. Parking only took a few minutes as well.
Even though I've followed wrestling since the mid-80's, I've never been to a single WWE event or pay-per-view. I was kinda nerve-wracked because part of me was here for the pleasure of being here and the other part of me knew this was "work".
It's been really cool to witness the buzz around the area in the last week. You see the ads for this thing all over the place. Our bus and lightrail system is plastered with the event poster stuff, you can see the little pole flags all over the downtown area, our local radio and TV personalities have been interviewing various WWE Superstars...it's been exciting.
Once Danielle and I got into the San Jose Convention Center lobby, it felt like home.
They even had an incredible red carpet entrance complete with booming wrestler theme songs and flashing lights.
The side walls were adorned with giant posters of various Superstars, so we each chose one to take a photo with.
Danielle got Daniel Bryan while I chose to pose in front of the Sting poster (you can click on each to enlarge them if need be):
The inside is a wrestling fan's dream. Large event posters decorated the entire hall:
And, yes, that's the Elimination Chamber in the corner:
One of the highlights of Axxess is interacting with the actual Superstars of WWE. Originally, Danielle and I were going to buy VIP tickets which would have entitled us to get signatures from the top stars like Roman Reigns, Triple H, Daniel Byran and vets like Hulk Hogan, Sting and Rowdy Roddy Piper.
Honestly, meeting some of the younger, lower-tier stars was an unexpected pleasure.
What's more, meeting them was almost like a great customer service experience. They seemed interested to meet you, greeting you with a smile instead of just signing your paper and taking a picture with a face made of granite.
Take "Rusev" for example:
Ok, first, let's get this out of the way: dude should be a freakin' linebacker. Dude's not "from Russia"...he is Russia. He's just big. Gigantic. Wide freakin' shoulders and barrel chest. He always looked small on TV to me. Real life, it's a different story.
We didn't get to meet him because Danielle and I went to meet Paige and a couple of others instead and we missed our shot with him, but we saw him walking around and he's somebody you don't want to meet in a dark alley. He's huge and menacing in real life -- and we actually caught him genuinely smiling and laughing with people. It was so strange to me because, when we see these guys, you always think part of their "character" must be derived from some part of them that's buried deep down.
There were two lines at each signing booth: the one for the regular general admission ticket holders and the line for the disabled fans who used canes, walkers and wheelchairs. Watching Rusev getting up, shaking hands, kneeling down near a fan who was physically unable to get out their chair and grinning from ear to ear really warmed my heart.
These guys love what they do. They love to entertain and they truly love their fans.
Danielle wore her Paige shirt to the event and stopped at her booth to get a photo and her shirt signed. I told her I was gonna go get some pictures and see if I could grab a few words from some of the stars.
First, I stopped off to see Konnor and Viktor of "The Ascension" and got some pretty good shots:
I ended up getting my picture with them, which I actually didn't plan to do but, when in Rome...
When I got up there, I told them, "I have nothing for you guys to sign...I just realized that." Konnor (at the table on the right -- who also reminds me a lot of a cousin of mine) gave me a grin and said, "Dude, we you covered! No worries!" Viktor nodded and said, "Here you go, bro..." while signing a piece of paper for me and passing it to Konnor. I took my pic with them, shook their hands and said, "Hey...Tag champs in the future?" Konnor smiled and said, "You know it, man! You'll see!"
After this, I texted Danielle that I'd join her in line for Paige but that I needed to get some photos of the place.
Just outside of the Ascension signing spot was Triple H's throne from WrestleMania XXX:
Scoped out Renee Young and Byron Saxton at the Smackdown desk:
Here's a bit of a close-up:
On my way back, I bumped into "Macho Sam" who you'll remember from our WrestleMania Pre-Party report. If not, here's the photo we took of him at that event:
This time around, I got a picture with him:
His name is Sam Schmucker and, as it turns out, he's a very kind Hawaiian native with an affinity for cosplay. That's par for the course at an event such as this. Many fans come dressed in WWE merch or hold genuine, gold-plated title belts -- but Sam strives for accuracy. "I love dressing as the Macho Man," he says "But, now, it's really special and fitting since he's being honored at this year's Hall of Fame ceremony."
After doing the first go-round, I rejoined Danielle who was waiting in a long, long line for Paige. I have to say that Paige is an absolute blast. She's down to earth and loves to bullshit. She treats every single fan like a friend. She hugs, she flirts, she fucking swears. If you flip her shit, she'll hit you with the shovel you used to sling it. She's the ultimate badass Diva -- and she's sweet and unpretentious. Which is more than what I can say for a certain Diva who shows up less than Brock Lesnar.
She turned to everyone and said, "I have no choice...I need to go. I do realize that I didn't get to everyone...so, here's the thing: I don't want to leave you all so I will go backwards through the line and gladly take a picture which each and every one of you -- but only pictures. I can't sign anything. Have your camera ready to go, yell my name and I will stop and take a picture with you."
And she did it -- still smiling and laughing with fans as she went. I didn't get one, but Danielle did.
We did score a nice bonus with being sixth-to-next in line: Rosa Mendes was the next Superstar to be assigned the booth, so we got a nice pic with her as well:
After a quick food break at the concession stand, Danielle and I ventured over to the NXT show that was going on. Turns out NXT was having a short tournament to determine who is going to the pre-show Andre battle royal.
It was nice to see JoJo doing the ring announcer thing. Glad that she wasn't completely destroyed by the hellish suckage that is Total Divas.
The tourney would eventually come down to Balor vs. Hideo Itami with Itami coming out the victor, a nice moment capped off by Itami being congratulated by Japanese wrestling legend, Tatsumi Fujinami. So, we'll see Itami at the Andre Battle Royal.
After this, Danielle and I went to visit Adam Rose and Sin Cara. When we got there, Danielle told Adam Rose that The Bunny needs to be put under control. Without missing a beat, Rose said, "I'm so glad you said that! I've told him that a million times! This is MY SHOW!"
The moment of the night came shortly after Itami's win over Balor. Michael Cole came to the ring (to a loud chorus of boos, MIGGAL!) and introduced Triple H. Behind him was an object with a long, dark cover over it. Beforehand, Cole reminded us all of the Ultimate Warrior induction into last year's Hall of Fame, which was followed by inexplicable tragedy the very next day when he passed away. Cole said that they were here to pay tribute to Warrior.
To the surprise of many, Cole introduced Triple H.
Triple H would spend about the next five minutes gushing about Warrior and how he was an inspiration to everyone. He touched upon their differences, stating that he was glad that, with age, came wisdom. He was happy that the two of them were able to discover that wisdom and maturity to patch up their differences.
Then he introduced Dana Warrior and her daughters.
Dana received "WARRIOR" chants and started to visibly break down. She would nearly lose it when Michael Cole and Triple H unveiled WWE's tribute...a Warrior sculpture.
Afterward, Dana gave a speech, commending WWE for their care after Warrior's passing and, praised Triple H, himself, calling him, "This bad guy right here." Warrior thanked all the fans for the years of support and promised that Warrior would live forever no matter what.
After that, the Warrior Family paid tribute to Warrior by grabbing the top rope and shaking it wildly while Warrior's music pumped over the speakers.
It was an incredible, moving moment.
After this, Danielle and I made a stop at the WWE WrestleMania Museum which featured the wardrobe and props used by various WWE Superstars and personnel as well as historical photos, magazines and video. The wardrobe for Warrior and Randy Savage, alone, were worth the walkthrough.
First, was Warrior:
Luckily, we got to see the statue as they had just rolled it in.
Next was Savage.
Two things Danielle said here:
1) "Hogan has gigantic feet"2) "Oh, look: he gets the entire set-up and Sting gets a dinky little cameo...figures..."
Wardrobe for The Bushwhackers, Ric Flair and Larry Zbyszko.
Rikishi and Harley Race were also represented.
And various memorabilia and props from several different WrestleManias...
Danielle even posed with a life-size Andre the Giant statue...
Danielle took a pic of me with fellow Italian, Bruno Sammartino...
We decided to go home after this...but ran into a signature booth we couldn't pass up...Jake "The Snake" Roberts was signing...
I DID feel terrible: I gushed over Jake, telling him how I watched him when I was a kid and that my favorite storyline was when he feuded with Rick Martel...and I barely paid attention to Ivory who was sitting next to him. Poor woman even injected herself into the conversation by saying, "That's why we're here...we jog your memory." She smiled sweetly and I said, "Yeah, you all do. Thank you, Ivory."
Jake shrugged and said to her, "Yeah...or we completely lose our memories and struggle to remember this stuff because we're ancient!" Both of them laughed and asked if I wanted a photo...to which I said, "Hell, yes!"
I have to say that both of them have aged well. Danielle got a photo, too. She met Ivory and told her she was beautiful, then told Jake that he was proud of him for everything he's done in his career -- especially outside the ring. (A reference, of course, to overcoming his addiction issues.) She said that he was an inspiration to so many people, including herself. He thanked her and she got a photo.
And, so, that was Day 1. Tonight, it's back to Axxess for more fun, followed by the Hall of Fame on Saturday, WrestleMania at Levi's on Sunday and RAW on Monday...
'Til then...er...that's it.