Chronicling WrestleMania Weekend

WrestleMania weekend

WWE and the independent wrestling organizations have this down pat. WrestleMania’s extended weekend is truly a tremendous experience.

The Top Five will be back next week. In its place is my report on the extended WrestleMania weekend.

I’ve traveled to Houston for WrestleMania 25 and Phoenix/Glendale for WrestleMania 26. But I didn’t partake in all of the non-WWE festivities during both of those trips. With WWE in my hometown of San Jose, I decided to go for it and do as much as possible. Thanks to Alan Counihan and really, his girlfriend Sarah who picked up all the tickets, Cactus Jim and myself were about to watch more live wrestling in several days than we would in quite a long time.

Thursday

WaleMania

While Jim, Sarah, and Alan attended Evolve 39, I went to WaleMania, in part to experience what looked like an incredible half wrestling show/half party, and also because I was the liaison between the Wrestling Observer subscribers and Court Bauer, who was promoting the show. He offered the Observer subscribers an awesome deal, which was VIP service for the general admission price. I wanted to make sure everything worked out well.

I think this was the underrated event of the entire WrestleMania extended weekend. Because it was on Thursday, some folks weren’t in town yet and I did receive some feedback that if they were in town, they’d definitely have attended. While waiting for the show to kick off, I was able to meet Konnan’s whipping boy on MLW Radio, MSL who couldn’t have been more gracious. He’s a big basketball fan so we were able to talk about his Heat and my Warriors. He introduced me to Kevin Sullivan and the Taskmaster looked quite dapper.

The VIP experience offered a Meet and Greet with Rey Mysterio and free Don Julio tequila shots for the hour. Rey and Konnan had just gone through a horrific experience, losing their friend Perro Aguayo Jr. in a terrible accident in the ring. Neither wanted to cancel the event, which was highly publicized by Bauer and rapper Wale, who was going to perform at the end of the night. I can only hope that the night, in which the crowd loved both men, was able to help them mend, even a little bit.

There was a live edition of MLW Radio in which Court, MSL, Konnan, and Dave Meltzer discussed a bunch of topics and featured special guests like Samoa Joe, Scott Hall, MVP, Sullivan, and Jim Ross. Good ol’ JR retweeted this shot that I took of him.

As they set up for the concert/club part of the evening, other wrestling luminaries showed up like Jeff Hardy, Chris Hero, Noelle Foley, Carlito, Victoria, and Sunny. It was such a cool event. So, will there be WaleMania 2 in Dallas next year?

(By the way, you can buy Wale’s new album, The Album About Nothing, on iTunes.)

Friday

Before a day of three wrestling shows started, Team FGB and Team Respect met up for lunch. Alan, Sarah, Cactus Jim, and I met up with John LaRocca, Dave Dutra, and Kevin Lacy for lunch at Famous Dave’s.

The food was fine, but the conversation was excellent. On the podcast I did really early Sunday morning with LaRocca and Dutra, LaRocca called it one of the weekend highlights.

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Evolve 40

The Santa Clara Fairgrounds played host to all the WWN Live events. This was my first Evolve show and I greatly enjoyed it. If you want an update on the full show, we live blogged it as it happened.

Some highlights:
– Timothy Thatcher vs Tommy End was one of my top 3 favorite matches all weekend. It told the grappler vs striker story masterfully.


– I was really impressed with both Chris Hero and Biff Busick. The Evolve product is very fast and Hero was able to take it down a notch, keep the crowd invested, and have a helluva match with Busick.
– Ricochet vs PJ Black was the best high flyer match I saw all weekend. I know many really enjoyed the 6-man at ROH, but to me, this was better. They added a layer of storytelling and meaning to their moves that I thought the other match lacked. And wow, Ricochet is just as impressive as you’d think live.

After a quick drive to Redwood City, Alan and Sarah got their first taste of In-N-Out burger. I think Alan said what most people say about In-N-Out – really good, but no way it could match everyone’s hype.

ROH – Supercard Of Honor IX

Much like the Evolve show, this was my first Ring Of Honor show live. I never thought I’d get a chance to see Samoa Joe in-person, but thanks to the failure that is TNA, it was now possible.

We also live blogged this one if you want all the results.

Some highlights:
– Sometimes you forgot how good guys are and I hadn’t watched Frankie Kazarian in quite some time, but he was excellent in his match with Michael Elgin.
– Roderick Strong vs Christopher Daniels was the most professional-professional wrestling match of the weekend.
– Even if it wasn’t the young Jushin “Thunder” Liger, it was still Jushin freaking “Thunder” Liger.
– Samoa Joe and Jay Briscoe was a very fun match and it was a great capper to the evening.

Once Briscoe pinned Joe, we jetted out as fast as we could. The NXT show was still ongoing. We thought there was an outside chance we’d be able to see the main event, but thanks to an intermission and an extended show, we got there with three matches left.

NXT in San Jose

During NXT, I started to wonder if this was going to be best WWE event of the weekend. The crowd was on fire for everything. NXT is essentially a major league promotion with an indy crowd. All night they were doing Enzo chants, wooing for Charlotte, and going nuts for Fergie D and Neville.

One thing you could tell immediately is that not only were Devitt and Neville ready for the main roster, but Sasha Banks would walk onto the WWE roster right now and be the best woman at everything. She has it down pat.

After NXT was done, we walked outside the San Jose Event Center to see what looked like a hip hop cypher, but instead of people battling with rhymes, they were cutting promos in the same vain as Enzo Amore. It was oddly amazing.

Saturday

Ringside: An Afternoon With Jim Ross

This was another event in which Court Bauer (and Ross) gave Wrestling Observer subscribers a sweet deal. For a regular general admission price, Observer subscribers were given their own special meet and greet after the show with Ross himself.

Ross has such a dry wit that his jokes can come off as slightly mean, but he’s genuine. And also, he’s a professional broadcaster. You don’t hear an “uh” or “so” from JR. He also paces the show extremely well.

He was at NXT in the front row the night before and Triple H called him out, so maybe his relationship with WWE is back on the up and up. They surely can use him. Probably playing off that, he started the show by telling the crowd he just received a call from Vince McMahon. During the call, he told Vince to put Lesnar over and that Reigns wasn’t ready. Business was indeed about to pick up.

There were a lot of stories about his time in Mid-South with Bill Watts and Oklahoma booker Leroy McGuirk. He told the infamous story about the McGuire twins where he had to wash their backs in the shower. Michelle Beadle was there and he pointed her out while also taking a shot at Erin Andrews. Daniel Cormier was there as well.

During the Q&A portion of the event, Ross brought out Samoa Joe who reiterated that his dream match would be against Brock Lesnar. He first made the claim at WaleMania.

After the show was over, the Observer subscribers got to meet Ross. There was a small miscommunication with the folks at Rockbar. When the event was over, as is usually the case, they wanted to clear the folks out so they could set up what else is next. One of the folks there even got slightly disrespectful, but we held our ground and didn’t get upset. Well, except my guy, Alex Goff. I gave him a shoulder rub after and offered to get him a drink.

(I told Alex that if I ever needed a bodyguard, he’d be my guy. He was also there when a wrestling fan was frustrated with me because I was infringing on his space during the intermission at the ROH show. He must’ve been a ROH tough guy.)

However, Court took control and everyone got to spend a few minutes with Jim. He signed autographs, shook hands, and took pictures with everyone. Samoa Joe was also there and near the end, he had a small discussion with some of the fans. It was a fine way to start the day.

WWE Hall Of Fame

We had live coverage of the event in case you didn’t see it.

I wouldn’t say that I was disappointed with the event. It was a very nice presentation. It was just very long. Being that the entire event is about speeches, they probably should’ve shortened the roster of nine inductees in order to speed it along a bit.

I really loved Madusa’s speech. She let it all hang out and wasn’t sorry about it. She’s a much better speaker than I remember her ever being in WCW or WWE. To me, she speech of the night. Larry Zbyszko was in Larryland, but I know a lot of people who enjoyed his speech. It also got a little dusty in the room when Dana Warrior, Daniel Bryan, and Connor the Crusher’s dad spoke from the bottom of their hearts.

(For some reason, Bryan got heat from fans who thought he “exposed the business” by saying that what he does in the ring is fictional inspiration and that Connor was truly inspirational. I think some wrestling fans have issues with understanding context.)

It was getting tiring by the end. Kevin Nash had the energy of a bear in hibernation and I was pretty thankful when it was over. Why? Well, I had one more spot to hit.

King Of Indies – Night 2

Jim was there for the entire show while I was waiting for the Hall Of Fame to end. He was sending me texts about how great the Willie Mack vs Rey Horus match was and how athletic and powerful the Jeff Cobb vs Brian Cage match was.

I got there for the second of two semifinals matches in the tournament. It was Jeff Cobb vs Willie Mack. Mack resembles the great Joe Frazier.

They had a good match with a fantastic finish. Cobb was going for his reverse powerslam called the “Tour Of Islands” and as he went for the scoop, Mack small packaged him to advance to the finals. There, he met Adam Thornstowe. The match went outside and Mack nearly killed my knee on a dive as he pushed the first row into the second. He then told us all to get the eff out of the way and they went ECW on us with him throwing Thornstowe on top of chairs. It picked back up inside the ring and they had an excellent last several minutes before the finish. Mack missed a corkscrew moonsault. The guy is way more athletic he looks. Thornstowe won the match to become the 2015 King Of Indies.

(LaRocca was very close to Roland Alexander and he was a little frustrated with the outside stuff as he said on our early morning podcast that I linked above. He said that Roland’s idea for the tournament was Japanese style, no heels or baby faces, all in-ring, and all clean finishes. All that being said, it was still entertaining.)

Alan took a photo with the great Willie Mack.

After the show, I met up with LaRocca, Dutra, and Lacy for a late-night bite and Cobb and his girlfriend as well as Premier champ JR Kratos joined us. It really was a crime that Kratos wasn’t in the King Of Indies tournament. He won a battle royal on day one, but should’ve been a force in the tournament if your goal is to get all the top Bay Area wrestlers involved.

After that was the podcast with Dutra and LaRocca which went all the way until after 4AM. I think I was finally in bed by 5:30AM.

Sunday

It was time for the granddaddy of them all.

WrestleMania 31

I have to tell the story of how hard it is to get into Levi’s Stadium. I drive everywhere. I hate public transit. That’s how most people are in the South Bay. We all drive. And it was hell to get in and out of the stadium. The parking lots are all over the place and hard to find and there’s no signage whatsoever. You would think that after a full season of 49ers games, they’d have that part of it down pat. But no, it was bad enough that I don’t plan to go back to Levi’s Stadium at any point. I’ll continue to watch my 49ers at home on TV.

The stadium inside and out is beautiful. It’s also a technological marvel. The WiFi didn’t go down once. You can order from an app and pick up your food in a special line. But there’s something missing. There’s very little charm to the place. Someone described as a baseball mitt that’s not broken in yet and I think that’s fitting. Hopefully, they’ll continue improving the experience.

After my frustration with getting there, WWE put on the greatest live wrestling show I’ve ever been to. Don’t worry LaRocca, Cobb Vs John comes in a close second.

I’ve now been to three WrestleMania shows live and many other PPVs and this was the best live show hands down. It had everything. It was wrestling’s version of a variety show. For fans of only the Attitude Era stuff, you had DX and the NWO come out in the Sting vs Triple H match. For those who enjoy flawless professional wrestling, Randy Orton and Seth Rollins gave that to you. For the Total Divas match, you had what was essentially a Total Divas match (sans AJ). For the fans of the spot fests, you had the ladder match. For those who wanted to see the Undertaker live one last time, he had a better match this year than last year with Brock Lesnar. And of course, you had that big moment feel in the main event.

And look at this beautiful stage.

I’ve seen every single WrestleMania and as of this writing, I think WrestleMania 31 is my third favorite of all-time. I’m going to watch it on the WWE Network soon to validate that. It could sneak past WrestleMania XIX for second all-time.

If you missed the event entirely, you can check out my live report.

Monday

I was really burnt out at this point. But we still had one more show left.

Monday Night Raw

Cadillac Don sat with me at Raw, which started out great. Brock Lesnar was as hot as anyone I can remember as Raw opened. He destroyed Michael Cole and the cameraman which turned out to be Nor-Cal wrestler Dylan Drake. I saw Drake at WrestleMania as we were leaving and asked him why he didn’t do a run-in. Well, here was his run-in.

There were some fun matches and we saw the main roster debuts of Kalisto and Adrian Neville. John Cena was booed out of the building, but like always, turned it to his advantage. And then, the great show turned into what Raw has been for a very long time; stubborn, boring, and illogical. They had a chance to hit the reset button on Roman Reigns and they decided to continue the pathway that wasn’t working. It’s mind-blowing how stubborn they can be. If you didn’t see the show, I blogged it live from the arena. Duan wrote a piece on Tuesday about their stubbornness.

I have to discuss this crowd. Most people really enjoy the Raw after WrestleMania crowd because it’s your most hardcore 20,000 WWE fans who try and hijack the show. Some of it was fun, but at other times, it was hateful, dreadful, and ugly. Duan called it dork fan Raw and he was right on the money.

During the women’s match, the fans started a chant about each diva fellating their significant other. So it wasn’t only, “John Cena sucks.” It was now, “Brie sucks Cena.” Thankfully, no one watching Raw heard the chants. It was really sophomoric and I could only imagine how the parents who brought their kids felt. It made me wonder who really comes to these shows. I felt embarrassed to be in the crowd and I will never go to a Raw the day after WrestleMania again.

Thankfully, a dinner with Jim, his wife, Alan, Sarah, and Damian at a Japanese restaurant in J-Town took the bad taste of Raw out of my mouth.

Shoutouts

– Shoutout to my kids @_briangonzales_ and @JJGonzaless who don’t really like wrestling all that much anymore, but who came with me to WrestleMania and had a blast. It was so fun watching it with them.

– Shoutout to my FGB crew @Spyder138, @DonCameron, @Alan4L, and scanElee who I was able to hangout with quite a bit this weekend.

– Shoutout to the Team Respect crew @LaRoccaJL, @DaveDutra, and Kevin Lacy for the great conversation all weekend long.

– Shoutout to Dave Meltzer who is always so gracious with his time no matter who has a wrestling question for him.

– Shoutout to Court Bauer for the sweet Wrestling Observer subscriber deals to both shows (and Jim Ross as well) and being an all around nice guy.

– Shoutout to @TheDames7 for telling the story of shaking Mark Henry’s hand with a pen in his hand no less than 5 or 6 times all weekend, all at my insistence.

– Shoutout to @EdInSanAntonio for helping the out of towners get to shows and back. He’s the master planner at this stuff.

– Shoutout to my bodyguard Alex Goff and his lovely wife.

– Shoutout to all the new folks from F4W/Wrestling Observer that I met like Emerson Witner, Carla Duran, Derek Souza, and of course, Anchor and the Americool.

All-in-all, it was a great time and I think I may have to go to Dallas next year.

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