The annual pilgrimage to the mecca of pro wrestling events was maybe the greatest journey ever undertaken by this native son of Small Town, America. The year 2019 brought me to the grandest and most exotic concrete jungle in the Lower 48: New York City.

Joining others members of The Empire (the collective name for WO/FFO subscribers), we embarked on a mission to see as much pro wrestling in as much time as we could stand. Some of us went to as many as ten shows. Others went to only a handful. Few of us slept, regardless. How could we considering this city never sleeps?

Riding shotgun from the airport into NYC, driving anywhere in a car was completely ruled out very early on. Hard pass. No way was I driving in that traffic. These weren’t the dirt roads of back home. This was another animal completely, and spoke a language of loud and aggressive honking not seen in small town traffic. Unable to decipher such means of communication, I was glad to have already ditched my cowboy boots for traveling shoes as we would do a lot of walking.

Upon reuniting with a ragtag group of fellow website subscribers, they schooled me in the ways of the subway system. That brought us to Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport. The venue was sold out and with a balcony above the ring, people were literally packed to the rafters. The entrance of Minoru Suzuki in the main event allowed us to let out a primal yell of “Kazi Ni Nare”, somewhat fitting for my first show on the journey to the big city.

Back in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, we ventured to WrestleCon for the Mark Hitchcock Memorial SuperShow. Good times were had by all. At intermission, we met up with more members of The Empire. Later on, we would join up like Voltron in taking the City. But first, we had more wrestling to watch. Barbaro Cavernario was headed to the ring, and no way was I missing the next match.

Being a lucha fan, Cavernario against Dragon Lee was the match I was looking forward to the most and they did not disappoint. It was one of the few matches announced for the show as the element of surprise has long been the charm of the Supershow. This year, that was even historic in a way.

Jushin Thunder Liger is on a farewell tour as he’s retiring after this year. A surprise was Liger teaming with Shane “Hurricane” Helms and Sean “X-Pac” Waltman in a six-man tag. Pure jubilation ensued. The fans in attendance — and even the wrestlers in the match — got to show their appreciation for Liger. It was a beautiful thing. Tajiri was another surprise combatant in an intergender match. The show certainly had an international flare, most evident in the main event.

Wrestlers from distant lands closed things out when Will Ospreay headlined against Bandido in one of the best matches of the weekend, if not arguably the best. The sky was the limit so far on this trip, but the journey had only begun.

The next day, The Empire took Jersey City.

We marched on an empty storefront to join Bryan Alvarez and Dave Meltzer for a special live Q&A edition of Wrestling Observer Radio. There was meeting and there was greeting and then we Q&A’d. Some of The Empire later joined forces with a like-minded crew for an impromptu meal at Sub Culture which had a wrestling theme for the weekend, a place that itself was already a shrine to pop culture. As a WrestleMania marathon played on a big screen and a collection of NXT matches adorned other TVs, some bided their time playing video games on a console set up in the hall.

With WrestleMania V overhead, we reminisced on simpler times in a moment of calm before going back out into the live wrestling storm. A few hours later down the street, Black Label Pro presented “Adventures of Wrestling” from White Eagle Hall. Bryan Alvarez valiantly battled a man who refused to take his hands out of his pockets. Though he stomped mud holes on sunglasses and such, the sound of music from a bitter rival proved too great a distraction for our fearless leader and so Orange Cassidy was able to get the win, but all hope was not lost for The Empire.

Photo: White Eagle Hall, Jersey City

No loss could stop our revelry. The party was just getting started as it was time for night one of Joey Janela’s Spring Break 3. While waiting for bell time, the party was in full swing as the crowd sang along to “Don’t Stop Believin'” as if it was a battle cry. Returns were the order of the night as Joey Janela, Jungle Boy, and Marko Stunt all wrestled on the show.

Spring Break was a whirlwind of emotions. I personally could have done without seeing the deathmatch main event as shattered glass from light tubes along with loads of blood combined for a shock to the senses. The scene was gruesome. I had only seen matches like this on tape and thought I was prepared. I wasn’t…at all.

Nevertheless, most of us held up but others…not so much. On the way out, I observed a poor soul vomiting in a trash can. I’m not sure if it was due to overconsumption of alcohol or the nausea from seeing the bloodbath. Either way, bless their heart.

Still reeling, I dragged myself out of bed Saturday morning as a balanced breakfast of Pancakes & Piledrivers awaited. Two years ago, there were lots and lots of pancakes. Last year, the pancake situation was limited. This year, pancakes were nonexistent. Some wrestlers dressed up like pancakes, so there was that. There was also a cool theme song about a robot pancake maker. But, there were no actual pancakes to eat. Good thing I packed Clif bars which I paired with free water out of the tiniest of Dixie cups.

The matches at Wrestling Revolver’s Pancakes & Piledrivers show were a mixed bag of indie offerings. Tessa Blanchard and Ricky Shane Page had a sleeper match of the weekend featuring one of the craziest spots of the weekend with a Canadian Destroyer off the top rope. Blanchard would go on to win the match. Shane Strickland also had his last indie match on the show, and got a cool send off afterward.

Photo: The crowd filing into Madison Square Garden for G1 Supercard

Later, we stormed The Garden.

Seeing Madison Square Garden in person was my favorite part of the trip. You could smell and taste the history in the building. The G1 Supercard show itself was polarizing in many ways. I still loved it, warts and all. The title changes were icing on the cake.

The eruption from the crowd when Kota Ibushi pinned Tetsuya Naito was such a visceral sound that it felt like everyone breathed in all the air in the building, and then all collectively let it out at the same time. The only other reaction over that weekend that felt similar was Seth Rollins pinning Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania.

And then, there was Kazuchika Okada winning the IWGP title over Jay White. Many people filed out before this match started, presumably going to night two of Spring Break or elsewhere. They missed out on a moment that may define the year for NJPW. The Rainmaker again ascended to the throne. It was a beautiful thing. I feel blessed to have witnessed it inside “The World’s Most Famous Arena”. God bless pro wrestling.

The following day was WrestleMania Sunday. Somehow, Ed From San Antonio roped me into designing the sign for our bus group so that people could find us. While crafting the sign by hand, my only demand was that I would not be required to hold said sign. So, of course, I held the sign in the hotel lobby a few minutes later. Such is life. Right this way, folks.

WrestleMania itself was a spectacle as usual. The pyrotechnics were arguably better this year than any other. The show was long, but most of us expected that and prepared for the long haul. At one point late in the show, two raindrops fell on me but it was just a taunt from Mother Nature. She at least spared the show, but she never jobs. She would prove that later on.

The bus ride itself was a success. We would find out later how much of a success when thousands of others were stranded at MetLife Stadium and we weren’t. We made it out rather easily compared to the unfortunate masses left behind fending for themselves. We were not spared completely though as the aforementioned Mother got heat on us with a downpour on our 20 block trek back to the hotel. Soaked by rain and fatigued by a long day, we finally found sanctuary in our room, still forever grateful for the bus ride. The word on the street was that not everyone else was so fortunate.

On Monday, the last remaining members of The Empire still hanging around met in Brooklyn with the rains from Sunday a thing of the past. Talking and laughing over other memories, we looked forward to the Raw after WrestleMania. What a swift kick in the gut that show became. Maybe because we were burned out from a weekend full of shows, but it felt boring and lackluster. The surprise appearance of The Undertaker was a bright spot, but there was not much else to write home about. Then, there was was the main event “winner take all” title match. Plenty of people seated around us all kind of figured on a non-finish of some sort, but what surprise could it possibly be?

The Bar ran in. Really? The Bar? THE BAR?! Huh…

The Bar is a great tag team, but that run-in was going to crap the bed no matter how great they were. The crowd turned on the show immediately. People were livid. One member of our group was beyond upset afterwards.

“Tell Dames you like the main event,” our friend Chris said to us after the show. Dames walks up to us. Our friend Wade says, “Well, that was a good main event, huh?”

“WHAT,” Dames exclaimed, “Are you kidding me?!” An epic rant ensued.

We all roared with laughter. Some good ribbing is just what we needed. Through it all, we still had each other. For me, that is what WrestleMania weekend is all about — the people. I have met and befriended some of the finest people from all walks of life. While pro wrestling is our common denominator, our bond has become stronger than our fandom.

Thank you to everyone that was a part of this year’s journey. Let us all do it again next year. You are invited too. Join us, and we’ll see you down the road.

And so long, New York. You had really great pizza.