TOKYO — Staff Sgt. Osvaldo Carela and his four friends were amped.
Life-long pro wrestling fans, they’d grown up following the weekly escapades of the Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin and other superstars as they trash-talked, body slammed, leg-dropped, clotheslined and stomped mudholes on television.
But Friday night at Ryogoku Kokugikan arena, the airmen not only attended their first live WWE show, it was one in which their favorite wrestler, Hulk Hogan, made an appearance.
Hogan wasn’t on the card to wrestle, but that didn’t matter.
“He’s the only reason I’m here,” said Staff Sgt. Scott Moore, 28, of Pearl River, Louisiana.
The airmen were among 40 servicemembers and families who traveled by bus from Yokota Air Base, west of Tokyo, to not only attend the sold-out WWE show but meet and take a picture with a WWE wrestler.
“I’ve never been to a live event, so for my entire life, I’ve wanted to come,” said Carela, 29, of Fayetteville, North Carolina.
The men each shook hands with WWE star John Cena, who cheerfully met and posed — with signature baseball cap, wristbands and championship belts slung over his shoulders — with each servicemember in line before the 7 p.m. show.
And how was Cena holding up after a marathon trip across the globe to perform in front of 12,139 fans?
“When you’re out there and you hear the audience, you realize how you can get over a bad night’s sleep pretty quickly,” said Cena, who has been coming to Japan for more than 12 years and has met U.S. servicemembers at WWE events around the world.
“I know the [military] crowd is going to be plenty enthusiastic,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Mark Maliwanag, his wife, Tech Sgt. Francesca Maliwanag and Sr. Airman Lee Tamburro traveled from Misawa Air Base, several hours north of Tokyo, for the WWE meet-and-greet.
Although Mark Maliwanag, 32, who works in security forces, has been a longtime fan of The Rock — “I’m a Dwayne guy,” referring to the wrestler-turned-movie star’s real name, Dwayne Johnson — his wife and son root for Cena.
“My son has every Cena shirt, every color, every hat, every set of wristbands,” he said, proudly scrolling through cell phone pictures of him and his son at past WWE events.
Attending his first WWE show ever, Tamburro, meanwhile, showed his support for a wrestling faction called the Wyatts by strapping a white, plastic mask of a sheep’s face on the back of his head. One of the Wyatts wears the mask to the ring.
“They’re awesome,” Tamburro, 23, of Pittsburgh, said of the faction. “They’re mysterious.”
As the line of servicemembers steadily inched forward, Staff Sgt.Timothy Baker and his wife, Amanda, entered the small, stuffy room where Cena and fans posed in front of a black WWE backdrop, his turn to shake Cena’s hand quickly approaching.
“I’m pretty excited,” said Baker, 25, of Cuba, New York. “For a chance to see it live — not very many people get this chance.”
Staff Sgt. Brandon Anderson, 26, a fan “since I was a kid,” wanted to come with his wife and young children because “hopefully I can get them into it and have my kids growing up and watching it” with him.
The event also had special significance for his wife, Linda.
“We leave [Yokota] in six days, so this is kind of exciting for our last trip,” she said.