Subway Mania stages WWE tribute matches on the trains in NYC

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A few months back, as the Manhattan-bound R train cruises past Forest Hills-67th Avenue at the tail end of the evening rush, wrestling greats Sting and Mankind entered the ring — make that, the second car from the last — to both puzzled stares and rousing cheers. The WWE stars, or rather, the performers pretending to be them struggled for dominance as planted extras and cameramen jockeyed for position in the increasingly packed house, riding the train all the way to Manhattan.

By the time the train shrieked its way into the 59th St./Lexington station, the crowd was as wild with appreciation as fans at a genuine WWE event.

Few straphangers are looking to make their journeys any more colorful than they already are, but East Harlem native and wrestling fanatic Tim “Hann” Rivera, 26, has spent the last six years bringing his passion for wrestling’s over-the-top performances to the people, creating some of the most unique rush hour theater you’ll ever witness.

“I had an idea with a friend to go on the train and play as The Rock with an official wrestling belt. It went viral [on YouTube], and people began to ask, ‘Where’s the match?’ It was supposed to be a one-time thing,” Rivera told The Post.

Rivera prepares himself before the match.
George Grullon /@gnp_photos

A couple of times a year, Rivera and the small supporting cast of three or four characters comprising Subway Mania, as he calls it, will seize on a single car, trailed by three videographers, to film an episode of the underground professional wrestling homage. Shows are well coordinated, and highly nostalgic for even the most casual fan of late 1990s to early 2000s professional wrestling. It’s a lot for one swipe of your soon-to-be obsolete MetroCard.

Subway Mania had its roots in a blend of Rivera’s school film projects at Borough of Manhattan Community College and Brooklyn College and his passion for all things wrestling. Early performances, back in 2016, were met with puzzled stares from subway riders, and a mix of support and bemusement from Rivera’s professors.

A couple of times a year, Rivera and the small supporting cast of three or four characters comprising Subway Mania, as he calls it, will seize on a single car, trailed by three videographers, to film an episode of the underground professional wrestling homage.
A couple of times a year, Rivera and the small supporting cast of three or four characters comprising Subway Mania, as he calls it, will seize on a single car, trailed by three videographers, to film an episode of the underground professional wrestling homage.
George Grullon /@gnp_photos

Rivera stuck to his guns, and the grind of planning, performing and filming paid off. A match featuring Rivera as Triple H, and other performers as Kane and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, went viral, netting 2 million views on YouTube, catching the attention of professional wrestlers, including Bret Hart.

That match, staged in 2018 on a Manhattan-bound N train, and climaxing in a faux brawl in Union Square, won by a performer playing Steve Austin, became the template for future Subway Mania tapings. They’re heavily scripted and recorded using Black Magic cameras with DSLR lenses, during a single ride across a few stations. Reshoots are rare.

While Rivera’s viral moment did lead to a measure of fame — A$AP Rocky and Westside Gunn even invited the cast to perform during concerts in 2019 — the eager auteur chose to stick with school, which he promised his mother he’d do.

Edwin Perez-Nazario as Mankind.
Edwin Perez-Nazario as Mankind.
timhannrivera/YouTube
Rivera as Sting.
Rivera as Sting.
timhannrivera/YouTube

In 2020, he completed a bachelor’s degree in film production from Brooklyn College, the first in his family to graduate from college. Over time, Subway Mania has become a must-see, very public fight club of sorts for Rivera and his crew. That is, if you can get an invitation.

“I’m sure people have wondered why I spend money on this or putting in so much effort. But it makes me happy and millions of people happy,” said Rivera.

For the Sting and Mankind match earlier this year, the 50 or so people in attendance only knew the meetup location, and that Rivera, with a cart of makeup and costumes in tow, would guide them to wherever they needed to be.

With Rivera as Sting, and Edwin Perez-Nazario as Mankind, the show commenced to rousing cheers, or pops, usually reserved for wrestling’s biggest stars. At each station stop, the show continued with no attention to baffled riders, some cautiously entering the car, only to change their minds as the match heats up. (Over the years, one performance has been stopped by police officers.)

Straphangers were into the match.
Straphangers were into the match.
George Grullon /@gnp_photos

Four videographers battled the audience for position as Perez-Nazario’s Mankind dumped uncooked rice on the floor — mimicking the real character’s reputation for placing tacks in the ring. The move failed as Rivera’s Sting avoided being slammed and pummeled Perez-Nazario on the bed of rice. The crowd overwhelmingly approved.

Thirty minutes of antics later, the fun was over. The crowd dispersed as Rivera thanked them and carted his supplies back home — on the subway. (He funds the events himself, buying or borrowing costumes, wigs and makeup.) For some it may seem like a lot of work for a nostalgia trip, but Rivera thinks it’s worth it.

“It takes people back to a time when they were teens and it was a good moment in their lives,” he said. “They had wrestling. If I could take you back to a moment in time, for eight to 10 minutes, then it’s worth it.”

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