WARNING – THIS IS MOSTLY ABOUT WRESTLING!!
Huge day today. Jacob and I were off to Wrestlemania 33 at the Citrus Bowl stadium (now called Camping World stadium) and I for one could not be more excited about it. Jacob wasn’t far behind either. We got up and all went for breakfast together at our hotel restaurant. Jacob and I had the equivalent of a fry up which was extremely average and the girls had pancakes, I wish I got pancakes. We went back to our room to get ready before we embarked on what was hopefully going to be the greatest day of our lives!! I ordered an uber, Gregory was our driver this morning and he was nothing but a pleasure to be around. Turns out he only does uber driving to top up his income, he has another job that involves him getting people back to work when they left prison, you could tell he was very passionate about it too. I get the impression he may have been in that situation himself once but I daren’t ask! Gregory was from North Carolina, I asked him if there was anyone I would know from there and within a split second he answered “Michael Jordan”. Gregory apologised to us in an extremely sincere manner for having Donald Trump as president and was certain he wouldn’t be in power by the end of the year. We said our goodbyes to Gregory as he dropped us at our first stop, the Orlando Convention Centre where the WWE superstars were doing meet and greets as well as there being a huge megastore setup selling merchandise. We were too late to get tickets to meet anyone but we had a good wander round the store, Jacob bought himself a ring and I got a miniature belt for my desk. We hung around for a bit and took some photos and met some crazy people dressed up, some guys gave Jacob a ticket from the fashion police….. he loved it! We jumped in another uber to take us to the stadium, Luis was our carefully chosen driver this time and Luis was a huge wrestling fan so we chatted about Wrestlemania with him all the way there. Luis was from New York and did not miss it in the slightest!
We arrived at the Citrus Bowl at around 13:00, the area where the stadium is as far as I could tell very rough, not somewhere you’d want to be alone late at night for sure, the queues were already starting, we jumped on the back of one that we thought might be ours but in reality had no idea. Turns out we were in exactly the right place which was great. We got chatting to two guys in front of us, turns out they were from Canada, one was actually from England but emigrated when he was 16 with his parents which was 9 years ago, he lived in Grimsby and was a Liverpool fan. We discussed the differences between England and Canada, weather, money, standard of living….. all the normal stuff you talk about with people you’ve never met before from any other country. The gates didn’t open until 15:30 and it was the hottest day of the year so far in Orlando, we bought some water from some unsavoury looking locals who were wandering up and down with cool boxes taking full advantage of the tourists! Turns out the woman selling the water was lovely and we had nothing to fear, she only charged $1 a bottle too, don’t judge a book by its cover eh? There were loads of people walking up and down the lines dressed up in various costumes, some were brilliant, some not so not but everyone appreciated the efforts and they posed for photos to whoever asked. We killed more time with chit chat with the Canadians who were really nice guys, couldn’t have asked for better queue companions. Turns out one of the guys was gay and thought that us being English wouldn’t have talked to him if he told us earlier as he thought we were against homosexuals in England and that he thought civil partnerships weren’t legal there. I said to him that I wish he’d told us sooner as we could have found someone else in the queue to talk to, he didn’t get the British sarcasm immediately and thought I was being serious, i double bluffed him again and told him that I was deadly serious. The English / Canadian guy was laughing and eventually he realised, I also put him right on the civil partnerships and that the British were pretty liberal and we’re one of the first countries to allow it. The gates were finally opened for security checks and we went thorough without a hitch and in to another queue at the front of the gates to the concourses. Again we guessed and again we were pretty much exactly where we needed to be. We were in line with some Americans this time, they were actually from Clearwater which is a couple of hours away on the coast but still in Florida, we chatted wrestling and all things British, they couldn’t believe that we had come all the way from the UK to go to Wrestlemania, none of them had ever left the United States with only one of them ever been on a plane before. The heat was getting to everyone by this point as we had been in direct sun for over 3 hours now and I hadn’t bought a cap….. spot the red faced English guy! People were passing out it was so hot! They eventually opened the gates which got the loudest cheer of the day so far, and Jacob and I headed straight to the nearest place that sold food. Jacob for an 11 dollar hot dog meal and I got a 12 dollar cheeseburger meal, we both got 5 dollar waters and sat on the concourse in absolute silence wolfing down our most expensive meal to date on the holiday. Feeling better after being hydrated and fed we had a look around before taking a look at our seats….. they were amazing, couldn’t have asked for better seats, we were right by the ramp where everyone comes down and we had a decent view of the ring and all the screens we could wish for. We wandered back out to the concourse and went to buy some merch! Jacob got himself a cap and a t shirt, I grabbed a t shirt also and 2 souvenir mugs. We also got a programme for which we were charged the princely sum of $25 for. Twenty. Five. Effing. Dollars. We grabbed some more 5 dollar water and sat on the concourse floor watching the world go by for a bit, it turns out where we were sat with our backs against a hoarding was where all of the superstars’ trailers were and people kept coming over to look underneath. Jacob realised what was going on and spent the next 15 minutes with his head to the floor and his phone filming as many people as he could, we saw John Cena, Dean Ambrose, Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Baron Corbin, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Enzo Amore, Big Cass, The Miz and more we can’t remember at the time of writing. Already seen a load of his heroes and the event hadn’t even started yet!
The show was about to start so we went back to our seats and met the people around us, all nice guys, Jacob made friends with a cow girl next to him, she was nice until her husband told me he loved the Premier League and he was a huge Arsenal fan. I barely spoke to him after that. The pre show kicked off with Neville against Austin Aries for the Cruiserweight championship, Neville is from Newcastle so we wanted him to win despite him being the baddie. The match was fun and Neville retained the title so we were off to a good start. Next up was the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. The match was crazy as you’d expect for a Battle Royal, at one point on if the wrestlers (Jinder Mahal) had a go at someone in the crowd and he tipped a drink all over him, the guy then jumped the barrier, got in the ring and shoulder tackled Jinder helping to eliminate him, turns out it was an NFL player who happened to be mates with the guy who eventually won as he used to be an NFL player also. The whole thing was lost on Jacob and I but the crowd loved it. The last match on the preshow was the Intercontinental match between Dean Ambrose and Baron Corbin, the crowd went crazy when Ambrose came out, Ambrose was our guy for this and he won so we were on a roll.
The show was about to officially start and Jacob was hungry so we shared some chicken tenders and grabbed another water each. On the way to the concourse I recognised one of the guys from the tournament that WWE held in the U.K. earlier in the year, his name is Trent Severn and we stopped and chatted to him for a bit, he was really nice and asked about our trip, we didn’t get a photo though for some reason which is very unlike me. We went back to our seats and the stadium was really starting to fill now, people were starting chants and being generally rowdy, the atmosphere was brilliant so we all needed now were the matches to start proper. There was a countdown on the big screens and every started counting down from ten, we were off! The New Day came out first as they were the hosts and made a few funnies, they then announced that the show was underway. The first match was AJ Styles vs Shane McMahon. Jacob was desperate for Shane to win as he’s one of his favourites, alas it was AJ that was victorious but the match was excellent, best match I’ve seen Shane McMahon be a part of for sure.
The United States championship match between Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens was next, when Jerichos music hit the place exploded and rightly so. I wasn’t bothered who won as both guys are great but Jacob wanted Jericho to win. Kevin Owens won to take the title, I was secretly happy but didn’t tell Jacob. 4 way elimination match for the Raw women’s title was next, Jacob and I needed a wee so we missed the beginning but we were back in time to see Bayley pin Charlotte to retain her title, neither of us were overly bothered about who won this match, what we saw if it was fun. The next match was a triple threat ladder match, Sheamus & Cesaro vs Gallows & Anderson vs Enzo & Big Cass. The belts are suspended above the ring and the team that climbs a ladder to get to them first are the winners. All three teams came out and right before the match was about to start the New Day came out on to the ramp again with their ring gear on with an announcement that it was now going to be a 4 way match for the titles, everyone assumed it was going to be them. Everyone was wrong and they announced that the Hardy Boyz would also be involved. I lost my mind. The whole stadium lost their minds. I’ve never heard anything like it when their music played and they showed up at the top of the ramp. The Hardy Boyz were my absolute favourite when I was younger but they left WWE under a cloud around 2009 so this was a huge deal. The ladder match was great fun and the Hardy’s won and were crowned champions. The crowd lost it again as they celebrated.
After all that excitement and with my voice nearly gone we were bought back down to earth with a mixed tag team match, John Cena and his girlfriend Nicki Bella against the Miz and his wife Maryse, the match was terrible but Cena and Nicki Bella won and afterwards he got down on one knee and proposed in front of everyone. The Americans were loving it and whooping and generally going crazy. I didn’t like it at the time but in hindsight it was something we will look back on more fondly.
Next up it was Seth Rollins against Triple H. For me this was one of the top 2 matches to see whilst we were here, Triple H has been around forever and always puts on an excellent show, his entrances at Wrestlemania’s are legendary too and he always comes out with his wife Stephanie McMahon who again is always great value. We weren’t disappointed, the match was really good, it ended with Triple H inadvertently pushing Stephanie (his own wife don’t forget) off the side of the ring and through a table that had been set up outside, he was obviously distracted by this which allowed Seth to perform his finishes and pin him for the win. Perfect wrestling entertainment.
Smackdown women’s title was on the line next and it was contested by six women, not a match to remember apart from the fact that Naomi won, she is from Orlando so the crowd was behind her, she celebrated well at the end and everyone chanted her name.
Next match of the night was for the WWE championship and featured Bray Wyatt who was the reigning champion against Randy Orton. I wanted Bray to win and Jacob wanted Randy to win so we were split, the cowgirl who Jacob had befriended and spent more time talking to during the show than me also wanted Randy Orton to win so they were chanting for him. I didn’t see much of this match as I went to get a beer and a water for Jacob while I left him with the cowgirl but what I did see was good, every so often Bray made the lights in the stadium go out and the ring was covered in maggots, worms or cockroaches. Clever effects and everyone in the crowd oooed and aaarrd at the right bits. Bray Wyatt ended up losing the title to Randy who became a 13 time world champion in the process.
The penultimate match was Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg for the Universal title. Goldberg was big when I was a kid and everyone knows who Brock Lesnar is, seeing him in the flesh though is something else, they guy is absolutely huge and built like a machine. Both Jacob and me wanted Lesnar to win and he did which meant he also won the title. Towards the end of the match he leapfrogged Goldberg as he was running at him and as he did so the whole 75,000 capacity stadium all stood up and went berserk, seeing it in real time happened so quickly but the more you watch the replay the more special it looks.
Finally the main event was upon us, Roman Reigns against the Undertaker. Every wrestling fan knows exactly who the Undertaker is and I would also suggest that most of the population know exactly who the Undertaker is. Jacobs favourite is Roman Reigns but he is very much in the minority, when his music came on and he came down the ramp it felt like everyone in the stadium apart from Jacob was booing. Looking around there were loads of anti Roman signs, the best one read “Die Roman Die”!! Roman got to the ring and there was silence for what felt like ages but was probably only a minute or so, everyone was waiting for the Undertaker to show up and then it happened……. the gong. The whole stadium exploded, every single one of the seventy five thousand people were cheering as load as they could, the atmosphere was electrifying. The crowd were all looking round to the top of the ramp as the music was playing, there was pyrotechnics going off everywhere and and flames shooting from the stage which we could feel the heat from where we were stood. The music was playing for 60 seconds or so and everyone had their cameras pointing at the stage when all of a sudden there he was, the Undertaker started to slowly rise from the centre of the ramp and was deadly still. He made he classic entrance walking slowly to the ring all the time the crowd lapping up every second. The talk before this match was that it may be the Undertakers last and he would be retiring afterwards, he has been in WWE for over 25 years so to even still he able to get in the ring was pretty astonishing let alone headlining the companies biggest event of the year in Wrestlemania. Whilst everyone around us agreed that we would love to still see him wrestle we also agreed that being there for his last ever match after what he has achieved in his career and to be part of that would be brilliant. This applied even more so to us considering we’d come all the way from England which everyone around us also agreed with.
The match itself was average mostly down to the fact that Undertaker is in his 50’s and has had a hip replacement amongst other things and isn’t the athlete he once was. He did all his classic moves and the crowd went crazy every time. Roman did his finisher on Undertaker and he kicked out. The stadium exploded. Roman did it again and the Undertaker kicked out and did his signature “sit up”. The stadium got louder still. Roman set him up for a third finisher and hit him hard and the ref counted the 1, 2, 3. The stadium boo’d. This was Undertakers 24th match at a Wrestlemania and he had only lost 1 previously to Brock Lesnar which was a massive deal. The fact that everyone hates Roman Reigns and he had just achieved something that so many well loved wrestlers before him couldn’t do only further fuelled the vitriol towards him. Jacob was cheering though but he was very very much in the minority. Roman walked out of the arena to a chorus of constant boos and people screaming at him. The Undertaker laid in the ring looking broken. He eventually got up and laid his coat, hat and gloves in the middle of the ring before making his way out. He was given a standing ovation by everyone in the arena to chants of “thank you taker”. Unsurprisingly for a dead man he showed no emotion throughout! Jacob and I knew we’d seen something special.
We left the stadium along with the record attendance 75,000 other people and Jacob was insistent that he was hungry, I ordered an Uber and we had 10 minutes before it arrived so we went to one of the food places on the street. Turns out we were eating in someone’s house and they were taking full advantage of the crowds coming to town for WM33. We both had cheeseburgers and they were great, they were also only $5 and the people that served us were brilliant despite it looking like the projects. Our uber driver called and said that he was stuck in traffic because of the stadium and advised us to cancel and seek an alternate route home. This completely screwed us as you can imagine. We tried getting another uber but there was nothing around, we started walking away from the stadium in a direction that get right…… it quickly felt very wrong as we walked on, we were pretty much in what you’d describe as “the hood” there were gangs of guys hanging outside run down properties with hip hop music blaring out at a ridiculously high volume for gone midnight smoking more than just cigarettes. We walked on (quickly) and came to a large intersection where there a few friendlier looking faces and we decided to try and get an uber from there as there was a church parking lot on the corner we could set as the pickup location. There was nothing around. A couple of guys asked if we were from England and when we said we were they helped out as best they could, the next uber available was $180, they told us to wait as that was ludicrous. 10 minutes later and we got one for $75 and the app told us that Stenfil was 12 minutes away in his Dodge Journey. We decided to sit down and move away from the 2 guys when I saw a gun in one of their waistbands. It didn’t deter them, they chatted to us still asking about England and whether the guards to the palace really never moved no matter what you did. They wanted to know how much airfare was and how we ended up on that street corner! I answered their questions and then someone turned up in a pimped up car and they were off. They said their goodbyes and despite my initial feelings were very polite, helpful and courteous to us.
Our uber arrived a while later and we were happy to jump in and get off the streets. Stenfil was a lunatic! We were the first pickup of the night for him and he didn’t realise there was an event on, he wanted to get us dropped off and get back ASAP for more high fare rides. He constantly told us how this was his city and he knew all the routes and we wouldn’t be sitting on the highway, he reminded us on several occasions that we picked the right car and he would have us home quicker than any other uber driver in the city. He also asked what we were doing in that neighbourhood at that time of night, he wouldn’t go anywhere near there and this was his city! He drove us through some rough looking places and explained that even the stores and diners close early because there’s so much trouble. Stenfil worked 75 hour weeks just so that he could live in a nice part of town where his kids could go to a decent school and get the best possible education he could afford them. It’s been a recurring theme of the people we’ve met that they work incredibly hard just to make ends meet, despite this they seem happy which before I arrived was not my perception of Americans. Stenfil apologised for Donald Trump and assured me that he did no vote for him, he got quite emotional about it and cursed a couple of times for which he apologised for even more, he said he forgot himself for a moment. He knew a surprising amount about British politics too and we discussed that briefly as well. Jacob had fallen asleep, unsurprising when you consider it was gone 1:40am and we had left the morning before. Stacey was half awake when we got in and told us to get to sleep as we had a busy day at Epcot the next morning. Jacob and I went to bed grinning, he said it was the best day of his entire life which made me happy, it also nearly made the 75 dollar uber ride worth it! If I’m being totally honest it was definitely in my top five days of my life, quite an accolade when you consider I’ve had 3 kids and got married!!
If you’ve managed to read this far and you’re not a wrestling fan I salute you, I did warn you at the beginning. If you are a wrestling fan and are still reading I know how jealous you must be. I only hope I get to experience another Wrestlemania and it is as half as good as this one was. Truly truly epic.