April 1, 2006
Fan Axxess draws from near and far
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
CHICAGO -- The WWE idea of Fan Axxess has changed over the years, from one big permanent event near the site of WrestleMania to a moving road show, going from town to town to spread the WWE gospel.
For Thursday and Friday, Fan Axxess was plunked into the middle of the Woodfield Mall in Schaumberg, Illinois, one of many Chicago suburbs.
Centered as it was in visible part of the mall, Fan Axxess drew lots of walk-by gawkers as well as the regular WWE fans from close-by and far away.
Daniel, 20, and Al, 20, were part of a gang from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who were psyched about getting to meet many wrestlers, Fit Finlay taking the Money In The Bank match, and having their Northern Ireland flag signed by fellow servant of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, that wannabe pirate Paul Burchill.
The flag, they hope, will bring attention to them all weekend. "Just to get on TV, you never see Northern Ireland flags anywhere," explained Al.
Besides the wrestling, Daniel admitted to being in awe of American excess. "In Belfast, we've got one mall, and it's about a quarter the size of this one," he said.
From closer by were Michael, 18, of South Elgin, Illinois, and Stephanie, 18, from nearby Algonqujin. They came to both Friday's Fan Axxess event, with signings by Matt Hardy and Ashley, and Saturday's, with Burchill, the Gymini, Lance Cade, and an injured Val Venis, with his arm in a sling.
"It was great to meet the guys you see on TV every week," said Michael. "It's like a dream come true."
His companion, Stephanie, was only getting into wrestling again. She was disappointed by the no-show of Road Warrior Animal. "I'm not into wrestling as much now," she said. "So I know all the old guys."
The lines for autographs were restricted to 200 passes on Friday, and 300 on Saturday. Near the very back of Saturday's line was Matt, 16, from Essen, Germany. He's been in Chicago since Monday, hitting as many of the events as possible before taking in his first-ever live wrestling show Sunday night from ringside. "It's pretty cool," he said. "Everything is free."
Crowds at the Fan Axxess event were well paved, said one mall security guard, comparing fans to a church group.
Sponsored by the National Guard, and with many uniformed men and women visible, Fan Axxess seems built for portability, and quick tear-down and set-up. Some of the things available for fans included:
Fan Axxess sets up in the parking lot of the AllState Arena in Rosemont, Illinois on Sunday.
Greg Oliver is the Producer of SLAM! Wrestling and is in Chicago for WrestleMania weekend. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.