Hosted by Dave & Busters on Orlando's International Drive, 'Slamdown' was put together by the Glamour Under The Stars group, and was to be held between 6p - 10p.
As I parked my vehicle and made my way toward the main entrance of the facility, I saw a tightly packed line that was overflowing out the front doors, down the sidewalk, and wrapping into the parking lot. Eager fans were clutching reprinted photos, or were adorning replica championship belts over their shoulders, with some fans even dressing like their favorite fighting icon. I managed to get through the front doors and proceed up the main entrance stairwell, where I saw the autograph line continue to snake its way up that staircase. At the top of the stairs, security was closely guarding who was entering those doors, ensuring that no one was jumping ahead of the line. A security guard recognized me as media and walk me along the line toward a back room of the gaming floor. As many times as I had frequented this place, I didn't even know that this backroom existed. Just beyond the air hockey tables, the security person opened a door, where we met by another security person, but this time I was now inside of the VIP Autograph room. I recognized wrestlers I had previously photographed from other events, and excitedly saw a couple of faces that I myself was a fan of.
Of all the fighting personalities in the room, a tiny but very attractive woman was taking a ton of photos with guests. 'Lisa Ann' was billed on the flyer as a 'Fantasy Sports Host'; however, some of her real fans recognized her as Lisa Ann the adult film star. But she's not just any adult film star: with 4.2M followers on Instagram, and having been awarded numerous accolades from across her industry, she is widely recognized in the field as being one of the most influential and most popular adult film stars of all time. She was wildly confident and her popularity continued into this room with seemingly every other celebrity in there also attempting to take a photo with her!
Across the room from her was one of the true GOATS in mixed martial arts: former 2-division world champion, Amanda Nunes. In her career, Nunes has systematically dismantled other MMA fighters previously thought to have been unstoppable., having won decisively in knockout victories over her competitors. In The Octagon, she's a beast; however, on this night surrounded by her wife (Nina) and their young toddler daughter (Raegan Ann), she was all smiles and hugs. She did her best to keep her fist clenched as she posed with fans, but she was frequently observed running after little Raegan when the toddler somehow managed to keep escaping from the other adults tasked with keeping an eye on her. It was beautiful to see this side of Nunes!
Another popular stop in the room was with the hot newly-engaged AEW power couple, Sammy Guevara and Tay Conti. The two were playful with one another, extremely generous of their time with their youngest fans, and even broke away for a quick moment with some fans to play a quick game of air hockey.
Orlando's very own Amber 'The Mechanic' Nova and tablemate for the evening Barbie Blank (aka Kelly Kelly) were also popular amongst their wrestling fans.
As the evening passed on and the autograph line into the VIP room began to wane, the very first table of the room was still going strong with its star power. At this table, the Hardy Boyz (Jeff and Matt, real-life brother AEW tag team) had a following that never slowed down. Bumping up close to 10p, with other celebrities shutting down their tabes, Jeff and Matt could be overheard still chatting it up with their fans, striking all of their popular wrestling poses as the fans eagerly took photos.
I'm not certain what happened with the 'professional photo ops' that some fans prepaid for. At one point toward the end of the night, a fan had approached me asking if I was the professional photo op person, to which I had to advise quickly that I was not. Perhaps there's an area of opportunity to improve the guest experience here for the organizers, not that this failure was due to anything within their control.
For a few fortunate fans who lingered after the tables were collapsed and the other celebrities were gone: Jeff Hardy ended up doing an acoustic musical set, with him on vocals and backed by a lone acoustic guitar. I heard him perform a couple of Pearl Jam songs, and a few original ones before an intimate crowd of no more than 40. He was engaging and endearing, and this was just the final cherry on top of a wonderful fan experience that had already transpired.
As a UFC and wrestling enthusiast, I can state that this was one of the larger and better fighter meet-and-greet experiences. The size of the space was adequate, but the engagement with the celebrities was definitely worth the wait and the money. Admission to the event was free, with guests only having to pay for photographs or autographs with those they wanted (so it could have been a fairly inexpensive night or a very costly one for the more enthusiastic fans :) ).
I'm sincerely hoping to attend this event again the next time it comes around, and would strongly advise our wrestling and mixed martial arts audience to do the same. Hope to see you all there next time around!!