When people find out that I’m a professional wrestling fan, they typically react in one of two ways. The first, and most common, is derision. Pro wrestling, whether this is true or not, has gained a reputation as an event for the stupid and uncultured. Some variation of “How could you like that stuff, Burk?” usually comes out of their mouths, often followed by some sort of joke directed at “the WWF,” even though it hasn’t been called that for over a decade.
I typically mention something about how wrestling’s closest analogue is theater, and things get very dicey after that. The second reaction is some combination of recognition and confusion, the “I used to watch that when I was a kid” response. Someone will ask me if Stone Cold is still around, or they’ll reminisce about Too Cool, before finally saying the equivalent of “Man, wrestling used to be way better” and changing the topic. (The third reaction is “Oh man, I like wrestling too” followed by “Have you watched any recent New Japan shows?” but that reaction is so uncommon that I’m not even sure it actually exists.)
Anyway, I’m a wrestling fan. I’ve been a wrestling fan for quite awhile now, and last weekend I finally got to cross the wrestling Holy Grail off of my bucket list: Wrestlemania. Wrestlemania–the Grandest Stage of Them All, the Granddaddy of Them All, whatever–is the biggest WWE event of the year. The company puts their entire back into promoting this show. They book great matches, choose an absurdly large venue (MetLife Stadium in New Jersey in this case), grab some random celebrities nobody really wants to see, all in the quest for a million and change PPV buys and huge live gates. But was it any good?
Well, kinda. To be perfectly honest, the card itself was one of the more mediocre Wrestlemanias in recent memory. The undercard was quite good. Though there was one match that was abjectly terrible (here’s looking at you, Ryback and Mark Henry), most of the undercard consisted of good to very good matches contested between good to great wrestlers. It was way too short (reports indicate that WWE horribly mistimed the event in rehearsals, and that must be true), but the crowd was fairly hot, and we enjoyed most of the matches.
The problem came with the main card. Though it was stacked–the top two matches being WWE star turned MMA star turned WWE star again Brock Lesnar versus WWE stalwart Triple H and current top star John Cena versus Fast Five dude/G.I. Joe The Rock–many of the matches failed to deliver. Lesnar/HHH had to follow the absolutely stunning CM Punk/Undertaker match (which I’ll get to in a minute), and was marred by a totally dead crowd throughout. It was also slow, plodding and weird, which in retrospect isn’t surprising given that Lesnar suffered a concussion a few minutes into the match. Rock and Cena suffered from being too much of the same. They had just headlined Wrestlemania XXVIII last year and, beyond this match being for the title, didn’t do much different. It wasn’t a bad match at all, but it wasn’t great. The Rock also apparently tore his abs off the bone during the match (I cringe just writing that), which couldn’t have helped.
The only match that really felt like Wrestlemania was the match between CM Punk and the Undertaker. CM Punk is the WWE’s second most popular star. He currently wrestles as a bad guy, and he plays the role of smug asshole about as well as it’s every been played. He was up against the Undertaker, who is literally a zombie (no seriously, he was originally billed as a zombie), who at this point is so beat up he can only wrestle one match a year. Why does he come back? The Streak. Namely, the dude has a record of 20-0 at Wrestlemania. Yes, this is wrestling, and yes, it is rigged, but let me tell you: The Streak matters. It’s one of the few story lines that WWE can book well, and they do it really well. This match–chock full of emotion, some stunning spots, an incredibly hot crowd and two of the best performers in the business–exhibited everything that wrestling is capable of. And it was great.
And so was Wrestlemania, really. Yes, the show was mediocre, but there’s absolutely nothing like packing into a stadium with 80,000 other people just as crazy about this carnival-cum-theater thing as you are. We “woo’d” on the way to the event, yelled “Yes!” on the way back, complained about some of the matches and praised others. But we left as we arrived: as wrestling fans. My brother and I have discussed if going was worth it, and we’ve basically come to the same conclusion. We can’t wait to go again.