SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
My voyage to Starrcast II began the same way as it did for the first Starrcast with an early morning. Last year, I started driving to Schaumburg, Ill. at 5 a.m. from Minneapolis, Minn. This year, I booked an 8 a.m. flight to Las Vegas so that I could participate in some of the Thursday night activities. While waiting at the terminal, I noticed there were about 10-15 people that were wearing AEW and other wrestling apparel. There was even a person wearing an “Academy: School of Professional Wrestling” shirt which is a training facility in Minneapolis owned and operated by former WWE/TNA alum, Ken Anderson.
Before the flight, I spoke with a fellow wrestling fan about some of the hopes for Starrcast and Double or Nothing including the possibility of a Jon Moxley or C. .Punk appearance. Neither of us believed Punk would be a possibility due to a schedule conflict and lack of desire to return to the professional wrestling scene. Moxley was much more likely of the two, but we kept hearing that he is currently in the process of filming a new movie. Most of the people I spoke with before the flight had not attended All In last September. When I asked them why they decided to make this trip, the consistent answer was that they wanted to be a part of a historic show. Others were enticed by the Starrcast schedule, more specifically “The Roast of Ric Flair” before it was unfortunately, but understandably postponed.
When I arrived in Vegas, I first went to check-in at the Tuscany Suites and Casino which was the official Starrcast hotel. When Tuscany was announced, many thought it would be a similar setup to last year’s Starrcast event where the official hotel was the same venue as the convention. Upon entering Tuscany, it became obvious as to why the convention could not be held there due to the lack of space. There were a number of events that still took place at Tuscany including the Frankie Kazarian’s Jam Session, Podcast Row, Viceland screenings, and more. All the major stage shows and “meet and greets” were held at Caesar’s Palace which was about a 20-25 minute walk.
Tuscany also provided a more cost efficient stay in Las Vegas. My room was about $120 per night while most hotels on the strip ran an average of $350-400 per night. Memorial Day weekend is usually one of the most expensive times to stay in Las Vegas. There were a few people in wrestling t-shirts walking around the hotel, but at this point you likely would not have known there was any event being held. When I checked in, I noticed they had a box of “The Roast of Ric Flair” room keys. This was the same idea they had at the first Starrcast. My key was the standard Tuscany card so it is unclear whether The Roast cards were distributed at any point.
I took some time to check-out my room which was in another building on the Tuscany property. After taking some time to rest up, I made my way towards the strip. A block away from the hotel, I passed by some telephone poles covered in writing. Upon further examination, everything written was a tribute to ’90s hip-hop artist, Tupac Shakur. This was the place where he had been murdered in 1996. As I got closer to the strip, the number of AEW and Bullet Club shirts rose exponentially. There was a consistent stream of wrestling shirts down Las Vegas Boulevard. Looking towards the direction of Mandalay Bay, you could see a large graphic on the MGM Grand screen for Double or Nothing.
Starrcast was in an upper-level conference area at Caesar’s Palace away from the casino and away from hotel guests. There was limited signage in the lobby and casino to point you in the right direction. Thankfully, getting to the right place was as easy as just following the herd of wrestling t-shirts. The Starrcast app also provided a map of Caesar’s which made it easier to find. The convention was adjacent to the tail end of a beauty conference. Those there for the beauty conference expressed confused looks when an army of people in black shirts made their way through their event in order to get to Starrcast.
There were about 100 people to check-in for bracelets at 1 p.m. The line went very quickly when they were able to scan tickets while people stood in the queue. I had to go to a separate line in order to pick-up my preordered program. The front of the program included Kenny Omega, Cody, The Young Bucks, Chris Jericho, Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Sting, and Kenta Kobashi. I also received a free “meet and greet” for Barry Windham as a thank you for preordering.
The area in Caesars was far more spacious than the Hyatt Regency for Starrcast I. It’s hard to believe how they made it work last year in such a smaller space. After retrieving my bracelet, I explored more of Vegas and saw the number of wrestling fans increasing. By the time I had returned to Caesars, there was a giant line for Thursday’s “meet and greets” which included Cody, Brandi, The Young Bucks, Dustin Rhodes, and Jim Ross. Several people in-line had told me they had tickets to meet everyone or Cody, Brandi, and The Young Bucks.
This year, I decided to do fewer “meet and greets” so that I could see more stage shows. The first one I went to was the Joey Ryan documentary. A retrospective with Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat about their matches together was supposed to be happening on the adjacent stage at the same time. Ryan’s documentary had a pretty good line for the first event. They were offering an exclusive Starrcast t-shirt for the screening to the first people to enter the show. I estimated about 50 or so shirts were given away, but by the time I had entered they were all gone. However, they did offer a Blow Pop instead. About 15 minutes into the screening there were about 300-400 in attendance.
I don’t want to give too much away before the documentary is released, but it followed all of Ryan’s career up to present day. It included footage of his run in TNA and interviews with Cody, Mick Foley, and Candice LeRae. Ryan talked about his career resurgence with the “Dick Spot” in Japan. It also covered his friendship with LeRae and his promotion, Bar Wrestling. Ryan held a Q&A after the event, but I had left early in order to secure a spot in line for “An Evening with Cody and The Young Bucks.” Many were also lining up because some shows hit capacity at the first Starrcast.
The auditorium was almost filled by the time the show began. Only the last few rows in each section were empty because not all fans had arrived on Thursday. They of course were met with an enormous pop and various Elite chants. Some of the highlights were that they touched on the TNT TV deal and said that Tony Khan was the primary driving force for getting that deal done. They emphasized how Khan had made big promises to them and had followed through on all of them. Cody took quite a few shots at WWE, making it clear they are not afraid to poke at the bad parts of WWE. He called out George Barrios by name for taking credit for selling out buildings as well as mocking the 24/7 championship belt. At one point Cody asked rhetorically, “What the f— is that?” He expressed feeling bad for Mick Foley having to stand out in the ring and introduce the belt to a less-than-amused crowd.
Cody also talked about the difference between WWE and AEW characters. He made a comment comparing Bayley and Kylie Rae. The crowd “oohed” at his comment, thinking that he had taken it too far. What Cody actually did was say that Kylie’s character is who she actually is outside of wrestling while Bayley is simply playing a character. After the negative reaction, Cody tried to clarify by saying that Bayley is still great, but what you see on WWE is a character with the hugging and wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men.
They also touched on PAC and noted that not everything reported on the situation was true. He said there were a number of contributing factors as to why Pac would not be at Double or Nothing. They remained hopeful that he would work with AEW in the near future. A fan asked them if ten years looking back, will C.M. Punk have been apart of AEW. Matt thought that Punk is truly done with wrestling while Cody remained more optimistic that he could change his mind and noted that door will always remain open for him. Cody informed the crowd that in his conversations with Punk, he let him know that while wrestling didn’t treat him well, the fans never abandoned him. They connected with what he stood for.
Following the Cody and Young Bucks event, I went back to Tuscany to see the Jam Session. There were a couple hundred in an intimate room above the casino area. Papa Buck and his grandchildren were working a merchandise table just outside the room. Christopher Daniels and Scorpio Sky hit the stage to introduce Frankie Kazarian and his band. His band was dressed like an ’80s glam metal band. I only stuck around for a few songs because it had been a long day and I needed some rest. When I left, The Godfather was at the bar chatting with fans and taking photos. Roughly ten minutes after I had left, I saw on Starrcast’s Twitter page that Chris Jericho made an appearance. The next day I asked people about it, and they said he showed up for a few minutes. One person told me that he looked inside the room and decided there was too many people, then left. That was only the first instance of Jericho playing up his heel persona at Starrcast.
(Joel Dehnel is PWTorch’s Lucha Underground TV reporter.)
DEHNEL BLOG: My All In and Starrcast Weekend Experience Day 2 – Reviewing MJF’s random insults of random fans triggering reactions, logistical changes, meeting wrestlers at Meet & Greets, All In match thoughts