Last week I attended the Wrestlemania festivities in Miami, Florida. Travelling all the way from sunny Hull, to Heathrow airport, to Miami International. It was a week long trip that cost almost £2000 in total, including flights, hotel, tickets, and spending money. But it was worth every single penny.
For none wrestling fans it would seem crazy to spend that much money on something as silly as the WWE, and I’m not here to convince non-fans why they should like wrestling, that would be like someone trying to explain to me why they spend endless amounts of money on going to football games or One Direction concerts - people like, and are entertained, by different things.
That’s what it boils down to. Wrestling entertains me. It also frustrates me and makes me angry at times, but that all adds to the appeal. I appreciate the hard work and effort that these men and women put in over 300+ days a year for the fans. I appreciate the athleticism, the story-telling, the drama, the comedy, the backstage politics, the rumour-mill, the highs and the lows. And experiencing this live is like nothing else on earth, and for any fan of wrestling, I recommend to attend Wrestlemania at least once in your life.
Thursday 29/03/12 - Wrestlemania Fan Axxess Session 1
We arrived in Miami on the Wednesday evening, suffering from slight jet-lag we didn’t get up to much, other than scoping the nearby area. We were staying in the Holiday Inn in downtown Miami, opposite Bayside Marketplace, and just a 5 minute walk to the American Airlines arena.
Thursday was our first official day of the trip, and we had purchased VIP tickets to the CM Punk signing at the 6pm Axxess session. All the Axxess events took place at the Miami Beach Convention Centre, which is not far away from South Beach. It cost us about $25 in a taxi from downtown.
We arrived at the convention centre early to pick up our tickets from Will Call, as we had pre-booked the tickets online via Ticket Master. However, the Will Call ticket box didn’t actually open until 4pm, so we had plenty of time to kill. We ventured down to South Beach, strolled through Lincoln Road Mall, and then walked down Ocean Drive, accidentally walking in to a gay bar (hey, these things happen!).
It was the Cleavelander Bar that we chose to stop in for a few drinks, and this turned out to be our first “wrestling” related part of the holiday. After a few moments in the bar, sat enjoying our drinks, my friend commented on a woman that was approaching down the side-street, “Is there any point of her wearing that?” was the comment - the woman in question was wearing a very skimpy mesh like material over a bikini. It wasn’t until she got nearer that we realised it was Maxine from NXT! With that my eyes quickly shot to the guy she was with to see if he too was a wrestler, and low and behold I recognised that mullet haircut, it was none other than Santino Marella.
We debated whether it would be appropriate to stop him and ask for a picture, but luckily he walked in to the bar we were sat in, which made it much easier to approach him. Anthony Carelli aka Santino Marella was very approachable and laid-back and happy to take pictures with us. Definitely didn’t sound Italian though. Kind of hard to take him seriously as his comedy goof character now, he seemed like such a cool dude.
It was a nice way to start the holiday and get us even more excited for the upcoming Axxess session - it also meant we didn’t have to wait in line to meet Santino, because we got him for free.
We headed back to the convention centre for about 3:30pm, by this point a queue was building at the ticket office. Some were waiting to buy general admission tickets, while others were waiting to pick there’s up. If you are ever attending an Axxess event, it is wise to turn up as early as possible, luckily we were near the front, but the queue got big fast, and the worst thing is to be still stuck in line while the event is taking place.
Inside in the lobby are lots of superstar banners and posters, a dude selling Wrestlemania/Hall of Fame programmes, and then two holding areas, one for VIP ticket holders, and one for General Admission ticket holders. As we had VIP tickets for CM Punk we were directed to the VIP area and given a CM Punk wristband.
After waiting around for what seemed like another 45-60 minutes, we were finally ushered in to the actual convention centre. The excitement builds as the staff check your bags, you can hear wrestling music blasting out from inside, and see the various superstar banners draping the walls.
I’ve attended three previous Wrestlemanias (21, 22, and 24) but this was the first time I’d done Axxess, so I didn’t really know what to expect. The place was massive, there was so much going on, it’s overwhelming when you first arrive. There is a ring set up at the back where various activities and matches take place, there was a John Cena rock-wall, a place where you could film your own entrance video, sections of memorabilia, and lots of tables and booths dotted around the room where various superstars and divas do signings or photoshoots.
We wasn’t quite sure where to go first, but seeing as we had VIP CM Punk tickets we thought the wisest option was to head to his signing table, which was located at the back to the left of the ring. The queue for Punk was already big when we got over there, and we did spend a long time waiting, but we’d paid VIP, so no way we were ducking out now.
Meeting Punk was great, but it was so rushed. There are three levels of staff at Axxess, there are security staff, authorised staff (that are allowed to go backstage), and then volunteer staff, and there seemed to be miscommunication between the three. When it’s your turn to meet the VIP wrestler, a staff member takes your camera and takes a snap while you pose with said wrestler, however the woman that was doing ours must have been told to hurry up, because she rushed and my photo came out blurred. Now, I still got to meet Punk, shake his hand, and get something signed, but to spend £85 and not even get a good photo is extremely disappointing.
I’ve already sent my email of complaint to WWE, so lets see if I can get any freebies out of them. We spoke to a couple of other people who had the same problem, and they actually went back, and were told to wait, and got their photos done again. I didn’t think to do that, because we wanted to try and meet as many other people as possible, and we’d already queued for ages at the CM Punk table.
After we met Punk we headed over to the ringside area, with our VIP wristbands we were allowed to go right to the front. We got to see a couple of matches, Ezekiel Jackson vs Hunico, and a very good FCW match between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins (formerly Jon Moxley and Tyler Black).
The best advice I could give somebody who is planning to do Axxess in the future, is to do at least two sessions. The first session is so overwhelming, you aren’t quite sure what to do, and can waste a fair bit of time just getting your bearings. Use the first session to meet a couple of wrestlers, and then do all the other activities, such as The Undertaker’s Graveyard, the Wrestlemania Ring Attire collection, and if you are interested you can make your own ring entrance, or battle Howard “The Fink” Finkle in a trivia game. Again, with the VIP wristband you get priority and can skip the lines at stuff like Undertaker’s Graveyard and the Ring Attire section.
You can then use your second Axxess session to simply focus on meeting wrestlers, we did three sessions overall, two VIP (Punk and Jericho), and then one General Admission. I’d even suggest just doing the General Admission ones, unless there is someone you desperately want to meet at the VIP. We definitely fit more wrestlers in during our subsequent sessions, although saying that, we still met a few during our first.
There are two types of meets set up. There are signings, in which a superstar or diva (sometimes more than one) sit at a table, and you get to go up and have something signed (only one thing, this can be a programme, a belt, t-shirt, poster, magazine etc). The staff always tell you that you can’t take photographs while up there because they need to speed things along, however just ignore this, because everybody takes photos, you’ve paid all that money and travelled all that way, the least you are getting is a photo. The wrestlers themselves don’t mind at all.
Then there are photo-booths, these tend to be the less big stars, more up and comers, and the queues are a lot shorter and move a lot faster. Here there is no signing, just a wrestler stood in front of a WWE related background, and you go up and a professional photographer takes your picture, then gives you a card with a code on it that you can type in online to find your photo.
I also found that if your wear a slightly different t-shirt (rather than a generic wrestling shirt) it is a good ice-breaker if you don’t quite know what to say to a particular wrestler. Justin Gabriel was a big fan of my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt, and CM Punk said he had the same one (although I think he was probably lying).
The signing tables are a lot harder to navigate because the queues can get very long, and you don’t always know who is going to be appearing. Also, each session lasts for four hours, and at the two hour mark the wrestlers swap over, so you could be queuing up for a specific wrestler that you want to meet, and then suddenly he is swapped for someone you aren’t that interested in meeting.
The volunteer staff say that they don’t know which wrestlers are at what tables, but this is a lie. If they are holding a white sheet of paper, then they know, they may not know who that person is as they seem to purposely hire non-wrestling fans, one woman didn’t know who Jimmy Hart’s megaphone belonged to - despite it being covered in love hearts, and Jimmy hart himself wearing a white jacket also covered in love hearts - the other options were JR or Gerry Briscoe! But they have the superstar’s name written on the paper, as my mate caught a glimpse of one reading “JTG”, so we ducked out of the line.
There was one member of staff who didn’t have a piece of paper and was trying to tell us who it was but she couldn’t quite remember, she said “Crystal?” We racked our brains trying to think of who that could be, “Was there a Crystal in NXT or FCW?” My mate said “Maybe she means Christian?” but I kind of dismissed it. Then we heard people chanting “Daniel Bryan” so we rushed over to his queue, which was huge.
We then heard a “One More Match” chant from where we were previously standing, and we realised that the woman did in fact mean Christian, which was a little annoying because we could have been right at the front of the queue, and met Christian, and still possibly had time to fit Bryan in too. But regardless, we still got to meet Daniel Bryan, who has always been a favourite of mine, but over this past week I think he’s shot up to my number one favourite currently. Lots of “Yes!” chants while we were in line, a chant that would grow and grow over the week.
Bryan is a very nice guy, always smiling and seemed genuinely happy to meet the fans. He also laughed at my joke when I asked where AJ was and if he had her let her out of the house, loads of people probably said something similar, but he still humoured me. Yes! Yes! Yes!
That was pretty much it for our first ever WWE Axxess session. One hell of an experience but totally overwhelming. I will continue with Part 2 soon, and discuss our two Saturday Axxess sessions, where we arrived with a little bit more knowledge of what to expect, and met a whole bunch of wrestlers.
Thanks for reading.
by Martin Holmes