WWE superstar Cody Rhodes steps in the ring to help Guelph fan denied contest tickets over wheelchair

In the words of WWE fan Mike Ashkewe, "the American Nightmare made a Canadian dream" come true this week.

Ashkewe, who lives in Guelph, Ont., won tickets to the WWE premium live event Money in the Bank (MITB) after entering an Instagram contest run by Toys "R" Us Canada.

Ashkewe, who uses a wheelchair, was initially told he couldn't be accommodated at the event Saturday at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena. But things took an unexpected and happy turn that included being contacted by the WWE and a call from wrestling superstar Cody Rhodes, nicknamed the American Nightmare.

Now, the 42-year-old will be watching top WWE superstars live in action this weekend.

"I figured, all right, I'm going to be stuck in Guelph for the next however long, until the next surgery, the doctor's appointments," he said. "So getting to go to Toronto to a WWE [event] that's one of the biggest pay-per-views in their calendar, that was about the most unexpected thing. That's like winning the lottery.

"That's where they decide what's going to happen at WrestleMania and all that, so it was huge. Getting this type of news was literally dream come true."

Cody Rhodes celebrates after winning the Undisputed WWE universal championship match during WrestleMania 40 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, on Sunday, April 7, 2024. (Monica Herdon/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
Cody Rhodes celebrates after winning the Undisputed WWE championship match at WrestleMania 40 in April. Rhodes, nicknamed the American Nightmare, called big WWE fan Ashkewe after hearing about the 42-year-old's ticket dilemma. (AP)

When he was first notified about the contest win, Ashkewe said, he told Toys "R" Us of his need for accessible seating.

"I figured if something's going to happen, this is going to be the one thing that prevents me from going," Ashkewe said. "They then replied like, 'Hey, sorry it took us a little while to get back to you. Don't worry, the venue is going to look after you. We're going to make sure you have what you need. We're looking really forward seeing you.'"

Ashkewe arranged for transportation to Toronto, but then got some bad news: an email from the Toys "R" Us digital marketing team saying "we can't accommodate you. We talked to the venue, we talked to everybody we could. There's nothing that can be done. Sorry."

Instead, he was offered about $300.

"I don't blame them directly," he said. "But it does seem like a massive oversight, because people who enter these contests, they have no idea whether the winner is going to be a disabled person or a sick person or something or not.

"It was just devastating."

Toy company says it's 'pleased' things worked out

On Thursday afternoon, a Toys "R" Us spokesperson responded to CBC News by saying: "When the winner requested accessibility tickets for this event, we needed to work with our partners and the venue to facilitate this as the contest prize was for general admission tickets. In the meantime, he was offered the prize cash value for consideration.

"We are very pleased that they were able to exchange these tickets for our winner and delighted that Mike will get to enjoy this exciting event this weekend."

Making Ashkewe's trip to the event in Toronto happen involved him posting on X, formerly Twitter, about the toy company's marketing department email, and tagging Toys "R" Us, WWE, ScotiaBank Arena, and wrestlers Rhodes, Drew McIntyre and Seth Rollins.

"I was just venting my grief and my disappointment," Ashkewe said. "It would have been so cool to see people I watched like Cody Rhodes, the American Nightmare himself. I used to watch him when he used to wrestle under several different names. That would have been awesome.

"Seeing Jay Uso, Drew MacIntyre, Seth Rollins, like I've followed him for years," he said. "It would have been really awesome to meet all these people, even if it was only in passing for a high five as they enter the ring. That would have been cool and that would have been enough for me.

"Ultimately, all I really wanted out of this trip, even if I was up in the nosebleeds. I just wanted a hat and a T-shirt."

But Ashkewe's X post was seen by the right people and he received another email, this time from the WWE, as he was being interviewed by CBC News.

"While we're talking, just got an email actually," he said. "You're getting a live scoop right now.

"They said that they're able to provide two tickets with your accessibility needs accounted for at Money in the Bank on Saturday."

Ashkewe said he's excited about going to the big show and a chance to travel.

"I don't get out of town a whole lot," he said. "The last time I got out of town was because my sister-in-law paid for our birthday present together.

"Mine's in October, hers is in June, but we want to celebrate together, so she took me down to Niagara Falls Comic Con."

In a statement to CBC News, a WWE spokesperson said the company found out about the issue on Wednesday night and had secured accessible space for Ashkewe at the show by Thursday morning.

WWE asked Ashkewe for his phone number so they could transfer the tickets. The company also arranged for Rhodes, who holds the WWE Champion and WWE Universal Champion titles, to call Ashkewe directly.

In another post on X, Ashkewe said the call left him speechless.

"I really and sincerely hope that future contest holders, and anybody else, takes into consideration the needs of the disabled community," he said. "We want to come to events, we want to come to the concert, we want to come to the shows, we want to be involved, we want to be seen.

"And I know WWE has an amazing track record with the disabled community," Ashkewe said. "I know when they want to do amazing things they can. And this was unexpected.

"I am shaking."

Contest holders urged to keep accessibility in mind 

Edward Faruzel, executive director of KW AccessAbility, said anyone running a contest on social media needs to keep in mind that people of any ability could win.

"It would be prudent of them to ensure that the seats are accessible or can be exchanged for accessible seating, if that were the case," he said. "They should ensure with the venue that there are accessible seating arrangements at a similar location, also.

"I've been given seats for sporting events and then when I go there, they're not accessible, and I've been fortunate that the venue has been able to exchange them," Faruzel said. "But they're not always seats of equal value or in the same location."

Faruzel noted that while he was happy Ashkewe got attention on the issue via social media, not everyone can do that.

"A lot of people with disabilities, they don't all have that ability or knowledge on using social media," he said. "So that's another sort of drawback to that. That's the flip side of that coin."

At WWE MITB, Rhodes will team up with Randy Orton and Kevin Owens to take on the Bloodline in a six-man tag-team match.