It’s no secret that I love professional wrestling. Growing up, it was my safe space. When things would get rocky at home, I would retreat into my room and act out the matches I set up in my own wrestling promotion. I would use my wrestling figures, but for the main event it was always me as “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, The Rock, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Ric Flair, or The Undertaker vs. whoever my opponent was going to be. They were usually represented by either my “Macho King” Randy Savage wrestling buddy, or this Steve Urkel doll I won at the fair (Author’s Note: My buddy Scottie D and I destroyed that Urkel doll. By the time I finally threw it away, there was no stuffing left in one of the arms, his foot had come off, and his head was barely hanging on. It was still real to us, damnit). For years when people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would without hesitation say I wanted to be a professional wrestler. This was always met with laughter and winks. The old, “oh okay, buddy” type stuff. As time grew on, and I did not, I realized I probably wasn’t going to be the next “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. That never stopped me from loving the business and being a fan.
Of course, Wrestlemania is the Super Bowl of pro wrestling. Through the years, it’s gone from a 3 hour pay per view to literally an entire week. Whatever city is hosting the event receives a huge boost in their economy as thousands of wrestling fans pile into their city and spend nothing but money. My buddy Angus describes it as “wrestling spring break”, and that’s exactly what it is.
Growing up, my mom and I struggled to make ends meet. A lot of the time, we had nothing. Every year that Wrestlemania would come around, I would secretly wish we could go. Now, I will say despite our limited income, mom would scrounge the money to take us to a wrestling show at least once a year. One year, I got to see my hero, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels beat “Double J” Jeff Jarrett for the IC title at a pay per view! (If you have the WWE Network, you can watch In Your House 2 and get a couple of glimpses of 9 year old Derik on the barricade trying to slap hands with the wrestlers) But, obviously we could never afford to go to Mania. It was too expensive and was never anywhere close to Sparta, TN. We barely had the money to buy the pay-per-view! Every year, I promised myself one day I would go.
I fulfilled that promise 7 years ago when Wrestlemania was in Atlanta. Me and my two best friends hopped in my car and drove the 2 hours from Chattanooga to go to the ABSOLUTE WORST WRESTLEMANIA OF ALL TIME. Ugh, it was BRUTAL. We had a blast though, but I felt a little cheated. I wasn’t able to experience the whole “Wrestlemania Week”. I promised myself the next time I went, I would go all out.
Which brings us to last week.
My tag team partner Big Al called me a few weeks ago telling me he scored tickets to an event the morning of Wrestlemania. He ended the conversation with “hypothetically, if I can get us tickets to NXT and Mania, are you in?” I think I replied, “Does the Pope poop in the woods?” The next day, we had our tickets. Wrestlemania Weekend was about to happen.
Before I go any further, I have to give a huge thank you to my buddy Zach Pursley for helping me with travel. He knew how much this meant to me, and willingly gave me a Delta “buddy pass” so that I affordably fly to NOLA. It may have been hell getting home, but he never left my side (electronically) and I’m forever grateful for his help and his friendship.
I arrived in New Orleans around midnight on Saturday. I decided to hang out at the airport for a few hours, then headed over to Wrestlemania Axxess. You’ve probably seen the pictures by now, I was able to meet such WWE Superstars and Legends as Dolph Ziggler, The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, and Mustafa Ali. I called my favorite match of all time, Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker, with Smackdown’s lead announcer Tom Phillips. I got to watch some great action with the stars of NXT. I got to be apart of a YES chant when Daniel Bryan walked out into the Axxess arena for a Q&A. I was on top of the world.
I met up with Big Al and Missus Haston at the hotel, grabbed a nap, and then we headed out for NXT Takeover. Holy smokes – what an event that was. From top to bottom, the whole night was amazing. It was also just good to be back with my best friend, being silly and trying to make the other one laugh. You forget how amazing those moments are until you don’t have them regularly anymore. From top to bottom, the whole event was probably the best NXT Takeover ever, which is saying something.
Sunday morning we woke up and went to have breakfast with Bruce Prichard, Conrad Thompson, and Oscar from Men on a Mission, who we didn’t know was going to be there. What’s cool about that is Oscar was the first wrestler I ever shook hands with at a live event in McMinnville, TN 24 years ago. Crazy how life goes full circle. Bruce Prichard used to play a character called Brother Love, who I blatantly ripped off when I first came to Vaudeville and was playing the Reverend Stuart Domino. From his outfit to cadence, the only thing missing was the red face. We spent two plus hours with Bruce and Conrad as people were able to ask Bruce questions about anything. We laughed for almost the entire event. I later got to shake Bruce’s hand and thank him for everything. One day, I’ll tell him the whole story of why. I’ll probably owe him money.
The next thing was the big one: It was Wrestlemania time. We got to the building around 3pm, and we didn’t leave until after 11. But holy smokes, what a show. From seeing Ronda Rousey shock everyone by being better than she had any right to be, to the horrible main event of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, to getting goosebumps watching the Undertaker return, it was a magical night. I think this Mania was a top 5 of all time, and I can’t believe I got to be a part of it.
Big Al and Missus Haston dropped me off at the airport around midnight, and none of us realized how long I would be there. But even though I was there for 30 straight hours, the coolest thing kept happening: I would look up and see a wrestler just a little bit in front of me. It started with Tommy Dreamer, then Medusa. Then a little bit later, I met Nikolai Vokoff. Then, I ran into NXT referee Drake Wuertz. Then, I met “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart who in the span of a five minute conversation called me “baby” and “darlin” 3 times. Teddy Long is someone I’ve met several times before, and to my surprise he remembered me and asked me how I was. The craziest one was watching Bob Backlund do yoga in the airport for thirty minutes. I almost ran directly into Bubba Ray Dudley and his fiancé Velvet Skye. I had a great conversation with Sean Mooney, and while we were talking who happened to walk right up and join in but “Mean” Gene Okerlund! Then there was the man: Ric Flair walked through the airport, and I swear every 3 seconds someone had a camera in his face. To the champ’s credit, he never turned anyone down. I felt rude asking for pictures in the airport (these dudes are trying to get home like I was) but I did walk up to Ric, shake his hand, and have a nice little chat with him. He and his fiancé both seemed appreciative that I wasn’t trying to have him sign anything or shove a camera in his face (sometimes the story is better than the picture). Flair saw Gene and they had a cool conversation that ended with a “MEEEEEAAAANNNNN WOO! BY GOD GENE” which popped the whole gate. I may have been at the airport for far longer than I wanted to, but I had my own wrestler convention, so you take the good with the bad.
I sometimes forget how blessed I am to not only perform for people for a living, but also to be in a position where I can take trips like this and make my childhood dreams come true. And that’s the coolest part about the whole thing: this entire weekend, I felt like a kid again. Every time I met a hero from my childhood, I just turned into that kid. Watching the amazing wrestling I saw, I was that kid. You cheer your heroes and boo the villains. It was one of the best weekends of my entire life. I’m forever grateful that I had the chance to make this dream a reality.
I know this isn’t my usual posts on here, but thanks for reading. If you have a dream, hold on to it! Keep fighting for it! Work hard, stay focused, stay humble. One day the work will pay off!
Rooting for you, brother! WOOOOO