Wrestling fan's dream weekend with Jim Ross and WWE showcase events
In 2010 I decided to write a novel. It was an idea that I had been kicking around for years: an organized crime saga set in the old wrestling territory days. Up to that point, I had been making my way as a playwright in my home country of Ireland. I had been writing for about 20 years and a wrestling fan for nearly 30, and so one day, at my lowest ebb as a writer, I ran out of excuses as to why I couldn't successfully marry my two loves.
After years of research, in 2012, I self-published my wrestling crime story, "Blood Red Turns Dollar Green." It's not that I didn't get any 'traditional' offers, I just knew where the fans were and how to get to them. I wanted more than anything to make sure that the wrestling world in the novel would be looked after.
From that first day to this day, a ton of unbelievably cool stuff has come my way because of the Blood Red Turns Dollar Green series. The books (there's three now) were optioned for TV development. Bret Hart, Mick Foley, Finn BÃ¡lor, Jim Ross, William Regal and many more emailed to say how much they loved the book, or came out to endorse the trilogy publicly. Then the books were bought by Skyhorse Publishing in NY -- with the first re-written book, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, out on Sept. 13th this year.
The greatest announcer of all time, Jim Ross, liked the writing so much he even asked me to help him write his life story.
If all that wasn't cool enough, I got to finally fulfil my childhood dream and go to my first WrestleMania - the biggest one of all time. Not only that, I got to go as a guest of a WWE Superstar.
Mind = blown.
When my wife, my daughter and I arrived in Texas my first order of business was a meeting with my new writing buddy, Jim Ross. Even though I had been working on his life story for a couple of months by then, JR and I had never met before. Our first handshake was at the scene of Jim's sold-out 'Ringside' shows, The House of Blues.
On meeting JR, he was way taller than I thought he'd be, but everything else matched up. He was warm, dryly funny and perpetually ready to kick ass. As we walked through the dimly lit, legendary venue, Jim was shown where the stage was, where his dressing room was, where the merchandise table would go. It was easy to see that JR was an old pro at live event planning, as even though he'd never been there before, he had his plan nailed down in a couple of minutes and was ready for the packed night ahead. The man had sold more than 3,000 tickets, and he wanted to make sure that every single person had a good time.
But not before some BBQ.
A few minutes later, and about 20 minutes after I first met any of the men I was now traveling with, I found myself wedged in the backseat of a nice car as we patrolled Dallas for the best BBQ on offer. In my head it was a scene from a Pulp Fiction: cool 'shooters' on the road looking for trouble. In reality were were lost in a mini van looking for sensibly-priced ribs.
In the car was Jim, myself. the local radio manager and the local on-air sports guy. We were four hungry men, talking wrestling and football ... I say we, but I mean them. I was more than comfortable in the wrestling discussions, but being Irish I had no clue what they were talking about when they brought up coach so-and-so and linebacker whatshisname. As their mouths were moving, I was just concentrating on doing everything in my power not to shout, "will someone stop the the damn match."
We eventually found our spot --- a little 'sawdust-on-the-floor' joint outside of the city. There were only three people in the place when we walked in, and all three of them were wrestling fans. I could see the shock on their faces as the voice of their fandom strolled past their table. And Jim was 'on' the second he entered. He was charming with the staff, took pictures with the fans, talked sauces with the owner, and cracked jokes with the chef. Is it a chef that makes BBQ? A BBQ-ist? Do you make BBQ? Cook it? Anyway, whatever you call the person who magics the BBQ onto my plate. All the while I smiling to myself while thinking, "I'm at WrestleMania eating BBQ with Jim Ross. I'm in Dallas eating BBQ with Jim Ross -- and now he's telling me excellent wrestling stories. Is that his hall of fame ring? It is. I wonder would he let me wear it? Don't ask, that would be super weird. How about touching it? That's even weirder. OK. Good point."
JR spoke about wrestling passionately. Sometimes you hear that the wrestling business 'owns' people and makes them jaded. After 40 years in the business, I can honestly say that Jim Ross is still as interested, excited, clued in and knowledgeable as anyone I've met.
He also got the bill. Cause he's a class act. And possibly rich.
That night it was off to NXT. I knew a guy who knew a guy who got us floor seats for one of the best 'Specials' I have ever seen. It was a night that reminded just how much I love pro-wrestling.
Unfortunately I ended up beside a guy who insisted on giving me a running commentary about 'what was really happening' in the ring. He was booed the good guys and cheered the bad guys cause he was edgy like that. Luckily, on the other side of me was a very nice man, who I was destined to cross paths a few more times over the course of the Wrestlemania weekend.
What a night. What a card.
The next morning was Axxess, and a lovely lady from WWE escorted my family and I up to the general entrance. As we're about to join the line she took a hard left towards a black curtain and held it open for us. "Enjoy guys," she said as motioned us through. I have to admit, as much as I didn't want to, I felt a little jolt of absolute power at being able to cut the line. I'm sorry, I did. It was kinda intoxicating. I want to rule people in some way now.
Inside was like Wonka's factory for me. I loved the memorabilia, the legend's statues, and the fact that a guy from my hometown, 5,000 miles away, walked up and randomly shook my hand.
Then my phone rang.
It was my friend at WWE -- the one who invited me. They informed me that I'm going to the Hall of Fame.
"Yes, thank you very much," I said. "Can't wait!"
"No, you're going to the Hall of Fame," they said.
"Did you bring a suit?"
"A suit? Eh, no," I said. "I'm going to be in the stands."
"Yeah, sorry I should have said. You're going to be on the floor," they said. "Possibly on TV."
At this point I should say that my friend is Becky Lynch, so read the rest of this as two Irish people talking to each other.
"Oh, yeah?" I replied in a mild panic.
"Yeah, now there's a reception beforehand in the WWE hotel. I won't be there because of I have a signing at Axxess, but I'll meet you at the ceremony. Okay?"
"You won't be there? I need a suit? What's happening? Becky? Becky?"
"You'll be grand. See you later," she said.
I hung up to see the rush of pure joy in my wife and daughter's faces at the thoughts of buying dresses in Dallas. My hairy head was a little more horror filled. I knew that putting me a suit was like putting a cat in a bath. But I also knew I now had to find something dressy and forget about the nice pair Crocs and an ironic tee-shirt I had already picked out for the ceremony.
I called the suit-rental places in the area but no-one had anything in-store. I had only a few hours to get something together because the HOF starts early if you're PART OF IT! And there was the reception before, which totally cut into my style and beauty prep time too.
I knew I had to look good; come off as 'big time,' so off I went to Target, Payless Shoe Store and a curious little place called Ross Dress for Less, where, after three or four frantic minutes I managed to pull together an ensemble that made me look like a dishevelled accountant. And that was my highest bar, the best I could aim for.
I felt like Cinderella going to the ball. If Cinderella had a greying beard, no formal jacket, and the ball was terrifying.
My family, on the other hand, were calm, ready and effortlessly beautiful.
With my new pants slightly too long and my new shoes slightly too small, we went to WWE headquarters in Dallas -- the hotel. On my arrival, I saw my old buddy, and the first person to endorse my novels, Mick Foley. I love Mick, and it warmed my heart to see him gently part the sea of waiting fans in a very sensibly priced rent-a-car.
Don't ever change Mickster.
Inside the lobby, I bumped straight into my fellow countryman, Sheamus. We had met up in Dublin a few months prior, so it was good to catch up for a couple of minutes. He was cool as always - engaging, and gracious to my family -- but he was definitely looking at me a bit like, "what are you doing here?" I had no real answer for him. I didn't really know how I got there either.
Behind Sheamus, the elevator door opened and out came Naomi to own the lobby. I mean, she owned it. Not in a 'pretty lady is walking across the floor' way either. She just had 'it.' The woman is a star. And do you know who knew it more than anyone? Her husband. Ear to ear grin on brother Uce.
We just stood there, gawking, with no idea where we were supposed to go. So, like any good Irish man at the start of a bad joke, I walked into the bar. There I saw Dolph Ziggler, Zack Ryder, Corey Graves and Scott Hall sitting having dinner at the counter. The only free spot for me to order drinks was right beside them. As I waited, I heard Razor be everything you hoped he would be: he was holding court, telling stories and getting Zack to pick up the check.
I stood and mentally ad-libbed several hilarious lines that I was going to lay on them when the time was right. I was pretty sure me injecting myself into their conversation would make us all instant friends.
"What can I get you?" the barman shouted at me from several feet away, and directly over the wrestler's heads.
"Hello," I said clearing my throat. It was time to show these guys just how cool I was.
The wrestler's stopped talking and politely waited for me to reply to the barman. This was me. I had the floor.
"Can I get three Cokes please?" I relied in my dope Irish accent.
"What?" the barman said, clearly having a hard time understanding me over the music.
"Cokes?" I said, smiling my charming smile at Dolph. I may have even winked a little at him.
"Sorry. No Coke," the barman replied.
"Ok, eh, Pepsi?"
The barman shook his head. I didn't know what else to say so the WWE guys began to talk again.
"Eh ... three soft drinks then. Whatever you have is fine."
The wrestlers stopped talking again.
"What?" the barman shouted, this time through their conversation.
"Soft drink. Non-alcoholic." I said, now mortified that ordering a few drinks had socially paralysed me IN FRONT OF COOL WRESTLERS. And Zack. Boom. Hahaha.
"You want a free what?" he said.
"No, three, not free. Three.. " I wiped my brow and showed him three fingers. By this point Hall, Ryder, Ziggler and Graves were silent with their heads bowed a little. This wasn't going well. "Three," I said, really struggling to think of an American brand past Coke and Pepsi. "Three somethings that aren't liquor. Anything with nothing drinky in them."
Now everyone was baffled -- except Graves. "I think he's asking for three sodas," he said, stepping in as my interpreter.
"Yeah, sodas," I said with the relief you get at the end of long game of charades.
Corey nodded and watched as I pawed my way through some coins I could see without my glasses on, and that I didn't know the value of anyway. I felt Graves was judging me, so in a last-ditch effort to pull back some cool points, I decided to impress him by taking out a new 20 -- a crispy Benjamin Jackson - and plonking it down on the counter. I the nodded to the Saviour of Misbehavior while giving the 'this guy, hah' eyes towards the barman. There was nothing but awkwardness between us as I got my drinks, scooped my change into my pocket, and left.
I rejoined my family and told them what a hit I had been with 'the boys.'
As we all sipped our hard-fought drinks, a line of really well-dressed people walked past us and poured into an elevator. It seemed reasonable to follow them as they were the calibre of people that might be heading to a reception. We took the next elevator, where Sasha Banks got out. My daughter freaked a little. Then DDP got in our elevator, and my wife freaked a little. I took the 8 or 9 second ride to the next floor to get a good read on Dallas. I could tell he was feeling it. Being there. Being at Wrestlemania. He just had that stance, that attitude, that aura of a guy who was feeling it. Not many dudes can pull off a salmon shirt with a gold necklace, but Dally had it nailed.
I then wished I had gone with a salmon shirt.
Bing, and the doors opened and I have to be honest; I found it hard not to snot on myself with excitement. It felt like that scene in Jurassic Park where all the cool dinosaurs were walking freely amognst the humans. I had seen all these people on TV for YEARS but hadn't encountered any of them in real life. Brawler, Christian, Jericho, Harvey Whippleman, Paige, DDP all having soft drinks and nibbles. Mean Gene, Pat Patterson, Hill Billy Jim all laughing in the corner. And families. Families everywhere. It was the one thing that stood out above everything else over the whole weekend: family in WWE is important.
And I got to experience that very sentiment with mine.
By the way, if you ever want to feel TERRIBLE about your appearance, try walking through a room full of WWE Superstars when they're wearing their finest clothes and their whitest teeth. OK, now do it whilst trying not to stand on the ends of your own trousers, so you don't pull your own pants down as you walk across the room with drinks in your hand.
As we made our way to a vacant table, the room began to empty. Guys? Hello? We sheepishly followed the line downstairs and saw that it merged into a cue at the exit door. It was us, Lita, Sami Zayn (who had killed it the night before at NXT) and Corey Graves again. At this point, I was sure the Agent of Anarchy was getting a little suspicious of me being there. Although I felt we subconsciously bonded earlier. I may or may not have read that wrong.
My family and I walked out onto the street where the head of the line was making its way onto one of the Hall of Fame transport buses, that was waiting curb-side. There was also a barricaded perimeter, outside of which the fans were waiting to snap their favourite Superstar or look for an autograph. All their clicking, shouting and excitement turned to utter confusion as it came to our turn to enter the bus. "Who's this guy?" a little boy asked his father. "I have no idea, son. He's not a wrestler, that's for sure."
Knew I should have worn salmon.
When we finally boarded, I took each step towards my seat waiting for security to drag me off by face and throw me over the barricade with all the other fans. But they didn't. I also saw a friendly face looking at me as I shuffled past. It was the nice guy I sat beside at NXT -- and he was the guest of, none other than, Corey Graves. I'm thinking it was possibly Corey's father. Either way, we shook hands over Corey's head, and I got the real sense that I was now part of the Graves' family.
My wife, daughter and I took our seats -- sitting across from Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat no less. Me looking like a discarded bag of washing, and him looking like he just fell from heaven.
To this day, that man said one sentence to my wife and daughter and they haven't stopped talking about him since. One sentence. I've said literally hundreds of sentences to them over the years and they never talk about me like they do Mr Steamboat.
His sentence? "After you, young ladies." The Dragon stood back for them to take their seat before he did.
They both giggled. Still do.
Now we were seated, ready for the fantastic night ahead. And then we waited. For a long time. There were security issues at the arena and they didn't want us all to be waiting over there on the bus there. So we waited on the bus outside the hotel. In the Dallas sun. Like an Irishman's worse nightmare. Usually, big windows plus big sun equals Irishman's death. But I didn't mind this time. Not one little bit. I was in my element. I did, however, nearly break both my eyeballs trying to side-eye around the bus to see who else I could spot.
I was fulfilling the only real childhood dream I had. And I was doing it with my family, my new Graves family, and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat sitting across from me.
And 40 minutes and four bottles of water later, we were off across Dallas!
Through stopped traffic.
As in, there were cops out on the streets stopping people from getting home, getting to work, seeing loved ones because our bus needed to get to a show. I was equal parts horrified and impressed by that. It was like the ultimate 'someone holding up a curtain for you' moment. Again I was a little ashamed of the sense of power it gave me. I still crave it to this day.
And then I saw it: The American Airlines Arena. We drove past the entrance and made our way underground. The TALENT entrance. I got off the bus and bumped into Cody Rhodes and his lovely wife, Brandi. Alberto Del Rio and his kids walked past. I then spotted a gentleman that must have been Michael PS Hayes' son judging by his hair alone.
And more family. They hugged and kissed and caught up. People remembered people who were no longer with them. Others laughed about a rib, or a character they both knew. I walked up the ramp, towards the lights through the curtain, and felt honoured to be there.
I was about to take my seat in a setting that I couldn't have designed better if someone asked me to draw out my personal heaven.
I was about to go to the Hall of Fame. With my family.
To read Part II click here.
Paul O'Brien is a bestselling author and an award-winning filmmaker. Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, the first of his trilogy of crime novels set in the pro-wrestling world, will be released by Skyhorse publishing on Sept. 13, 2016. Pre-order available now. www.paulobrien.info