TORONTO — For several years, the days leading up to WrestleMania were preceeded by WWF Fan Axxess, the interactive experience where fans can meet their favourite WWF Superstars and enjoy other WWF-themed events. I was always a big fan of the concept of Axxess, especially after seeing a clip from one held many years ago, where Mr. Fuji was running a race in a full tuxedo while fans cheered him on — man, would I have loved to be there.

Unfortunately, the last time Toronto hosted Mania, there was no such opportunity for the fans. This time, however, the WWF has delivered, and judging from the reactions of the people there at Friday night’s session, they’ve delivered in spades.

While I was most impressed with the WWF Hall of Fame display — the memorabilia they have there is a virtual museum of wrestling history — most fans that I talked to were thrilled to have their chance to meet one of today’s superstars.

For them, the periodic autograph sessions (three run simultaneously on the top level, and another two or three take place on the main floor) and the chance to take a picture with a superstar are the real highlights. Equally as exciting are the interactive Q&A; sessions which take place a few times during the day in the Pizza Pizza ring, and are usually followed by another brief autograph session.

Tonight, Lita and Edge capped off the evening with a brief Q&A; after they helped a fan surprise his girlfriend with an in-ring proposal. Although the questions mainly related to their respective matches at WrestleMania, a few of them were a little more thought-provoking. For example, when asked how he felt about being on a roster with Hulk Hogan, Edge noted that he was honoured to be in the same locker room as a legend which he grew up watching. Another question about the late great Owen Hart prompted a few personal stories from Edge about Owen’s in-ring antics, which were followed by a heart-felt “Owen” chant from the ringside crowd.

Another highlight of the evening was the “Tough Enough” exhibition hosted by Al Snow. With the other trainers — Bob Holly, Ivory, and Chavo Guerrero Jr — and some of the participants from the first edition of the show, volunteers from the crowd were led in a few calisthenics, and another was selected as the special guest referee for a brilliant match between Holly and Tough Enough champ Maven.

Surveying the fans in attendance, only a few of negatives were mentioned, primarily the long lines for autographs, and, as a result, the lack of time to see everything they wanted to during the session. As well, with the amount of merchandise and souvenirs available for sale, the day can be a fairly expensive outing.

But for the most part, fans seemed to be happy with Axxess, and judging from the crowd’s reactions, it was a fun night out. Sure, no Fuji in a tux, but hey, there’s plenty of other stuff to see and do.

Recommendations for those Attending:

– Bring a book or newspaper to read while waiting in line (a little pen-light may be helpful, too)

– Check your coat, or wear something light-weight — it gets pretty hot and crowded in there

– A great place to camp out for the day (other than the beer tent, heh heh) is at ringside (front couple of rows), as you?ll have better opportunities to ask questions of the wrestlers, and will be more likely to get good photos and autographs

– When you’re tired (and you will be by the end of the session), a good resting place is the “Smackdown 2” Playstation area — chairs are provided while you watch people play the game against each other on the big screen for prizes

– Get there early to avoid the lineup – as soon as you get in, rush upstairs and get in line for the autograph session — remember, there are three stations on the top level, the security guards may know who’s at each

Other Notes and Observances

– Dean Malenko was seen in the Eaton Centre a couple of hours before the evening session of Axxess

– Superstars signing autographs included: DDP, the Dudley Boyz, Stacey Keibler, Terri Runnels, Goldust, Chuck &Billy;, Sgt. Slaughter, Jim Cornette, Pat Patterson, Gerry Brisco, Goldust and Shawn Michaels

– Superstars posing for photos (costs $10, proceeds of which go to the Special Olympics) were Chris Benoit and the Big Show

– Nancy Sullivan, wife of Chris Benoit, and famed wrestling valet (under various names) was in attendance, though not part of any exhibition

– The Brooklyn Brawler, Steve Lombardi, was seen walking down Yonge Street early this afternoon

– Tough Enough alumni in attendance were Maven, and runners-up Taylor and Chris Harvard (who incidentally looks better than he did on the show, and has the makings of a great heel)

– Results for the matches held during the night were: Hurricane w/ Mighty Molly defeating Funaki; Tajiri & Jacqueline defeating Billy Kidman & Victoria; and Bob Holly defeating Maven

– William Regal held a Q&A; session in the ring — stayed mostly in character

– One booth displayed some great new WWF action figures being released soon, including: Ric Flair, the nWo, Tajiri, Rob Van Dam, Lance Storm, and Booker T

– Stacey Keibler was seen playing against a fan at the Playstation area