SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
All In and Starrcast weekend is finally in the books. After months of hype and build, the weekend has come to a conclusion and I’ve made the five-and-a-half hour drive home from Hoffman Estates, Ill. just outside of Chicago to Minneapolis, Minn. Many of you were able to see the All In pay-per-view through various streaming platforms, but I was very fortunate to have experienced this entire weekend in-person. I was one of the lucky 10,000 fans who was able to secure a ticket to the historic event at Sears Center Arena. In this blog, I will attempt to chronicle my experience as fan during the All/Starrcast super weekend.
When Cody and The Young Bucks took the 10K seat arena bet from Dave Meltzer, I like many other wrestling fans knew this event was going to be something special. At that time, we had no idea what this weekend would become. It wasn’t until Conrad Thompson and his team presented the idea of the most fan interactive wrestling convention to date that took this weekend to another level. The last wrestling convention I had attended was in 2006 which was an AWA get-together to commemorate The Crusher. The event featured Nick Bockwinkel, Mad Dog Vachon, Larry “The Axe” Hennig, and many more. To a ten year-old, these names didn’t mean much to me at the time, it was simply that I got to meet professional wrestlers. Starrcast was beyond anything that I had ever seen and from talking to many in attendance, it surpassed anything done over WrestleMania weekend.
For the weekend I traveled with my longtime friend Joe who is largely a WWE fan. He’s been to many WWE shows, seen a little bit of NJPW, attended one ROH show, and been to a few indy shows from Minneapolis promotion F1rst Wrestling. We got to the Hyatt Regency in Schaumburg at about 11:30 a.m. on Friday. We were surprised to see a lack of signage for Starrcast outside the hotel, but we knew we had come to the right place because you could see waves of fans in Bullet Club t-shirts flocking towards the hotel. This wasn’t just a couple people; there were massive groups making their way in. The parking was also surprisingly not an issue at all. The Hyatt Regency had plenty of parking in the back of the hotel so guests could leave and easily find parking when they came back. This was the same everyday of Starrcast.
Out of pure excitement for the whole event, we rushed into the hotel to take it all in for the first time. We came in through the back end of the hotel where there happened to be no Starrcast security. When we came in all that could be seen is clusters of people wearing Bullet Club, Elite, Young Bucks, and New Japan t-shirts. Not WWE. As we moved past the fans, there was a row of tables were wrestlers and wrestling personalities had autograph tables. There was Blue Meanie, Justin Roberts, Jimmy Jacobs, Angelina Love, and Velvet Sky, among many others. At the end of the row was “Dr. D” David Schultz selling his recent autobiography.
At the end of the hall was the hotel lobby where wrestling fans had just completely taken over. This was a mania of people excited to be there. You would have thought it was fans waiting outside of an arena for a PPV because people were head over heels with excitement for wrestling. The excitement was contagious where you could feel that this was something special. For most wrestling events and meet & greets I don’t let my fandom spill out too much because most wrestling fans don’t want to be labeled as “marks.” I usually don’t wear wrestling t-shirts or participate in chants. Typically, I like to observe everything that is happening and soak it in. This was a place where it felt okay and encouraged to let all of your fandom out. Wearing a wrestling t-shirt made you cool and was often a conversation starter. Everyone was there for the same reason; they loved professional wrestling. Not just NJPW or ROH or Lucha, but all different types and styles. This was not an environment where you would feel judged or worry about people saying, “You know it’s fake, right?” This was a special place for fans to converge.
In the main lobby there were plenty of Starrcast reps in yellow shirts who were they to help direct fans to the right area. We needed to find out where to get the gold bracelets we had purchased months ago for about $140. We out to the front of the hotel where there was a check-in table where tickets and ID were checked before receiving a bracelet. This was our first real interaction with Starrcast staff and they could not have been nicer. They were patient with me pulling out my tickets and he asked me what I was most excited to do at Starrcast this weekend. As the rep was putting on our bracelets, independent star PCO was standing directly behind the staff putting on some of his gear getting ready for a meet & greet. He was very cordial with the Starrcast staff he was talking to and you could tell that he was excited to be a part of this weekend.
My friend and I browsed the hotel area before we had our first event which was the Four-Star Summit. Down another hallway near the front entrance was several meet & greet lines for Hangman Page, Marty Scurll, and SCU. I’d been to several celebrity meet & greets before, particularly at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. Events are usually held at the rotunda which was the home of the first WCW Nitro. I’ve met Bret Hart, Brock Lesnar, and Hulk Hogan at different times and all of those events were either free or you had to buy a book or whatever they were trying to sell. The signings for Page, Scurll, and SCU were all $40+ just to get a photo and signature. These lines were as big as any those as they wrapped around the hotel lobby.
From there, we started to head towards the Four-Star Summit. There was plenty of signage to get to the stage areas, but little did we know that that to get to the Four-Star Summit stage, you needed to go outside the hotel and into a tent. By mistake we stumbled into the recording of the WHW podcast where Conrad Thompson was on stage with Tony Schiavone and Madusa. We were told that staging area held about 1,000 people and this event looked to be about 600 in attendance. Most people were scattered out in the seating just looking to relax and be entertained by the podcast. Out of the corner of my eye, I see PWTorch’s own Wade Keller and Bruce Mitchell heading to their show which began in about 15 minutes. They appeared to be in somewhat of a hurry so I didn’t want to impose myself knowing that I would get a chance to talk with them later.
We got to the Four-Star Summit about 10 minutes before it began and the tent was about a third full before the show. I chatted with a few people before the show and I mostly heard that this was the stage show that they were most looking forward to all weekend. The audience members were not people who were looking to sit back and relax; these were dedicated Torch and Observer subscribers who really wanted to hear the opinions of Wade Keller, Bruce Mitchell, Bryan Alvarez, and Dave Meltzer.
I got a place to sit near the front left side. Thankfully there were ceiling fans running making for a nice breeze in what would have been a toaty tent. Shortly before the show began, SoCal Val appeared on a screen next to the stage hyping the audience for the show. Cyrus came on stage and introduced Wade, Bruce, Dave, and Bryan. They were sitting in that order. Dave was among those who signaled to Wade to introduce the show. Wade then began to introduce the show, but was promptly interrupted by Dave. Wade made a joke about not being able to get through intros without Dave swooping in.
The four discussed what this weekend could mean for professional wrestling. They discussed how they had a plan of what to talk about, but the show got pulled into a lot directions which made it more fun. About 30 minutes in I looked behind me and most of the tent had filled up. I’d estimate there was a few hundred people there. Compared to the other events this weekend, this show had the most people actively engaged and listening to what the four had to say. Most other shows had handful of people not totally engaged or on their phones. This show was a niche of a niche group who wanted to hear these four speak their minds.
About half-way through they began taking Q&A from the audience. Most of the questions asked were very informed and guided some really good conversations between the four. Of course it’s going to be difficult to hear from everyone when the four are regular podcasters. My perception of who spoke what amount was Dave 40-50%, Bruce 20-25%, Bryan 20-25% and Wade 10-15%. Dave fielded most of the questions first and while the others had to pick their spots on when to jump in and add something. While not everyone got to talk an equal amount, you could tell that everyone on stage was having a great time listening each other. The full show is available to listen to at PWTorch.com for VIP members.
Following the show, I headed to the Four-Star meet and greet. The line for them was combined with lines for Eric Bischoff as well as The Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga, Tonga Loa, and Haku). The ticket for the Torch/Observer meet and greet was about $55 from Starrcast.com. At the time of purchase I didn’t realize the accessibility of these four throughout weekend so I wanted to be sure and say hello. I’d met Wade before at an NXT show in St. Paul, Minn, but not the other three. The combined queue for the Torch/Observer, Guerillas, and Bischoff also wrapped around the hotel lobby. Most people were confused as to where to go or where the line started, but those waiting in line were eager to help one another and point them in the right direction. From speaking to the people around me, most were in line to meet Torch/Observer while a few others were there for the Guerillas. One person I talked to had a ticket for both Torch/Observer and Bischoff. The line moved pretty well until we got into the room. Things slowed up a bit, but it was for good reason because the Torch/Observer and the Guerillas were spending plenty of time to talk with each fan.
Wade recognized me and introduced me to Bruce Mitchell for the first time. Bruce was familiar with some of my work for the Torch and we briefly discussed a recent BMAS. Dave and Bryan were also nice meeting them for the first time. I noticed that a lot of people in line were either familiar with just Wade and Bruce or just Dave and Bryan. There was not a lot of overlap in readership for the two sites or familiarity with the opposite entity. Some fans also requested photos with just Dave and Bryan or just Wade and Bruce.
Following the meet and greet, we made our way to the downstairs area of the hotel where there was a vendor room. This room had tables filled with all sorts of wrestling merchandise mixed in with wrestlers signing autographs. I remember seeing Sgt. Slaughter, Teddy Long, Jordynne Grace, Joey Janela and Penelope Ford, Gail Kim, Jay Lethal and Lanny Poffo, The Briscoes and many others. Sami Callihan and Jeff Cobb were also just walking around the area checking out each vendor booth chatting with fans and colleagues. The accessibility of these wrestlers was beyond anything I had seen because many of them were just walking around and you could bump into one your favorites just by going for a smoke break or eating at the buffet. At one point, my friend was eating while I was in-line and Scott Hall was having a meal at the table across from him. Or walking out of the bathroom and all of a sudden Rey Mysterio walks right by you.
By this point, my friend and I thought now would be a good time to check into our hotel which was the Marriot right by the Sears Centre Arena. On our way out we see the unmistakable blonde hair and suit. Cody was standing in the parking lot outside of Starrcast just meeting with fans who would walk by. Fans reacted to Cody this weekend like a huge mega star. You may have heard comparisons to Cody being like Elvis for the weekend. People were starstruck by his presence unlike I had seen for the other wrestlers walking around. Cody took the time to chat with and shake hands for everyone who came up to him. He was clearly on a tight schedule all weekend and had places to be, but he still made sure that fans did not feel neglected or beneath him when he had every right to tell them he was on a crunch and needed to go. Most fans like myself just told him that this event has been special and shook his hand.
After resting up at the hotel we came back for the weigh-ins. We got to Starrcast at about 10 minutes before the weigh-ins were supposed to begin. We waited in what we thought was the line to get in before we were told by other fans that they have hit capacity and are no longer letting people in. There was about 200 people waiting in line hoping to get in before being told they were at capacity. Many people were very upset and frustrated that they had waited for a long period of time being told the line was cut off. This was one of the marquee events at Starrcast and some people with platinum and gold bracelets were not allowed in. I witnessed a couple fans who had platinum bracelets get very belligerent with Starrcast staff because they thought their bracelets guaranteed them seating to all events.
One of the event coordinators and social media director Dave Hancock did not have an easy task in handling the situation with a mob of people trying to explain that the bracelet does not guarantee seating, but it gives you priority by tiers. The bracelets also gave you first access to purchase to the big meet and greet events like Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi which sold out instantly. Other than a few advantages most, people I talked to who bought platinum or gold wish they had just gotten silver as they didn’t see too much of an advantage when gold and platinum were $70-$90 more than silver.
After being turned away from the weigh-in event, we headed to the the other stage show which was Clock Blockers hosted by Macaulay Culkin. This was a very relaxed event where people were looking to relax a bit with some surprisingly good entertainment. The idea was they would come up with a category and two competitors would have to name as many of those things pertaining to that category before time ran out. For example, the category could be tag teams and the participants would compete against each other to name as many tag teams before time ran out. On stage was Macaulay Culkin, The Blue Meanie, Maffew from Botchamania, Noelle Foley, and few others I wasn’t familiar with. There were between 100-200 in attendance. Macaulay Culkin seemed to be enjoying himself on stage while he mostly commentated the competitions. There was plenty of audience participation for the event which allowed for those who didn’t get into the weigh-ins get excited again. Following the event, many people tried to rush toward Culkin on stage for a chance at a photo-op, but were turned away when hotel security had them clear the area.
Not being at the weigh-ins allowed us to get a good spot in line for the other marquee Starrcast event which was The Roast of Bruce Prichard. Having a gold bracelet did allow us to get in before others and pick out some seats. We sat towards the back and there were a couple seats open around us. By the time the show started, most of the room was filled where I would estimate at its peak being close to 1,000 in attendance with some people filtering in and out. At this point in the evening, there were many people who had quite a bit to drink already so this was a rowdy crowd that were ready to laugh.
Before the show, I spotted an exhausted looking Conrad Thompson take a seat by himself in the back of the auditorium. Standing in the back was Diamond Dallas Page, Karen Jarrett, and Jerry Lawler. Before the show started rolling, the host of the event who was a comedian who told people that this show was not PG at all and that they would push the boundaries and go places that people may find very offensive. (Unfortunately, I do not remember the names of the comedians from the event.) As you would assume nobody left and the show got going. The host poked at the fans in attendance joking that he thought they was a Type 2 diabetes convention. He roasted the panel of wrestlers who were on stage which were X-Pac, Jeff Jarrett, Madusa, Gerry Brisco, Pat Patterson, Eric Bischoff, and Brutus Beefcake.
Each comedian who came on stage gave a different flavor of comedy and really showed off their unique personalities. The show was set up primarily so that a wrestler would roast the panel and Bruce then a comedian would come up. A lot of the comedians made similar jabs at the wrestlers on stage but delivered them in unique and different ways that got laughs every time. X-Pac was made fun of for tearing his butt in a match, Jarrett for his alcoholism. They poked at Madusa for being a muscular woman, Pat Patterson for being gay, Eric Bischoff’s bad decision making, Brutus for being a terrible wrestler, Gerry for being a stooge, and Bruce for sucking up to Vince. Many comedians brought up that Kevin Nash bailed out of the event. Jerry Lawler, who made a brief appearance on stage, was criticized a few times for dating younger women. A few comedians gave Conrad a tough time about his weight. All of the wrestlers seemed to be laughing along and not taking anything too personally. Bischoff seemed pretty tense at first, but lightened up as the show went on. Pat Patterson played along, but seemed to get tired of how many times there were jokes made about him being gay.
The comedians carried the whole show and got bigger laughs every time they made a joke that really stretched the boundaries. Each wrestler who came up self-admittingly said they did not prepare for this event and were given some notes. Comedy is difficult on its own and then having to roast people adds another layer of difficulty. I don’t remember the exact order of wrestlers, but each of them got a few laughs, but nothing on the level of the comedians. A lot of the joke were targeted towards insider wrestling fans who would have to have a good knowledge of the wrestlers involved and some lesser known facts to understand the jokes. My friend didn’t really know about the personalities on stage so most of the jokes didn’t land with him. There were other people sitting on their hands as well while others laughed and cheered.
The only time that got uncomfortable was when Pat Patterson and Gerry Brisco took the stage. Gerry began talking about some farting story that they crowd was not in to. Part way through, Pat left the stage to use the restroom and Gerry continued with his story. The host made motions towards the stage for them to wrap up their long story. This was the only segment that went on much longer than it should have. The other wrestlers didn’t overstay their welcome as they were trying to wrap up quickly because they are self-admittingly not comedians.
Overall, the Roast was a good event and showed the diversity of stage shows that Starrcast had to offer. Thus far, there has been something for every type of wrestling fan at Starrcast. There was the Four-Star Summit which was for the insider fans who love to hear critical analysis of wrestling as a whole. There was Clock Blockers which was for fans who wanted some fun entertainment that was mostly PG and you didn’t need to be a hardcore fan to enjoy. Then The Roast was a full on TV-MA comedy show that was presented professionally put some people at ease before Saturday’s big event.
Leaving the event, people were very pleased with the presentation and you could feel the anticipation growing for what was to come the next day. I overheard a few people saying they didn’t get a lot of the jokes because, like I said, you needed to know about the personalities involved and the lesser known facts to the mainstream wrestling audience. That was my first day at Starrcast, I’ll be writing about my experiences on Saturday including some more meet and greets, Flip’s All Out Party, and of course All In.