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    Monday, April 29, 2019

    The Stan Sy WrestleMania 35 Experience

    My WrestleMania story started as soon as WrestleMania 34 ended.

    After hearing first-hand accounts from Gretchen Gatan and Hub Pacheco, two friends who had gone to WrestleMania on their own for 33 and 34 respectively, I was convinced that the WrestleMania pilgrimage was an attainable goal. By the time 34 rolled around, I told myself that if WWE were to bring 'Mania to a city where I had relatives living nearby, I had to make the trip myself.

    When WWE announced that the Showcase of the Immortals would take place in New Jersey and New York for 35, I knew I had to make my pilgrimage happen come hell or high water. I have an aunt living in New Jersey and I know the commute between Jersey and New York was humanly possible.

    And that's how my quest began. All I knew was that 'Mania would be at the MetLife Stadium and that I was going to be there for it. Now I just needed a plan.

    Throughout my WrestleMania experience (lol), friends and followers kept asking me how I got there, how to be like me, and how to make it happen. It's time for me to share how I made my WrestleMania trip happen, but instead of word-vomiting all of my stories from WrestleMania Week, I decided to put together a FAQ list with help from the Smark Henry offices. I'll pepper in some anecdotes into my answers to add color and context.

    Here we go!

    1. How much did you spend overall and how long did you spend saving up for it?

    I'll start with the amount just to get that out of the way.

    If you calculate everything I spent on wrestling-related expenses, including my round-trip flight, it all comes down to $2,202.46 or PhP 113,823.13. That's a lot of money. But that also includes my flight, which cost $741. 

    If you take that out, my expenses for tickets, transportation, and merch will be $1,461.46 or PhP 75,528.25. That's still a lot of money, but it doesn't hurt as much to look at, right? (God, who am I kidding? My bank account is bleeding lol) If you want to check out the itemized breakdown of my expenses, you can check out this spreadsheet.

    Okay, on the real, the WrestleMania pilgrimage doesn't have to bleed your bank account dry. For starters, my flight included a stop in Los Angeles to stay with relatives. That meant my itinerary included a domestic flight from L.A. to New York. And once I got to the East Coast, I stayed with my aunt in New Jersey. That really helped me save a lot of money, especially since I was in the U.S. for almost three weeks.

    As for saving up for it, I'm not going to lie and say that I had a WrestleMania fund, where I kept part of my monthly salary as it came in. I'm not exactly that kind of saver.

    What I will say is that I'm fortunate enough to have a bit of a savings fund that I've built up from the moment I started working in 2010. So if I need to make a sizable purchase, I try to measure it up against the savings fund. My mental rule is if it's within 10% of what I have in the bank at the moment, I can bite the bullet if I really want it.

    It also helps that I freelance and work various gigs that supplement my monthly income from my job in radio. Having had a very strong December—which is peak season for events hosts—helped me out a lot, too. From my December income alone, I was able to save enough in the bank for me to comfortably go to 'Mania without having to keep myself alive on instant noodles upon returning.

    I know that doesn't exactly answer the "how do you start saving up" question. But the reality is that we all have different jobs and the pace at which we earn and save money is different across the board. My best advice is to just go with whatever works for you without sacrificing the necessities like food, rent, shelter, etc.

    2. When did you book your flight and buy your tickets?

    I come from a family of frequent flyers and we're really into scoring deals during seat sales. Over the last six or seven years, we've also frequented travel fairs, where you can get yourself long-haul flights at insanely cheap prices.

    Last June, I heard about the BDO Travel Fair at SMX Aura. (Disclaimer: I wish this was a BDO product placement, but it's not.) As long as you have a BDO credit card, you can enter the travel fair and look for whatever flight you want.

    My sister and I were at SM Aura as early as 8 a.m., waiting for the mall to open at 9 a.m. As soon as the mall opened, it was like a mad dash from all the different entry points as people raced to get up to the SMX Convention Center. It was like a scene straight out of The Amazing Race or fucking Trip To Busan. Shit.

    When we got there, we scouted different airlines from China Airlines to United Airlines to Cathay Pacific, and we looked through the eligible travel dates, the destinations, and the prices. The key to these travel fairs—aside from getting there early and being patient enough to wait in line for hours—is to be flexible with your travel dates. You can't go in and just be deadset on April 1-21 as your travel dates, period. You have to be able to adjust by moving your departure date up to within March, for example, or to move your return date down a few days/weeks.

    After about three hours of scouting, we found ourselves at the American Airlines booth, where my sister and I settled for a trip that started in mid-March and ended in mid-April. My original planned travel dates were April 1 or 2 to April 21 or 22, but I ended up leaving the Philippines on March 24 and arriving home on April 13. Instead of starting my trip on the East Coast and flying out of the US from LAX, we flipped it the other way around. Here's how my final itinerary looked like:

    So I ended up trying three different airlines (Cathay Pacific, American, and Japan), had a domestic flight, and they allowed me to pay on a six-month installment basis... and it was under $1,000? Fuck yeah, that's a great deal!

    Key takeaways:

    1. Watch out for the travel fairs/expos.
    2. Be early. Be patient. Be flexible.
    3. Experiment with different airlines.

    3. So you booked your flight. What's next?

    I booked my flight as early as June 2018. It was a long wait after that until WrestleMania tickets went on sale.

    Here's a tip for 'Mania tickets: watch out for the presales. They usually announce presale codes on Twitter, so it's best to follow the @WrestleMania feed because they tweet out when the presales itself take place. 

    I went to 'Mania with a certain local wrestler whose name rhymes with Thris Schmanzer and he was the one who wisened me up to the presale codes. Otherwise, I would've waited for the general public sale on Ticketmaster, which would have been an absolute disaster because you're basically competing against the world for a finite amount of tickets. At least with the presale, you know that not everyone is wise enough to watch out for that—well, not anymore thanks to this article—so there's less competition for the tickets.

    I'd set an internal budget for how much I was willing to spend for WrestleMania tickets—mine was $300—and we found ourselves a spot that was within our budget. Keep in mind, though, that whatever base price you see on Ticketmaster doesn't include additional charges like taxes and web admin fees. For example, our tickets at Section 128 of MetLife Stadium, whose base price was at $307, ended up costing $360.87 after the additional fees kicked in. So much for sticking to our budget.

    Another key tip is to buy your tickets immediately. The WrestleMania events sell like mad as soon as they're available and prices only go up the closer you get to the date itself. It's not like an NBA regular season game featuring a non-Playoff team, whose value might go down the closer you get to the date. Our 'Mania tickets got more expensive as time went on and nearly tripled in value about a month before the big show itself. Buy your tickets early.

    4. So if buying your tickets is going to be that hard, then why not just go for the entire WrestleMania travel package?

    Umm, because those are fucking expensive. 

    I mean, sure, if you can afford these packages, then good for you. They usually come with hotel accommodations, Axxess tickets, an unlimited New York City MetroCard (which isn't even that expensive), among other things depending on the tier. Plus, these include all the WrestleMania Week events: TakeOver, Hall Of Fame, WrestleMania, RAW, and SmackDown Live.

    I went ala carte with my tickets because for one, I had no plans of attending the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony unless Christian was going to be inducted. And since he wasn't inducted this year, there was nothing that could get me to HOF, not even Torrie Wilson, who was my adolescent wrestling crush.

    What's nice about doing things ala carte is you get to pick exactly where you're sitting at each event. WWE's travel packages may be convenient, but you also don't know exactly where you'll be seated until you get your tickets. You may know the general area/section at the arena, but what if you get seated in front of a huge rig/corner post at 'Mania itself? That'll surely block your view and waste your hard-earned money. Womp womp.

    Besides, I was staying with my tita and didn't need to buy the packages. And that's why I went ala carte and waited for the presale codes and dates for every single event. While it worked out for the most part, it cost us the opportunity at prime seats for NXT TakeOver. The only seats we found were at the very top, so we were basically in the nosebleeds for the moment when Johnny Gargano became Johnny Champion. Still worth it, though.

    5. Is it really worth watching 'Mania far away from the ring when the wrestlers look like ants, when there is no commentary, and when you're out in the cold (as it was in New Jersey)?

    Being a wrestling fan from the Philippines, I have always looked at WrestleMania as an actual pilgrimage. The journey is long and arduous and the destination so glorious that it's something you can tell your children and grandchildren about.

    That said, I used to find wrestling without commentary awkward. But having experienced live wrestling locally and abroad has helped me get over that. I can understand the story even without commentary anyway.

    However, the experience of being in a large stadium with over 80,000 fans screaming, cheering, booing, crying, and marking out is irreplaceable. I love our viewing parties at Skinny Mike's, but even that is nothing compared to being at 'Mania live and in the flesh.

    If your concern is being too far from the ring and the wrestlers looking too small, there are actually big screens at the venue that display the Network feed. I found myself watching both. I paid attention to the big screen whenever the action took place away from the ring or when rest holds or submissions were applied so I could pay attention to the Superstars' faces.

    6. How do you go about planning your transportation to and from the WrestleMania venue?

    GMG. Google mo, gago.

    Seriously though, Google is your best friend whenever you're finding your way abroad. WWE.com was also pretty helpful with their articles that displayed the different public transportation routes to and from MetLife Stadium. They even offered promo codes and credits for Lyft, which is a ride-sharing service like Grab or Uber.

    The problem with WrestleMania 35 was that (1) it ended after midnight, which meant that public transportation options had been significantly reduced, and (2) New Jersey's public transportation system is comparable to Manila's, which means it sucks.

    I was lucky to have gotten on a train out of East Rutherford (where MetLife Stadium is located) about 30 minutes after the show went off the air. From there, I got off at Secaucus Junction—which was a terminus station—and met up with my tita who picked me up there.

    My friends weren't as lucky. They were trying to get on a bus back to New York City. And because the buses were overwhelmed by the scores of people trying to catch a ride home—over 82,000 lang naman—a lot of them had to wait at the MetLife Stadium parking lot way into the wee hours of the morning. To make matters worse for them, it rained pretty hard right after 'Mania, so they were literally Aegis that night: basang-basa sa ulan, walang masisilungan, walang malalapitan.

    7. What cost-cutting tips can you share?

    Food: Let's start with baon. Surprisingly, my snacks weren't confiscated at either the Barclays Center or MetLife Stadium. I had all sorts of snacks from the Snickers bars that WWE gave out at Axxess to the pocket crepes that have become my favorite snack item, to the granola bars my tita bought for me, to a whole apple that was part of my lunch at a cafe in New Jersey. I managed to get all those in by either placing them in my clear fanny pack or in the pockets of my coat.

    If you absolutely have to buy food, though, there are concessionaires at the concourses of every arena/stadium. So you won't really starve unless you force yourself to.

    Water: Bottled water and other beverages aren't allowed inside the venues, mostly because the caps or lids might be thrown into the ring or towards the performers. But because your boy needed to stay hydrated, I would bring small bottles of water (around 237 mL each) and kept those in my coat pocket, too. They managed to get through security, so I was good on that front.

    Transportation: If 'Mania is held in a city with an efficient public transportation system like New York, take full advantage of it. Buy an unlimited ride card/pass. In my case, I knew I'd be taking the subway for an entire week so I got myself an unlimited train ride card worth $33. Sulit bayad.

    Accommodations: It goes without saying that it really helps having relatives who live in the same general area as 'Mania and its offshoot activities. The 'Mania venues are announced a year in advance. It's time to suck up to those titos and titas a year in advance!

    8. How early do you have to be at the events?

    My answer to this question depends on the following factors:
    • Do you care about taking photos outside and inside the venue?
    • Do you care about the pre-show?
    If the answer to both questions is yes, then for a show like WrestleMania, be there before 5 p.m. EST, which is when the Kickoff begins. I got to MetLife Stadium at about 4:45 p.m., which gave me enough time to find my friends and our seats and take some photos before Buddy Murphy's music blared through the stadium out of nowhere and without warning.

    As for shows like NXT TakeOver, RAW, and SmackDown Live, your tickets should tell you what time the doors open and what time the event starts. The event start time is usually when the dark matches take place. I made sure to catch all the dark matches and the Main Event taping just so I could get the full experience. I also wanted to have photos with the RAW and SmackDown Live logos in the background.

    A post shared by Stan Sy (@_stansy) on

    Coming in early is also how I met one of my favorite wrestlers of all time, the Rated-R SoOoOoOoOoperstar, Edge.

    TakeOver: New York was set to start at 7 p.m. EST, while its pre-show—the matches for the following week's NXT started at 6:15 p.m. My friends and I decided to grab a bite at McDonald's across the street before heading into the Barclays Center. It was raining that afternoon so it was freezing outside the arena. I was briskly walking with my head down and I found myself about 20 or 30 paces ahead of my friends, just wanting to get inside as early as possible.

    They stopped in their tracks and then ran up to me, saying, "Stan, si Edge 'yun!" In disbelief, I told them, "Ginagago n'yo ako, no?" They then pointed at him and Beth Phoenix, told me that they even greeted Edge, who greeted them back, and showed me that they were walking towards the main entrance of the Barclays Center, while we were walking towards a side entrance.

    I left my friends there without saying a word and ran like a madman towards Edge. When I'd caught up to him, I introduced myself, told him I flew all the way from Manila—that always gets their attention—and asked for a quick photo opp. Like Rob Zombie, Edge was never gonna stop. But he did pause for literally one second, smiled, and gave me my photo op.

    How I met one of my all-time favorite wrestlers: I had my head down, avoiding the cold and just rushing to get inside the Barclays Center for #NXTTakeOver. My friends stopped to greet this couple and stood there in shock. Upon catching up to me, they told me it was @edgeratedr himself! I left my friends without saying a word and ran like hell to catch up to him. I introduced myself as he kept walking and asked for a quick photo. Like Rob Zombie sang, I was never gonna stop him. But he gave me a smile and that was all I needed. I've been an Edgehead since 2004 and this is the closest I'll get to Edge since he wasn't at #wrestlecon this year. Worth it. Thanks for the rocketstrap, Edge. . . . . . #wrestling #wwe #legend #wwelegend #halloffame #wwehof #edge #adamcopeland #WrestleMania #WrestleManiaweek #travel #stansy #igers #vsco #vscocam #brooklyn #barclayscenter #2019 #travelgram #newyork #nyc #usa
    A post shared by Stan Sy (@_stansy) on

    And that, kids, is how I met WWE Hall of Famer and 11-time World Champion Edge.

    9. Did you pee at all during WrestleMania?

    I took two piss breaks. I don't remember the first, but I remember the latter one being right after Triple H and Batista's No Holds Barred match. I was pretty lucky that our section and row were near the path towards the bathroom. That made it easy for me to wriggle my way out of our row, run to the bathroom, do my business, wash my hands—it is unbelievable how many savages don't wash their hands—and make my way back.

    When you're watching live, you'll find yourself thanking your chosen deity for that gap between matches that serve as filler time for WWE Network plugs and pre-match video packages. Those are the real piss breaks.

    10. Is it better to go to WrestleMania with friends/family or is it an experience you can afford to enjoy on your own?

    I was planning to go all by myself like Gretchen Gatan did for 33. I was lucky that I had two friends who were as interested in going to 35 as I did. It really made things easier for me because I had shopping buddies, dinner companions, and friends who could take my photos for the 'Gram.

    However, you shouldn't let your lack of friends at 'Mania stop you from going altogether. Yes, it's fun to share these moments with other people. But you can also make friends with other people there. It's easier because you're in a generally safe space among fellow wrestling fans.

    I went to Axxess alone both times and made some friends along the way. One of the dudes I was in line with when I met Shinsuke Nakamura followed me on Instagram and I followed him back. I was also at RAW after 'Mania on my own, which wasn't so bad because I was chatting with the folks at the Smark Henry offices in between matches and segments.

    11. What things aren't really essential during WM Week?

    Different people will have different answers to this question.

    Mine is the Hall of Fame Ceremony, which I figured I could just catch on the Network anytime I want. Sure, the Network will have edited Bret Hart's assault out, but why would I need to relive the moment when an idiot felt the need to put himself over at the expense of a wrestling legend? SMFH.

    WrestleMania Week is an absolute cash grab and there's also so much to do, so much to see, so what's wrong with taking the back streets? What I meant was there really is so much to do so the best thing to do is to go out and experience what you want to experience because there is no single cookie-cutter WrestleMania experience.

    If you want to go check out WrestleCon, go do that! If you want to catch the ROH/NJPW show, go do that! If you want to spend $30 to have a photo of you touching Joey Ryan's penis... go do that?

    Now as for WrestleMania Axxess, if you're a true blue WWE fan who plans to fly from the Philippines all the way to the U.S. for WrestleMania, then Axxess is essential, no question.

    12. Is Axxess worth it?

    Kakasagot nga lang eh!

    The short answer is HELL YEAH.

    Lines can be pretty long. When you get to the venue, expect to be in line for at least half an hour—that's if you're actually early, which you should be. Axxess runs in sessions of four hours each. That means if you spend thirty minutes of Axxess time waiting in line just to get into the venue, that's a half hour of marking out at Axxess down the drain. Show up early. 

    Once you get in, it's a mad dash towards the Superstar Signings and Photo Op areas. The key to Axxess is to check out who's going to be part of which session beforehand. If you're going in blind like I did on the very first day, then watch out for the monitors that'll display which Superstar is appearing at which station.

    13. But what can you do at Axxess?

    There are also lots of activities to do. If you budget your time well, you'll be able to make the most out of your general admission Axxess ticket (worth around $75 after taxes and admin fees) by doing the following activities:

    Superstar Entrances: yes, you can enter as a WWE Superstar—mostly current ones, with Shawn Michaels and this year's Hall of Famers being the only Legends whose music is available—and it's up to you how you want to recreate their entrances. You can bring props like championship titles, too! The lines for this are usually short and you'd have to wait 10 minutes tops.

    I did this at least five times, including the videos you see below. On my first day at Axxess, I wanted to recreate Triple H's iconic entrance. I was ready at gorilla with a bottle of water in hand and some water to spit in my mouth. I'd seen at least three other guys in front of me do it just moments before it was my turn. When "The Game" finally played, the lady in charge of gorilla had to stop me and say that they'd stopped allowing people to spit water. Pfffft. I walked away like a sad child and didn't even go out to HHH's music.

    Call a Match: This one was pretty fun and didn't take too much time from me as lines were rather short. I did this on day one, too, so the WWE announcer at the commentary booth was NXT UK's Radzi Chinyanganya. I had eight matches to choose from including WrestleMania 34's Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey vs. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon, and the Triple Threat Women's Championship Match at 32. I don't remember the other choices, but it doesn't matter because I went with the match closest to my heart: Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton vs. Batista for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at XXX. Worth it.

    Live Matches: Yes, there are live wrestling matches at Axxess! Starting with this year's Royal Rumble Axxess, these dark matches have turned into the Worlds Collide series that airs on the WWE Network, making them somewhat canon! I was there for Luke Harper vs. Dominik Dijakovic on the first day, as well as Alexa Bliss' live promo with Mike Rome.

    Say what you want about Harper's release request, but man, the dude is really talented in the ring and I'm glad I got to witness one of my low-key favorites in action live. Oh, and Alexa Bliss is gorgeous with all that make-up on RAW, but she's just as beautiful with barely any make-up on and a plain t-shirt and jeans.

    Exhibits: There are lots of 'em all over the Axxess venue. The ones that stood out to me were the ring from the very first WrestleMania, which included one of the original signage boards.

    There was also a Hall of Fame exhibit featuring the gear worn by the Class of 2019.

    I also particularly loved the exhibit of WrestleManias Past, which featured props and gear from 'Mania over the years. WrestleMania XX was my first 'Mania and was my favorite until 35, so I marked out when I saw Eddie Guerrero's boots and WWE Championship title from his match with Kurt Angle.

    It was at this area that I stumbled upon arguably the most fortunate WWE fan ever in Izzy! Her dad even gave me an Izzymania baller band, which I'm going to save because the smart money is on this young lady becoming a future WWE Superstar.

    There was also an Andre the Giant exhibit, which featured a statue of the late great legend, as well as a mold of his hand... which would have absolutely engulfed mine.

    The actual car that Braun Strowman wrecked on RAW last March because it was a gift from Colin Jost was there, too, so I got to take a picture right next to it.

    Other than those, you also had a DX exhibit and an Evolution (the all-women's PPV) exhibit, too.

    And then there were the various standees and championship titles you could hold or take a photo with. My personal favorite was the one with Papa Haitch putting me over like he does his NXT kids.

    And then there were the Superstar Meet and Greets.

    14. So who'd you meet?

    I knew I wanted to meet at least one of the following on my first day: Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens, Mustafa Ali, and the IIconics. I didn't even hold out hope for the biggest names like Daniel Bryan or Becky Lynch because the VIP tickets for those Superstars had sold out a couple of months before to fucking scalpers.

    As soon as I'd seen Joe's name at one station, I immediately lined up, not even caring who was in his Meet and Greet group—it turned out to be Mike and Maria Kanellis and Shelton Benjamin—or that I was going to miss out on Alexa Bliss at the next booth. Hub had already warned me that Superstars tag out two hours after they show up and get replaced by another group of Superstars that you won't find out about until they actually show up. To make matters worse, the Axxess venues are always large and the Meet and Greet areas are scattered. So when you get in, it's really up to you if want to try your luck at the furthest booth and be among the first in line or be in a long line at the nearest booths, where you already know who's coming out.

    I made my choice and waited in line for Joe for over an hour and a half. In the process, I made friends with this couple from Wales, one of them being there for his seventh 'Mania. Damn. We ended up talking about a lot of stuff about our fandoms, even comparing notes on seats at Barclays Center and MetLife Stadium. At one point in the conversation, I talked about skipping Hall of Fame unless Christian was an inductee, which prompted a woman several spots ahead of the line to perk up and approach me because she was a huge Christian fan, too. Gotta love making new friends thanks to wrestling!

    I thought I wouldn't make it in time for Joe's group since Axxess had begun at 6 p.m. and I was still in line at 7:40 p.m. But I eventually did and by the time I'd gotten to the Superstars' table, I had a photo of me and Shelton from the WWFX Meet and Greet event I hosted in 2012 ready to show him. Upon showing it to Shelton, a big smile broke out on his face and he talked about WWFX being the biggest independent event he'd ever been a part of. I'm glad it made him smile because he'd been shaking hands and signing autographs for well over an hour and a half at that point. I'm sure it was also something different compared to the generic hi-hello conversations he'd had with everyone else.

    Unfortunately, generic hi-hello conversations were all I could muster with the Kanellises because I literally blanked out and didn't know what to say. In retrospect, I should have told Mike how his fitness journey is actually an inspiration or how I love hearing Mike and Maria's theme song since I'm a huge power ballad guy. That said, they were absolutely wonderful and gracious.

    As for Joe, damn, he had the aura of a champion, having dressed to impress, even though he didn't bring his United States Championship. I remember Joe's handshake being firm but gentle and looking him in the eye to tell him how happy I was that he was finally going to be at WrestleMania. I'm sure it was something he'd already heard all weekend, but as a Samoa Joe fan, I couldn't help but tell him that, y'know?

    After my meet and greet session, I went to the bathroom. (Trust me, this is going somewhere wrestling-related.) On my way out, an elderly gentleman in a tracksuit greeted me and said, "Whaddup, playa." I did a double-take and saw that it was Teddy Long! I greeted back, "What's up, Teddy?" and asked if we could take a selfie, which he was gracious enough to grant me... even though we were at the bathroom entrance. Hey, I didn't have to line up for my photo with Teddy Long!

    I then made my way to the Legends Area, where the Hall of Fame, WrestleMania, and Evolution exhibits were and noticed a guy in a suit with a camera crew. Upon getting closer, I realized it was Scott Stanford. So I went up to him and took a photo and introduced myself as a fan who'd flown all the way from the Philippines for 'Mania. When he'd realized how long the flight was, he immediately turned to his camera crew and told them to put me on the Network!

    And that's how I got featured on This Week In WWE. Protip: always say you're from the Philippines. That'll surely get their attention.

    After I'd geeked out at all the activity areas, I decided to wander around and see if I could still get in line for more photo opportunities. I went towards the Axxess area and saw people still being let inside the line for a photo op with Bobby Roode, Chad Gable, Lita, and Bobby Lashley. None of them were favorites of mine in particular, but hey, if I could be a "chance passenger" and get photos with these Superstars and a Hall of Famer in Lita, then what did I have to lose? I lined up at 9:52 p.m., hoping I'd get in before they officially closed at 10 p.m. Much to my dismay, they cut the line right as I was about to enter. Womp womp.

    And that is how my first day at Axxess came to an end.

    15. So is Axxess worth a second go-round?


    Since I'd spent my first Axxess session getting the hang of where to go, what to do, and what not to do, I thought I'd be able to make the most out of my second Axxess session, which took place on the day after WrestleMania. The only drawback from attending this session was that 'Mania had ended past midnight just hours earlier and I'd gotten home at around 2 a.m. Plus, I was in no mood to get up early and make the rush hour trip from New Jersey to New York.

    That was my first mistake because I'd gotten to the Brooklyn Pier (the Axxess venue) at exactly noon, when the doors opened. By that point, I had to line up all the way outside, where I could see the Statue of Liberty from a distance. It would be another half hour until I finally got inside the venue. From there, I made a run for the booth where I'd met Samoa Joe just days earlier, only to find out that the IIconics (!!!) were doing a signing there (alongside Drew Gulak and Stevie Ray, what an odd combination of people). 

    I spent another hour and a half in line, only for the entire group of Superstars to be replaced just as I was a row away from getting to meet them. Crap. Their replacement? Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, and Buddy Murphy. 

    While none of them were slouches, I wasn't exactly hyped to meet any of them either, so I decided to cut my losses and just enjoy whatever activities I could get into. I drifted into the Axxess area, thinking of catching some matches, when I saw that the Superstar Photo Op booth featured a lineup of Mandy Rose, Akira Tozawa, and Moustache Mountain—not a bad crew. I lined up and realized the line was moving about as slow as my Pacific Internet dial-up connection from 2004. Half an hour in—and after hearing Kairi Sane pick up a quick win over Jessamyn Duke—I decided to cut bait and leave.

    So far, my second go-round of Axxess was proving to be a bust, all because I came in late. After having done a couple of Superstar entrances, I saw a line that moved quickly at another Photo Opp booth, only to find out that the lineup featured Jordan Devlin, Ligero... and Shinsuke Nakamura. You bet your ass I lined up as fast as I could!

    This was when I learned another Axxess hack: unless you (a) absolutely need to meet WWE Superstar X or (b) absolutely need to have an item signed by WWE Superstar X, don't line up for the autograph signings. They take forever. If you're not among the first two rows when the Superstars start signing, you might not even make it to them, just like what happened with me and the IIconics.

    Besides, the Photo Op Booths are the best because:
    1. The lines move much, much quicker.
    2. You get professionally taken photographs on a professional-grade camera.
    3. You can download the photos immediately using the download code you're given right after the photos are taken.

    Sure, you won't get to chat with the Superstars as much. In my case, it was just a quick, "Hi Nakamura-san, my name is Stan and I came here all the way from Manila." But hey, I can say I have met and taken a photo with the King of Strong Style. I can't say the same thing about Peyton Royce. :(

    After I'd met Nakamura, Devlin, and Ligero, I went around the different activity areas again. Just when I thought my time at Axxess was about to come to an end, I went back to the Axxess matches area and saw that there was a line forming at the Photo Op Booth for Mandy Rose, Tozawa, and Moustache Mountain. I took my chances again, knowing that Axxess was closing in about 10 minutes. Again, what did I have to lose?

    This time around, I got in!

    We were told to make it quick and avoid handshakes to save time. That wasn't a problem at all. After all, I WAS ABOUT TO MEET GOD'S GREATEST CREATION.

    After I'd had my 10 seconds with Mandy Rose (heh), shaken Akira Tozawa's hand as if I were signing him to MSG in our photo, and twirled my goatee as Tyler Bate and Trent Seven twirled their moustaches, I made my way to the WrestleMania Superstore to end my Axxess experience.

    16. Do you recommend buying WWE merch at the Superstore?

    WrestleMania Week as a whole is one huge money grab. There's so much to see, so much to do, and so much to buy that your wallet—if not your bank account—will inevitably run dry. 

    When it comes to Axxess and WrestleCon—which I'll get to later—the key is restraint. Don't be tempted to buy the shirts, especially the current/latest designs. For one thing, they're all available on WWEShop at a cheaper base price, which goes down if you happen to catch a sale.

    Protip 1: Wait for the sales, which usually start over the weekend and last until SmackDown Live almost every week. As for the WrestleMania merchandise, these usually go on sale right after 'Mania. About two or three months afterward, they should be on clearance. So if you can afford to wait for it, you should. It'll save you a lot of money. For context, my favorite WWE t-shirt is a WrestleMania brand shirt I got in 2015, whose base price (before shipping and taxes) was only $5.

    Protip 2: If you really want to get souvenirs, go for the trinkets and knick-knacks you can't find anywhere else like magnets, cups, keychains, and the like. Hell, you can buy the clear WrestleMania bag for $5 and it functions as both a souvenir and a bag for you to keep your stuff in. WWE venues tend to be strict when it comes to bags—they only allow clear containers/bags—so these are perfect.

    Protip 3: Don't buy a championship title at the Superstore. The most expensive unsigned ones went for $425. For context, I bought my commemorative World Heavyweight Championship title for a little over $230. That's a huge price differential.

    As an action figure and Funko Pop collector, I was on the lookout for new additions to my collection but was unwilling to buy anything at base price unless I absolutely wanted it. While I didn't buy any action figures at the Axxess Superstore, I ended up with a rare find at a GameStop in an outlet mall in New Jersey.

    I went in and asked if they had any wrestling merch available, as GameStop branches usually carry action figures and Funko Pops. I got introduced to one of their staff members, who seemed pumped that there was another wrestling fan in the store. He gave me a #TooSweet and showed me that all they had was an Aiden English action figure, but offered to go to the back to check if they had any remaining items. I told him I was willing to wait.

    Moments later, he came out all giddy with something behind his back. He told me he'd only found one item, but he wasn't sure if I'd want it. He then revealed what he'd hidden behind him and showed me an action figure of 2017 Chris Jericho... which was on clearance, which meant it was 50% off. You bet your ass I wanted to get it!

    I ended up buying this bad boy for a little over $12.

    I never got to get GameStop Guy's name so I could thank him personally. He didn't know it, but he really made that my last day in the U.S. special. It's amazing how a shared love for wrestling just brings people together and allows them to leave a positive impact on one another. Thank you, GameStop Guy.

    17. If you're only attending WWE events during WrestleMania Week, will you have time to attend non-WWE shows or events around the area?

    Yes. It's up to you how you'll fix your schedule and work out your routes. Just keep distance and traffic in mind. 

    I thought about attending WaleMania when I was in Brooklyn, but I didn't want to be up all night because I knew I had WrestleCon and NXT TakeOver the following day.

    I also chose not to go to the G1 Supercard because I wanted to have one night with my friends when we could just go around NYC and do tourist-y things like take a photo with the World Heavyweight Championship at Times Square.

    This photo got a lot of attention as we were taking it. Ginusto ko 'yun eh.

    I did go to WrestleCon, though, and I went on both days. My first day was way more eventful because I'd gone early enough to go around all the halls, see all the wrestlers and legends at their booths, take photos with the wrestlers I wanted to meet, and check out the novelty merch.

    My WrestleCon highlights included:

    • Meeting the Mayor of Slamtown, Johnny Mundo! I've been a huge fan of Johnny Mundo/Impact/Morrison/Nitro since he joined Lucha Underground in 2014, but his Survivor stint last year pushed him onto the top five of my all-time favorites list. I got to show him this photo we took in 2012 at the WWFX event here in Manila, shoot a quick video with him for a future vlog, and had him sign my Tiva Buff—the bandanna he wore as a member of the Tiva Tribe in Survivor: David Vs. Goliath.

    One of my goals for #WrestleMania week was to meet @johnhennigan, who made both my fandoms collide when he went on #Survivor last year! He was already one of my favorites because of @luchaelrey and he was a great character on @officialsurvivor_cbs DvG. What an unforgettable moment! Also had to meet @ashleymassaro since I was already out there to meet wrestlers who were on Survivor and her table was literally next to the Mayor of Slamtown's! And I couldn't pass up the chance to meet and talk to @guerrero_vickie, whose late husband, Eddie Guerrero, was my first wrestling hero and will always be my all-time favorite. On my way out, I picked up some merch and got to have a quick chat with @azucarroc by the NJPW table! I also got to watch the last 2 matches on US vs the World and saw legends like Ric Flair, Mick Foley, and RVD at their booths! All psyched for WrestleCon Day 2! . . . . . #wrestling #WrestleManiaweek #stansy #stansyworldtour #travelgram #travel #usa #newyork #newyorkcity #hilton #hiltonmidtown #weekend #friday #wrestlers #meetandgreet
    A post shared by Stan Sy (@_stansy) on
    • Meeting Ashley Massaro. I particularly loved her Survivor season, Survivor: China, which originally aired in 2007. I wasn't really a huge Ashley fan, but the fact that she was the first ever pro wrestler to get on Survivor, my favorite non-wrestling TV show, is a big deal. It also didn't hurt that her booth was literally next to Mundo and Taya Valkryie's.
    • Meeting Vickie Guerrero. This was close as I was going to get to meeting Eddie Guerrero, my wrestling hero and inspiration. I just had to tell Vickie how Eddie had touched my life and she was very sweet about it.
    • Chatting with wrestlers I'd interacted with in the past through the WWFX event—where I was the host for the meet and greet and then the special guest ring announcer after I'd won a fan contest—including Chris Masters and Colt Cabana. I also approached Marty "The Moth" Martinez of Lucha Underground, who I hadn't met prior to WrestleCon, but had interviewed on The SGP Podcast in 2017 after an email exchange. 
    • Watching some live wrestling. On the first day, there was a live event called U.S. Vs. The World, which featured... well... American wrestlers taking on the rest of the world. I got to catch a couple of matches, including Sammy Guevara vs. Puma King and the main event, which was Brian Cage vs. ECW legend Masato Tanaka. The atmosphere of watching a live indy show in a hotel ballroom reminded me of being an audience member at a PWR show, except this time around, it was refreshing being an audience member who didn't have to remember any beats or cues to come in and do a run-in.

    • Meeting Rocky Romero. I saw Minoru Suzuki and Katsuyori Shibata along with a handful of NJPW stars (I believe Sho and Yoh of Roponggi 3K were there, too) doing meet and greets, and then I noticed Rocky off to the side. I just went up to him and asked about NJPW's schedules for the rest of the year since I have an upcoming Japan trip in a few months. It was cool just talking to him casually and he was nice enough to take a photo with me, even though I didn't buy any of his merch.

    • Speaking of merch, my WrestleCon haul consisted of replica masks of Fenix and Pentagón Jr. and signed Demon Finn Bálor and Becky Lynch action figures! 

    I had to save the best for last: meeting Mick Foley on Day 2. I was heartbroken over not meeting Christian just an hour prior. I'd already made it to Christian's booth, but foolishly decided to wait for my friends to arrive so they could take a video of me meeting Christian, shaking his hand, and having him sign my World Heavyweight Championship title. When my friends got there, Christian had already left. He was done for the day and I totally missed out on him because I took too long to get out of bed, prepare, and then travel to Manhattan.

    In retrospect, I should just have let the dude managing his booth do it. Ugh. Fortunately, the promoter promised me a refund—which he sent my way via PayPal later that week—which meant I theoretically had $60 to spare.

    While thinking about which wrestler to meet and take a photo with, I asked myself a couple of questions:
    1. If this wrestler died, would I cry and grieve over them?
    2. Can I afford their photo op and autograph combo rate?
    The first answer was Ric Flair, whose line was hella long, and whose rate was hella expensive ($150 for a combo, if I recall correctly). The next answer was Mark Henry, but it turns out he was only there on the first day, while Christian was there on the second. Running out of options, I'd remembered that Mick Foley was still doing signings well into the afternoon. After realizing that Mrs. Foley's Baby Boy ticked off both answers—his combo rate was $60—I lined up to meet the Hardcore Legend.

    My interaction with Mick Foley gave me nothing but pure joy. He shook my hand with absolute warmth and greeted me with a smile. When I told him that I'd flown in from Manila, he told me about the time he'd guested on Wowowee, which made me cringe because of Kuya Wil's less than sterling reputation as a human being. He then offered to let me rake Barbie (his barbed wire bat) over his face for our photo. And I said, "No, Mick. I don't want to punish you. I want you to punish me!" Grinning, Mick Foley then took Barbie and positioned her over my face, and I sold it as best as I could. Afterward, he even offered to take a decent smiley photo with me, before signing my World Heavyweight Championship.

    I was feeling really dejected over having missed Christian just an hour prior. But Mick Foley made my day through those few minutes we spent together. I don't know why I didn't think of lining up at his booth much sooner. You probably won't get to read this, Mick. But I just want to say thank you for brightening up what would have been a bad day otherwise.

    My takeaway from these interactions with the wrestlers was how easy it was to just strike a conversation with wrestlers. Some of them would even be the first to make eye contact with you because if you talk to them, it could lead to a photo opp or an autograph or a merch sale, any of which would mean revenue for them. Whichever way I walked, there was an instantly recognizable face from D'Lo Brown and The Godfather, to Enzo Amore nZo and Eric Bischoff, to Emma, Candice Michelle, Kelly Kelly, and Summer Rae, to the Rock and Roll Express (whose booth was strangely located next to the bathroom).

    It felt surreal and cool watching legends interact with one another. I recall being in line for Johnny Mundo and then just witnessing Billy Gunn introduce his son Austin to Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson. I saw Kevin Nash and Scott Hall walking around and saying hi to other wrestlers. I would be standing in line for Mick Foley and then see Ric Flair walk to the bathroom and yell, "WOOOOOOO!" along with everyone else out of respect.

    At the same time, it was also pretty depressing seeing the wrestlers and old-timers, whose booths people just walked past and didn't give a shit about. You could also see on their faces that there were some folks who were just going through the motions. However, what really struck me was the wrestlers and retirees, who went to WrestleCon for the earning potential, but probably didn't make much money because nobody really cared to talk to them. I was particularly heartbroken to see nobody near Teddy Long's booth, considering I'd just met him the night before at Axxess.

    WrestleCon was my only non-WWE event throughout my WrestleMania pilgrimage. And even though I didn't get all that I came for, I'd like to think I still came away with a lot of stories worth telling. It also doesn't hurt that I got to meet one of my favorite legends in Mick Foley, as well as one of my favorite Survivor players in Johnny Mundo. Remember when they say, "Don't meet your heroes?" That doesn't apply to my WrestleCon experience.

    For what it's worth, I did learn a couple of important lessons, though. (1) Always be early and (2) When you see the wrestler you want to have a photo op with, just line up. Don't dilly-dally. The promoter's lackey—or the promoter themselves—will take the photo/video for you anyway. So it doesn't matter if you're on your own.

    18. How do you conduct yourself when you see a wrestler or are with a wrestler in a fan access event? What are the do's and don'ts?

    Common courtesy is a good rule of thumb. Introduce yourself, shake their hand, ask them how they're doing. For us Pinoys, it helps to tell them where you're from! I remember Scott Stanford and Mike Kanellis being blown away when I'd told them I was from Manila. Mike Kanellis even asked me how long the entire flight was, which made me do some mental math right then and there.

    If you're at an event like WrestleCon, prepare your cash so you can pay them straight up for the photo op and/or autograph. If you want them to do a quick video for/with you, ask them nicely. Some are game for it. Some won't be. Those who aren't will tell you that they aren't. Just ask politely.

    Admittedly, I'm usually socially awkward, especially around people I don't know or have never met before. It's strange given my profession of choice, but the reality is that I am an introvert posing as an extrovert on a daily basis. Having said that, I made sure that I'd use my time in line (about 45 minutes on average) coming up with things to say to the wrestlers I was about to meet. In some cases, I even rehearsed the stuff I wanted to say, at least in my head.

    For example, I knew I wanted to greet Johnny Mundo by calling him "Brochacho," a reference to his three-man stable with tribemates "Hot Cop" Dan Rengering and Christian Hubicki on Survivor. I also wanted to ask him to induct me into the Brochachos, which he actually did!

    I was also ready to tell Christian to rocket-strap me—a reference to his podcast with Edge—as well as tell him how meaningful his Ladder Match victory for the World Heavyweight Championship in 2011 was to me. I wanted to tell him how I can never forget the date he became a World Champion for the first time with TNA because it was close to my 16th birthday. I had all these things I wanted to tell him and because I never got to, I found myself a near-30-year-old loser tearing up while standing in the middle of WrestleCon holding a World Heavyweight Championship belt.

    Me after getting myself together

    Another good tip I got was from Ryan Songalia of Ring Magazine, who recommended that you ask wrestlers to tell you stories because some of them actually like taking their time to speak to fans. I was too conscious about the lines and not keeping a wrestler with me for too long so I never thought of doing this. But if you've got the luxury of time, ask them to tell you a story about a wrestler or an event they were at or a company they'd worked for. Who knows? You might get some off-the-record gold!

    19. What are the do's and don't's at the event venues? 

    You should behave the way you would at a public place. Observe proper decorum. You can be rowdy and cheer/boo whoever you want to. Hell, you can sing along to wrestlers' theme music. You can even drink alcoholic beverages if you want to. Just don't get in the way of other people also having a good time.

    Based on my experience at the Barclays Center and MetLife Stadium, restroom accessibility is dependent on where you're seated. So it helps to get to the venue early so you can figure out how near/far your seat is from the restroom.

    There aren't really any rules against flash photography, but much like our local concerts and sporting events, don't aim your flash at the performers/wrestlers.

    Bring signs or a Philippine flag, if you can! If anything, these add to the aesthetic of being at a live wrestling event.

    20. How would you have made the WrestleMania Experience better?

    I would've met Christian when I had the chance. That's all I'd change, really.

    By virtue of changing the timeline, that would have also meant I would have touched Joey Ryan's penis.

    Let me explain. I'd bluffed the Smark Henry offices when they dared me to sign up for a photo op with Joey Ryan's penis, which included the option of actually touching it. I told them I'd do it if they paid for it and within a couple of hours, the motherfuckers had pooled the funds that they oh so easily transferred into my PayPal account. Welp.

    When D-Day finally arrived, I'd spent a good 15-20 minutes just getting depressed over having missed Christian when he was literally a few steps away from me just minutes prior. I didn't realize that the Joey Ryan photo opp session was happening as I'd talked to Christian's promoter. So when I went down for the Joey Ryan meet and greet, it had already ended. Welp.

    Other than those two strokes of bad juju, I wouldn't really change much else. I still got to go on the trip of a lifetime. I enjoyed the ultimate wrestling fan experience. I got to be witness so many incredible moments from Seth Rollins, Becky Lynch, and Kofi Kingston all winning at WrestleMania, to the return of OG John Cena, to the return of The Undertaker on RAW, to witnessing Batista's and Kurt Angle's respective final wrestling matches.

    Oh, and I also got to meet Edge and Mick Foley, among many other wrestling stars and legends. And I got interviewed for a program on the WWE Network, where I was on-screen for a minute. I was also on 205 Live for a second, for whatever that's worth.

    It me.

    I can't put a price on all those experiences. And all of them are what made this adventure special.

    I can't promise that you'll have the exact same experience I did—a lot of the good things that happened to me were downright serendipitous. I can't promise that you'll have the same strokes of luck that I did. I can't even promise that you'll get to meet all your favorite wrestlers and legends if you ever go on your own WrestleMania pilgrimage. 

    But I can promise that you'll take away these stories and memories that should last you your entire lifetime. Is it worth it? Well, can I get a HELL YEAH? Ginusto ko 'to.


    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of The Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, NXTLucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. You can ask him questions about wrestling, Survivor (yes, the reality show), or whatever you like on his CuriousCat account.
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