WrestleMania is our holiday season. And, in honor of fallen friends, we celebrate.
By Michael Melchor, Executive Editor
Anyone who knows me even as a passing acquaintance knows that pro wrestling is a passion of mine. Has been since I can remember.
This may sadden and even disappoint some folks, but I was never a “Hulkamaniac” growing up. Hulk Hogan was a cartoon, too over-the-top. Wrestling, for me as a child, was best when it was more realistic. When Dusty Rhodes ranted about living on the end of a lightning bolt. When the Four Horsemen broke Ricky Morton’s nose by smashing it under cage and boot. When Nikita Koloff came to the aid of a once-hated enemy, only to fall to the nefarious Lex Luger and a chair to the neck of his injured neck.
That’s what grabbed me and held my attention. The heat of battle and the drama of competition. In 10th grade, I struck a friendship with Nic Merritt, a guy who felt the same way.
It was in homeroom. I looked over and saw a dude pull several magazines out of his backpack. The Wrestler. Inside Wrestling. Pro Wrestling Illustrated. I got up from my desk and sat next to him, asking if I could check one of those out for a minute. He handed me one and we got to talking before long. We immediately became best of friends.
After high school, I was married and living in Palatka, FL (the sound cow poop makes when it hits the ground). Nic (spelled like Ric, as in Flair – and yes, that was deliberate on his part) became our roommate for a bit as he’d just gotten out of boot camp and was on leave. He pretty well became part of the family as we sat through the Monday Night wars together, loving how this weird, niche sport we both loved was all of the sudden the most popular thing ever.
I was divorced a few years later and Nic was out of the Army for good on medical discharge. We hung out frequently, especially once a month at the Oyster Pub in Daytona Beach on Sundays for WWE pay-per-views.
WCW was done, bought out by the evil empire. The NWA was (at that point) a shell of itself. WWE had won, but we supported them because it was still wrestling. We half-joked about how most people had Christmas, but we had WrestleMania. The Holiday season started with the Royal Rumble (AKA “New Thanksgiving”) and climaxed with the “Showcase of the Immortals.”
The bond superseded pro wrestling. Comics, movies, music, you name it. We knew everything about each other. We helped each other survive the worst of times. And for both of us, wrestling was our primary escape. The glue that held it all together.
Nic moved out to Colorado to be near his mom while I remained Florida. He returned and Sunday nights at the Oyster Pub were back on after a few years hiatus. Then it was my turn when I moved near Louisville.
We stayed in touch. Hours on the phone talking about the comics we’d read, the TV shows and movies based on them that we were both into. The new music we’d heard and – of course – wrestling.
Right around the time WrestleMania 32 happened in Dallas, WrestleMania 33’s location was already announced: Orlando, FL. This was our chance. Nic was in Colorado the last time they were in our home state and couldn’t make the trip. Days after the location announcement, we were planning it. For me to come down there and us finally go to the one show we’d never been to live.
On May 4, 2016 somewhere around 4:00 AM, Nic Merritt was walking home when he was struck by an oncoming train. I don’t know many more details than that and I probably never will. I didn’t even find out it had happened until two days later when I saw his family grieving his loss on Facebook.
I was sitting in a Target snack bar when I read it. My wife and daughter were with me but for a moment, they disappeared. Everyone did.
The shock of losing my best friend had knocked me somewhere I’d only been a few times before. Two years prior, when my Father passed was the last time I had been there before this particular trip.
Our plans came to a worse, more sudden ending than I could have ever envisioned. And there would be no make up date. No more phone conversations. No more chances to hang out and pick up like we’d never stopped.
I completely understand how calling the build to this year’s WrestleMania “lackluster” is a gross understatement. I’ve said it myself a few times now. I completely understand how the excitement for this show could have been sapped away by the complete void of anything resembling coherent storytelling going into it.
But I will always be excited for WrestleMania. No matter how much or how little I may be looking forward to on the actual show, this is our Super Bowl. Our World Series, Stanley Cup, Oscars, whatever comparisons it usually draws.
Most importantly, this is our holiday. The one time of year we can revel in our fandom of this weird, niche sport we all love whether it’s the most popular thing ever or not.
Nic would have rolled his eyes harder than anybody at the lead-up to WrestleMania 35. But he would have been happy the women were main-evening. He would have salivated at the thought of AJ Styles facing Randy Orton. He would have hoped Seth Rollins kicks Brock Lesnar’s ass.
Because that’s what the Holiday is for. And that’s why I’ll always be excited for WrestleMania. No matter what, Nic would have celebrated. Which means dammit, so am I.