SHOWCASE OF THE IMMORTALS: ECU forward Nzege headed to WrestleMania

Published 2:16 pm Friday, April 1, 2016

DAVID CUCCHIARA| DAILY NEWS SIZE ADVANTAGE: Michel Nzege takes contact from a Tulane defender en route to the basket. Nzege is taking a brief break from his offseason workouts to attend WrestleMania 32 this weekend in Texas.

SIZE ADVANTAGE: Michel Nzege takes contact from a Tulane defender en route to the basket. Nzege is taking a brief break from his offseason workouts to attend WrestleMania 32 this weekend in Texas.

GREENVILLE — Basketball is one of many passions of East Carolina forward Michel Nzege. Growing up in Geneva, Switzerland, Nzege remembers falling in love with professional wrestling after a trip to London when he was six or seven years old. It was the late 1990s when the likes of North Carolina’s own Matt and Jeff Hardy caught his attention.

“The matches (the Hardys) had against Edge and Christian and the Dudleys, those are my dearest memories,” he said. “Those Tables, Ladders and Chairs matches, that’s what really made me love it.”

The crazy action in the ring was but one facet that attracted Nzege. He said he loved the antics of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and the raw charisma of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — so much so, in fact, that he learned The Rock’s catchphrases in French so he could recite them along the television.

“I didn’t know a word of English, but they had guys dubbing it in French. I was just repeating them in French,” he said. “Once I learned to speak English, it was on!”

Nzege has only been to a live WWE show once. It was a taping for an episode of Smackdown in Geneva. He vividly remembers seeing The Undertake wrestle in the evening’s main event — a tag-team match pitting “The Deadman” and Batista against Edge and Mark Henry.

He’s never been to a show in the United States, but that all changes this weekend. He will make the trek to Texas for the largest event in all of entertainment — WrestleMania 32. He will be one of over 100,000 expected to pack out AT&T Stadium.

Nzege has had a few chances to see the WWE in person. The company put on a live event in Minges Coliseum last year when the basketball team was in Chapel Hill taking on the Tar Heels. He didn’t make it back in time for the event, but was able to meet and talk to some of the wrestlers afterwards.

One of his favorite moments getting to meet a wrestler was a surprise run in with Daniel Bryan, who had just announced his retirement recently on Raw. Nzege was in an airport in Dallas about to fly back after a game at Southern Methodist when he noticed a familiar face in line near him.

“I’m just in line minding my own business,” Nzege said. “You know how sometimes your just turning left and right waiting for your turn? I’m looking at him; he looks familiar. I promise, my heart just stopped. … We took a few pictures. … I just told him how big a fan of his I was.”

EYEING THE HOOP: Michel Nzege has his eye on an easy basket at the rim, but a defender has other ideas.

One of the things Nzege looks forward to most about this weekend, besides WrestleMania itself, is more opportunities to meet wrestlers. He plans on attending “WWE Axxess,” which is a meet-and-greet event going on the days prior to Sunday’s big show. There are also similar non-WWE sponsored events going on around Dallas that offer similar opportunities.

Like many others, Nzege thought pro wrestling was real when he was first exposed to it as a child. Of course, he’s scripted, but he appreciates the art for on display in the ring. He compares it to a soap opera of sorts where the drama and tensions are played out in the ring.

“It’s just the result of a misunderstanding or something backstage,” he said. “The fights are the result of who is going to come out on top. The pay-per-views, whoever wins, wins the story basically.”

Like many other diehard fans, Nzege follows behind the scenes reports readily available on the Internet. He’s critical of certain things about the product simply because he’s so passionate.

At the end of the day, though, WrestleMania is one of the biggest events of the year to him. There are always a handful of incredible matches. There are some things Nzege expects to see unfold before him, but there are always a couple of surprises that blow fans away.

For example, he mentioned the conclusion to last year’s show. Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank contract — a chance at any championship at any time — in the middle of the main event between WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns.

Rollins ended up winning the match, and championship, as the show went off the air. It’s something Nzege suspected would happen, but was elated to see anyways.

“The way they ended WrestleMania 31 with Seth Rollins winning, I was so happy. I thought, ‘that’s the best booking decision you guys have made.’ I actually saw it coming,” he said, adding that he texted teammate Mike Zangari predicting it before it happened.

Nzege has numerous matches he’s looking forward to this year. Even if he has his reasonable predictions about who wins and loses, he’s excited to watch each match and see how things play out.

For his first show in America, Nzege picked a pretty good one.