What Happens When a WWE Superstar Invites You to Wrestlemania?
In 2010 I decided to write a novel. It was an idea that I had been kicking around for years: an organised crime saga set in the old wrestling territory days. Up to that point, I had been making my way as a playwright in my home country of Ireland. I had been writing for about 20 years and a wrestling fan for nearly 30, and so one day, at my lowest ebb as a writer, I ran out of excuses as to why I couldn’t successfully marry my two loves.
After years of research, in 2012, I self-published my wrestling crime story, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green. It’s not that I didn’t get any ‘traditional’ offers, I just knew where the fans were and how to get to them. I wanted more than anything to make sure that the wrestling world in the novel would be looked after.
From that first day to this day, a tonne of unbelievably cool stuff has come my way because of the Blood Red Turns Dollar Green series. The books (there’s three now) were optioned for TV development. Bret Hart, Mick Foley, Finn Bálor, Jim Ross, William Regal and many more emailed to say how much they loved the book, or came out to endorse the trilogy publicly. Then the books were bought by Skyhorse Publishing in NY – with the first re-written book, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, out on Sept. 13th this year.
The greatest announcer of all time, Jim Ross, liked the writing so much he even asked me to help him write his life story.
If all that wasn’t cool enough, I got to finally fulfil my childhood dream and go to my first Wrestlemania - the biggest one of all time. Not only that, I got to go as a guest of a WWE Superstar.
Mind = blown.
When my wife, my daughter and I arrived in Texas my first order of business was a meeting with my new writing buddy, Jim Ross. Even though I had been working on his life story for a couple of months by then, JR and I had never met before. Our first handshake was at the scene of Jim’s sold-out 'Ringside’ shows, The House of Blues.
On meeting JR, he was way taller than I thought he’d be, but everything else matched up. He was warm, dryly funny and perpetually ready to kick ass. As we walked through the dimly lit, legendary venue, Jim was shown where the stage was, where his dressing room was, where the merchandise table would go. It was easy to see that JR was an old pro at live event planning, as even though he’d never been there before, he had his plan nailed down in a couple of minutes and was ready for the packed night ahead. The man had sold more than 3,000 tickets, and he wanted to make sure that every single person had a good time.
But not before some BBQ.
A few minutes later, and about 20 minutes after I first met any of the men I was now travelling with, I found myself wedged in the backseat of a nice car as we patrolled Dallas for the best BBQ on offer. In my head it was a scene from a Pulp Fiction: cool ‘shooters’ on the road looking for trouble. In reality we were lost in a minivan looking for sensibly-priced ribs.
In the car was Jim, me, the local radio manager and the local on-air sports guy. We were four hungry men, talking wrestling and football… I say we, but I mean them. I was more than comfortable in the wrestling discussions, but being Irish I had no clue what they were talking about when they brought up coach so-and-so and linebacker whatshisname. As their mouths were moving, I was just concentrating on doing everything in my power not to shout, “will someone stop the the damn match.”
We eventually found our spot - a little ‘sawdust-on-the-floor’ joint outside of the city. There were only three people in the place when we walked in, and all three of them were wrestling fans. I could see the shock on their faces as the voice of their fandom strolled past their table. And Jim was ‘on’ the second he entered. He was charming with the staff, took pictures with the fans, talked sauces with the owner, and cracked jokes with the chef. Is it a chef that makes BBQ? A BBQ-ist? Do you make BBQ? Cook it? Anyway, whatever you call the person who magics the BBQ onto my plate. All the while I smiling to myself while thinking, “I’m at Wrestlemania eating BBQ with Jim Ross. I’m in Dallas eating BBQ with Jim Ross — and now he’s telling me excellent wrestling stories. Is that his hall of fame ring? It is. I wonder would he let me wear it? Don’t ask, that would be super weird. How about touching it? That’s even weirder. OK. Good point.”
JR spoke about wrestling passionately. Sometimes you hear that the wrestling business ‘owns’ people and makes them jaded. After 40 years in the business, I can honestly say that Jim Ross is still as interested, excited, clued in and knowledgeable as anyone I’ve met.
He also got the bill. Cause he’s a class act. And possibly rich.
That night it was off to NXT. I knew a guy who knew a guy who got us floor seats for one of the best ‘Specials’ I have ever seen. It was a night that reminded just how much I love pro-wrestling.
Unfortunately, I ended up beside a guy who insisted on giving me a running commentary about 'what was really happening’ in the ring. He was booed the good guys and cheered the bad guys cause he was edgy like that. Luckily, on the other side of me was a very nice man, who I was destined to cross paths a few more times over the course of the Wrestlemania weekend.
What a night. What a card.
The next morning was Axxess, and a lovely lady from WWE escorted my family and I up to the general entrance. As we’re about to join the line she took a hard left towards a black curtain and held it open for us. “Enjoy guys,” she said as motioned us through. I have to admit, as much as I didn’t want to, I felt a little jolt of absolute power at being able to cut the line. I’m sorry, I did. It was kinda intoxicating. I want to rule people in some way now.
Inside was like Wonka’s factory for me. I loved the memorabilia, the legend’s statues, and the fact that a guy from my hometown, 5,000 miles away, walked up and randomly shook my hand.
Then my phone rang.
It was my friend at WWE — the one who invited me. They informed me that I’m going to the Hall of Fame.
“Yes, thank you very much,” I said. “Can’t wait!”
“No, you’re going to the Hall of Fame,” they said.
“Did you bring a suit?”
“A suit? Eh, no,” I said. “I’m going to be in the stands.”
“Yeah, sorry I should have said. You’re going to be on the floor,” they said. “Possibly on TV.”
At this point I should say that my friend is Becky Lynch, so read the rest of this as two Irish people talking to each other.
“Oh, yeah?” I replied in a mild panic.
“Yeah, now there’s a reception beforehand in the WWE hotel. I won’t be there because of I have a signing at Axxess, but I’ll meet you at the ceremony. Okay?”
“You won’t be there? I need a suit? What’s happening? Becky? Becky?”
“You’ll be grand. See you later,” she said.
I hung up to see the rush of pure joy in my wife and daughter’s faces at the thoughts of buying dresses in Dallas. My hairy head was a little more horror filled. I knew that putting me a suit was like putting a cat in a bath. But I also knew I now had to find something dressy and forget about the nice pair Crocs and an ironic tee-shirt I had already picked out for the ceremony.
I called the suit-rental places in the area but no-one had anything in-store. I had only a few hours to get something together because the HOF starts early if you’re PART OF IT! And there was the reception before, which totally cut into my style and beauty prep time too.
I knew I had to look good; come off as 'big time,’ so off I went to Target, Payless Shoe Store and a curious little place called Ross Dress for Less, where, after three or four frantic minutes I managed to pull together an ensemble that made me look like a dishevelled accountant. And that was my highest bar, the best I could aim for.
I felt like Cinderella going to the ball. If Cinderella had a greying beard, no formal jacket, and the ball was terrifying.
My family, on the other hand, were calm, ready and effortlessly beautiful.
With my new pants slightly too long and my new shoes slightly too small, we went to WWE headquarters in Dallas — the hotel. On my arrival, I saw my old buddy, and the first person to endorse my novels, Mick Foley. I love Mick, and it warmed my heart to see him gently part the sea of waiting fans in a very sensibly priced rent-a-car.
Don’t ever change Mickster.
Inside the lobby, I bumped straight into my fellow countryman, Sheamus. We had met up in Dublin a few months prior, so it was good to catch up for a couple of minutes. He was cool as always - engaging, and gracious to my family — but he was definitely looking at me a bit like, “what are you doing here?” I had no real answer for him. I didn’t really know how I got there either.
Behind Sheamus, the elevator door opened and out came Naomi to own the lobby. I mean, she owned it. Not in a ‘pretty lady is walking across the floor’ way either. She just had ‘it.’ The woman is a star. And do you know who knew it more than anyone? Her husband. Ear to ear grin on brother Uce.
We just stood there, gawking, with no idea where we were supposed to go. So, like any good Irish man at the start of a bad joke, I walked into the bar. There I saw Dolph Ziggler, Zack Ryder, Corey Graves and Scott Hall sitting having dinner at the counter. The only free spot for me to order drinks was right beside them. As I waited, I heard Razor be everything you hoped he would be: he was holding court, telling stories and getting Zack to pick up the check.
I stood and mentally ad-libbed several hilarious lines that I was going to lay on them when the time was right. I was pretty sure me injecting myself into their conversation would make us all instant friends.
“What can I get you?” the barman shouted at me from several feet away, and directly over the wrestler’s heads.
“Hello,” I said clearing my throat. It was time to show these guys just how cool I was.
The wrestlers stopped talking and politely waited for me to reply to the barman. This was me. I had the floor.
“Can I get three Coke’s please?” I relied in my dope Irish accent.
"What?” the barman said, clearly having a hard time understanding me over the music.
“Cokes?” I said, smiling my charming smile at Dolph. I may have even winked a little at him.
“Sorry. No Coke,” the barman replied.
“Ok, eh, Pepsi?”
The barman shook his head. I didn’t know what else to say so the WWE guys began to talk again.
“Eh…three soft drinks then. Whatever you have is fine.”
The wrestlers stopped talking again.
“What?” the barman shouted, this time through their conversation.
"Soft drink. Non-alcoholic.” I said, now mortified that ordering a few drinks had socially paralysed me IN FRONT OF COOL WRESTLERS. And Zack. Boom. Hahaha.
"You want a free what?” he said.
"No, three, not free. Three.. ” I wiped my brow and showed him three fingers. By this point Hall, Ryder, Ziggler and Graves were silent with their heads bowed a little. This wasn’t going well. “Three,” I said, really struggling to think of an American brand past Coke and Pepsi. “Three somethings that aren’t liquor. Anything with nothing drinky in them.”
Now everyone was baffled - except Graves. “I think he’s asking for three sodas,” he said, stepping in as my interpreter.
“Yeah, sodas,” I said with the relief you get at the end of a long game of charades.
Corey nodded and watched as I pawed my way through some coins I could see without my glasses on, and that I didn’t know the value of anyway. I felt Graves was judging me, so in a last ditch effort to pull back some cool points, I decided to impress him by taking out a new twenty - a crispy Benjamin Jackson - and plonking it down on the counter. I the nodded to the Saviour of Misbehaviour while giving the 'this guy, hah’ eyes towards the barman. There was nothing but awkwardness between us as I got my drinks, scooped my change into my pocket, and left.
I rejoined my family and told them what a hit I had been with 'the boys.’
As we all sipped our hard-fought drinks, a line of really well-dressed people walked past us and poured into an elevator. It seemed reasonable to follow them as they were the calibre of people that might be heading to a reception. We took the next elevator, where Sasha Banks got out. My daughter freaked a little. Then DDP got in our elevator, and my wife freaked a little. I took the 8 or 9-second ride to the next floor to get a good read on Dallas. I could tell he was feeling it. Being there. Being at Wrestlemania. He just had that stance, that attitude, that aura of a guy who was feeling it. Not many dudes can pull off a salmon shirt with a gold necklace, but Dally had it nailed.
I then wished I had gone with a salmon shirt.
Bing, and the doors opened and I have to be honest; I found it hard not to snot on myself with excitement. It felt like that scene in Jurassic Park where all the cool dinosaurs were walking freely amongst the humans. I had seen all these people on TV for YEARS but hadn’t encountered any of them in real life. Brawler, Christian, Jericho, Harvey Whippleman, Paige, DDP all having soft drinks and nibbles. Mean Gene, Pat Patterson, Hill Billy Jim all laughing in the corner. And families. Families everywhere. It was the one thing that stood out above everything else over the whole weekend: family in WWE is important.
And I got to experience that very sentiment with mine.
By the way, if you ever want to feel TERRIBLE about your appearance, try walking through a room full of WWE Superstars when they’re wearing their finest clothes and their whitest teeth. OK, now do it whilst trying not to stand on the ends of your own trousers, so you don’t pull your own pants down as you walk across the room with drinks in your hand.
As we made our way to a vacant table, the room began to empty. Guys? Hello? We sheepishly followed the line downstairs and saw that it merged into a cue at the exit door. It was us, Lita, Sami Zayn (who had killed it the night before at NXT) and Corey Graves again. At this point, I was sure the Agent of Anarchy was getting a little suspicious of me being there. Although I felt we subconsciously bonded earlier. I may or may not have read that wrong.
My family and I walked out onto the street where the head of the line was making its way onto one of the Hall of Fame transport buses, that was waiting curb-side. There was also a barricaded perimeter, outside of which the fans were waiting to snap their favourite Superstar or look for an autograph. All their clicking, shouting and excitement turned to utter confusion as it came to our turn to enter the bus. “Who’s this guy?” a little boy asked his father. “I have no idea, son. He’s not a wrestler, that’s for sure.”
Knew I should have worn salmon.
When we finally boarded, I took each step towards my seat waiting for security to drag me off by face and throw me over the barricade with all the other fans. But they didn’t. I also saw a friendly face looking at me as I shuffled past. It was the nice guy I sat beside at NXT – and he was the guest of, none other than, Corey Graves. I’m thinking it was possibly Corey’s father. Either way, we shook hands over Corey’s head, and I got the real sense that I was now part of the Graves’ family.
My wife, daughter and I took our seats — sitting across from Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat no less. Me looking like a discarded bag of washing, and him looking like he just fell from heaven.
To this day, that man said one sentence to my wife and daughter and they haven’t stopped talking about him since. One sentence. I’ve said literally hundreds of sentences to them over the years and they never talk about me like they do Mr Steamboat.
His sentence? “After you, young ladies.” The Dragon stood back for them to take their seat before he did.
They both giggled. Still do.
Now we were seated, ready for the fantastic night ahead. And then we waited. For a long time. There were security issues at the arena and they didn’t want us all to be waiting over there on the bus there. So we waited on the bus outside the hotel. In the Dallas sun. Like an Irishman’s worse nightmare. Usually, big windows plus big sun equals Irishman’s death. But I didn’t mind this time. Not one little bit. I was in my element. I did, however, nearly break both my eyeballs trying to side-eye around the bus to see who else I could spot.
I was fulfilling the only real childhood dream I had. And I was doing it with my family, my new Graves family, and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat sitting across from me.
And forty minutes and four bottles of water later, we were off across Dallas!
Through stopped traffic.
As in, there were cops out on the streets stopping people from getting home, getting to work, seeing loved ones because our bus needed to get to a show. I was equal parts horrified and impressed by that. It was like the ultimate 'someone holding up a curtain for you’ moment. Again I was a little ashamed of the sense of power it gave me. I still crave it to this day.
And then I saw it: The American Airlines Arena. We drove past the entrance and made our way underground. The TALENT entrance. I got off the bus and bumped into Cody Rhodes and his lovely wife, Brandi. Alberto Del Rio and his kids walked past. I then spotted a gentleman that must have been Michael PS Hayes’ son judging by his hair alone.
And more family. They hugged and kissed and caught up. People remembered people who were no longer with them. Others laughed about a rib, or a character they both knew. I walked up the ramp, towards the lights through the curtain, and felt honoured to be there.
I was about to take my seat in a setting that I couldn’t have designed better if someone asked me to draw out my personal heaven.
I was about to go to the Hall of Fame. With my family.
When we walked out through the curtain, The American Airlines Arena was empty except for a few ushers milling around, and the stage crew making last minute adjustments. I was so overtaken by the size of the place that I didn’t even notice the Hall of Fame set was standing right behind me and that..oh hey Ric Flair.
"Dad,” my daughter said.
“You’re staring at Naitch, Dad. Stop it.”
“Ok, that’s fine. Have you got enough money?”
“Dad,” she whisper-shouted. “Pull yourself together.”
Now I will say that I was kind of just staring, but in my defence, I’ve only ever had one single poster on my bedroom wall as I grew up. Other guys had Pamela Anderson or Reservoir Dogs posters. I had Ric Flair. The Nature Boy on bended knee in a dirty ring wearing purple trunks, boots and knee pads. Oddly I didn’t get many dates back then. Don’t know why. And now I watched as my poster walked right past me. I say, 'walk.’ He paraded past me. Clearly excited to be himself. Didn’t matter that it wasn’t showtime. Didn’t matter that there were no fans in there yet. Didn’t matter that no-one, only a hairy writer from Ireland and some waiting reporters were staring at him. Naitch lit up just strutting around.
And can I just say at this point how cool my daughter is for calling him 'Naitch.’
“Do we know where we’re sitting?” my wife asked.
I had no idea. The only thing I did know was that we were sure to be at the back, about sixty rows away from the stage. Up front was for legends and current Superstars.
“We’re here,” my daughter said.
“Where?” I asked.
“Here,” she said sitting down four rows from the front.
The chairs were all laid out with the Superstars names on them, and ours were marked, 'Becky Lynch’ – three for us and one for Becky. If that wasn’t cool enough - and it was - the seat in front of us was marked 'Bruno Sammartino,’ beside us was 'Pat Patterson,’ and behind us was 'Hacksaw Jim Duggan.’
My brain screamed like a fourteen-year-old girl at a Bieber concert.
I was afraid to sit in case this was an episode of Swerved, or in case my chair was electrified and then I’d pee myself and everyone would laugh.
Strangely enough none of those things proved to be true as I carefully lowered myself down into the sitting position like one does in an airport restroom.
The room began to fill a little more. A line of media formed in front of the stage and people who live in my TV began to appear everywhere. The NWO, Miz, Paige, Sheamus, Fit Finlay, Stone Cold, Shawn Michaels, HHH, Shane McMahon, Stephanie, Linda, Ryback all milling around shaking hands and telling stories. It seemed like everyone knew everyone – except us.
Larry Zbyszko, wearing shades and looking very 'happy,’ sauntered up and down the rows. “You see my seat?” he asked me as he passed.
I didn’t have time to answer before he was asking Hacksaw’s family, in the row behind me, the same question. He didn’t wait for an answer there either.
“You see my seat?” Larry asked Arn Anderson, who was sitting in the middle of Hacksaw’s row.
Arn shook his head.
“You sure?” Larry asked again.
“You ever think they don’t want you here?” Arn asked with a deadpan face.
Larry laughed and moved on but I could hear a school-like titter behind me. It was Hacksaw himself. I followed his line of sight – no easy task – and saw Arn now smiling too.
“Am I in there with you?” I could hear Larry ask someone else as he walked further and further away from the stage.
And as I turned my head back towards the set, the seats in front of me were filled with a sea of bald heads.
Ryback I recognised as the owner of one, and the two gentlemen in front of me I didn’t know – but the one beside them I certainly did: Bruno Sammartino, the longest reigning heavyweight champion in WWE history had taken his seat. Even at 80 years old, he looked like he could handily slap me off the ceiling if he wanted to. I don’t know why he would want to, but he most certainly could if the mood took him. His ears looked like chewed up footballs and his neck was wider than my leg.
“Ricky, are you sure I’m not in there with you?” Larry asked Steamboat, as he continued to walk the aisles.
It was all happening fast now. The arena was filling up and the familiar faces were everywhere. The crew were frantically sweeping down the carpet on set and people with headsets appeared from nowhere.
“Mr Sammartino, my name is Paul. Pleasure to meet you, sir.” Is a sentence I didn’t say, but the huge man standing beside me in the isle-way did. Big Show, huge hand outstretched, introduced himself to Bruno. Now, I absolutely wanted to listen, but with a voice like Show has, even if I didn’t want to, I really had no choice in the matter. Show was an absolute gentleman and very kind and sincere in his words to his very appreciative elder. Also, Big Show is an apt name because he is indeed big.
“Anyone know where my seat is? The lady told me it’s in this row,” Larry said to no-one in particular as he breezed by again. Hacksaw cackled towards Arn.
The arena was now almost full. As someone who never stood on the floor of an arena before, it was quite the sight. My family were smiling at my open-mouthed wonderment, knowing that I was in the middle of something very special. This to me was like Santa opening his workshop or getting a tour around Parts Unknown. My wife likes wresting, my daughter loves wrestling, but they both know that I have been obsessed by wrestling my whole life. We all took a second to soak it all in together; to look around; to covertly point out various wrestlers we’d spotted, past and present.
To enjoy an amazing experience.
In the corner of the room, by the backstage entrance, there was a commotion. Chris Jericho had walked through and the fans at that side of the arena booed him on cue. As Jericho faced them he gave them the full performance. He shouted mild abuse, acted above them all, and walked away in disgust. The second he knew they couldn’t see him, his face, demeanour and walk changed like the reverse Kaiser Souse. He turned from bad guy to good. From someone who scowled to someone who enjoyed the banter. He too came to pay his respects to Bruno. It really hit me that it was the two longest-serving members of the roster who came to talk to Mr Sammartino. No egos, no problem in introducing themselves. Just two stand-up guys who wanted to say thank you to a pioneer in their business. It was really cool to be just a couple of feet away, observing it.
As Jericho walked back to his seat I heard Bruno tell the gentlemen beside him how much it meant to have Jericho and Big Show come over to visit him.
“Arn, are you sure…the lady backstage said I’m supposed to be sitting in there?” Larry was back, shades still on, tan still teak-colored and still looking awesome.
“She did?” Arn replied.
Both men were talking over and across several rows.
“I counted the seats she told me to. I’m supposed to be where you are,” Larry said.
Arn took out a piece of paper from under his seat that said, 'Larry Zbyszko’ on it. “I was hoping you’d take the hint and go home,” Arn said, as Hacksaw finally burst out laughing.
“Always busting my balls,” Larry smiled and muttered as he made his way to his seat.
“Are you sure you’re meant to be here?” Arn asked him as he stood and moved one seat to his right.
The lights went down, the arena filled with the electricity of anticipation. Becky still wasn’t back from her signing so her seat was empty as we went live on TV. Hacksaw’s tall, pretty wife kicked me in the butt cheeks as she tried to cross her legs behind me. “Sorry,” she whispered.
“It’s okay, no problem,” I whispered back.
In our brief exchange I was tempted to tell her that when I was 10 years old, myself and my friend went to a pay phone in Ireland and made a collect call. We asked the operator to put us through to a 'Jim Duggan in Glen’s Falls New York’ – which she proceeded to do. When 'Jim’ answered his phone he asked me what he could do for me. I told him I was a fan from Ireland, and he said, “Sorry kid, I don’t know you” before I chickened out and hung up. Jim was my favourite wrestler at the time, and now 25 years later and 4,000 miles away from where I tried to contact him, I ended up sitting a foot away from him. I wanted to introduce myself but I chickened out again. So if you’re reading this, Hacksaw, was it you I got on the phone that day? And hello!
Becky slipped into her seat during a break and leant in. “I’m like the old lady in 'There’s Something about Mary,’” she said. It was dark so I couldn’t see what she meant. When the lights came back up I could definitely see what she meant. Let’s just say she had her tan on. Way, way on.
“You ready for tomorrow?” I asked her.
I can’t repeat what she actually said, but she was ready indeed. People talk about Eye of the Tiger, but that night with the wrestling business all around us, I saw it.
On the stage, it was easy to see just how the wrestlers who made the most connection with the crowds over the years were also, 'performers.’ They were charming and funny and had amazing timing. They were natural storytellers, eager to be the center of attention. They were warm and happy to be there. Above everything else, they were happy to be there.
And then I ended up in the best selfie of all time. Snoop Dog came out for his award and before he began, he turned and took a picture of himself with the crowd over his shoulder. Look at my face. Look how happy I am.
The Hall of Fame was an amazing night, I honestly could have stayed for another ten hours, but we had a lot more to do in Dallas before the adventure was over. Backstage we met with Charlotte and her brother David, who were both cool people. We walked down the ramp to the bus with Christian in front of us. With Alicia Fox walking the opposite way. We said our goodbyes to Becky before my family and I got back on the bus, and she split to get her costume finished for Wrestlemania.
Then it hit me. Even after all this cool stuff, we still have Mania to go to.
What a trip!
The next morning we Ubered our way to Arlington and the sight of the AT&T Stadium appearing on the horizon was a lasting image. It was like a crashed UFO just sitting there dormant. We got out and made our way into the stream of wrestling fans heading towards the huge stadium.
As we moved closer I could see the WWE graphic above the grand entrance. Becky was one of the few on the roster that made it 'on the marquee.’ My family and I nearly used up all our phone’s memory by just snapping her giant orange head from 25,000 different angles. We knew no-one deserved it more.
As we walked into the stadium, the noise and scale was overwhelming. It’s hard to prepare your brain for what 100,000 people might look like under one roof. We had no real idea where to go or what to do first. Hotdogs first? Find your seat? Buy merch? Even though I was about 20 years too late I WANTED a yellow foam finger so badly.
As we stood the crowd kinda just swelled around us. Moving left, right, upstairs, downstairs. And then like a majestic rare bird, I saw Corey Graves’ father above everyone else. He knew where he was going. He was walking like a man with a purpose. And chances were he was going where we were going too – the Friends and Family section.
“Follow that man,” I said with conviction.
“Dad, can I get a drink first?” my daughter asked.
It was too late, I was pulled into the Graves’ tractor-beam. And just like John McClaine used an ambulance to cut through traffic in Die Hard 3, we used Mr Graves to power through hoards of screaming, excitable fans to make it to our destination. As he sat in his seat he didn’t even know why I gave him a high-five, but now I hope you know sir. The truth is finally out there.
Now we were inside and the place was MASSIVE. JUST MASSIVE. People over the other side didn’t even look real. The set was amazing and the atmosphere was hard to describe. We took our seats and waited for the show to begin. Well, truth is, we took our seats and I eyeballed everyone to see who they were. We were in the friends and family section, might as well do a little people spotting. For instance, I knew I was behind Paul Heyman’s friends and family because when he came out with Lesnar they went berserk. I also think I inadvertently ended up in a 'Paul Heyman Girl’ selfie as the young lady in front of me was snapping all night.
Down beside MR. GRAVES was Mrs Bella, Mrs Paige and a host of others who I saw at the Hall of Fame. We were on smiling terms now. People who had seen each other around and nodded and waved at each other.
I was in the clique. Possibly. Maybe not. OK, I wasn’t.
And then came the match we were waiting for. The Triple-Threat for the Women’s Championship. My phone beeped and I saw a text from an amazing lady who worked for WWE. She had helped us over our stay to find whatever we needed, get us tickets to stuff and just be generally awesome. Her text read: Where are you?
I messaged her back our seat number. When I looked up I could see her scanning the rows for us so I gave her a little wave.
She messaged: Becky would like you ringside.
I squealed. Actual girl sounds left my voice box.
I replied: OK.
Cause I’m cool like that.
The WWE lady smiled and waited for us to come to the end of our row where she walked us down through the crowd. Talk about a feeling of power.
Stand aside humans, as I walk amongst you. I am your overlord and…
“I hope these seats are okay?” she said as she left us at ringside.
“You mean beside Linda McMahon?” I said as I saw the Matriarch of the McMahon family beside us.
I might have said it too loud.
I thanked amazing WWE lady and she disappeared again. Boom! Becky’s music hit and I could feel in the crowd that this was special. No-one was leaving for hotdogs. No-one was taking a bathroom break. This was important. This meant something. I could also see on Becky’s face as she passed us, that she meant business. She started in Ireland, travelled the world, sparked in NXT and now looked totally at home in the biggest match in women’s history.
Like anyone who reached the peak of their dream, she trained for it, she planned for it, she cried for it, she sacrificed for it, she fought for it, she dreamt about it, she hoped for it, she doubted it, she pulled towards it and backed away from it. She was close and then not. She assessed everything about herself, and never took the shortest road. She was hard on herself, sometimes rightly and sometimes not. She wondered and journaled and wished and actioned. All those things carried her to where she was; where she stood. Center of the ring at the biggest Wrestlemania of all time.
When all three competitors faced off it just seemed like they were all tangling and wrapping themselves around their own slice of history. Three women who swam upstream the whole way to be seen as the best in their business. And I, with my family, got to experience it from ringside. The passion, the drama, the viciousness, the will to win, the dives, the reversals, the captured audience, the painful landings, the skill, the talent, the art, the expectation – and finally – the outcome.
She didn’t win. She didn’t get the belt. But as with everything in Becky’s career, she won when she lost. And that is a lost art in-and-of-itself.
We left the stadium when the show was over, and stood under the dark, warm Dallas night sky. Our friend from Dublin had just taken part in the best match on the biggest show in WWE history. We dissected every move, every near miss and photo we had on the Uber ride back to our apartment.
What a day it was. Our first Wrestlemania. Not going to be our last.
The next day we headed back to the site of the Hall of Fame for Monday Night Raw. And it was there amongst all the chants, spectacle and controlled chaos that the theme of family returned for me. Outside we found ourselves in line with Noelle Foley who was also picking up tickets. For whatever reason, it wasn’t going smoothly and the will-call staff needed a few minutes to sort things out. As she waited I was tempted to talk to her and tell her about the time that I flew to Scotland to meet her father, and how he made a heckler apologise for saying something offensive to the female host. How he and I meet in Belfast in his dressing room as he told me just how much he loved the Blood Red Turns Dollar Green books. How he then told the audience during his set just how much he loved them. How he was the first to endorse my novels. How he helped me when I was a stranger to him on Twitter. Instead, I said nothing. I will say that her manners are impeccable, though.
We were second row, right in the middle. In front of us was a teenager was looked suspiciously like Enzo Amore without the beard and a lady who seemed excitably nervous. Both of them were wearing Enzo and Cass tee-shirts. My superior detective skills lead me to believe that they might be related to Enzo. Just call it intuition. Also beside me was a line of people who were speaking French. That narrowed down who they were here to see. The mystery was solved completely when they went bananas at Kevin Owens being shown in the opening package. And in front of me to my left was Zack Ryder’s father, who I knew because of his own internet celebrity.
As much as the Superstars are framed as cartoon characters, people who don’t hurt that much, people who are always looking their best, their families are like you and me. They worry about their husbands, wives, sons and daughters. They shout and cheer and grimace like we do. They FREAK OUT like Enzo’s family did when they debut, or they stand in unison like KO’s family did when he came out. They even get involved in the storylines like Zack’s father did when the time called for it.
Of all the cool things I’ve been able to write about, and a tonne of other stuff that happened that I can’t, the one thing that stands out to me is just how much the wrestling business affects the families of people who do it.
I got to see that first-hand. I got to see just how much being a wrestler takes. I got to appreciate just how huge the WWE machine is. I got to see and experience things that I would never have dreamed I would get the opportunity to see.
I got to be beside people who are living their dream.
And I got to do it with my family.