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Tales from WaleMania V: Samoa Joe rocked the house, Kofi took the mic, and Enzo was there too

Henry T. Casey

As I wandered through the Sony Hall, eventually finding room to stand in the VIP* section, I was a mix of confused and awe-struck. How, on WrestleMania weekend, was I bouncing around the same night club as Booker T, Tama Tonga and Shane “Swerve” Strickland. And that was before KofiMania swept WaleMania into a frenzy.

Yes, I attended WaleMania for the first time this year, after hearing Kazeem Famuyide (who goes by Kaz) and Emilio Sparks hype it up for years on the Wrasslerap podcast. Having seen it, I can finally explain to you what exactly WaleMania is, and how it’s not really about Wale (except when it is) — and if you should check it out in Tampa, FL at the start of WrestleMania 36 weekend.

NOTE: I can’t cover the live recording of WrassleRap, as a mix-up that taught me to be less literal delayed my entrance, but it’s available to stream here.

What is WaleMania?

Here’s the brief bit about the show’s namesake. If you’re unfamiliar, Wale (pronounced “WAH-lay”) is an award-winning rapper, singer and songwriter who’s a giant wrestling fan. His desire for a big party that merged his worlds resulted in WaleMania.

Wale is one of the hosts of the evening, alongside Kaz and Sparks, and he spent the show introducing wrestlers and rappers, who would talk and perform.

You might not know every rapper he brought up (I for sure did not), but most the performances (more on those later) seemed good enough to keep the vibe going. If you stay late enough — I think it was after midnight — Wale even signs your Wale-related stuff.

But even if you don’t know Wale from a whale, it’s still possibly an event you’d like to attend.

It’s where wrestling meets hip hop, in very tight quarters

The stage seemed like one of those giant renaissance paintings, wrestlers of all eras hanging out all casual-like. Mixed in with people I didn’t recognize were the likes of Lio Rush and Luke Harper (who is hip-hop) or Shad and JTG of Cryme Tyme. Even popular wrestling content creators from the internet were there, like Brian Zane of Wrestling With Wregret.

Dance clubs are not for everybody, and 364 days of the year, I count my 34-year-old-ass as the type to not step for in one. As I waded and politely asked my way through the crowded room — for the early hours, it was bodies against bodies in the General Admission area. The music was loud (and half the time I didn’t recognize it because I’m just getting older and more washed) Hopefully it won’t be as tight next year, as Kaz tweeted “So, bigger venue next year?”

Doing my best to keep moving as I kept seeing wrestlers hanging out enjoying each others’ company — you try not gawking in surprise when you see Tyler Bate sitting on stage in the tightest pants ever wearing circular sunglasses that have him looking like John Lennon 2K19 — I eventually found a friend, Trina, hanging out in VIP (where I was given access, thanks to an press invitation to the event).

And then it got awesome, as Samoa Joe took to the stage and didn’t have to say much. The DJ put on Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement,” and Joe threw up the ROC Diamond hand gesture (not to be confused with DDP’s similar hands-up sign), and Joe started dancing in place and vibeing to the tune. Maybe that doesn’t come across right in words, so I shot video:

And that feeling you get, by being around wrestlers just having a good time and hanging out, it’s like a supremely huffable fume. And if you’re not a main roster type, you’re more about the indies? You’ll get star-struck too, as I saw Ariel Monroe (arm in arm with Cedric Alexander), Sonny Kiss, Jake Atlas, Parrow and Faye Jackson among others hanging out in VIP.

When WaleMania Met KofiMania

The big practically overwhelming vibe of the weekend was centered around Kofi Kingston, and so I shouldn’t have been surprised to see The New Day — who were in the first rap battle in WWE history (which Wale hosted) — take the stage.

To see Kofi continue to be humble and a bit superstitious, to see Xavier spit fire in support of his captain and to see E at a loss for words? It was a significant moment of the weekend as that packed club of fans chanted “Kofi!” even though we still didn’t know that he’d wind up winning.

Later on, Kingston and Big E were walking through VIP and since I was wearing a New Day jacket, I felt an especially strong need to talk to them. My near crippling anxiety about talking to these icons then turned into me holding up the jacket at them, and blurting a sentence and a half about how amazing they are.

And then there was ... what’s his name now?

So, for all that I liked about WaleMania V, there was one moment that actually made me boo the stage. The wrestler formerly known as Enzo Amore (the night before he and his larger, less verbally inclined counterpart surprised the crowd at the G1 Supercard) was brought out to ... rap?

Without a beat, seemingly free-styling, it just felt even more awkward than that guy appearing at a show even is these days.

I might have been the only person upset enough by the guy to boo (I legit, no kayfabe, never want to see him again) ... or do anything, as the overall reaction from the audience was crickets. They can’t all be winners.

Why WaleMania: I’m already thinking about 2020

If I find a way to Tampa for WrestleMania 36, I’m gonna look into WaleMania VI. Yes, that’s how fun it was, even with that aforementioned roadbump.

I plan to write more about this idea in the days that follow, but for those who go to WrestleMania week, or are thinking about it, it’s a good idea to consider not spending every waking moment at a wrestling show. This year, I saw 9 wrestling shows in 5 days, which worked out to 2 a day at most, and that’s enough to keep my brain for getting oversaturated on shows, and becoming one of those people staring at their phone the whole time.

Also, this is Tampa and not New York, so the folks making the annual pilgrimage may not have as many options as usual. But if you like rap and wrestling, WaleMania’s worth considering.

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