Spoilers ahead: I may or may not be heard screaming in the background of some of these videos.
I experienced one of the best weekends of my life this month: April 1 through April 3, and yes, it was largely, but not only, due to professional wrestling. I am that guy. Which, in my experience, it is kind of amusing to be that guy because in many instances, people are surprised I’m into professional wrestling. I suppose I don’t have the stereotypical “look” of someone who would be into professional wrestling (I’m not even sure what the stereotype is actually, but the modern fan is everyone of every background and appearance).
On the blog, I’ve talked about going to Dallas, Texas to see WWE’s “stupendous” event, WrestleMania 38, the travel to get there, and being proud of myself for going solo; I talked about how for the first time, I went to WrestleMania without any suicidal strings attached; I talked about visiting the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum; and I talked about taking in the parks, and the famed Whataburger burger into my mouth. The only thing I haven’t yet talked about was the event itself! So, naturally, I procrastinated for two weeks on doing so (mainly because it was a lot of images and videos to round-up!).
It was so great. So much fun. Three nights in a row of pure, unadulterated fun. I always try to maintain that “feeling like a kid” feeling in navigating and experiencing the world. Not to get all highfalutin here on a post about pro wrestling, but to lose one’s grasp on that childlike feeling and wonder about the world is, I think, to abandon something essential to our souls. But I particularly leaned into that feeling for those three days.
The first night of the festivities, April 1, was WWE SmackDown Live! at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Man, I’d have to really search my brain to remember the last time I went to a SmackDown in particular, and a WWE televised show in general. It’s been a while! My WWE live events for the last decade or so have all consisted of either WrestleMania events, NXT events (on WrestleMania weekend), Hall of Fame events (on WrestleMania weekend), or untelevised shows known as house shows. If I recall correctly, incidentally, the one time I included going to the show after WrestleMania on Monday, WWE’s Monday Night Raw, as part of my WrestleMania weekend travel plans, was … at the American Airline Center in 2016 when WWE was last in Texas! Ah, I love when life rhymes.
My seats were perfect. Some might disagree, but I’m simple, and have simple needs. My seats were as far back as you could go, aka the nosebleed seats, so nobody was behind me, and my seat was directly atop the staircase. In other words, my one-kidney self who has to visit the bathroom frequently had ease of access! That’s all I need folks. Incidentally, in a theme that would persist the rest of the weekend, the individual sitting to my right was also in Dallas for the weekend solo. He said he was from Idaho (or Illinois? I always get those two mixed up for some reason), and was about to be going to college, so he had to be pretty young. I was the elder! Anyhow, he was quite chatty, and we talked about wrestling much of the night. It was actually nice. I leaned into that as well. Not that I’m opposed to social engagement, but sometimes it feels like an obligation more than something fun, right? Especially when you’re assigned a seat next to that person. But here? It was fun.
Now, since SmackDown Live was what we call a “go-home” show — meaning it was the last televised weekly show prior to WrestleMania — there was not bound to be much of note. A company isn’t going to risk injuring its biggest stars a day (or two days) before the biggest event of the year, and much of the stories have been told up to that point. Still, it was a fun show because the crowd was hot (lively!). That’s also because WWE has taken to putting a few matches it normally would have featured on WrestleMania weekend on the go-home SmackDown. So, we got to see Madcap Moss win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, and Ricochet successfully defend his Intercontinental Title against Angel and Humberto in a triple threat match that was solid. And since it was the first show I’ve been to since he started, I got a kick out of seeing Pat McAfee live at the commentary booth. He’s a hoot.
SmackDown is a two-hour show, so local time, it started at 7 p.m. and ended at just before 9 p.m. I love me some central time when it comes to wrestling shows! The festivities for the evening were really just beginning, believe it or not, because that night was a two-event combo: SmackDown Live and the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2022. The latter was the real impetus for me even coming to Dallas, and then I got greedy for the rest of the weekend. That’s because my all-time favorite wrestler, The Undertaker, was being inducted into the Hall of Fame by Vince McMahon, the owner of the company, of all people.
I’m lucky, because by the estimation of a lot of fans, and myself, it was perhaps the best produced Hall of Fame of all time, with one of the best classes of all time. All of the speeches were either memorable, funny, or emotional, or all of the above. But the best part, of course, was The Undertaker’s entrance itself, because that crowd just kept giving him the energy, with chants and cheers for what felt like 10 minutes. It gives me goosebumps even remembering being immersed in that crowd response. What a freaking moment. That felt like the culmination of my nearly 30 years of WWE fandom, and particularly, my fandom of The Undertaker. To be there for that. To feel that. If the rest of the weekend somehow never happened, that 10 minutes alone was worth a 26-hour roundtrip to Dallas, Texas. Much less the Ted Talk-like speech Mark Calaway, the man behind The Undertaker character, gave afterward. That was the perfect way to do it: He had lived this gimmick for 30 years, and there was no better way for him to go into the Hall of Fame than to go in as himself, and let us in on who the man is and was for all those years.
Whew. Then, get this, I got to go to sleep, wake up, and have the first night of WrestleMania on Saturday, April 2, at AT&T Stadium! Again, perfect seats, as far as I was concerned, because I was not only sitting in the last row at the top of the stadium, so that there was nobody in front of me, and I had a perfect look at the huge Jerry Tron thingamajig, but I was on the end right by the steps again! Ease. Of. Access. For. My. Bladder. And yet again, I had a kid, who I believe was from Louisiana, sitting next to me, who was quite chatty. I say kid because he was probably 17? 18? He had a strong accent, and was flabbergasted that this was my seventh WrestleMania. He wasn’t solo, though, as his mother was with him. Again, it was fun to have fun with someone else next to me to experience the show with, although he did slightly irritate me more than the kid the previous night, only because he was still chatting me up during big moments. During the big moments, I want to watch, experience, and feel those big moments! So, lay out, kid!
Arguably, again, in the estimation of a lot of fans, and myself, this was not only the stronger of the two nights of WrestleMania, but one of the best-booked WrestleMania events in recent memory. Part of that I think was the low expectations, both in looking at the undercard, and because we didn’t know what to expect from the “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Kevin Owens segment/match/brawl/what is this? We ended up getting Austin’s first match back in 19 years, and it wasn’t a two-minute brawl, or something like that. It was a 13-minute match! Holy crap, I was losing my mind. And Austin took bumps!
On top of that, I got to see my current favorite WWE superstar, Bianca Belair, cap off an eight-month storyline arc with another one of my favorites, Becky Lynch, in what I felt was presented as, and delivered as, the main event of the evening for the Raw Women’s Title. It was the best match of the weekend, and seeing Bianca win was such a satisfying feeling after that eighth-month arc. One a show that featured my first all-time favorite wrestler getting his ‘Mania entrance again, and my second all-time favorite wrestler (Austin) returning for a match, Bianca was my biggest takeaway from night one.
Following that match up, was another one of my current favorites, Seth “Freakin'” Rollins, against a mystery opponent, who fans long-suspected was Cody Rhodes. Now, what’s mind-blowing about this is that about six or so years ago, a dissatisfied and creatively stifled Rhodes left WWE to go pursue his wrestling career on the independent circuit. He then, with the help of a few other wrestlers and billionaire Tony Khan, created a new national promotion, All Elite Wrestling. Rhodes was the co-founder of a rival professional wrestling promotion to WWE, and often castigated his former company. For whatever reason, he ended up leaving AEW, which in itself was mind-blowing, but then to hear that he was likely coming back to WWE?
Wow. So, then it came down to, what is his presentation going to be like? Will they change anything? Nope. Cody came out as the AEW Cody Rhodes. He came out as the American Nightmare Cody Rhodes. To see that Cody Rhodes in WWE was surreal. And on that stage, no less. What a moment. Then, him and Seth followed up a historical moment with a 21-minute banger of a match, where Cody actually prevailed!
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that at every WrestleMania, WWE brings out the Hall of Fame class, and lets the headliner, in this case, The Undertaker, get a full entrance treatment. Once again, I got to experience an Undertaker WrestleMania-level entrance. It was so cool.
And you know what happened next? After a great night of wrestling, and still feeling amped, I got to go to sleep, wake up, and do it all over again for night two of WrestleMania! What a life. I thought it was going to be hard for WWE to top night one because you had Austin’s first match back in 19 years, the high bar set from a wrestling standpoint by Bianca and Becky, and the moment of Cody Rhodes re-debuting in WWE.
My seats for the third night were similar to the night before, except I was a section to the right, and this time, instead of being right next to the stairs, I was about six or so seats in. That kind of sucked because I get self-conscious about making the people stand up so I can go pee. Nonetheless, two seats to my left, was another solo individual, this one about my age, and he started chatting me up. I should note, in all three of these circumstances, I never initiated because I’m just not that type of person. So, I guess I have something about me that makes them want to initiate. Two people ended up taking the spots between us, but he still made some chatter happen throughout the night. I was happy for him because he only bought tickets to Sunday’s show, so he thought he missed out on Austin, but Austin came back out!
As my two videos have already spoiled, WWE had some tricks up their sleeve to make the second night as memorable as the first, albeit maybe a hair below the first night, in my opinion. First, HHH opened the show, the same man who just recently retired due to a heart issue. One of my all-time favorites, and I was devastated at the news that he won’t ever get to wrestle again for those medical reasons, but I’m glad he’s still alive and on the mend from those issues. He formally retired by placing his wrestling boots in the middle of the ring, as is an old school tradition. That was a tear-in-my-eye kind of moment.
Then, later in the night, again beating away the low expectations, we had one of the most fun matches I can recall ever seeing in WWE: My love of wrestling combined with my nostalgia for Jackass when Johnny Knoxville wrestled Sami Zayn (and won!). They used some Jackass gags, like a machine-propelled foot to the crotch, mouse traps, and even Wee Man getting in there to body slam Sami. The crowd, and myself included, LOST THEIR DAMN MINDS at the slam! What a moment, and what a match.
I was happy to see Sasha Banks, along with her teammate, Naomi, win the SmackDown tag team titles, marking somehow, Sasha’s first win at WrestleMania in seven goes at it.
Then, folks. I was already fortunate to be live in-person for Austin’s first match back in 19 years. But after Pat McAfee defeated Mr. McMahon’s henchman, Austin Theory, in a super fun match, Mr. McMahon himself fought McAfee. Are you freaking kidding me?! I got to see Mr. McMahon, the GREATEST OF ALL TIME, have “one more match”?! And after that, Austin came back out unexpectedly to give a “Stone Cold” Stunner to everyone, including McAfee to hilarious effect?!
My next most hyped match, if you saw my other blog post, was Roman Reigns facing Brock Lesnar to unify the two world titles, capping off a WrestleMania main event trilogy (the only one!). I was a little letdown by the match from the standpoint of it not being as strong of a story as their WrestleMania 31 match, not being as physical as I anticipated given how Brock was OUT FOR BLOOD (and the Madison Square Garden Incident), and I was disappointed they didn’t let Roman Reigns win clean and decisively (without any shenanigans). But, he won. Finally. After seven years, Roman Reigns vanquished the Beast.
What a dream night. What a dream weekend. I could not have asked for a better weekend of wrestling, and when you add in the other aspects I’ve previously talked about on the blog regarding the weekend when I wasn’t at wrestling events, it made for one of the best, most memorable weekends of my life.
Yes, I spent a ridiculous amount of money, and I’m going to be uh, paying for that, in the weeks that follow, but I think it was worth it. Memories and experiences are priceless.
Here are some of the photos I took over that three-day weekend: