WrestleMania Axxess juices up wrestling die-hards

Paige was exhausted.

Her pale, slender body heaved as she gasped for air her while splayed against the corner of the ring. A loose strand of raven hair hung across her face.

The 22-year-old professional wrestler, dressed in miniature black leather shorts and a sports bra festooned with silver stones, had just endured a barrage of gut-busting kicks from her opponent, Charlotte.

She was now on the verge of being finished off. Her blonde, muscular nemesis rushed toward her from the other side of the ring.

A millisecond before impact, Paige lifted one of her knee-length black boots and planted it right on Charlotte’s throat.

Suddenly, she was in control, twisting Charlotte’s body into a submission hold as the crowd chanted, “Tap, tap, tap.”

Charlotte did, making Paige the winner.

The match was one of eight bouts held Saturday at WWE WrestleMania Axxess at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, a fan-oriented exhibition where wrestling enthusiasts got to participate in an array of activities to get enthused for Sunday’s WrestleMania event in the Superdome.

Fans took pictures with their favorite wrestling stars, scoped out 30 years of WrestleMania memorabilia, imitated the entrance routines of their favorite acts and even auditioned to be in an upcoming WWE film.

Francisco Nives, 35, took a shot at the latter.

The San Diego resident and lifelong wrestling fan appeared cool and comfortable as he recited a few lines in front of a teleprompter.

“You been jacking me around,” he deadpanned to the camera.

According to WWE organizers, over 3,000 fans would audition for just one role, but Nives felt he had an edge.

“I looked at all of the other ‘jabronis’ in line before me and figured I had it,” he said. “Now I get to say that I came here and auditioned. My blood is just flowing.”

Other wrestling aficionados were experiencing similar highs as they rubbed elbows with their brawling idols.

D.L Bosworth, 37, had made the trip down from Monroe with his wife and another couple.

Bosworth waited in line to get his picture snapped with former wrestler Jimmy Hart, known as “The Mouth of the South.”

He said Hart, who donned a white sport coat with red hearts along with his trademark megaphone, was one of his favorite stars and that his interest in wrestling was piqued by the Mid-South Wrestling League, a now defunct organization that used to have shows in Monroe.

Bosworth was one of many WrestleMania attendees with some serious bling on his waistline, as he was wearing a WWE championship belt he had purchased online.

He was far from alone and admitted to occasionally putting it on at home.

“Every now and then I do, just to show who the champion is,” he said with a smirk.

Though the crowd at the convention center was mostly male, there were plenty of women in attendance as well.

Cathy Heath, 34, said she picked up the wrestling bug from her husband Chris whom she’s been married to for 10 years.

“He broke me down,” she said.

The Lake Charles’ couple were two of many fans who did their best to duplicate the ring entrances of their favorite wrestlers.

Chris Heath, 30, chose the leaping fanatics of the Irish wrestler Sheamus. Cathy Heath portrayed the stoic, menacing Undertaker, who typically strides in silence amid the mournful clang of bells.

“It’s a chance to be a little bit of a nut,” Chris Heath said about the event.

He said it was the courageous acrobatics of the wrestlers that keep him intrigued by the sport.

“They risk their lives every time they get in the ring,” he said. “It’s incredible they still do it.”

One of the most popular exhibits at the event was the Undertaker’s Graveyard, where fans could connect with their dark side by visiting a smoke-filled cemetery that featured 21 tombstones, one for each of the Undertaker’s WrestleMania victims.

Participants in the slow-moving procession crept from one grave to the next. At the final stop, an anonymous plot that would be the final resting place for the Undertaker’s upcoming opponent, fans posed for pictures while using a shovel to toss dirt on the grave.

The solemn mood did not extend elsewhere.

In a WWE trivia contest held in the same ring where the wrestlers brawled, 10-year-old De’Willie Sensley of Baker bested four other competitors.

His prize was a pair of WrestleMania tickets, which he celebrated by bounding across the ring with his arms outstretched. The crowd roared in approval at the showmanship.

It was a routine similar to those of their heroes.