The WrestleMania Experience

I have been a wrestling fan since 1988. I was 8 years old at the time and will never forget the first time I saw WWE (or WWF at the time) on television. It was the Big Boss Man along with Slick taking on some jobber, I believe Tom Stone, on either Superstars or Challenge.

Throughout the years I always dreamt of attending a show live in person. Living on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea made it just a bit more difficult. In 1998, 10 years after I first saw wrestling on television, I traveled with my dad and a friend to watch a UK-only WWE pay-per-view, Capital Carnage. It was a great experience and once I got a taste of it, I wanted more.

Between 1999 and 2000 I flew to the UK for different shows, mostly pay-per-views. Hell I even went to see an episode of Nitro in the UK. But my plan was to one day make it to WrestleMania at least once. Working with a low salary didn’t help things but I decided to stop going to these UK-only pay-per-views and save enough money to go to a WrestleMania.

The plan was to go to WrestleMania X8 in Toronto, Canada. I was waiting for the WWE travel packages to come out and the minute they were available I purchased the highest-priced package. I figured if I have to travel halfway across the world I might as well get the best seat in the house or stay home. I was the 11th person who got the travel package and was rewarded with the best seat in the house – front row!

Attending my first WrestleMania was a truly remarkable experience. I did the whole thing, different sessions of Axxess, autographs, Raw, and Smackdown as well. I was in awe just being there with thousands of other wrestling fans who spent their hard earned money to travel and watch WrestleMania. I remember a friend of mine, Jeff, tagged along for the ride and he decided to come to Raw as well in Montreal. I flew from Toronto to Montreal. He drove in a snow storm and took quite a few hours to get there, more than usual.

I checked-in in this shit hole of a hotel somewhere in Montreal close to the arena and Jeff joined later. It was one of the worst hotels I’ve ever been to. But I had no cash to spare. From Montreal I flew to Ottawa for Smackdown and then back home.

It was supposed to be a one time thing. Man I was wrong. After that, I was doing pretty good on advertising and this Jamaican-based online gambling website was sending me checks which pretty much funded the next WrestleMania – 19 in Seattle.

WrestleMania 19 was somewhat uneventful for me, to be honest I don’t remember much from that trip. I did Raw and Smackdown as well and then traveled to Las Vegas for a few days to chill.

I was really looking forward to WrestleMania 20 being in New York and at Madison Square Garden. I have been to New York before…as a baby, so I obviously didn’t remember one single thing.

I traveled with another friend from home and two of my online friends, Ian from England, and Jason from Canada, both of whom did work for Wrestling-Online.com throughout the years.

While I got another front row seat for WrestleMania 19, I had row 3 for WrestleMania 20. By then, the WWE Travel Package people pretty much knew who I was, mostly due to tons of e-mails exchanged being the annoying person I was.

We went to see Ring of Honor that weekend, something which I really didn’t want to be honest. That’s where I saw AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and CM Punk for the first time. They were in New Jersey so we took the train. I bitched and moaned all the way for different reasons (I was hungry, and my burger and fries getting cold is still a running inside joke between us) but the show was pretty good. We also met Chris, another W-O staffer at the time, who came to see ROH with us and scolded a young fan who was screaming obscenities during the show. Priceless.

Going back to New York from New Jersey at night was a total bitch and I remember we froze our asses off waiting for the train. Heading to the room at the Westin Hotel in Times Square felt good that night. Speaking of the Westin Hotel, beautiful place, but super expensive.

We also did Boston for Smackdown that week, a very bad experience which started with us missing the flight and then getting stuck in snow. Montreal and Boston don’t rate very high on my list, not sure if it’s because of the snow, but there’s something about those two cities!

But WrestleMania XX was great, one of my favorites. It’s too bad that the ending has been forever deleted from WWE television. The sight of Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero both with the world titles in the middle of the ring at MSG still gives me goosebumps.

By the way, to go to WrestleMania XX I ended up doing a very dumb move – sold all my WWE stocks I had at the time to fund the trip. Yeah, never do something like that to go on a vacation. It’s stupid, believe me. And you’ll regret it. I was young and stupid back then. Now I’m just old and stupid.

I missed WrestleMania 21 in Los Angeles. I was just starting a new job two months before and didn’t want to take a week or two off just to go watch WrestleMania and make a bad impression at work. But nothing was going to stop me from going to WrestleMania 22 in Chicago.

I traveled to Chicago with a few friends as well but it was a forgettable weekend. I was so sick that I barely saw any of the city and only managed to get out of bed on WrestleMania Sunday for the breakfast event that was part of the travel package and then of course for WrestleMania. This was the first time I didn’t do Smackdown after a WrestleMania and after Chicago I headed back to Vegas for a holiday and to lose more money. (See the pattern here?)

Cash problems prevented me from going to WrestleMania 23 in Detroit. Besides that I thought what the hell am I going to see in Detroit! Pass! (No offense to those living in Detroit!) I didn’t go but then during that week I received an e-mail from a reader of Wrestling-Online.com who told me I was in a story in the Detroit News. Uh huh!?

There was a story about how people from all over the world travel to WrestleMania every year and Bob Collins, who was in charge of everything that has to do with WrestleMania at WWE at the time, told the newspaper that someone was missing.

“Usually, we sell one ticket in Malta, but apparently that person isn’t coming this year. I’m really disappointed. I hope they’re OK,” he said.

Well, that was me alright. I never met or spoke to Bob Collins before although I knew what his job was. So I sent him an e-mail the following day just to introduce myself and he was super excited that I reached out. I promised that I’ll be at WrestleMania 24 the next year and he promised to meet me.

WrestleMania 24 was the start of my 7 year run at WrestleMania. I didn’t miss one going all the way to WrestleMania XXX. That’s a lot of air miles, hotel nights, and thousands of dollars.

I found myself being quoted in two different stories in the Orlando Sentinel for WrestleMania 24. One of them was how fans will pay higher tickets for WrestleMania in Orlando thanks to a facility fee which was introduced on top of the ticket and other taxes and fees. “What do you think about it?” I was asked. “I think that’s called abuse,” I replied. The next day after the article was published, Bob Collins, the WWE guy I was meeting in a few days at WrestleMania e-mailed me and he told me that we’re quoted in the same article… and the additional fee was his idea! Oops!

I had front row once again and possibly my best seat of all WrestleManias. I was on TV most of the show as I was facing the main camera. Bob Collins, true to his word, called me and said he’ll come say hello at the Hall of Fame ceremony. He did, we only talked for a few minutes and then he said he’d see me at WrestleMania. As we waited for the show to start on Sunday, he came to ringside and we talked wrestling and travel. Cool guy. He eventually retired from his WWE job a few years later and was replaced by John Saboor who still holds that position to this day.

I went to WrestleMania 24 with a bunch of friends from England and Australia. It was another massive plan. I remember me and my friend from Malta flew to Miami, drove to Orlando and then met the rest of the group there. We had this fantastic idea to all go to Miami afterward and we rented a 12 passenger van to carry all six of us and our luggages. After Raw ended with the farewell for the Nature Boy, we hit the road in pitch black. I was the designated driver for the whole road trip and thankfully I had Red Bull and Gatorade next to me as the other five passengers all slept. Such good friends!

Apparently we were doing the same trip like all the rest of the WWE crew going to Smackdown in Miami. We stopped at what I think was a McDonald’s and Mark Henry was there downing some burgers with some other Superstars who I can’t remember at the moment. We didn’t even dare to go and talk to them as Mark looked like he was pissed off and ready to eat the whole joint.

WrestleMania 24 was also the last time I took a travel package for WrestleMania as starting with 25 in Houston, I started dealing with hotels directly to get deals for the website.

You’d think WrestleMania 25 would have been memorable but to be honest I don’t really have much recollection of how my week went. All I know was that I sold a ton of rooms for the hotel we partnered with and everyone was happy. I went solo for this event and spent most of my time inside the hotel working on the website. Didn’t really see any of Houston, which I regret.

WrestleMania 26 in Phoenix was a total blast. I hooked up once again with my friends from two years earlier and we partied at the Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix. That was the start of the cool relationship between The Ritz-Carlton and Wrestling-Online.com. The folks at the hotel in Phoenix heard what we did at WrestleMania 25 and reached out to host us almost a year before. I never stayed at The Ritz before so after a few e-mails here and there we made the deal.

Once again I was in the newspapers that week, with the Arizona Republic calling for comments regarding WrestleMania. It was about people coming from all over the world and my comments made it to print.

We rode to WrestleMania in style with a Hummer limo which had a pretty cool female driver. She was badass and drove like a boss. Too bad there was no alcohol in the back.

Me and my buddies got a private tour at the US Airways Center, the home of the Phoenix Suns, thanks to two friends and W-O readers who work (one still is, hey Jeramie!) at the Suns. We got all the behind the scenes stuff and visited the Suns offices and walked away with some free merchandise as well. It was pretty cool to get the tour and it was one of the highlights of the trip.

Atlanta was next with WrestleMania 27. We stayed at The Ritz-Carlton once again, another beautiful property in downtown Atlanta next to a Hooters and a Hard Rock Cafe. Only my friend from Australia made it this time but I did have the opportunity to meet a bunch of W-O readers at a dinner at the Hard Rock before the Hall of Fame that weekend. We also had Ric Flair and his family staying with us at the same hotel. We saw him at the bar once and we were tempted to go and hang out but we decided not to disturb him. The day after Mania we went to Stone Mountain and met Hacksaw Jim Duggan and his family. He was nice enough to pose for a photo after my friend went up to him. I didn’t really want to bother him, but since my friend did the dirty work, then why not! Hoooooooo! USA! USA!

I love Miami so I was thrilled that WrestleMania 28 was going to be held there. Miami hotels were a bitch to deal with and we ended up making a deal with a Marriott property in Biscayne Bay. Not really walking distance to Miami Beach, but that was the only decent place that took us. Everyone else was trying to rip us off.

The thing I hate the most about stadiums are that they are often in the middle of nowhere and the Sun Life Stadium was no different. Getting a taxi back from the show was somewhat of a mission impossible.

Me and a few other guys walked, and walked, and walked, and walked towards the main road and after an hour I decided to jump in the middle of the road and stop a cab. He didn’t want to take us as he said he had some guys waiting for him at the stadium. But just like the Million Dollar Man always said, everybody has a price. I used my negotiating skills and we paid the taxi driver $125 for 5 people to take us back to the hotel. Yeah it’s a lot of money, but I was ready to pay more to get the hell outta there and back to the hotel. It was brutal.

The driver was impressed with my skills after I convinced him to take us and little did we know that we were going for the ride of our lives. I saw my life flash before my eyes a couple of times as he was driving like a lunatic to take us back as quickly as possible to go pick the other party up. I was up front and my friend, who was in the very back seat of the taxi van was texting me telling me we are going to die. All of this while listening to Mariah Carey or Celine Dion – forgot who it was – on the radio. Good times.

I nearly didn’t make it to WrestleMania 29. The plan was not to go and then the full lineup of the Hall of Fame was announced and I decided to bite the bullet. I had enough miles with United Airlines to go all the way from Malta to New York and back for free. I booked I think two months before Mania and paid a lot for a hotel in Times Square. New York hotels proved to be more difficult to deal with than Miami ones and after months of negotiations with different properties I gave up. It was the only time we didn’t do any hotel deals.

WrestleMania 29 was largely disappointing for me. The show sucked in my opinion but the Hall of Fame made up for it. Plus it was a good excuse for another short holiday in New York. I moved to a New Jersey hotel on WrestleMania Sunday to avoid the issue with taxis and public transport and while it was nothing close to New York, it saved me a lot of headaches. I didn’t even bother going to Axxess or any other events apart from the HOF and Raw.

There was no way I was going to miss WrestleMania XXX in New Orleans. A strike by Lufthansa nearly made me miss the whole weekend. Just 3 days before I was scheduled to fly, Lufthansa canceled my flight – and a gazillion others – due to a strike. I called Expedia to change my ticket and they did. I called the next day to confirm my new flight with United and they told me I was never issued a ticket and the booking fell through.

After countless of e-mails and hours on the phone waiting for the horrible customer service at Expedia I was told I was booked on a new flight, going from Malta to England with a stopover in Houston before another flight to New Orleans. My ticket wasn’t issued until very late and on the way to the airport at 5AM I was still not sure if I was going to be allowed on the plane as I couldn’t do any online check-ins due to some restrictions. I think I grew a few grey hairs in those three days.

I was joined by two of my friends who came to Mania before and we stayed at the beautiful Ritz-Carlton hotel right off Bourbon Street. It was the third Ritz property we dealt with and we sold all our rooms in our block. It was simply the nicest hotel I’ve ever been to. Amazing property. If you can afford the $500 a night price, I highly recommend it. First class service, wonderful staff, and it’s in a perfect location.

I loved New Orleans, the nightlife is off the hook. I thought nothing could beat Vegas but New Orleans probably did. Plus you had 80,000 wrestling fans in the city which made things more interesting. I went to buy at CVS the night I arrived and I turn around and nearly bumped into Erick Rowan. The dude is freakin huge. I saw a bunch of Superstars and Divas just walking by in the street all getting mobbed by fans. Me and one my friends went to eat at Hard Rock Cafe on Bourbon Street and Bray Wyatt was there having dinner and so was Heath Slater with his family next to us. Thankfully no one bothered them.

I also got (I think) roofied at a strip club. So the story goes like this.

After leaving my friends at stupid-o’clock in the morning to go to sleep, this pretty attractive lady standing outside the Stiletto strip joint on Bourbon Street convinced me to go in. It was a sausage fest inside with more males than strippers, but it was funny watching everyone in wrestling shirts trying to chat up strippers.

I love people-watching, so I grabbed a Jack Daniels with Coke, found a table, and just observed. After a while, this beautiful brunette comes over and starts talking with me. I realized she was a Brit just from her accent and she realized I’m not an American and when I told her I’m a fellow European, we hit it off.

We talked about everything apart from lap dancing and then I offered her a drink, she said yes (of course) and I gave her the money and she went to buy one. She also got me one, no idea what it was, but she told me to drink it. Now before that I was in complete control of myself. I’ve never got drunk in my life (true, not bullshitting) and knew my limit but after I drank this shooter, that’s when the alarm went off.

After a few minutes, she asked if I want a lap dance. Well, I’m in New Orleans right, so why not? I had this funny feeling which wasn’t funny at all thinking about it and she asked for 50 bucks. Opened my wallet, and all I had was $5 left. Great, no problem, use my credit card. Wrong idea! Thankfully, the guy collecting all the money said they were not accepting cards that day so I had to go and pull money from an ATM.

At that point, my head was spinning, my co-ordination was off and my ability to continue a decent conversation was out of the window. This stripper led me out of the door and walked with me almost all the way to the ATM and then a lightbulb came on in my head. “WHAT THE F ARE YOU DOING, COLIN?”

Somehow, someway, I forgot all about the ATM and walked, sort of, to my hotel. I slept and woke up at 1PM, tried to go to McDonalds, almost fainted waiting in line, walked back to my room, and slept till dinner time. Awful experience.

Moral of the story? Never go to a strip joint alone.

I had the best time in New Orleans for WrestleMania XXX. It was a great weekend topped off by a great show. Just being there to see the Ultimate Warrior getting inducted in the Hall of Fame was surreal, and it was even more surreal when we found out he passed away the day after Raw.

Sadly I am missing out on WrestleMania 31. Usually that’s the only holiday I really look forward to every year. As a wrestling fan, being there among thousand of other fans for WrestleMania weekend is a great and unique experience. Yes I know it’s a very expensive holiday but if you’ve never done one, trust me, you will not be disappointed.

I’ve been lucky to say that I’ve seen some of the greatest Superstars and Divas being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, Ultimate Warrior, Steve Austin, Trish Stratus, and others. I look forward to the Hall of Fame as much – if not more – than WrestleMania itself. Axxess is nice if you’ve never been to one before and if you’re into autographs. But if you’ve been before, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen it all.

I can’t really be bothered with autographs and I’m not the kinda guy who will stay in line. It’s cool if you want to go buy merchandise from their store but usually the rest of the attractions are the same every year.

Another plus to going to WrestleMania and doing our own hotel promotion is I get to meet several readers of the website. There was this lady with her kid who I met inside the elevator of The Ritz in Phoenix who kept thanking me for getting such a sweet deal as she’s never been to The Ritz before. I had lunch with different readers, but two different families stand out the most, one family consisting of the dad and his four kids who flew all the way from Australia, and one from Illinois, a special family who almost joins us every year.

I am a wrestling fan and WrestleMania week is special to me. It involves a lot of hard work for the website but it’s all worth it. Once you get your own WrestleMania experience, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Roll on WrestleMania 32. I’ll be there!

Colin Vassallo
Colin Vassallohttps://www.wrestling-online.com
Colin Vassallo has been editor of Wrestling-Online since 1996. He is born and raised in Malta, follows professional wrestling and MMA, loves to travel, and is a big Apple fan!

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