Guest writer Mike LaFleur at WrestleMania Axxess poses with former World Champion Jack Swagger and Vickie Guerrero.
Guest writer Mike LaFleur at WrestleMania Axxess poses with former World Champion Jack Swagger and Vickie Guerrero. (Carroll County Times)

Today we have a special guest column written by one of Chair Shot's author Wayne Carter's best friends, who is attending WrestleMania Axxess in Miami this week. Below, he describes his first day at the event and why he's still proud to be a fan of professional wrestling.

About 3 months ago, my roommate, another pro wrestling fan, came to me with the idea of going to Wrestlemania Axxess in Miami. I was immediately intrigued by the idea. Tickets to Wrestlemania itself were a little pricey, and to sit up at the top of Sun Life Stadium and try and see a small wrestling ring didn't appeal much to us at that point. But Axxess, the fan show in the days leading up to Wrestlemania, sounded like a perfect chance to interact with some of the wrestlers, see some cool stuff, and spend a few days in sunny Miami. After a little thought, I was in. We booked the trip, and off to Miami we went. (I'll spare you the details of the trip and get right to the show.)

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With tickets already in hand, we arrived at the Miami Beach Convention Center a little after 5pm, with doors set to open at 6. We spent a little time waiting in line, and I really took the opportunity to take in the crowd we were there with. As you'd expect, it was mostly guys, but there were a fair share of ladies present. It wasn't quite the nerd-fest I was expecting; sure most people had the t-shirt of their favorite wrestler, and of course you had some Trekky-type conventioneers who looked a little sunlight deficient, but overall the people were great. We met travelers from Ireland, France, and all over the United States. One British couple took the opportunity to come to America for the first time, and had planned a 2-week road trip after the show to end up in the most American of destinations: Las Vegas. Very cool. Once the line got moving, we were headed in. And what was in store was worth the wait and price of admission.

Immediately upon entry, you were directed into a tunnel with 30 foot banners depicting various wrestlers and WWE personalities. This entryway felt like you were coming down the ramp under the TitanTron, with lights and entrance music on cue, and crowd noise pumped in. It drew a strong reaction from just about everyone as we came in - I know I got pumped up a little bit. Beyond the entryway, we were treated to a smorgasbord of options for where to go and what to do.

They had 5 "Superstar Autograph Stations" set up around the large exhibition space. People had already begun to line up at each one, still not knowing which wrestlers would be coming out to their spot. It was luck of the draw for the first round. While my roommate went off to pick up some t-shirts and other merchandise, I hit the Undertaker's Graveyard. This area was full of the prop headstones inscribed with each of the Undertaker's defeated Wrestlemania foes and their dates of "death." It also had his throne, some various coffin and grave-themed props, and of course, his theme music on loop with the thunder and lightning show at the appropriate times. It was very cool and very well done.

About the time I was finishing that up, I got a text from my roommate saying that the closest autograph station to me was already going, and had my favorite current wrestler, Jack Swagger, along with Vicki Guerrero, as its first Superstars. He saved me a place in line, and that's when the event truly began for me. Of course, I had worn my Jack Swagger T-shirt, and from what we saw throughout the evening, I was the only person wearing one at the event. After the wait, it was our turn.

I'll be honest, I turned into a 12-year old kid when I got up there. They were seated at the autograph table, and of course I went right to Swagger, and the first thing out of his mouth was "I saw that t-shirt coming all the way up the line. That's awesome." We chatted for a minute, and I quickly told him how hard my friends (yes, Wayne included) marked for him when he won Money in the Bank last year: 5 guys jumping around like we just won the championship. He loved it. I can't repeat his exact response, but he went on to say how much it meant to him. A great moment for me, the quintessential little kid meeting his hero. By the way, it did occur to me that he's like a year younger than me and I'm the one marking out, but hey, it was what it was. One more handshake and high five and then it was off to the rest of the convention. Side note: In that whole exchange, I did meet Vicki Guerrero, who was super nice. So for everyone out there who hates on her, remember, it's a character, and one she's frankly very good at. She couldn't have been sweeter or smiled bigger.

The show had lots of cool other things to do and see, like a mock ring entrance where you could pick a Superstar's theme music and come out to their entrance video. They had a giant rock climbing wall, where in climbing up, you could "Rise Above Hate" like John Cena. Speaking of Cena, the Cenation had its own little section, where you could do Cena trivia, rap in-studio to Cena's entrance music, and take a picture with a Cena and Rock Wrestlemania cutout. (They weren't there; Cena is scheduled to appear on Saturday. Btw, Rock isn't scheduled to appear at Axxess at all. Just saying.) They had blowup sumo wrestling, WWE Hall of Fame-style memorabilia, fake tattoos for the kids, a mock ring where you could see what it's like to climb the ladder for the Money in the Bank briefcase, and another mock ring made up like ball pit where the kids could jump in. I could go on and on, but the list of activities really was impressive. WWE did a first rate job on setting up the event, and clearly put a lot of time and effort into it to give back to the fans who support them at shows through the year.

But in my opinion, the best part was getting to meet, even if only for a minute or two, a lot of the talent. I could give you a recap of the small conversations I had with them, but it wouldn't mean much to read it - you really have to be there to get it. Being a fan, it was really cool to meet so many of them in one day. Beyond Swagger and Vicki, I got to meet Ted DiBiase Jr., Santino Marella, Rosa Mendes, Justin Gabriel, Sin Cara and the Great Khali. All were very gracious with their time, and seemed to be genuinely having fun meeting the fans and getting to interact with everyone. Beyond Swagger, I think I enjoyed talking with DiBiase the most -- I wish they'd give him more mic time when he gets back from injury (he was wearing a walking boot). The guy has a great personality, and I've seen him work the mic and cut great promos at house shows. Also, I'd be doing myself a disservice if I didn't mention getting to meet Rosa Mendes. What a stunning woman. Gorgeous almost to a fault, and so nice to talk to with such a radiant smile, she made a fan out of me instantly. I'll be watching a whole lot more Epico and Primo matches now. Wow.

So in closing, yes, I am still a pro wrestling fan at 31, and even more so after this experience. And no, I don't live in my parents' basement, I have had a girlfriend before, and I don't play with action figures in my spare time. Hell I even have a real job, despite what some people think of guys like me who still love this stuff. Wrestling fans get what I'm talking about here, but non-wrestling fans probably don't. And they should. Sure, the writing is over-the-top at times, and yes, we all know the results are scripted. Hey, so is every TV show and movie you watch, but you don't complain that they're "fake." I wish you haters could have seen an event like this. I wish you could have seen what it was like to see a physically disabled kid's face light up when Jack Swagger, or Christian, or Rosa Mendes came down off the autograph stage to take a picture with them and talk to them. If that wasn't pure joy, I don't know what is. These are their heroes, and they're real life people too. I wish you could have seen the guys you make fun of in their tights on TV in regular street clothes, just being regular people, and giving a little bit back to the fans that make the business run. Sure, they look a little better in their street clothes than the rest of us do, but they're pretty cool guys. Guys like us, believe it or not. So if you're not a wrestling fan, take a step back and remember what it was like before you got cynical. Before you didn't quite get to your dreams, or stopped having dreams altogether. Remember what it was like to be 12 again, when pro wrestling was what it was then and still is now, if you watch. It's good versus evil. It's superheroes and villains. And it's a bunch of people who actually are living their dream. And I'll be watching every week, because it's got everything. Good guys fighting bad guys, funny jokes and pretty girls. That's right -- I'm 31 and I'm a pro wrestling fan.

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