The Showcase of the Immortals. The Grandest Stage of Them All. The Ultimate Thrill Ride. All of those have, at one point or another, been used to describe WWE's flagship pay-per-view, WrestleMania. The company's recent run in New Orleans for WrestleMania 34 was something to behold, with great shows coupled with fans from all over the world having drinks and, in some cases, breaking bread together.
And I was lucky enough to take all of it in. With a few friends in tow, I made the trip to the Big Easy for what was my second WrestleMania in a row. Needless to say, there's a big difference between seeing the show in New Orleans compared to last year's location of Orlando, Florida.
A happy accident
I was not supposed to attend WrestleMania this year. To give some sort of perspective, I made the decision to go last year and cross going to such an event off of my bucket list, taking four friends with me. Using money I inherited from my grandparents, I purchased five tickets and booked an AirBnB, then told my friends while I was more than happy to cover the tickets and lodging in Orlando, how they got there and any expenses incurred while in Florida were on them. They were all ecstatic, and we made an epic long weekend, taking in all of the various Disney and Universal theme parks while we were there.
This year was much different. While my friend Terence, who attended 'Mania with me in Orlando, bought a small collection of tickets when they went on sale and expressed excitement about us going again, I was somewhat on the fence. I got married at the end of January and went on a three-week honeymoon immediately afterward. As much as I wanted to go to the Superdome and take in all the action, that was a lot of travel to do in a short amount of time, not to mention a lot of money to spend on flights and lodging.
Fate had other ideas. Upon getting back, Terence came over to watch Elimination Chamber and said since he could not use the tickets this year, he wanted to gift me three of them as a wedding present. It was settled. I was going to WrestleMania for the second year in a row, so I booked flights and a hotel room for myself and two friends, and all with the wife's blessing!
My friend Eddie and I touched down at Louis Armstrong International Airport about 4:30 pm local time, but there was no time to dillydally. We got a cab to our hotel, a dingy little Days Inn outside of the main city, Eddie took a quick shower, and we were back on the road to the Smoothie King Center for NXT TakeOver: New Orleans.
For those of you who haven't been to an NXT TakeOver show, it's an amazing experience. Imagine an arena suited for a taping of Monday Night Raw or SmackDown Live, but with the energy of a Ring of Honor or Evolve crowd. Everyone is on the edge of their seat from the get-go because unlike a majority of WWE TV tapings, there is literally no way to predict what will happen at NXT TakeOver and this was no exception.
The ladder match for the newly established North American Championship was half an hour of nonstop action. Shayna Baszler choking out Ember Moon and becoming the new NXT Women's Champion was borderline shocking but not as shocking as Roderick Strong turning on tag team partner Pete Dunne and helping the Undisputed Era retain the NXT Tag Team Titles, and Strong joining Adam Cole and Kyle O'Reilly only popped the crowd more!
Aleister Black's match with NXT champion Andrade "Cien" Almas was everything it was supposed to be, with the largely over Black finally getting the coronation he deserved, and the Unsanctioned Match between Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa is easily the Match of the Year so far. Seriously, folks, with nearly a year's worth of bad blood simmering following Ciampa's ACL surgery last summer, this match more than just delivered. It delivered, stayed for dinner, helped with the dishes, and then made a beautiful ice cream sundae with Gargano forcing Ciampa to tap out with his own knee brace being the cherry on top.
Eddie and I then met up with our friend Leighton, who was also in attendance at the show, as well as our friend Michael and his girlfriend, Lita. We then headed for Bourbon Street, met up with our friend Nick, who had just arrived, and the celebrations started. Fans were drinking together and discussing the show's greatness. We met two fans in from Chicago, Bill and Spencer, and we all talked about our love of pro wrestling over drinks and po' boys in the back of a bar called The Erin Rose, exchanging information along the way. The best part? At some point in the night, we randomly ran into Simon Gotch, formerly of The Vaudevillians. All in all, it was a great start to the weekend.
While 'Mania Day in Orlando was sunny and warm, it was the exact opposite in New Orleans. Eddie, Nick, and I awoke at the Days Inn to a cool and overcast day, but not even that could contain our excitement for the stacked WrestleMania card that awaited us. After heading into town and wolfing down some food at Belle's Diner on Decatur Street, we began the long walk from the French Quarter to the Business District, home of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
We had no need for Google Maps. All we had to do was follow the fans in the wrestling t-shirts, and the rest is history. The show, despite its known faults, was an incredible experience. Shinsuke Nakamura's entrance and subsequent heel turn redefined the term WrestleMania Moment. Asuka tapping out to Charlotte Flair's Figure Eight and thus ending her undefeated streak was almost as shocking as The Undertaker's streak ending in that same arena just four years prior.
We exited the Superdome into a rainy night and made our way to the French Quarter, though I was tired and opted to head back early. I later found out that my friends not only met former UK Champion Tyler Bate, but also the following: Trent Seven, Ricochet, and Velveteen Dream. Talk about picking the wrong night to turn in early!
An experience to remember
I could go on and on about how excellent the subsequent Raw and Smackdown tapings were, but then we'd be here all day. All I'll say is that even after WrestleMania was over, the amazing energy the WWE Universe brought to New Orleans remained. On Monday night after Raw, fans took to Bourbon Street to walk off an epic episode that saw Bobby Lashley return, plus Moon and the Authors of Pain be called up from NXT, and the bars took full advantage.
At the Famous Door, once Triple H's theme music hit, the DJ announced a free shot for anyone who performed a Pedigree on their friend. A block or two down, at The Swamp, the DJ and emcee were playing WWE theme songs and allowing fans to take the stage and cut promos. Sure enough, I requested Chris Jericho's music and put three fans in attendance on The List. Across the street, Luke Gallows exited another bar to a chorus of "Too Sweet" chants before heading for some, er, privacy at a nearby gentlemen's club.
The following night was more low key as fans had either already left or had flights to catch the next morning, but it didn't take away from one truth: it was a four-day stretch to remember.
As Eddie and I sat in the JetBlue terminal yesterday awaiting our flight home to New York, I looked far down the road to next year. WrestleMania is back at MetLife Stadium in 2019, so any money I would spend on travel could go towards tickets next year. Something I thought I would only do once turned into lightning striking twice and fate has dealt me a hand so it might strike a third time.
And though I do plan on attending next year's WrestleMania, a part of me is actually quite sad. New York City is far too big for the New Orleans experience to be the same. Knowing the local fans, while they will eat and drink with the out-of-towners, the excessive crowding on mass transit will be more frustrating than usual during four to five-day stretch. The contained intimacy of new friendships being forged on Bourbon Street or in line for a ride at Universal Studios or Walt Disney World will be gone.
Despite all that, there's something magical about taking in WrestleMania in person, a certain mystique. Though New York may be a tough place for it to surface, it will find a way.
I, for one, cannot wait.
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