To celebrate the upcoming WrestleMania Weekend, Voices of Wrestling contributors were encouraged to write about a past WrestleMania Weekend match.

The goal of the project was to find, discover and write about matches that resonated with our contributors for whatever reason, whether it be a great match, a memorable live experience, a personal connection or, even frustration. 

Please enjoy this series and all of Voices of Wrestling’s WrestleMania Weekend coverage

-Rich Kraetsch


 

I am blessed with a wonderful friend. He goes by Bryan. He is awesome and more people should know who he is. I’ll even advertise for him and inform you that he streams video games on Twitch at https://www.twitch.tv/prounprogaming.

He is fun, caring, and an awesome human being, and any chance I am given to publically give him admiration and respect I will gladly pounce on. There is a small list of people I’d take a Bullet (club) to the chest for, but not quite the heart, and he’s on it. I’d prefer it to be a painful but non-lethal bullet but I digress. 

What does this have to do with wrestling? I know you are asking that right now. For me, the answer is absolutely everything. He is responsible or semi-responsible for a lot of wrestling-related memories. I made it to my first WWE PPV because of him, I sat in the front row for the first time at ANY show because of him. He helped and encouraged me to make it to three straight WrestleManias and he was a big reason and encouragement for how I ended up at shows I otherwise would’ve been too nervous to have attended. His strength and inspiration have raised my confidence and will to the point I will (hopefully) be traveling to a foreign country on my own in January to watch wrestling. I cannot begin to explain to you the reader what this man means to me both in the context of wrestling and outside of wresting, the man has enhanced and improved my life. 

I rarely have been given a chance to pay him back. He has never asked for payback, he’s too damn good a guy, but I always wanted to do something for him. He had treated me to so many special wrestling moments, I wanted to treat him to one. This is why I found myself on StubHub around Christmas 2018 staring at ticket prices for NXT TakeOver: New York. I was desperately trying to find ‘reasonable’ tickets for a sold-out show. I didn’t care about how close we were, I didn’t care about angles or stuff like that. I just wanted those damn seats for me and Bryan. I wanted to get him a Christmas gift, something I rarely could affording doing. He had already secured our MSG show tickets for NJPW/ROH’s G1 Supercard, but I wanted us to have one more potentially memorable show of that weekend. At that time in place, you still didn’t bet against a Takeover, and with it being in New York for Mania weekend I had a feeling we needed to be there, needed to experience Takeover at least once. Both of our fandoms for NXT at that time in place were at a feverish pitch.

I was surviving on a combination of SSDI and family generosity. Any major purchase risked the threat of being in a financial hole I had to claw out of. I took a breath, accepted I was about to be in a financial hole and clicked purchase. I then messaged him with a smile on my face letting Bryan know his Christmas gift had been purchased. We’re going to NXT TakeOver: New York. To say he was elated would be the understatement of the year. We knew no line-up, no plans, no tentative paths going forward. All we knew is we were likely going to get a high-end event with a banging main event.

Little did we know we end up with my favorite match I have ever seen live. Little did we know that due to Tommaso Ciampa’s unfortunate injury, Johnny Gargano vs. Ciampa would be replaced with Adam Cole vs. Gargano. It would be two out of three falls, it would be the NXT Title on the line, it would be in front of a sold-out Barclays Center.

How the fuck can that not be a recipe for magic?

It was thrown together, a Plan B for when Plan A went out the window and landed on its neck. In a way, I was disgusted at myself because I felt relieved. I was not looking forward to the main event of Gargano/Ciampa. It had been played out, become bloated, I found the majority if not all their matches to be overhyped, overdone, overrated. I find them to be both incredible and talented, but it was the least interest I had in any of the matches that night. Cole/Gargano felt fresh, re-energized things immediately. The realization that I was going to probably be there live to see Gargano finally climb the mountain was not lost on me. I knew I was going to get a great match. I knew I could rest well in knowing I had successfully treated my friend to something magical.

It wasn’t magic, it was a full-on assault to my senses. An emotional rollercoaster the likes of which when it ended I looked at the conductor and requested I could do it all over again. Cole/Gargano is not only the best match I’ve ever seen live but perhaps my favorite WWE match of all time. It is perhaps the happiest, rowdiest, and more energized crowd I have ever been around. The match played out with two good first and second falls, but it was the third fall where the legendary status grew. Drama, suspense, WWE tropes used at their rare best, that feeling you get when you begin to doubt who will win and who will lose. You lean forward, get drawn in, grit your teeth. I could feel myself being exasperated, exhausted, overcome by the moment as I realized that something truly special was unfolding around me. I know this match came off great on television but trust me, being there live was several levels above. You might have felt it through the television, but here it grabbed you and pulled you in closer and closer. While I was in the upper decks I felt I was close to the action. I felt my senses enhance, the sight, the sound, the taste. I wrote that correctly, the taste. The taste of electricity, of magic, of the moment. Gargano, the underdog, always came close but never achieved fighting against the odds, his exhaustion, his own failings, the Undisputed Era, and most importantly one of the best damn wrestlers in WWE that was Adam Cole. I could feel my legs jitter, my fingers fiddle with each other. I would take deep breaths on near falls I was certain was the conclusion. Despite my own anxiety, my own enjoyment, my own living in the moment, I made sure to keep looking to my side.

At my side was Bryan, giddy, happy, ecstatic, caught up on it all. A childlike glee that wrestling achieves at its rarest and best. This was my favorite match, but it wasn’t my favorite thing of the evening. My favorite thing of the evening was watching Bryan throughout the show. Watching his eyes sparkle in childlike wonder as we took in one of the best damn shows we ever watched together. As the main event of Gargano/Cole unfolded and came to a conclusion I kept looking at him, rocking and wheeling, wave after wave of the drama of the match smashing upon his body. He kept leaning into it, wanting it, craving it, and that brought the biggest smile on my face. This man, this friend, this absolute treasure of humanity was having one of the best damn times at a wrestling show I ever saw .. .and I did that for him. It will never make up for all he’s done for me, but knowing I had delivered something to him if I can allow myself some ego, made me feel good. Great wrestling is good, great wrestling with an amazing friend cannot be matched by anything.

Then Gargano tapped out Cole in the final fall and the celebration kicked off.

I high-fived strangers, I never high five strangers. I hugged strangers, I don’t even hug people I know. I jumped up and down cheering! I laughed, I screamed, I cried (THERE WILL ALWAYS BE CRYING IN WRESTLING). The best damn match I’ve ever seen live at the best damn show I’ve attended live. A feeling that NXT has never achieved in me since and I have doubts ever will again. This was the peak of my NXT fandom, the highest of highs that would soon be followed by a slow but steep descent to the bottom. None of that matters though. What matters is me exhausted resting my head on my friend’s shoulder. Taking in a deep breath. As Gargano made his exit after a performance of a lifetime, a match etched into my memory and constantly filling my heart, I sighed and said what I’ve been waiting months to say:

Merry Christmas Bryan.