Life moves quickly.
I know, I know, that’s a tired cliche right up there with “Just take it one day at a time” and “it was like that when I got here, really” in terms of overuse. Still, as a person gets older, it seems as though the months and years seem to blend together, in a never ending mix of school, work, social relationships, and season changes. You think back to things that happened ten years ago and think, “Christ, that was ten years ago already?”
Life as a wrestling fan in 2012 moves at an even faster pace. Between WWE and TNA, there are six hours of prime time television programming a week, and over twenty pay per views a year. That’s almost one every other Sunday. Due to the quick pace of this TV schedule, shows and events don’t seem to resonate like they used to. Sure, you have the occasional big angle, match, or storyline that gets people talking and the internet buzzing. But, for the most part, it’s just on to the next show. Fans of other sports have an off season to discuss the upcoming schedule, free agent signings, trades, etc. For wrestling fans, it’s always just about the next RAW or Impact, or PPV. The format just requires fans to be running on a treadmill that never seems to stop.
Still, through it all, the one constant in professional wrestling (a past term for “sports entertainment”) throughout the last 28 years, through all the performers and fans that have come and gone is Wrestlemania. By far the most watched wrestling pay per view event of the year, Wrestlemania still brings a special buzz to it that’s rarely seen anymore. Hardcore fans plan entire weeks around it. Casual fans who flip Raw on occasionally while channel surfing think about ordering it. If you are lucky enough to have Wrestlemania come to your town, expect an entire week of promotion, events, the Hall of Fame ceremony, Wrestlemania itself, and Raw the next night. Fans have dubbed Wrestlemania “The Super Bowl of Wrestling”, and for all the hyperbole and exaggeration that WWE bestows on fans, this one is not exaggerated. Through annual promotion, spectacular performances, and memorable moments, Wrestlemania has stood the test of time to remain as the biggest and most special wrestling night of the year.
Thinking back now, I can’t remember a time where I didn’t have Wrestlemania to look forward to. Too young to really be a fan for the first Wrestlemania, I began watching Saturday morning wrestling in January of 1986, at the age of 5, and quickly latched on to Hulkamania in full force. (I also loved the British Bulldogs because I liked dogs, and Randy Savage because of the different colors he wore every week. Yeah, didn’t take much for me to become a fan of someone.) Devastated by King Kong Bundy’s treacherous sneak attack of Hogan on Saturday Night’s Main Event, I was intrigued to see that Hulk would return to face Bundy in a steel cage match to headline Wrestlemania 2. Of course, I didn’t really understand the whole concept of it back then. I didn’t understand how Wrestlemania could be in three different cities at one time. (Come to think of it, most didn’t, as Wrestlemania 2 would be the lone Mania that had matches in three different cities.) I also didn’t understand when Mean Gene Okerlund informed me that I could watch Wrestlemania on something called “closed circuit TV.” Closed circuit, what the hell is that? Keep in mind I was only a stupid 5 year old, and could barely even operate a remote control at the time.
I didn’t end up watching the show live, but the weeks of well-oiled promotion and build up made it clear to me that Wrestlemania was something special to see. The years to follow would provide more excitement…
Wrestlemania III – Wrestlemania’s third installment proved to be a landmark show for biggest main event ever (Hogan/Andre), greatest match in WWE history until that point (Savage/Steamboat) and most exaggerated announced crowd (announced at the famed 93,173, later reports from event promoter Zane Bresloff had the actual total at around 78,000, still an unimaginable total for a professional wrestling event in North America. I loved this Wrestlemania for all of the above, not to mention the drama aspect of the show starting in the daylight, and ending in darkness. I would attempt to recreate this effect while wrestling in my basement that year, starting at dusk, and then returning after “intermission” (aka, dinner) to reenact Savage/Steamboat. You could ask why I just wouldn’t turn the lights on and off to make this much easier and less time consuming, but ya know…..
Wrestlemania V – Back in the money making palace of Donald Trump, this event featured an iconic main event (Hogan vs Savage, dubbed “The MegaPowers Explode”,and a shocking defeat (Warrior jobbing for the first time in his WWF run, dropping the IC title to a much improved Ravishing Rick Rude). I also remembered these past two Manias (Wrestlemania IV was also at Trump Plaza) for having the longest walking aisleway in recorded history. Some Manias in domes sent guys out in ringtrucks or had large stages that took up some of the distance. For these two shows, Vince just gave these guys an oxygen mask and a compass.
Wrestlemania VIII – My first Wrestlemania that I was able to see live. At the time, it was reported to be Hogan’s “retirement match,”. (I was still only 11 at that point, and unaware of the steroid and sex scandals rocking the WWF at the time. I just thought Hulk was tired or something. Uh, yeah….) this Mania would be remembered for fantastic World and IC title matches, and the electrifying return of the Ultimate Warrior from an eight month exile. Of course, with the WWF actually testing for steroids at this point, Jim Hellwig quickly gave new meaning to the term “Slim Jim” upon his return. I also remember horrifying my mother by complaining that the promised large screen centerfold of Miss Elizabeth by Flair and Perfect didn’t happen. Hey, hormones occur naturally, ok?
Wrestlemania X – Ushering in the post Hogan WWF era, Bret Hart and Owen Hart thrill the crowd with the best opener in Mania history, topped off later in the show by the now legendary HBK/Ramon ladder match, kickstarting a new gimmick match that would still be used today. Also notable for a drunken Burt Reynolds (allegedly) slurring his way through a fantastic ring introduction.
>Wrestlemania XV – Firmly into the Attitude Era, this was the first of two Wrestlemanias I would attend live, in my home city of Philadelphia. Show actually was a bit of disappointment, but sent the crowd home happy with Austin regaining the belt, and provided a horrific/memorable moment with Butterbean destroying Bart Gunn with a punch that sounded like a gunshot went off in the arena. I think Bart may still be laying there today.
Wrestlemania X-Seven through XIX – These three years marked the return of Wrestlemania to big time professional stadiums throughout North America. While some may argue that the crowd noise isn’t as audible in a dome or open stadium, the visual of these crowds is still a sight to behold.
Wrestlemania XXV – My second trip to Wrestlemania live, this time in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. I remember this trip mainly for my crew making the flight down together, and the parking lot tailgate experience. You hear it on TV all the time, and with all of the propaganda that WWE puts out, being there live again really cemented how much of a global event this brand has become. I met people from England, Ireland, Germany, Mexico, and Japan, all there for one common reason. Of course, I could hardly understand anything that most of them said, but that’s besides the point.
So, as we move on to Wrestlemania XXVIII this week, the name Wrestlemania still means something. In a world of instant gratification, shortened attention spans, and ever changing times, the fact that this show still resonates around the globe is a testament to the history and promotion given to the show. Perhaps it was best summed up with a story by Bobby Heenan, who ran into Vince McMahon backstage at MSG after the initial Wrestlemania in 1985, and remarked, “Hey, here’s to Wrestlemania 2!”, to which a smirking McMahon replied, “Yeah, right. Here’s to Wrestlemania 42.” Indeed.