On May 25, 2003, the first ever live pro wrestling pay-per-view broadcast from New Zealand emanated from the North Shore Events Centre in Auckland. The show, WWA The Reckoning, was the first time that a lot of Kiwi wrestling fans had the chance to see live professional wrestling, including some of the great performers of the international scene.
It was my first trip to Auckland as an adult, or at least as close as I was to one at age 23. To be fair, I was doing a reasonably poor job of adulting those days, as I never saw that time of day called “A.M.”, nor ate anything that wasn’t a bright colour forever absent in nature. My friend Simon and I travelled up and our lack of knowledge about Auckland would prove a catalyst to several issues, not the least of which is that we had no clue where the North Shore Events Centre was. But none of that mattered at the time. I was thrilled to have a chance at seeing Sting, one of my favourites, and Simon was thrilled to see Rick Steiner, which is a concept that will forever remain foreign to me.
There was an extra wrinkle thrown into our plans, as my ear blocked up during the flight up to Auckland. It got to a manageable state right before the show, but many of the people that passed me on Queen St would have seen a barely-functioning adult walking in a circle with my head tipped sideways, cursing a lot. Hopefully everyone assumed it was just some sort of terrible street theatre. I should have put out a collection cup. Or listened to Simon who said I shouldn’t reward being able to finally hear again with eating 12 Dunkin’ Donuts. But he liked Rick Steiner, so I obviously wasn’t going to listen to him. As it turned out, the donut flavour I enjoyed the most was Regret, closely followed by Internal Distress.
The big thing about making your way around Auckland, when you don’t know anything about Auckland, is you don’t know where anything is in Auckland. Sure, you’re thinking this is a minor problem. Which has given away that you’ve never been to Auckland. Or at least in the time before every phone had a GPS on it. So, yeah, things went a little awry in our journey from Queen St to the North Shore. Which is to say—if you happen to like specifics— we caught a bus that dropped us off in Papakura. Thus began my enduring distrust of bus drivers who “swear they know where they’re going” and “you’re just a few blocks away from where you need to be.” Because those aren’t collections of true words and they’ll leave you on a much longer and stranger journey than you anticipated.
According to my birth certificate I was born in Papakura, but I only lived there until I was two years old, so that turned out to be less use in the situation than I had hoped. After many hours of ill-advised journeys down dark roads and through unreasonably wet forestry, we had to admit that we were lost. I mean, Simon had to. I’m pretty sure I projected a clear sense of confidence, only pausing to repeatedly scream uncontrollably into the night that I was too young to die. And then we heard it.
Let us in.
The unmistakable, repeating chorus that echoes whenever enough wrestling fans are in some location, demanding entry to a second, more appealing location.
Let us in.
We were saved.
We hastened towards this siren song, just enduring a short journey through a few more muddy paths, including an encounter with a tree that tried to get a little too frisky with me. The beacon worked though, we emerged victorious to see the doors opening. If we lived in a world of passive, respectful fans, I assume we’d still be wandering Auckland, a cautionary tale to those who choose to listen to bus drivers.
It’s weird where you end up in life. Many years later, Simon and I would journey a little bit further than the North Shore, and attend Wrestlemania 31 in San Francisco. We couldn’t have predicted in 2003, seeing Sting for what we thought would be the only opportunity to do so, that 12 years later we’d be in America watching him take on Triple H. Or that we’d travel all over that wonderful city and not get lost, because smartphones are the best.
When it was all said and done, WWA The Reckoning was one of the most fun shows I could have hoped for. Sting thrilled the crowd, appearing in the rafters (about four metres up) to announce he was “Back in black and backing the Blacks”, in what wouldn’t be the first or last time that an American has been confused by our rugby team name.
We were also treated to one of the greatest four-way matches, when Chris Sabin defeated Johnny Swinger, Jerry Lynn and Frankie Kazarian.
We also got the honour of Bret Hart’s first interview after his stroke. And the less desirable honour of being known as the country where some fans stole Sting’s jacket.
I’ve been to countless live wrestling events in New Zealand and the United States, but you never forget your first big show. And I’ll never forget that Rick Steiner cost Sting the title in the main event against Jeff Jarrett, because I’m certain Simon’s irrational support of him was somehow responsible.
WWA The Reckoning was a special show that’ll live on in the hearts of many Kiwi pro wrestling fans. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing about the trip. Except for Papakura. I nearly drove through it the other weekend and at the sight of the sign it felt like I’d aged another 13 years.
Never visit Papakura, is the moral of the story, I guess.