It’s not easy being a wrestling fan in Israel. We got some WCCW in the eighties through a shaky channel from Lebanon, two-three years of backdated recap shows and PPV events in the nineties with a couple of WWE tours, WCW in the late nineties and until two years this was it. Last year the situation improved dramatically when we started getting live broadcasts of both WWE and TNA PPV events, but it is still far from satisfactory. However, even without proper broadcasts and no live events in more than 15 years, the wrestling community here not only survived but actually grew throughout the years thanks to tape trading and late internet downloads. I’m one of the luckier fans here because I’ve actually been to the Survivor Series 2002 and saw Shawn Michaels win his last (so far) world championship at the first ever Elimination Chamber, but most wrestling fans in Israel have either never been to a live WWE event or have only been to the WWE tour here in the early nineties (Please WWE, come back to Israel). That’s why my trip to Wrestlemania 25 last year will forever be one of the greatest experiences of my life.
It all started two years ago. In recent years the Israeli online wrestling community have been organizing public screenings of Wrestlemania, both to watch the event and to allow everyone to get together at least once a year. So in 2008 year we were sitting in a hall, watching Wrestlemania 24 when suddenly the first promo for Wrestlemania 25 (That was before they began calling it The 25th anniversary of Wrestlemania) came on the screen. I don’t know how this happened, but at that moment my friend Rahav and I just turned to each other and we both simultaneously said â€œWe’re goingâ€. We didn’t even know if we’d at our jobs a year later or anything, but made a pact at that very moment. And we kept it.
Telling my boss that I wanted two weeks off to go Wrestlemania turned out to be easier than I thought, though I was ridiculed by some coworkers. Hell, I was even ridiculed by my uncle who lives in Phoenix, whom I visited just days before Wrestlemania. But it didn’t matter, we were going to Wrestlemania.
I was in charge of getting tickets. We had no reasonable way of bringing back chairs from Houston to Tel Aviv, so we went for the $250 seats and not the $750. We also wanted to make the most of Wrestlemania weekend, so we packed the weekend as tight as possible with ROH, Axxess and the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Back in 2008, when Houston was announced as the location, we kind of assumed that Stone Cold Steve Austin would be inducted into the HOF, but when it was made official, it made the anticipation even less bearable.
Throughout the year of planning, the excitement level just grew with each passing week. Every time we made any step towards the final target, we posted it online at the community message board. We also learned about other people from Israel who planned on going. And then came March 2009.
I’ve had numerous sleepless nights. I squeezed some sightseeing and a visit with family (Including a trip to the location of Wrestlemania 26) before getting to Houston. I felt â€œWrestlemaniaâ€ when I boarded the plane from Israel to the US but I knew I was there on the flight from from Phoenix to Houston. It was clear that most of the people on the plane were going to Houston for one reason only- Wrestlemania. With my bad luck the flight was delayed by an hour and considering that I was supposed to get to Axxess (where Rahav was already waiting for me) before that plane actually landed, you can imagine how high level of nervousness was. I was on the edge of my seat as the airport shuttle took me to the hotel, and before I even checked in I asked to the clerk to order a cab for me. I got to the Reliant Center late, but once I got there, it didn’t really matter. We were like kids in a candy store and this was the first (but not last) time during the weekend that we were so excited that we nearly had tears in our eyes. We went station by station, getting our pictures taken, watching the interviews and matches and standing in line for autograph sessions. To this day we remember how the lines for both Matt and Jeff Hardy were closed by the same usher just as we tried to enter the queue. We still curse her even a year later.
The following day was another first – the first live Ring of Honor show for both of us, the taping of Take No Prisoners. It was the weekend when Colt Cabana returned to ROH after his brief stint as Scotty Goldman. We had so much fun there that I even enjoyed a Necro Butcher match, something that never happened to me before. The Hall of Fame induction ceremony followed immediately after. My admiration to Stone Cold died after all the controversies he’s been involved with, but it didn’t matter – that night I was the biggest Austin mark ever – wearing the t-shirt, stupidly chanting WHAT at every occasion. But even more than Austin, seeing Kevin Von Erich get this honor in the name of his entire family, considering all that the Von Erich family means to Israeli fans, was what made this night even more special.
It’s hard to find the words to describe the feeling on Sunday morning. Even though Wrestlemania started at 5:00PM, we arrived at the Reliant Center at noon for another session of Axxess. I used the early arrival to stock up on tons of WWE merchandise, also not available in Israel (and I’ll take this opportunity to plead with WWE to start accepting orders from Israel on wweshop.com â€“ please WWE, you don’t know how much business you’re missing by not doing so). Feeling like I had to do everything that was on offer, I even stood in line for several hours to do call-a-match with Josh Matthews, calling the final minutes of Flair-Michaels from WM24 (And I have the DVD to prove it).
But everything that happened during the weekend was only building up to the real reason we traveled to Houston â€“ Wrestlemania. My heart started racing as I entered the stadium and caught the first view of the field and set from above. It raced even faster when Rahav and I started going down the stairs all the way to the floor, where our seats were. I’ll toot my own horn and say that I did a great job in buying the tickets, we had perfect view both of the ring and the stage. We were on pins and needles looking at the clock counting down to the start time and getting to know the people sitting around us.
I have to be honest and say that Wrestlemania itself was disappointing. Starting from the tag team championships unification match being a dark one, through the IC title match and the crap that was the Divas battle royal. But there were some good surprises, like Ricky Steamboat and Kid Rock, who was a lot better live than it came on TV.
Still, nothing came close to the classic that was Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker. I don’t remember the exact moment, but at one point it was clear to me, and I think to everyone, that were witnessing something special. We just knew that this match is above and beyond everything that WWE presented in many years. We knew we were seeing something that people will speak about for years to come. At one point I stopped taking pictures of the match and just stood there (No one was sitting down during that match) in awe and admired these two greats. It was true that nothing could follow this match, so the other match did not really matter. Just being there live for arguably the greatest match in Wrestlemania history was worth flying more than 15 hours in each direction.
Before going to Wrestlemania, we thought that it was going to be a once in a lifetime experience. But as soon as we got back to Israel we started planning a repeat trip for Wrestlemania 26. Sadly this was not meant to be but I know at least two Israelis that we met in Houston last year and also attend this year’s event. This Sunday night at 2:00AM, Rahav and I will sit a bar in Tel Aviv with at least 100 other fans and watch Wrestlemania live with the Israeli wrestling community. We still dream about repeating this experience again, perhaps in 2011 or 2012, but even if we don’t, we will always be able to say that we were there for the 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania.
Tags: colt cabana, Josh Matthews, Kevin Von Erich, Necro Butcher, ricky steamboat, Ring of Honor, shawn michaels, Steve Austin, Stone Cold Steve Austin, the undertaker, TNA, Von Erich, WCCW, WCW, wrestlemania, WrestleMania 25, WrestleMania 26, WWE