Greetings wrestling fans. Last time I took a look back at losing my WrestleMania virginity in Seattle. Since it was going to be the twentieth anniversary in The Garden in New York, I knew I wanted to return the following year, So I booked my flights, got some lower level tickets and off I went. I’d never been to New York. It seemed like so many great movies were made better by the backdrop of Manhattan. I’d wanted to go there my whole life and at 19 years old, I was going to get the chance to walk through Central Park, stand in the middle of Times Square and most importantly, I’d get the chance to see WWE in Madison Square Garden. It never truly sank in until we arrived in Newark and got in a yellow cab that I’d saw so many times on the big screen, and made our way to the Big Apple.
After I’d gotten a good night’s sleep and sampled a New York Pizza slice (Seriously, it’s the best pizza you’ll ever taste) I headed off to Times Square and it didn’t disappoint. It’s just a mesmerising place with so many bright lights, billboards, different types of people, smells of different food flavours and the lights of Broadway. Of course, being a wrestling fan, I ended up seeing a wrestling display in the window of Toys R’ Us and headed over there. WWE had given them some great stuff to showcase in their window display. From a mould of The Big Show’s hand to a robe of Ric Flair’s, it was an impressive sight. Being a kid from Scotland who had to hunt stores throughout the city to find wrestling toys, it struck me how lucky US fans and kids nowadays are with the choice of toys they have. WWE had a massive wall dedicated to WrestleMania XX and their brand in general. There were toy belts, classic figures, current figures, skateboards, toy trucks and lots more. In order to save me from spiralling into debt I left the store and went to get some food, instead of blowing all my cash on wrestling figures.
In 2004, WrestleMania wasn’t a week long event like it is now. In 2004, there was no Art show, no Fan Axxess and this was before the tradition of having the Post-Mania RAW in the same city. This meant that until the weekend there was no wrestling in New York. Thankfully a month before the big show they announced they were bringing back the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony on Saturday March 13th, the night before WrestleMania. I bought my ticket for the banquet and ceremony ($200 by the way) and looked forward to it. When Saturday arrived there was a Fan Slam wrestling convention in New Jersey to get to before the ceremony that night. I’d never been to a convention before and had no clue what to expect. I walked into a room full of merchandise stall with old figures, magazines, tapes, shirts and everything else you could think of. That was the day I met Sensational Sherri. I vividly remember how sweet she was to me and made me feel like she really appreciated my support throughout the year. She then gave me one of my most prized possessions, A signed pic of Sherri, Savage and Warrior backstage before their big career match at WrestleMania VII. I still miss Sherri in wrestling to this day.
I then met Jimmy Hart who was as loud, fun and colourful as he is on TV. After having lots of fun, I just had enough money left to meet soon to be (a few hours in fact) Hall of Fame inductee, Bobby Heenan. I was in awe of The Brain. He was a very nice man who seemed happy to meet his fans. He asked me who to make his classic Gorilla/Bobby picture out to and I had to tell him I’d ran out of money for the day so would have to pass. In a moment that meant the world to me, he stayed silent, smiled and then signed the photo ‘To Kenny, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan” That moment, meant the world to me and that picture takes pride of place in my home!
That night it was time to suit up and head to the New York Hilton for the Hall of Fame banquet and ceremony. As we arrived the room was packed with fans and waiters serving drinks. After taking some well earned buffet food (Did I mention $200?!) There was the chance to meet some WWE superstars. First up was Molly Holly who seemed thrilled to interact with fans. Next up was Intercontinental Champion, Randy Orton. Randy was friendly but you could tell that cocky attitude was taking shape which would take over his career for a few years. Finally I met Chris Benoit. At the time, I wasn’t a huge fan but was looking forward to seeing him main event in The Garden. Looking back now, it’s more uncomfortable that I’ve shook a murderers hand. As we made our way into the hall for the ceremony at around 8pm, we were still there 4 hours later. Watching men like Santana, Heenan, Valentine, Ventura, Billy Graham and other greats who made a huge impact in New York, being inducted was a special moment for the fans and superstars that night.
The day had finally arrived. WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden. You grow up a fan of wrestling living in Scotland and you just can’t imagine you’ll be able to experience something like this. The crowd were loud as soon as we got in the arena. The big news coming out of the weekend was Brock Lesnar quitting WWE. The plan was for Lesnar to go over Goldberg since Bill wasn’t re-signing with the company, but with Brock quitting with 4 days notice and Mania being his last event, the New York crowd were p***** off. After the usual epic video package and The Harlem Boys Choir doing a great version of America The Beautiful, we were off to the races with John Cena beating Big Show for the US title. Cena was great here. Young, cool, over with the audience and showing the powerhouse he could be when he FU’ed the Giant. As Brock and Goldberg made their way out for their match, we all let them know how we felt. They both wanted to leave. They didn’t care about the business at this point. At one point, fans in the arena cheered as two fans dressed as Hogan and Macho Man, re-enacted the mega powers exploding in the upper section. I’ve never experienced an atmosphere to a match like Lesnar and Goldberg. It’s a shame this was the only WrestleMania match Goldberg ever had. The event was filled with fun moments from Ric Flair and The Rock hooking up for the first time during Mick Foley’s return. Eddie Guerrero proved why he deserved to be WWE champ when he had a great battle with Kurt Angle. The best moment of the night came with The Undertaker’s return. The promos had teased the return of The Deadman and when over the speakers we heard Paul Bearer’s legendary “OHHHHH YEEEEESSSSS” the crowd went INSANE. One of the loudest pops I’ve heard when Undertaker came out as the Dead Man in the home of WWE. The main event is hard to talk about now given the circumstances, but my memory at the time is that fans in The Garden gave Benoit the respect he deserved for working his tail off for 18 years to become champion at WrestleMania. It was important he beat HHH and he did. He was never going to set the business on fire, but it was a fantastic moment in that arena as 20,000 wrestling fans saw Benoit and Guerrero hug and hold up their titles. Two guys that wanted it so badly, made it and we were delighted for them. WrestleMania XX has flaws but as a live experience, it was a lot of fun and capped off an amazing weekend that I’ll never forget.
This column has taken me longer than I expected, but I hope you enjoyed taking this trip down memory lane with me. Join me later this week when I come back with the WrestleMania 21 Travel Diary.