Heroes and villains, world-famous legends, raving fans, a fantastic light show and even fireworks – WrestleMania was a spectacle on the grandest scale. The culminating event on the calendar of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), WrestleMania celebrated its 30th anniversary in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Sunday night. I left with a newfound appreciation for an event that is half sport, half theater, yet all entertainment.
Not everyone puts professional wrestling in the same category as other pro sports. It’s common knowledge that the matches are staged and the outcomes predetermined. Even the WWE admits that the event is something other than a traditional sports competition, describing WrestleMania as a “pop culture extravaganza” on its official website. However you define it, I can attest to the fact that the staging and light show of the event surpasses even the most extravagant Broadway musical.
While outcomes of the WWE matches are predetermined to heighten the drama, many aspects of the event are as real as any other popular professional sports match: The wrestlers are talented athletes and the fans are heavily invested in the results. I understand how easy it is to be swept up in the drama and showmanship of the “extravaganza.”
WrestleMania 30: A Novice’s Recap
Walking up to the Superdome early Sunday evening for WrestleMania 30, I was surrounded by fans of all ages, races and sexes. I was impressed, and even surprised, by the diversity of the attendees. I was even more surprised to learn of the worldwide reach of the sport — fans from 37 countries made the trek to the Big Easy for this momentous event. Everyone was decked out in official WrestleMania attire or donned the gear of their favorite wrestlers — from t-shirts to complete costumes (I haven’t seen so many men wearing boas since the Buddy D Dress Parade following the Super Bowl).
WrestleMania fervor was not just limited to the general-admission spectators. Later, waiting for the elevator to the Press Box, I stood next to a fellow reporter decked out in full costume in homage to Jake “The Snake” Roberts, including a fake snake wrapped around his neck, in honor of his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame the previous evening. While we stood and chatted, the fellow media member/WWE fan also pointed out the appearance of Ric Flair, legendary pro wrestler (known for his “wooo” chant), as well as Bulgarian wrestler Alexander Rusev. Based on the amount of space Rusev took up in the elevator, it was clear that he was, in fact, a WWE star.
After the excitement of seeing two WWE stars (even if the star sightings had to be pointed out to me), it was time for the main event. The staging itself was impressive – a large “WrestleMania” sign was suspended above a large stage featuring three X’s (a tribute to the 30th anniversary). Below this backdrop a stage led to a large, lighted ramp that ended at the central attraction, the wrestling ring. As participants were announced, each would descend from the stage to the main ring. The backdrop transformed to match the personas of the entertainers, a shock to the senses that electrified the crowd.
After a pre-show of warm-up matches, WrestleMania 30 began its main show, to the delight of the 75,000-plus fans packed in the Superdome as well as the millions of viewers watching via Pay-Per-View. The first 10 minutes of the event featured fireworks and the introduction of three pro wrestling legends, Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania 30’s official host), Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock. The fact that I had heard of all three former wrestlers alerted me to the fact that this was a huge deal. Even Hulk Hogan mistakenly calling the Superdome the “Silverdome” couldn’t dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm for this showcase.
As the remainder of the evening progressed, I became involved in the storylines of the wrestlers. The Undertaker fell to Brock Lesnar to end his streak of 21 straight WrestleMania victories. Crowd favorite John Cena defeated Bray Wyatt, a rising guy-you-love-to-hate in the WWE universe (and a character with an eerie similarity to the villain of the HBO series True Detective). A Battle Royal featuring 30 wrestlers and the best costumes of the night culminated in winner Cesaro lifting 400-plus-pound wrestler Big Show up and out of the ring. And, finally, underdog fan favorite Daniel Bryan defeated Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista on his way to his first WWE Heavy Weight Championship. The crowd’s enthusiasm and chants of “Yes” in support of Bryan were infectious.
For a full list of WrestleMania winners, click here.
At the end of the evening, I realized that the wrestling itself (at least to this observer) served as the denouement of the event. The climax occurred during the announcement of each wrestler, when the spectacle of the show was at its most frenzied. I will admit that some of the moves were exciting, as the wrestlers expertly threw their bodies around the ring in a variety of high-flying maneuvers (again, these guys are true athletes). However, the pre-match storylines, the entrances and the eventual outcome of each match served as the most enjoyable part of the experience.
After 30 years, WrestleMania knows how to transport its audience into a willing suspension of disbelief. Like any great entertainment form, we might know the formula, but we still enjoy the ride.
And it didn’t hurt that the 30th anniversary of WrestleMania took place in New Orleans, a city that knows how to throw one hell of a party.