‘What is the purpose of your visit Sir?’
‘The purpose?’ I scoff back. ‘Only the showcase of the immortals mate…’
Security in Orlando airport might not know the significance of WrestleMania 33, but we at Paddy Power are in no doubt. The highlight of the year for WWE fans lands in the Citrus Bowl in Florida this Sunday, and our trip began at 5.30am on Wednesday at Dublin Terminal 2.
An over-priced full Irish breakfast, two terrible Ben Affleck films, some testing questions at customs and a grand total of 15 hours later and we had landed in Orlando and picked up the rental car. Despite our best efforts the company card wouldn’t stretch to a fire engine-red Mustang…
A short spin on the freeway brought us to our AirBnB for the week where we were able to drop the bags and get settled in to the digs. Despite the evening drawing in, we were still sweating like Big Sam in the tax office. It didn’t take long before we decided that, if anything, it was too hot.
A few pints later and one of the party finished off the night by clogging one of the bathrooms with a Big Show-sized deposit. There could be no doubt – we were off to a flyer.
Thursday morning brought more problems – although fortunately they weren’t toilet related. A 40 minute drive to the Dudley Boyz gym to get some wrestling tips ended in a hostile conversation with Bubba Ray. It became very obvious very quickly that the ‘Old Irish charm’ doesn’t work on angry 18 stone men who have murder in their eyes. It was a real shame as we’d stopped off at Home Depot on the way down and brought them a table as a peace offering. Wish us luck expensing that.
Despite the Dudley disappointment we cracked on and headed for the Orlando Convention Centre where WWE Axxess was due to begin. Or at least we thought that’s where we were heading. The Sat Nav in the rental car had other ideas and after a lengthy drive popped us out in the Pentecostal Church of God Convention Centre.
A stream of abuse towards technology followed by a swift prayer to the big man and we were on our way again, this time with the Sat Nav guiding us on a truer course.
Upon landing at the correct Convention Centre we popped to Hooters to soak up some local culture and eat wings – getting rejected by the Dudley Boyz, lost in Florida and failing to produce any useable video content is hungry work.
Luckily by that point Axxess had begun – and we got our first taste of WWE madness.
The first thing you notice about a WWE event is that a lot of fully grown adult men wear title belts. Not in an ironic ‘haha look at me with my big plastic WWE title’ way. They wear them very seriously around their waists. Like they are champions. One gentlemen had actually put his WWE belt through the loops on his size XXXL jeans, as well. You have to admire the dedication. These belts aren’t cheap either – we priced them up inside and you’re looking at the guts of $500. People are kitted out to the max with title belts, masks, t-shirts, caps, hoodies, accessories, you name it they have it. And none of it stands out as being unusual. One of our party was getting the strangest looks for rocking a lovely flannel shirt with jeans. If you’re not in full Ultimate Warrior get-up you’re not one of us.
There were plenty of activities to get stuck into – we cut a promo, practiced our walk-on, jumped off the turnbuckle into a ring of foam pit. We even got too see Triple H unveil a Ric Flair statue to Nature Boy himself, and we wooed ourselves silly.
We toasted a successful evening with a few beverages in Senor Frogs, but unfortunately the night ended on a slightly sour note, as we crucified yet another porcelain U-bend. Two down, one to go…
Friday saw us hit the ground running, as we got off to the perfect start. The clock had barely ticked past 7.30am when we found a plunger. The cheer heard around the world. 10 minutes later and we were back up to three fully functioning toilets.
That morning we spun down to see Orlando wrestler Chasyn Rance in the Team Vision Dojo school of hard knocks. He put one of our team through a 90 minute wrestling session in which it became all too apparent that while wrestling may be scripted, it’s bloody tough.
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Friday night was supposed to revolve around an MCW event – Micro Championship Wrestling. Tipped up as ‘The #1 midget wrestling show in the world’ on their website, we were expecting big things (pun absolutely intended) however things started to take a turn for the worse in our taxi, not least with the fact that for the entire journey we were subjected to a Pigeon Detectives playlist.
Heading out of Orlando and towards the MCW venue, our friendly Uber man pointed out that we were heading for a decidedly rough neck of the woods, and not one he particularly liked to work. Slightly put off but not perturbed we carried on, only to pull up outside a bar that you’d normally see in a Jason Statham movie right before several guys get glassed, one is shot, and Statham grunts before exiting stage left.
We deliberated around the corner of said bar for 10 minutes and took it in turns to casually stroll up to take a peek inside – ensuring that the expensive camera equipment we had knocking around was always kept a minimum of 100m away from the angry biker bar. The decision was unanimous, and we bailed for the much friendlier surroundings of Downtown Orlando.
The night contained some delightful drinks while our ongoing toiletry debacle continued as we found ourselves breaking the seal in an Irish bar that was packed to the rafters, yet only had one urinal. Taking the piss – in a very literal sense.
By the time the Saturday sun rose Orlando was hopping with WrestleMania fans, so we headed back to Axxess to see how they would react if we showed them tweets we received saying WWE was fake…
On any other night in Downtown Orlando, we suspect walking into a bar with a replica WWE title belt would stand out. Not on Saturday. The evening of NXT and the day before WrestleMania created a perfect storm and wrestling fans took advantage. Among the hipster locals stood many a WWE fan dressed head to toe in merchandise and nobody batted an eyelid.