It was really nice to see someone from the Attitude Era come back in such a grand fashion, especially to square off against John Cena, the man we all love to hate. But more than anything, I became excited because my friend Kevin was a huge fan of The Rock. That was his guy, and I knew he was going to lose his mind when he saw the exchange.
I called him at work practically yelling to let him know The Rock was back, and I stayed on the phone with him the entire time describing the action and the comments The Rock was making. Before the end of the confrontation it was apparent that The Rock was going to be at Wrestlemania, so Kevin and I made a pact to head down to Wrestlemania two months later. I was able to snag us two decent tickets for a reasonable price and it was official…. I was going to Wrestlemania!
Of course, in typical fashion, it was almost derailed by an illness. It seems whenever a big wrestling event comes up that I want to attend I get sick. I had to bail out one year on the NWA Legends Fest thanks to a twenty-four hour bug. I’ve always regretted that, so I had no intention on missing Wrestlemania over a little sore throat. But then my sore throat turned to strep, then the strep spread throughout my mouth, and things just got worse and worse. I was out of work for almost two weeks and it took four trips to the doctor before they finally got something together to get me better.
I seriously thought I was going to die one day. That’s how terrible it was. I lost almost twenty pounds and this was still going on three days before we were supposed to leave for Atlanta. In one of the hardest texts I’ve ever had to send, I sent Kevin a message and told him I might not be able to go. He was nice about it, but I knew he would be bummed. Lucky for both us, I got better enough that next day and we were Wrestlemania bound.
But before we attended the big show on Sunday, we had a stop in Burlington, North Carolina Friday night where Dragongate USA was holding a show called Opening the Southern Gate. I’d never been to a Dragongate show before and really wanted to see what they had to offer. I also wanted to sit ringside for a wrestling event for the first time in my life, so I ponied up the fifty bucks and we got a front row view of all that awesome indy action.
It wasn’t all smooth though. I had to practically fight an organizer there to get us chairs since they were so incredibly disorganized. It took me ten minutes to get someone to actually help us to which they brought out two chairs and smashed all the other people in the front row together while sticking us out on the end. We were right next to the entrance ramp, so I wasn’t complaining but it definitely was a sour note on what ended up becoming a great night.
Future WWE wrestlers Dean Ambrose, Adrian Neville, Johnny Gargano, Luke Harper, Rich Swan, Ricochet, and Akira Tozawa along with Sami Callihan. It was hard hitting, high flying, and amazing to see all up close. Luke Harper was even knocked into Kevin and I, and he actually hurt Kevin’s knee some he came sliding in so hard. Adrian Neville (then known as PAC) got busted open and he ended up slinging blood all over me in the form of tiny droplets. You can see some of the drops on the floor in this pic.
Up until a couple years ago, that show was the best overall live wrestling show I’ve ever been to. I think being on the front row helped, but the talent really made everything work. There was a comedic match, a high flying match, a hard hitting match, and then some pure wrestling brilliance. It was overall an amazing card to see live and a night I will never forget.
We had drove from Raleigh to Burlington (about an hour away) and then back home that evening after Dragongate. The next morning we got up super early and began the seven hour trip down to Atlanta.
Like all great road trips, the ride was full of fun stories and interesting conversations, and the occasional stop at some random small town for a Subway sandwich. It was a good time, but a long ride and we were anxious to be in Atlanta. We arrived at our hotel next to Turner Field (not exactly in the nice part of town) a little after 1 PM and found the lobby to be full of wrestling fans. I was wearing my Hulkamania t-shirt which I caught a lot of flack for by my wrestling brethren.
Wrestling fans can be an interesting bunch. Some of them are total jerks and some are super nice. You also have a group of fans who love to share and showoff, and apparently that is who we were running into that morning at the hotel. Even after insulting my t-shirt, I had wrestling fans begging me to come over and look at a piece of the ring rope they bought from somewhere, or a some autographed belt they had. They are all ready to tell you stories about how they tracked down wrestlers or saw certain shows. It’s a weird sort of brotherhood that doesn’t exist in other fandoms, at least not that I know of; people who love to hate on you but still want to be your friend.
After a quick rest, Kevin and I decided to hit the town. Neither of us had ever been to Atlanta before, so we thought it would be cool to drive around and just see what we saw. We quickly learned that driving in Atlanta is not all that easy with that crazy traffic congestion they have, but we managed to cut through side streets and just take in the scenery. We ended up driving a little outside of the city when we saw a huge sign on top of a strange building advertising DragonGate USA’s Mercury Rising for that evening. We knew they were performing in Atlanta that night, but we didn’t know where nor did we have plans to attend. But after the previous night’s show, it was impossible for us to say no to more wrestling.
We drove up to the building, bought some general admission tickets, and settled in for the show. Again, we got to see all the stars from the night before but this time Austin Aries was also in attendance wrestling his “retirement” match. During the show, shortly after Jon Moxley (Dean Ambrose) called Trina Michaels a cum-dumpster, they announced that he had been signed by the WWE. I honestly didn’t believe it at the time, but it was true.
The card wasn’t nearly as good as the night before, but then again, maybe it’s because we didn’t have as good of seats. We still had a good time, but it was a forgettable night (with the exception of Dean Ambrose’s comment) and by the end of it we were pretty zapped. We made it back to the hotel to crash for a few hours before hopping back up to explore the town some more.
The following morning, we headed out towards the Georgia Dome and decided to explore the surrounding area. We walked towards the arena and ran across the convention center where WWE Axcess was being held. We had no intention on attending Axcess and the steep ticket price was really a bit ridiculous but since traffic was so bad and we really had nowhere else to go, we decided to bite the bullet and go see what we could see.
Once we made it into the convention center, the huge WWE banners really made an impact. I don’t know why, but I just assumed Axcess would be a lot smaller than it actually was. On the convention floor was WWE heaven. They had things like Vince McMahon’s exploded limo, John Cena’s car collection, a rock climbing wall, break down of what’s under the ring, a ring where Roddy Piper was giving a not so kid friendly interview, tables upon tables of autographs and meet and greets, several neat photo op spots, a belt Hall of Fame, a museum of various wrestling outfits, a whole section dedicated to The Undertaker and his streak, and dozens of other awesome wrestling memorabilia.
Most of the major wrestlers had massive lines set up for autographs, and we just weren’t in the mood to spend two hours waiting in line for anyone that was signing. Gerald Brisco’s line was empty (no offense to Gerald, but it was) so we ran up there, got a quick pic and kept on exploring all that Axcess had to offer.
We took a lot of pictures, especially in The Undertaker’s section. In there they had tombstones for all of the matches he had won, some of the casket’s from casket matches, and a cool Undertaker symbol chair. Here is my pathetic attempt at looking spooky in this oversized chair.
Once we made it into the Georgia Dome the scale of things really sunk in. The set was amazing, and so was the amount of people crammed into this football stadium. I couldn’t help just looking around and soaking it all in. I thought about how Hogan vs. Goldberg was held in that same arena and only then did I realize the magnitude of that match. They sold out a football arena for one match without all the supplemental wrestling shows, fan Axcess, and huge event planning. It made me appreciate that match and what WCW did tenfold.
The show was… meh. The match I was most looking forward to was Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole. I know Michael Cole isn’t a wrestler, but this match had mega heat. Lawler was surging in 2011, fresh off a WWE Championship match against the Miz just a few months prior. This was his moment in the spotlight and finally Lawler was going to get a real Wrestlemania match. Well… they blew that. What ensued was a clusterfuck of confusion, bad acting, and a segment that ran way too long. No real wrestling occurred and it was a disappointment on all levels. So, that was a downer.
The Rock was exciting, but that was pretty much the only thing that I really enjoyed wrestling wise from the show. The Undertaker/HHH match was less than stellar and a huge let down after his incredible matches with Shawn Michaels. Edge wrestled his final match that night, but we didn’t know that at the time, and the match was pretty forgettable. I guess, after two nights of amazing DragonGate USA wrestling action, the WWE just couldn’t contend. I don’t regret going and I did have a blast, but I really wish it would have been a Wrestlemania worth remembering. Then again, those seemed to stop back around Wrestlemania IX.
That one weekend in April 2011, I attended three different wrestling shows and spent the day at what is basically a mobile hall of fame. It was a fantastic time and one of my favorite memories. The Wrestlemania card wasn’t the best, but that really didn’t matter. The trip, the company, the DragonGate shows, and Axcess made it memorable. Not to mention, it was still Wrestlemania, no matter how bad the card was! Even seven years later, I still have a hard time believing I actually went to Wrestlemania.
I attended the WWE draft three weeks later in Raleigh, and it was probably the best WWE event I’ve ever been to. The crowd was crazy into it and it quickly removed the sour taste that Wrestlemania left in my mouth regarding WWE live events. April 2011 truly was my month of wrestling bliss.
Here are some additional pictures that didn’t really fit anywhere in this post: