SLAM! Sports SLAM! Wrestlemania 29
   October 02, 2014



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Guest column: A 'crazy and improbable' WrestleMania moment
Closet wrestling fans meet, go on an unfortgettable adventure
By ELI DAITCHMAN, with footnotes by Avi Stern - For SLAM! Wrestling


EDITOR'S NOTE: Enjoy the back and forth between Eli and Avi; it's a unique take on it all!  

Growing up in my neighborhood in Queens, New York, being a professional wrestling fan was not something you publicized. People considered it low class and trashy [This is true no matter where you grow up. I didn't grow up in Queens, but the generalizations were the same.]. But as a child [If Toys R Us had the He-Man figure I was after, it's likely that I never would've watched wrestling (until I would've discovered it on my own). My mom convinced me to get the awkward rubber Hulk Hogan figure instead, claiming that "Daddy watches him." Not knowing who Hogan was, I threw a tantrum the whole way home (not unlike the Chris Jericho tantrums circa 1998, and the Christian tantrums circa 2002.) The first match five-year-old-me saw was Hogan-Bundy in a steel cage, and I KNEW that the viscous red liquid pouring from Hogan's face wasn't ketchup, and I was hooked. So it's their fault.], every Sunday I would visit my grandparents' house and I remember watching Sunday morning wrestling along with promos for their pay-per-views, featuring Bret "The Hitman" Hart, Lex Luger, and Yokozuna to name a few stars of that era. That was my first exposure to the wrestling world, and I was immediately drawn into both the violence -- we lived in a (thankfully) safe neighborhood where there was rarely any fighting -- and the colorful characters -- we had colorful characters, but not THAT colorful. I didn't tell my parents, because I knew they'd freak out, and my grandparents either didn't know or didn't care what I was watching.

Years later, with the rise of WCW, especially coupled with Bill Goldberg's rise to prominence, my family started following him and began watching with me. [Mine certainly didn't, and rued the day they introduced me to the Hogan doll. I had to sneak the whole Monday Night War era and quickly switch to golf or Pepperdine-Valparaiso women's basketball or whatever else was playing on ESPN when they walked into the room. Though like Eli, I almost got my Dad back into it with Goldberg, but he didn't bite.] My Dad on Goldberg: "His neck muscles are bigger than my shoulders!" He even bought "Goldberg boxers" that said "Who's Next?" on them. I wish I didn't know that either. [Me neither.]. We continued watching the WCW side of those Monday Night Wars for about a year, but my family fell off the bandwagon as WCW was going down to the WWE's Attitude Era, which they wanted no part of. I myself, switched over to WWE, and fell in love with that Attitude, and with the stars of that era: Stone Cold, The Rock, DX and the Hardys, amongst others. This was all to the chagrin of my parents -- not that I blame them -- the Attitude Era storylines were both raunchy and trashy. But hey, all's fair in love and Monday Night Wars.

In high school, I didn't have much time to follow wrestling religiously, and I really lost touch with it when I studied abroad for two years after high school. [I studied abroad too, missing the year 2000; widely accepted as WWE's finest hour. I kept up with WWE and WCW via 15-minute Tuesday internet café sessions and stopped checking WCW results sometime in January. Well, I didn't really stop, but I didn't really care about WCW results after January. In fairness, that February, Mae Young gave birth to a hand (Google it), so maybe I should've stayed with WCW.] I got married in 2006 and finally had a TV of my own (sort of), plus a DVR for the first time (totally underrated as a life-changing device/marriage saver). I stumbled across Raw one night, and I slowly got back into it. Now that I could record Raw and Smackdown, I could watch them after my wife went to sleep and fast forward through the boring matches and commercials (and the Undertaker's 10-minute entrances). At this point, I was much more into the storytelling than the actual wrestling, and I admired and appreciated the genius of Vince McMahon and his army of writers [Just McMahon for me.], and how they kept the storylines fresh and exciting [A stretch.]. I've been recording the shows, and following the storylines ever since.

After all these years of being a fan, I still found it very rare to find someone else who watched wrestling. Even the few who admitted it, said that they watched it as a kid and hadn't watched in years. One day last year, I saw my friend and co-worker, Avi, on the bus, reading a Raw recap from the night earlier. I said in mild astonishment, "You watch wrestling?" He sheepishly replied, "Not since I'm married, so this is how I keep up." We started discussing wrestling in general, and it was enjoyable to finally find someone so interested in wrestling to discuss its history or talk about what happened the night before. He came over to watch the 1,000th episode of Raw, which was awesome. I think it was the first time in 10 years that I had watched wrestling with someone else. [And the first time I had watched, in real time, since attending WrestleMania XX three nights before my wedding in 2004, when my wife said "get it out of your system now..." and teasingly said my days of following Trish Stratus were over. (I simply respected her in ring ability, the same way I respected Bertha Faye and Bull Nakano.) It didn't help that my single roommates at the time only spoke about Trish. Jumping ahead, Trish was one of the centerpieces of this year's now annual Hall of Fame ceremony at WrestleMania, and in one of those "life coming full circle" moments, announced her pregnancy Saturday night and appeared before the live WrestleMania crowd eliciting minimal to no reaction along with the rest of that hour's matches. I cheered out of respect for her in ring ability. But that heel turn at WrestleMania XX...] [Side tangent: It's possible my wife would've made a fine WWE diva herself, as she plays one in real life, but all she knew of wrestling was the peak of the Attitude Era raunch, the brutal nWo beat downs, and Trish, and she didn't want that in our house. When I tried explaining that the WWE went back to their kid-friendly ways, it was met with deaf ears.]


Where I had a terrible memory, he could remember the specifics of the most random matches he saw growing up. [Sadly, my encyclopedic knowledge is unmatched anywhere. I'm willing to bet on that. No Japan questions please.] Where I watch every week of Raw, he didn't have a DVR and would read the results the next day. And where he had gone to several events and pay-per-views, and purchased others [Okay, slow down. My Dad purchased WrestleManias 5, 6, and 7, and Summerslam '91. Somehow I convinced him to get Summerslam '96 (what a waste of a usage) and on his own, he bought Halloween Havoc '96 as he recognized the Hogan-Savage main event. Had I known, I would've asked him to order Survivor Series '96 instead. (Going to the nearby Madison Square Garden was out of the question.) I didn't go to my first live event until I was in college.] I had never gone to any live wrestling show, and had never even purchased a pay-per-view. When he heard that, he said, "I'm planning on going to WrestleMania 29 in MetLife Stadium; you should come." I said I'd get back to him. That was October, I forgot all about it until March. I thought about it and told myself that it's a once a year event that only happens in New York every 10 years [I told my wife every 20 years!] and it's the week of my birthday. I decided the week before the big event that I was GOING TO WRESTLEMANIA! [Had Eli won the Royal Rumble, the decision would've been made for him. The event always ends with the announcer shouting in hysterics that {insert winner} is GOING TO WRESTLEMANIA!)

We searched for the tickets online and decided to wait for the prices to drop while we looked into other ticket options, namely of the "free" variety. The Thursday before the show, those hookups were looking slim, but the prices had gone down from $150-$200 to $90-$115, and we would wait until Saturday night to get the cheapest price. Saturday night we went online and the prices had skyrocketed to $250. We had convinced our wives to let us go (thanks again Hon!) but they would kill us if we spent that much money. [My wife didn't want me to go no matter what. I told Eli I was flattered that his wife would send her husband to WM with such an upstanding citizen as me. He stammered and said that that "wasn't her exact reaction." Still not sure what that meant...] We spent all night and Sunday morning refreshing our browsers, calling, texting, and emailing any leads for tickets, but as the afternoon came, we knew we'd have to scalp to get in.

The Pre-Show started at 6:30 with the televised main show starting at 7:00 We left early to give us time to find scalpers and to get to our seats on time, but we hit a ton of traffic [One of the biggest understatements of this article.] getting there, and we were worried we would be too late. We decided to take a risk and park at the Sheraton Hotel which is across the highway from the stadium, but it would be free parking, and we'd have a head start on the traffic leaving after the show. We pulled into the lot at 6:10 (we said we were guests of the hotel) [Not as simple as it looks on paper. Plus they were also charging twenty bucks to park there for WM, so that was a small victory right off the bat. It was almost our only one.] and started the trek -- past the swamp, up a steep hill, along a highway over another highway, and then down a hill -- to get to the parking lot. We looked frantically for anyone who was selling tickets, but after 15 minutes we hadn't found anyone. Finally, we spotted two guys milling around and they said they had two tickets for $150 apiece. We settled on $80 each, and after scrutinizing the tickets we decided that we had no choice but to buy them as it was already 6:45.


We got to the main gate and were checked by security, but when our tickets were scanned I could see the big "X" on the device [Side tangent: One of my earliest wrestling memories involved a "big red "X,"  but of a different nature. In the summer of '88, Brutus Beefcake was being groomed to end the Honky Tonk Man's 14-month Intercontinental Title reign. In a last minute decision, the WWE decided to go with the tremendously popular Ultimate Warrior, and needed to "write Beefcake off of TV." Ron Bass, who did nothing else of note ever, proceeded to take his cowboy spur and carve up the face of Beefcake. While it was shown on PPV in all of its glory, the Sunday morning shows that Eli used to sneak at the grandparents, censored the incident with a giant red "X" across the screen, while six-year-old me could only imagine what was going on behind it. I was freaked out, and couldn't tell my parents, because I wasn't really supposed to be watching.], and we knew we got screwed with fake tickets. [Ok. We KNEW they were going to be fake; the possibility that they were real never existed. However, we expected a sea of scalpers and there was NO ONE except these guys. They were our only hope, and the understood premise basically was, "Please don't take ALL of our money." I knew we needed stubs to at least pretend we got in. I had already been formulating stories to get in with our soon to be fake tickets while sitting in Queens-Midtown Tunnel traffic. ... My first thought was to "go after" the two thugs who had screwed us, but Eli quickly put that idea to bed, and I don't remember challenging his decision.]

We regrouped in a panic and decided to try another gate. This time we told them that we had both gone into the stadium already, but we had gone outside to walk my nine-months pregnant wife back to the car safely, and when we tried going back in, our tickets didn't work. The security agents took us and our tickets to their supervisor who said that we had fake tickets and that we should go to the box office and they might be able to help us. We tried one more gate with the same sob story and it almost worked until that VERY SAME supervisor was brought over to the next gate and told us again to go to the box office. [I have been to hundreds of sporting events, and NEVER has there been (truly) one supervisor. Of course here, this woman covered at least several gates, and we waited about six minutes for her to come to our gate. The moment we both noticed it was her again; we both knew we were screwed.] We sullenly tried going to the box office even though we highly doubted they could help. [It should be noted that we are both smart guys and we weren't thinking rationally any more. And while everything written so far shouts "well of course they got screwed, serves them right," we were out of options from the moment we parked, and the time of arrival only intensified our desperation. That said, I KNEW not to go anywhere near the box office with our very well made fake tickets, but I was walking aimlessly at this point.]

We saw some guys at the next window who were told that their seats were being upgraded. Their excitement only made us feel worse. Avi said that he would add the fake tickets to his sports memorabilia and say that at least we were there. Moments after he said that, the attendant took our tickets as we told her what happened and she took out a sharpie and wrote VOID across the ticket even as we blatantly asked [Begged.] her not to. We left the box office and noticed that it had started to rain. We also heard the roar of the crowd [My lowest moment.] as we knew the main show had started and we had no way of getting in.

We were beyond distraught. We knew we had been screwed, we knew that we should have bought the tickets online days ago. [I'll admit at this point I was saying these things on repeat and thought Eli might actually take a swing at me.] We wandered around the stadium and I really thought Avi was going to cry. He was deliriously sad. [Eli was a true basket of joy at this point, but I guess it's his story, so I'll be the crier. That's cool.] He kept on mumbling and saying that he was having an out-of-body experience. That VOID on our ticket was a low blow. It broke our spirit [When I left the house, the last thing my wife said was don't text me that you got screwed, I don't want to hear it. At this precise moment in Eli's story, is when I texted her that we got screwed.], and we didn't know what we could possibly do to get in.


Good ol' X-Pac!
As we continued walking around the stadium hearing the crowd, and the music, we walked by the backside of the stadium, where the equipment is brought in. Up ahead we saw a tall man in a suit taking pictures with two people, and as we got closer, Avi said matter of fact, "That's X-Pac." X-Pac was a once-very-popular wrestler who hadn't wrestled in years because of his rampant drug problems. The fact that he was at WrestleMania was strange, but that he was outside the stadium taking pictures, and we happen to run into him? The randomness of it all was smacking us in the face.

We asked him if we could take a picture and he graciously said "Sure."

As someone fumbled with our camera, Avi said, "X-Pac, I've followed your career since (before you were in the WWE) your Dallas wrestling days in Global."

There was no response.

After the picture was taken, we started to leave and he said, "Hey man, that thing you said about Dallas just hit my slow-ass brain. That's awesome, man."

We continued on our way, thinking that we just drove all this way and paid $160 just to get a picture with X-Pac, [By the smiles in our picture, you'd think we would have. We were at our Bret Hart in Montreal point during this picture.] and we noticed the rain had stopped and it was really nice outside. We came to another gate and we decided to give it one more try. We had agreed [Basically I told Eli, that even if I had to scale the fences, I was going in with or without him.] while being stuck in traffic that we weren't leaving until we got in. But if this wouldn't work I had no idea what we would do. I even started looking at the gates surrounding the stadium to try to find a place to sneak in. [I checked too. There wasn't any.] (I know. I'm not proud of it.) [I kind of am.]

At this gate there was one security woman who saw us and asked us if we were lost, "because you both look like you're lost." Avi told her that we were inside, we left to help my pregnant wife, and now we can't get back in, the guy at the gate VOIDED our tickets and we don't know what to do with ourselves. We were on the verge of losing it and she could tell. She said, "Hold one sec, give me your tickets I'll see what I could do." I'd heard that before at the other gates, and while waiting for her to return it dawned on me that after days of anticipation we might not be able to get in to WrestleMania. [Also, I had said the story so many times at this point, and each time a different character in the story was pregnant, sometimes his wife, sometimes mine ... either way, we weren't getting in ... and why would "the pregnant wife" drive the car up to the actual stadium doors as had been explained? The stadium wouldn't let that. Why would I first go in and "get settled" and then walk her back to the car? There was nothing believable about it. Safely on the other side of the stadium from our previous gates, I still fully expected that one supervisor to show up and stop us.]

The next thing I know, she was patting me down, and I saw Avi practically hugging her supervisor. [The moment I saw her wave us in was a thrill no one will ever understand unless they've been screwed with counterfeit tickets for an event that comes around once every 10-15, or 20 years -- depending on if you ask Eli or the wives. Of course my first thought was "did I really need to spend the 80 bucks?"] Apparently, I had totally spaced out, and her supervisor decided to let us in. Avi wanted to take a picture with the supervisor, which he politely refused, saying that security couldn't be in pictures. "You guys looked so worried," he said, happily, "but someday, 20 years from now, you'll look back at this day and laugh with your kids. [The laughter started the second we were out of earshot from them.] I got three kids myself so I know all about it. Everything works out in the end."  

We quickly went inside and up the escalator to get as far away from the gate as possible. We were so excited we were practically skipping. We kept shouting "WOOOO!" [This is not something I remember, though it is entirely possible I did this as I was literally floating by now, though I would never admit to it publicly. Truthfully, moments after we got in, I was immediately sad. Sad for the enormous crowd for purchasing legitimate tickets. What fun is that? Scan your ticket...green check, yay.] We saw the immense crowd and the massive edifice that surrounded the ring and the sight was breathtaking. The set was outrageous and the crowd was overwhelming. As we tried to take it all in, we heard the entrance music for the first match to start. Since our tickets were fake, we didn't actually have any seats, we rushed into the stadium to catch the first match. For some strange reason we decided to walk right up to about 30 feet away from the ring like we belonged there -- it was amazing that we could do this -- and we watched and took pictures of the first televised match of the night. [I still hadn't told my wife I got in, so this was the moment I did. The service was horrible in the stadium, and it was hard to text, but after I explained in short what had happened, instead of sheer jubilation and happiness for me, she wrote "you paid $80 for fake tickets?!" I would've tried calling her, but we were too close to the ringside announcers, and I didn't have the patience to shout over them.] We stood with people who paid thousands of dollars for their seats. Fifteen minutes later, we decided to find seats, and we found a spot that each seat probably cost $1,500. [Suddenly everything was funny to us, particularly every time we said "X-Pac."] Every time someone walked by we were nervous we'd be kicked out, but two cool European guys sat next to us who clearly hadn't paid for those seats either, and we calmed down a bit as the night went on and focused on what was going on in and around the ring. We watched two hours of the show from those seats.

The view from those seats was amazing. We sat on folding chairs with die-hard fans, who knew when to cheer and when to boo -- not when they were being programmed to by the WWE -- and knew when something big was happening. When Ryback "Shellshocked" Mark Henry, we felt our chairs shake. We could hear the wrestlers "talking and grunting" (calling out spots). When CM Punk and The Undertaker put on the match of the night, our section was involved with the back and forth chanting, and was enthralled by how exciting they had made their match. The kid behind me knew ALL the words to ALL the entrance theme songs, and was genuinely concerned when his heroes were in trouble.

About two and a half hours into the show, Avi went to get drinks, as we felt there was no way people were coming this late, but minutes later a family came with security who said that we were in their seats. (Instead of thinking "Oh crap the gig is up," my first reaction was, "Are you serious? You came two and-a-half hours late for WrestleMania? You don't deserve these seats!") The ushers suspected that me and the Euro guys had moved down to these seats, and told us to stand in the walkway so that he could take us to our seats. I went to stand in the walkway, but as the Euro guys started to argue with them, I quickly walked away and joined a line at a concession stand, so that I wouldn't have to show them my fake ticket. I called Avi and told him we lost our seats, but he was laughing. He said forget about those seats and walk over to where we had been earlier, 30 feet from the ring, where he was standing.

I get there and he's watching the current match -- the Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H match -- with none other than X-Pac! Grinning from ear to ear he says, "I saw X-Pac standing there and when he saw me he gave me this big hug like I was his long-lost cousin!" [We toyed with taking another picture with him, but decided that it would ruin our original moment we shared.] We continued to watch the match with X-Pac for a couple of minutes until we were asked to move by security.

We decided to find seats with a better view and we sat along the 50-yard line right in front of the suite boxes where we had a great view of the entrance stage as well as the entire stadium. We watched the rest of that match and the rest of the show from those seats.  

Throughout the night, we kept on laughing at how crazy and improbable our night had turned out to be. [The counterfeits did lead to one extra moment of fun. When they announced the crowd towards the end of the evening to be 80,676, Eli and I slapped five and shouted "80,678!"] They say that wrestlers dream their entire careers for their "WrestleMania Moment." When they introduced the WWE Hall of Fame inductees for the Class of 2013, we saw some wrestlers that we had grown up watching, and this was their WrestleMania Moment. As we watched the finale between The Rock and John Cena and I looked around at the electric atmosphere, I thought, "This is my WrestleMania Moment." [That's too much of a storybook ending for me; don't get me wrong, I applaud it, but your ending was just like WrestleMania's ending. No surprise, no twist, not what the crowd was waiting for. Maybe you should become a writer for the current PG Era WWE -- then my wife will have no problem when we ask to go to WM30 in New Orleans next year!]

  On our way home we agreed that we had to write about it to share with our friends. [Not to mention walking back to the Sheraton up a hill along a highway, over another highway, down a steep hill and past the swamp... this time in pitch darkness, mind you.] The problem was, we weren't sure we wanted to publicize that we had gone to WrestleMania, or that we were wrestling fans. We feared the reactions [The most reverb was going to come from Eli's wife.] like, "Oh, I didn't know you follow wrestling," ["Oh, you didn't know?"] said condescendingly. We debated it for a while but we decided that the story was too great, and who cares who knew. [I hope no one I know reads this!] I wrote the story and shared it with some of my friends, but most people said they thought it was AWE-SOME! Even better, four or five guys came over to me and were thrilled because they were big wrestling fans themselves but never had the guts to tell anyone about it.

Now that they know that Avi and I are fans, we've all been talking about how we all got into wrestling when we were kids, what shows we've seen live, where to get the best up-to-date information online, and what we think of the current storylines. We talked about how amazing the crowd was at the Raw after Wrestlemania -- Avi and I briefly thought about going to Raw, but there was no chance in hell that our wives would let us go two nights in a row. [I have nothing to add to this sentence except I told Eli, "You know Ziggler will cash in (his Money in the Bank Title Shot) if we don't go. We didn't go.] We had known each other for years but had no idea that each one of us loved wrestling. It is so much more fun to be able to watch a show and then discuss the results with other people the next day.

WrestleMania 29 taught me not to worry about what other people think so much. If wrestling is your thing, then be proud of it, brother. And that's the bottom line, if you smell what I'm cooking. And if you're not down with that, we've got two words for you! ["Really? Really?"]

RELATED LINKS

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    A Retail Electronics Bidding Dept. Supervisor, singer and aspiring journalist whose works include My 5th Grade Biography, That Fake Bathroom Etiquette Memo Going Around Your Office, and My Resume, Eli Daitchman can be reached at edaitchman@gmail.com or Twitter: @ElifromQueens.

    An MBA and sports enthusiast with prior humor contributions to his college newspaper, The Lander Chronicle, Avi Stern can be reached at MBAvi13@gmail.com or Twitter: @thirdbaseman7.