THE STRAIGHT SHOOTER

Text by DAN MURPHY

PWI HEAD HONCHO Stu Saks put me on a plane to Orlando for WrestleMania weekend and told to write about what I saw. This is my report.

Since my plane touched down here in Orlando 96 hours ago, I have attended six wrestling shows. As I type this, I am sitting in a press box in the rafters of Camping World Stadium. The WrestleMania pre-show kick-off is scheduled to begin in 60 minutes.

Outside, it is a record-setting 90 degrees. I've gone through several bottles of water and will switch to coffee shortly, or I simply may not make it. Wrestling has me at the brink of exhaustion.

WrestleMania weekend is not a "weekend" in any real sense. It is a full week of surreal madness. It's a week where the eccentric cult known as wrestling fans takes over a city; where current wrestlers, former wrestlers, would-be wrestlers, and various others feed on the finances of the adoring masses, selling selfies for $25 a pop. It's a week where you can sit down in a fine sushi restaurant miles away from the venue and be seated next to men in Bullet Club T-shirts talking to each other about Will Ospreay's new gear.

When WrestleMania comes to a town, its presence is overwhelming. You're about as likely to encounter a wrestler during the course of your day as you are a squirrel. Look, it's Maria Kanellis and Mike Bennett enjoying brunch on an outdoor patio. There's The New Day making their way through the Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios. Careful, you almost knocked over Mordecai!

Independent promotions of all sizes follow WWE into town like a school of pilot fish behind a shark, picking up whatever scraps and pieces left behind.

The first show on my agenda was Orlando City Wrestling, a show featuring 17 (yes, 17) matches and including more than 70 various wrestlers, managers, and valets. After that was a midnight show named "Joey Janela's Spring Break," a spring break-themed show that channeled the vibe of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and featured appearances by Glacier, Dink the Clown, and "The Invisible Man" (who very nearly won a fun gauntlet match that was literally advertised as "The Cluster-[Expletive] Match").

If you ever wondered about what an acid trip feels like without dropping LSD, this show was probably the closest parallel you'll find.

After three hours of sleep, I was back at it at WrestleCon, the ultimate wrestling fan experience. I never made my way over to WWE's Axxess event, but I can't imagine it could be any better than hobnobbing with everyone from Abdullah the Butcher to Zack Sabre Jr.

In addition to my duties with Pro Wrestling Illustrated, I was also promoting my book on the history of women's wrestling, Sisterhood Of The Squared Circle (available, ahem, at fine retailers near you). My booth was smackdab in the middle of several of the women featured in the book, such as Lita, Velvet Sky, Michelle McCool, Candice Michelle, and Melina Perez. Not to brag, but I'm pretty confident our section had more sexiness per square foot than any other section of the convention center—and, yes, I'm including myself and co-author Pat Laprade in that calculation.

But there's more to WrestleMania weekend than ogling Velvet Sky for six hours, unfortunately. From there, I was off to the WrestleCon Supershow at the Wyndham Orland Resort. The event was standing room only, and I had to pull some strings to get into the building at all. The featured match was Team Ricochet (Ricochet, AR Fox, Dezmond Xavier, Jason Cade, and Sami Callihan) against Team Will Ospreay (Ospreay, Drew Galloway making one of his final appearances before announcing he had re-signed with WWE, Lio Rush, Mary Scurll, and Ryan Smile). Not my style of match whatsoever, but the live crowd ate it up. With every passing day, I believe I'm becoming more and more like Jim Cornette. You kids: Keep your flippy crap off my lawn!

Swoggle won a 20-man battle royal for the DDT Iron Man title, only to lose it to Joey Ryan in six seconds. Ryan then lost it to Sandman in four seconds. I'm not sure, but it's entirely possible I held that title for a few moments there. Then, in one of the final matches of the Broken Era, Broken Matt and Brother Nero defeated Penta El Zero M and Ray Fenix.

Saturday morning, it was back to WrestleCon to reminisce with The Nasty Boys and The Sinister Minister, and then it was off to SHIMMER Volume 91 to sell some books and scout for the "Female 50."

When SHIMMER ended, I figured I'd stick around for CHIKARA, where I saw my personal favorite match of the weekend, with Zack Sabre Jr. defeating Mike Quackenbush in one of the finest technical matches I have ever had the pleasure to see.

By the time CHIKARA ended, I was running on fumes (and a of couple beers, I admit). My scrawled notes resemble the etchings of a madman. I stuck around for the WWN Supershow, featuring EVOLVE versus Progress. My memories are hazy, but I woke up with Joey Ryan's e-mail address on a piece of paper in my pocket, for what that's worth.

And now I'm here at WrestleMania - sweaty, exhausted, and perhaps a bit hungover.

Hopefully, this will be a short show.

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