It’s WOAAAH WOAAAH WRESTLEMAAAAANIAAA weekend, you’re now humming that song (don’t lie to me now), and if you’re a wrestling fan today is basically Christmas Eve at Woodstock Festival. What started as Vince McMahon’s circus of big dudes has become an entire week celebrating wrestling from all over the world and all across the spectrum, from strong style to silly style and British indies to American supercards. If you’re a wrestling fan, Wrestlemania weekend is fun and special, and there’s more than enough each year to guarantee that.
But what about the reason why we’re all here? You know, THE ULTIMATE THRILL RIDE(tm)?
Yeah, about that. As it stands, there’s some worrying signs that the ULTIMATE THRILL RIDE(tm) will be one run by SouthEastern Trains – one suffering constant delays, overcrowding and awful-smelling toilets. And while some have been able to psyche themselves up for big Vinnie’s grapple party regardless, others (including me) are rating a solid ‘…ehhh?’ on the hype-o-meter for the Show of Shows. Let’s have a look at a few reasons why Wrestlemania 33 might suck – and just to make sure I’m not totally dismissed as a bitchy smark, a reason why it might actually be awesome.
1. A Main Event Full of Bad Omens
Since The Rock rewrote all Wrestlemania buy rate records at WM28, Vinnie Mac has been more and more willing (or desperate, take your pick) to sacrifice year-round storylines and even new talent at the altar of nostalgia pops to get legends back onto the front of the ‘Mania poster. Has it worked? Well, you tell me. Results have been mixed to say the least, including last year’s tediously predictable (and plain tedious) main event, but WWE continues to gamble regardless in the face of their unwillingness to trust new stars to draw money like the old guys can. Because as we know, old guys rule, the Attitude Era was amazing, and you should probably care far more about 1997 WWE than 2017 WWE.
This year though, the gamble has plenty of potential for disaster. Why exactly was the Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg match at Wrestlemania 20 an absolute dumpster fire? Mostly because both were leaving at the conclusion of the show and couldn’t care less about the whole wrestling thing. As a result, neither could the fans. Thirteen years later, how much has changed? Lesnar is still on a sweet part-time deal and, according to Dean Ambrose last year, still treats wrestling like some annoying inconvenience he has to do every so often, like visiting the in-laws. Meanwhile, Goldberg – the guy who became the top champion in WWE after a grand total of five minutes’ work, I’ll remind you – has admitted this past week that he hates wrestling and training, and will be taking time off after Mania to presumably buy more cars.
Also, thanks for pretty much spoiling the result of the match.
Couple this with the fact we still don’t actually know if Goldberg can wrestle for longer than two minutes without blowing up, and that neither men is known for their move variety these days, coupled with fan resentment of the throwing of Kevin Owens and other full-time talent and storylines under the bus to make this match happen, and…hoo boy.
2. Mishandled Build for Undercard Matches
At least Wrestlemania 32, in spite of a poor main event, was saved by some fantastic undercard matches – lookin’ at you, Women’s Championship triple-threat – and there’s definitely similar potential with 33, but WWE haven’t done themselves any favours with some soap-in-the-bath levels of mishandling of booking. Granted, some of it wasn’t their fault; Seth Rollins and his malfunctioning knee come to mind. But what about the other matches? Roman Reigns vs Undertaker could be great if it resulted in Reigns’ mythical heel turn, which is like saying I could be handsome if I looked like Tyler Bate. Both long-time champions on either brand had their title reigns ended in disappointing fashion earlier this year, and while at least Kevin ‘Jobber To Old Men in 22 Seconds’ Owens still has his Chris Jericho feud to get some heat back with, AJ Styles has ended up in a match against the boss’ son, because reasons. And while yes, that’s a big endorsement given Shane was wrestling Taker last year, and yes, Shane having the self-preservation instincts of roadkill means we probably will get a wild match, but given some of the full-time actual wrestlers who will be chilling in the Andre The Giant Battle Royal in lieu of not having a match of their own (looking at you guys, Strowman, Zayn, Samoa Joe et al), you can understand why people are disappointed at AJ’s choice of opponent. It’s not like they could get his Wrestle Kingdom 10 opponent, Shinsuke Nakamura, in for another dance or anything…
Elsewhere, the RAW Women’s Championship match has suffered from a comedy of errors in booking since the turn of the year, and Nia Jax’s involvement seems horribly token when it shouldn’t. The Smackdown Women’s Championship and Cruiserweight Championship matches, both with a little bit of steam behind them, got shoved onto the pre-show – although it appears the former has been moved back after a much-deserved backlash – and the match with perhaps the best build of the whole show is a mixed-tag match which will likely pay off a Total Bellas angle.
Will all these matches be bad? Hell no. They all have show-stealing potential. But should they feel a lot more special than they do? Hell yes.
3. And It Goes On…And On…And On…And On…
Wrestlemania 32 featured twelve matches across 413 minutes of airtime, between the two-hour preshow and a nearly five-hour main show (hat tip to Kate Foray of RAW Breakdown for that info), and it’s fair to say it DRAGGED. Well guess what – this year we have THIRTEEN matches scheduled, so if you thought last year was a bit of a slog, stock up on the snacks and plan your piss breaks wisely, friends, because it’s not going to be any easier this year.
WWE’s recent obsession with length and size is akin to a teenage boy bragging in the locker room, and just as redundant. No-one asked for three-hour RAWs, no-one asked for ever-expanding announce teams and PPVs running over four hours time after time, no-one asked for the already-long Wrestlemania to be padded out with segments from the hosts and The Rock setting fire to things, and just to be clear…
4. Flo-Rida-Mania Is Running Wild AGAIN
…NO-ONE asked for a concert during the show featuring several questionably relevant pop and hip-hop stars further stretching out the show and bumping certain matches into pre-show hell.
And if you did, you’re wrong, so shut up.
I know, I know, Wrestlemania does love a good live performance. Or in the case of Kid Rock, a live performance. But on a show already running nearly seven hours, with more matches than ever, do we really need to take a time out for a Superbowl half-time show? I’d be saying this even if it was Queen performing with the reincarnated Freddie Mercury, let alone that ‘MR WORLDWIIIIDE’ guy, the guy who makes people yearn for the days WWE used Limp Bizkit and Saliva for Wrestlemania themes, and some bloke called Lunchmoney Larry or something. Oh and some other dude. I think?
5. ‘It’s not for hardcore fans, it’s for CASUALS’
This is more an argument I’ve seen used to dismiss any criticism towards Wrestlemania, and I feel like addressing it here. It’s been used to defend the poor booking, defend the 2003-era main event, and defend the pop concert and other gimmicks on the show to distract from the actual wrestling. And it’s not exactly wrong. Look, WWE has ALWAYS courted the mainstream, right back to having Mr T in the main event of Wrestlemania 1. ‘Mania has also featured boxing superstars, NFL hall of famers, talk show hosts, popstars and Hollywood actors both inside and out of the ring, and so far none of them have pulled a David Arquette and lucked in to a WWE Championship win. Yet.
However, as an everything-proof shield against criticism, it’s fairly fragile.
Leave aside the issue of expecting too much from the wrestling on a show called WRESTLEmania, it’s highly likely that fans who are willing to pay huge amounts of money for tickets and travel to the show, and also willing to sit through up to seven hours of the show itself, are pretty damn hardcore fans. The kind of hardcore fans who probably tune into Monday Night RAW every week, own tonnes of merch, and are as I type queuing for hours at Axxess for selfies with Mojo Rawley. If I’m trying to convince a non-wrestling-fan friend to tag along to a wrestling show, ‘Mania probably isn’t that show. And it’s not like the efforts to attract casual fans are doing much either; what message does it send out if someone looks at the poster and goes ‘hey, isn’t that the guy from 1990s WCW? Is he still a thing?’ At least the Rock or Batista are current Hollywood stars as well as former WWE legends. At least if you push someone newer, there might be a curiosity value; ‘hey, who’s this demon guy? He looks pretty badass! Or the beardy dude with a cult and garish shirt? Looks wild!’ Put it this way; who was the guy many people cited as the reason they started watching wrestling again as an adult? CM Punk. And we know how that all ended. Nostalgia value is fine, but it doesn’t exactly make you look very relevant and contemporary if that’s ALL you have to offer.
However, there is one reason why in spite of all I’ve just ranted about, Wrestlemania might still be awesome…
I know, I know, it’s the wrestling equivalent of ‘God moves in mysterious ways’. But as I said in the intro, given Wrestlemania is now an entire week worth of celebrations of wrestling, for many people Wrestlemania weekend will be a success long before the Show of Shows itself even starts, between PROGRESS, EVOLVE, Ring of Honor, WrestleCon, WaleMania, WCPW, NXT Takeover, Axxess, Joey Janela’s Spring Break (no seriously, it had a match featuring Dan Severn and Matt Riddle, I’M ALL ABOUT THIS) and more. And the joy of wrestling is that, as Maffew of Botchamania once eloquently put it; you can love it when it’s great, and laugh at it when it’s bad. So given Wrestlemania’s panchant for wackiness, surprises and exceeding expectations when their backs are against the wall, there’s nothing stopping Wrestlemania 33 joining the greats and defying the odds in much the same way Wrestlemanias 10 and 31 did. And if it turns out to be a total dumpster fire, no worries – fans in the stadium can enjoy the shared experience as well as everything else on the ‘Mania adventure, and fans at home can have a laugh with pals in watching it.
And of course, there’s the RAW After Mania. AKA, WWE’s ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card.
Either way, have a happy Wrestlemania weekend. It’s far too easy for us wrestling fans to get into arguments about stuff that doesn’t really matter, so let’s enjoy this weekend as the celebration of our violent pantomime sport that it is, and laugh our asses off when the Undertaker gets booed to hell for trying to endorse Roman Reigns as a babyface.
And/or go nuts when Brock Lesnar and Goldberg put on a technical, mat wrestling masterclass for 20 minutes.