WrestleMania Weekend: The Year Long Party Continues in NOLA

by Sasha Savinov

The Granddaddy of Them All. The Showcase of the Immortals. The Show of Shows. These are just a few of the nicknames bestowed upon WrestleMania. It’s basically the Super Bowl of professional wrestling, and it’s a grand production that completely takes a city over for a weekend. When we got the news that WrestleMania 34 was going to be in New Orleans, I just knew I had to add it to our year-long party. A weekend of wrestling in one of my favorite cities – one with amazing food and nightlife – sign me up! Here’s a little rundown of our wild weekend in the Big Easy, starting with a bit of background info.

My Lifelong Love of Wrestling

The Good Ole Days

Way back when I was but a wee lad, my uncles got me into pro wrestling. It was called WWF back then and the main stars were guys like Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, and the Macho Man. When I was about 5 years old, I would step through a plastic grocery bag and rip it off just like the Hulkster. My uncles thought it was hilarious.

Macho vs. Hogan – a classic.

When Survivor Series ’91 rolled into Detroit, my uncles bought tickets. Of course, I just had to tag along. We had great seats on the floor, but I couldn’t see anything and they wouldn’t let me sit on my uncle’s shoulders. As such, we moved way up into the nosebleeds. I still feel bad to this day that they spent so much on good seats and ended up in shitty ones.

There was no happy ending and triumph of the hero that night. The “Dirtiest Player in the Game” Ric Flair interfered in the main event, causing Hogan to drop the title to the Undertaker. I was six at the time, so naturally I cried. The Undertaker was a scary dude for a six year old!

The Attitude Era

I continued to love wrestling for several years, until I found out it was “fake” and got made fun of for liking it. My interests changed, but the show kept going on. Fast forward to middle school and WWF was all of a sudden cool thanks to guys like Stone Cold and the Rock, and groups like the nWo and DX. All of the teachers came to know and hate the phrase “Suck it!” This time in pro wrestling is now referred to as the Attitude Era, and it might have been the best time ever to be a fan.

It was at this time that backyard wrestling started to catch on. Naturally, we formed our own league – GPW (Grosse Pointe Wrestling) – and wrestled on a trampoline in a friend’s backyard. We had costumes, entrance music, championship belts, and everything. I was Immortal – 2-time GPW World Champion and one time tag team champion. Believe it or not, we actually sold some tapes and even had a website.

Once we got to high school, however, wrestling was uncool again. We were more concerned with chasing girls and finding someone to buy beer for us. I stopped watching entirely as my interests soon turned to music. Rather than shoot and edit backyard wrestling videos, I began furiously trading recordings of Phish, the Grateful Dead, and Umphrey’s McGee.

WrestleMania in the D

When I was in college, we found out that WrestleMania 23 would be coming to Detroit. At the time, my brothers were still into wrestling. I decided it would be fun to take them and a few of their buddies. I wasn’t watching at the time, so there were a lot of guys on the card who I didn’t know. There were still some familiar faces, though – the Undertaker was there, as was Shawn Michaels.

While WM 23 wasn’t one of the better ones, it will live in infamy thanks to a guest appearance. Donald Trump himself had a match with WWE owner Vince McMahon where each billionaire chose a wrestler. The loser would have to get their head shaved. Of course, Vince’s guy lost. Trump didn’t make it away unscathed, though. He was the recipient of what was the 2nd worst Stone Cold Stunner of all time.

It was a fun night full of far too many $12 Budweisers Steveweisers. Even though I wasn’t exactly a fan at the time, it definitely brought on a bit of nostalgia. Plus it was fun being the cool older brother and taking the boys to the big show. Still, I dove right back into my world of live music and didn’t pay any attention to wrestling for years to come.

My Wrestling Renaissance

A few years ago when we were still living in China, my brother told me I should tune in to the upcoming Royal Rumble. I hadn’t watched wrestling in years, but I had a long train journey coming up. I loaded up the event on my computer and watched on the train. There were tons of guys I didn’t know, but the matches were great. Just like that, I was hooked again.

The champ is here!

While I wouldn’t watch wrestling every week, I would try to catch the big shows every month or so. When they finally came out with the WWE Network, where you can watch any show ever, I binge-watched all sorts of old classics. As soon as I heard that WM 34 would be heading to New Orleans, I knew I just had to go. From our Airbnb apartment in Cuenca, Ecuador, I jumped online for the pre-sale and managed to score some pretty good seats. We were going to WrestleMania!

WrestleMania Weekend

WrestleMania is so much more than a few hours of wrestling these days. The event absolutely takes over the city that it’s in for the whole week. There’s a big convention where fans can go meet wrestlers, get in an actual ring, and pick up all sorts of memorabilia. The smaller promotions also come to town and put on shows during the week and after the big WWE shows. There are wrestling fans everywhere you look. Let’s take a look at what went down over WrestleMania weekend.

Image by Ed Webster from flickr.com.

NXT

This year, the WWE had four shows in a row in New Orleans. Saturday night was NXT, which is their developmental league. Guys and girls cut their teeth in the ring in NXT before being called up to the big leagues. There’s not as much of a focus on the story in NXT but much more on high-quality in-ring action.

I haven’t watched much NXT, but my brothers and other die-hard wrestling fans swear by it. As such, I told them to go ahead and grab me a ticket as well. Before the show, we did a bit of pre-gaming at our awesome Airbnb place and then grabbed some cheeky to-go beers and headed to the arena.

Just as we expected, the matches at NXT: Takeover were fantastic. There was a 6-man ladder match to kick off the show that was full of high-risk maneuvers and plenty of close calls. We also saw them crown a new NXT Champion and a brutal grudge match between two former tag team partners. At several points throughout the evening, I found myself joining the raucous chants of “NXT! NXT!” and “Holy shit! Holy shit!”

WrestleMania

On Sunday it was time for the Granddaddy of Them All. WrestleMania baby! Tens of thousands of wrestling fans piled into the Super Dome, many of them dressed up as their favorite wrestlers of old. We had a great time drinking street beers in front of the stadium and taking it all in. The fact that you can drink in public in New Orleans just added to the wild atmosphere that comes with WM weekend.

After several road sodas, we headed into the stadium to take our seats. We splurged on these bad boys (about $275 a pop), so I was really hoping they’d be worth it. I still think that’s an insane amount of money to spend on a ticket, but they were really solid seats with a great view. Plus, the production of the stage alone was absolutely incredible.

They don’t skimp on production value.

With so many superstars on the roster these days, WrestleMania has become a marathon event. The show lasts for five whole hours! It’s almost too much wrestling, if you ask me. Perhaps they should break it up into a 2-day event next year. I know I wasn’t the only one who was pretty exhausted by the end. Plus, that’s a lot of money spent on beers if you want to party…

Photo by Shared Account from flickr.com.

Anyways, back to the action. There were several amazing matches throughout the night that it’s really hard to rank them. I was surprised by the Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey vs. HHH and Stephanie McMahon match. It got a lot of hype, of course, but nobody thought it was going to be that good. Turns out it was one of the best matches of the night! You never know what you’re gonna get at a rasslin’ show.

Other excellent matches included the triple threat for the Intercontinental Championship between Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and the Miz. These guys are all amazing athletes and they put on a clinic in the ring. As far as the ladies matches, Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka was a fantastic bout. We were all surprised when the Queen ended the Empress of Tomorrow’s undefeated streak. Yes, they have ridiculous nicknames like that in wrestling. It’s part of the fun.

One of the most anticipated matches was AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura. Both guys came over to WWE from New Japan a few years ago and fans were waiting for them to square off ever since. While it may not have been their best, the two put on a phenomenal match with a surprise heel-turn ending at the end. For those of you not familiar with wrestling lingo, that’s when you go from being a good guy (a babyface) to a bad guy (a heel). Shinsuke hit AJ with a low blow after the match to officially cement his status as a lowly heel, and the audience was in shock.

Unfortunately, the main event did not deliver. Fans were just not interested in seeing Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar again. While there was indeed a swerve ending – we all thought Reigns was going to win but he didn’t – the match itself was pretty awful. As a matter of fact, fans chanted “This is awful.” Plus, after a 5-hour show and drinking all day long, many of the fans were drunk, exhausted, and agitated, myself included. I even walked out before the match ended. It was a low point to an otherwise stellar show.

Partying in New Orleans

I kept telling people that my decision to go to WrestleMania was 50% for the wrestling and 50% for the city it was in. My brothers went to Mania two years ago in Dallas, and I had zero interest in joining them that year. New Orleans, on the other hand – now we’re talking!

We first visited NOLA last January on our way down to Mexico, and we naturally fell in love with the city. With some of the best food in the US, an incredible live music scene, and wild nightlife, it’s our kind of place. I’ve only been twice now, but it just might be my favorite city in the US.

Wrestling fans on Bourbon Street.

Of course, the city was rowdy for WrestleMania weekend. Wrestling fans piled onto Bourbon Street during the day to bar hop their way to the shows. We had a good ole’ time hanging out at one bar that had a balcony, shouting wrestling chants and slogans at other fans on the street. Rachel was a great sport and tagged along for the whole thing!

If you know me and my brothers, you won’t be surprised to hear that we got a little out of control. I somehow managed to get kicked out of a punk rock bar in New Orleans, which is pretty impressive if you ask me. Even more impressive is the fact that my brother got kicked out a hot sauce shop for being too buzzed in the middle of the day. With his handful of cracker crumbs, the woman yelled at him “These are free samples. You up in here trying to eat lunch! I ain’t got no time for no drunks!” Everyone laughed like a bastard. If you didn’t giggle at that last sentence, do yourself a favor and watch the movie “Outside Providence.”

One of the highlights of Mania weekend was the fact that one of our buddies from Australia just so happened to be in the city. He worked with Rachel back when we lived in Kunming and he was on a US trip with one of his mates. We all partied together and the guys even came to the wrestling shows. Thankfully one of them stuck around for Sunday and he joined Rachel up in the nosebleeds. That’s right – Rachel even went to WrestleMania! I won’t out her as a wrestling fan on here, but she did have a good time.

Final Thoughts

Once the dust had settled and the hangover finally wore off, I was able to reflect on WrestleMania weekend. It was an amazing time partying in one of my favorite cities. The atmosphere was electric everywhere, and both shows we went to exceeded expectations. I don’t think I would enjoy it so much in any other city, except maybe Vegas. But we’re headed there in October for Phish and the Disco Biscuits anyways.

Our digs for the weekend.

One thing I’m super happy with is our decision to book a shotgun house on Airbnb. There was enough room for all five of us, and we were able to save a lot of money by cooking breakfast and pre-gaming there. Plus, we were able to jump on the network on the smart TV and re-watch the matches the day after. All this at a fraction of the price we would have paid for a hotel. If you’re not on Airbnb yet, sign up through our link and you’ll get $40 off your first booking!

While we were in town for wrestling, we still managed to get out and enjoy some great meals and live music. We actually have a few friends who live in the city, so it’s nice being able to visit them and get local recommendations. One of our buddies is actually a musician and we were able to see him rock out at a rooftop bar. I  may have been three sheets to the wind at the time, but I remember the view was great and the music even better.

Live music is everywhere in NOLA.

Would I do anything differently about Mania weekend? Maybe drink a few less beers. I’m pretty sure we drank all the beers in New Orleans. What can I say – we like to party, sorry if you don’t. I also kind of wish I had gone to the Axxess event at the convention center. It was expensive, but I think it would be worth it to get your picture in the ring and see all the cool memorabilia. Maybe next time…

The biggest takeaway from the weekend is that Rachel is the new undisputed Rage Champion. This is a silly replica belt that we like to bring to music festivals. We give it to the person who rages the hardest. While she may not have partied quite as hard as us in New Orleans – and thank god for that – she put up with drunk wrestling fans all weekend. That deserves a championship!

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