WrestleMania is the ‘Superbowl of wrestling’ set to be watched by more than 84,000 people in the AT&T Stadium in Dallas this Sunday and a worldwide viewing audience of millions.
Morecambe wrestling fan KIERAN ENGELKE has flown out to America to be among the huge crowds of wrestling fans gathering from all over the globe.
It’s 10.30am on Thursday, March 31 at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Centre in Dallas and we are in a mass of humanity.
We are queuing with hundreds of people at the annual pre-WrestleMania fan convention known as Axxess.
Then suddenly, WWE World Heavyweight Champion and chief operating officer Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque and his wife - the principal owner of WWE Stephanie McMahon randomly walk out of the venue to meet the crowd.
There is a huge noise.
“All ready for Axxess?” asks Triple H.
The fans respond with a huge chant of “YES! YES! YES!” in homage to the recently-retired former WWE Champion, Daniel Bryan.
HHH takes in the excitement and goes back in. Everyone is buzzing.
After hours of waiting, they finally let the sea of people in to the merchandise store.
There are more wrestling fans in one place than I’ve ever seen and it’s just to gain entry to the shop!
Items range from wristbands for $5 to pieces of the ring rope from WrestleMania 30 for $100 to signed headbands with unicorn horns attached - a product of hugely popular tag team The New Day - that are up for auction.
The latest bid for the unicorn horns when I last heard was $520.
I get my wife Katie a plastic Sting mask (she’s a bit of a fan) a New Day T shirt that comes in a cereal box and some New Day socks.
I get myself a WrestleMania cowboy hat - we are in Texas after all. It works wonderfully to keep the sun off my neck, and I don’t think it looks too bad!
After we leave the store we buy tickets for the Axxess Experience.
The slot we are allocated is 6pm to 10pm that evening.
We arrive at 5pm to see even more people than before. Even more queues than before. Each person having paid $55 for a ticket.
There is more buzz and excitement than many can handle.
Once inside there is an auditorium full of exhibitions. Wrestling memorabilia. Historical items many fans recognise and talk about the match they saw it from. Clothes worn by wrestlers in historic matches that bring back memories for many who see them. Statues to legendary wrestlers such as Andre the Giant. Parts of sets or stages you can take pictures on or in front of. Famous props such as ‘Slammy’ awards and The Undertaker’s iconic urn. Ladders used in famous matches. And the giant steel cage structure known as the Elimination Chamber.
Lines form to the meet and greet tables. You can see, talk to, have something signed by, and shake the hand of stars such as Dean Ambrose, Rusev, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and many more.
In the corner a ring is set up.
In ring, a statue of legend ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes, who passed away last year, is unveiled by Triple H and Rhodes’ family.
Emotional speeches by Dusty’s sons Dustin (Goldust) Cody (Stardust) and daughter-in-law Brandi brought many to tears.
It is an honour to be part of such a real and heartfelt moment featuring people you only usually see playing a character on screen.
A quick change of pace as exhibition matches featuring up and coming future stars take place.
The matches end and it’s time for the Stone Cold Steve Austin Podcast.
A table is set up in ring, carpet laid, ropes retaped and while this is going on, fans who don’t have tickets are asked for their stories. How they got there, are they going to WrestleMania? If not, why not?
One gentleman who decided after his wife fell pregnant that they couldn’t afford tickets, was given two free tickets to WrestleMania. That moment for him must have been incredible.
The joy and passion is easy to see on every face. Every single person having paid a day’s wage to be in that room were loving just being there and weren’t regretting a moment of queueing or a penny spent.
The live broadcast of the Stone Cold Podcast, shown worldwide on the WWE Network, draws an immense crowd to see wrestling legend Steve Austin and his fellow icon Mick Foley make their way to the ring for a chat show-style interview.
As Foley talks about his beginnings and history, everyone listens to everything, comparing it to their experiences or just happy to hear more about a man who has influenced and affected them for years.
The Podcast ends at around 10.10pm and Axxess is due to end at 10pm so we walk back through the auditorium afterwards, still seeing famous faces such as Santino Marella sitting patiently meeting and greeting fans at his table.
The thousands of fans make their way out and start their walk back home, to their respective hotels, or even carrying the day on into the night at local bars and clubs.
I can tell they all share that feeling that they are part of something special. They have been welcomed into a world very few get to be part of and WrestleMania weekend has only just begun.
KIERAN Engelke is the promoter of Alpha Omega Wrestling who run regular wrestling shows at the Morecambe Winter Gardens.
He won the 2015 Visitor Sunshine Entertainment Award.