Quarantine-To-Do-List: Wrestlemania 37
I have spent over a week in quarantine with a COVID-19 infection at this point, making great use of my newest acquisition: a subscription to WWE Network. Giving in to my craving for 2000s-nostalgia-content I recently finished watching 2004's Wrestlemania XX from Madison Square Garden - now I am hooked. Given the circumstances of being locked in with nothing else to do, no information on when I am allowed to leave my house again and Wrestlemania 37 creeping up on the horizon, I decided to spend Saturday and Sunday night on the coach watching WWE's biggest event of its calendar - simply referring to it as "big" already being a massive understatement.
Knowing that it would be the first WWE pay-per-view with fans present - and not just a few - I was extremely excited, although the card was for, the most part, devoid of big names from my childhood that I could hold on to - no John Cena, no Undertaker, no Triple H. However, this presented the chance to get to know better the current WWE roster and develop appreciation for the present state of Vince McMahon's pro wrestling company.
So, I sat my ass on the couch at 1AM for two nights in a row, watched pro wrestling until 6AM and, believe it or not, I do not regret it the slightest. The gigantic Wrestlemania-setup in Tampa's Raymond-James-Stadium, which hosted the Super Bowl just a few months back, had me in awe and my eyes were fixated at the screen for hours. I hardly ever stood up in order to grab something to eat - which is a rarity, in my case - or visit the bathroom because I did not want to miss out on the action. WWE's ads even persuaded me to visit its online-shop afterwards and purchase a D-Generation-X-shirt.
In short, I was ecstatic, and my state of ecstasy still holds up. I even watched Monday night's episode of RAW to get a grasp of Wrestlemania's immediate aftermath. Filled with pure joy, simply because I was watching wrestling with actual fans around the ring, I might have easily overseen various flaws during the course of the show.
Anyways, since I am still full of excitement, I decided to write a piece on my quarantine-spectacle and express my thoughts. I originally intended to sum up my experience by working my way trough the event's match-card and adding my personal two cents to each bout but I quickly concluded that, considering the size of my audience, it was not worth the amount of time and work this venture would possibly consume. Therefore, I will simply put my impressions out there without any specific order or organization. So, without further ado, let's dive into my recollection of - *Vince McMahon voice* - WWWRRRRRRESTLLLEEMMAAANNIIIIAAAAAA!
Splitting a show like Wrestlemania into two equal parts might lead to the conclusion that one night had to be more entertaining than the other one. I feel like Mania delivered on both nights, however. Probably thanks to the fact that fans were (finally) present again and WWE's most gigantic pay-per-view was back in all its bombastic glory. Its typically incomparable presentation makes you completely forget about the company's underwhelming tenure inside a warehouse dubbed the Thunderdome leading up to the event. Undeniably, the WWE has lost its appeal during the previous run without a huge number of fans surrounding the ring - no matter how captivating the performances during those months still were, something essential was missing. It was made apparent that WWE shows are heavily reliant on a live audience, and videoscreens in combination with artificial fan noises are an inadequate alternative. Fortunately, at least for this one short weekend, the irreplaceable energy provided by an actual crowd filled Tampa's Raymond-James-Stadium and made for an unforgettable comeback - before sadly returning to the (despised) Thunderdome for RAW the following night. Allowing a crowd of 25,000 attendants inside the stadium might seem like a questionable or risky venture in the eyes of a virologist, but they undoubtedly made their presence felt, as not even the terrible weather conditions worsened their obvious enthusiasm - as well as their hatred for Hulk Hogan who got booed mercilessly when appearing.
The opener between WWE champion Bobby Lashley and Drew McIntyre was an alright start to the show. The Scottish mammoth that is Drew McIntyre - you cannot compare his current physique, nor his chest hair, to his looks during his first years with the company - came out in the rain to a roaring audience. My personal highlight of the matchup: hearing McIntyre audibly calling Lashley a 'bald b**ch'. I have heard wilder things watching Wrestlemania XX a few days ago but the simple insult made me subconsciously feel like everything is right with the current WWE product. However, he lost the match by submitting to Lashley's Hurt Lock which seemingly was no big deal as the Scottish Warrior (re)claimed his spot as the number one contender Monday night against Braun Strowman and Randy Orton.
Speaking of Strowman and Orton, both had underwhelming outings in Tampa. Strowman's steel-cage-match versus Shane McMahon not only had an incredibly boring build-up - *sighs* Strowman was called 'stupid' and did not like that at all - but also was an unbelievably underwhelming watch. Strowman breaking the cage to get the escaping Shane O'Mac back inside and a breath-taking fall of McMahon from the top of the steel construction shortly after might sounds highly entertaining, however, the fight in its entirety was not.
Orton versus The Fiend was...well...it is complicated. Firstly, I am fascinated by Bray Wyatt's persona referred to as 'The Fiend'. The appearance, the entrance, the entire plot basically; it all adds up to one extremely interesting and horrifying creation. Though I am not the biggest fan of the Fiend/Orton/Bliss-angle, I was still overly excited going into Sunday night's opening bout. I almost freaked out when my internet connection broke down for a couple of moments prior to the Fiend's entrance which did not disappoint. On the other hand, I still do not know what to make of the match and its confusing ending. It ended as abruptly as it started, in favor of Randy Orton as a result of Alexa Bliss' surprising appearance - honestly, as weird as it was, it looked fantastic. Even the fans were irritated and confused, yelling 'holy shit' in unison as soon as the lights went back on. I am curious how this story will further develop.
The mid-card delivered on a high level. The underappreciated Cesaro celebrated a win in his first Mania singles match against Seth Rollins. Sheamus versus Riddle for the US-title was similarly entertaining and ended with a bloody Brogue Kick to the Original Bro's - aka Riddle - face.
The tag team action was fun, mostly due to the New Day's extravagant nature and, of course, Bad Bunny. The Puerto Rican world-star performed like no other celebrity guest ever before, surprising opponents as well as fans with an unpredictable array of moves. It was obvious that Bad Bunny has been a WWE aficionado for most of his young life and was fulfilling a childhood dream competing with, and against, actual WWE talent in Damien Priest, Miz and Morrison.
Rather underrated in my eyes was the matchup between Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. I did not anticipate much beforehand given the involvement of Logan Paul and the strange buildup. However, the in-ring action performed was surprisingly outstanding - plus, Logan Paul receiving a stunner made the influencer's invitation somewhat acceptable.
The "Nigerian Drum Fight" for the Intercontinental Championship was classic wrestling exaggeration and served as another example of a creative match description that ended up being nothing other than a no-disqualification-contest but with drums and kendo sticks positioned around the ring. The newly established Nigerian variation of Apollo Crews and Big E delivered a mostly predictable fight, except for the ending that left a lot to uncover in future episodes of SmackDown.
Night 1's main event matchup for the Smackdown Women's Championship between Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair once again showed how far WWE's Women's division has come compared to its status about ten to 15 years ago. While the female part of the roster was used mainly for erotic or comedic - basically, controversially sexist - purposes during the late 90s and 00s, the current division possesses undeniable main event potential. After being visibly overwhelmed by the moment at first, standing face-to-face in the middle of the ring, Sasha and Bianca delivered a title bout that completely overshadowed the RAW Women's title match between Asuka and Rhea Ripley the following night. It was a passionate performance by both competitors, showing their creativity and enormous arsenal of moves. In the end, Bianca Belair held the title in her hands, providing a grandiose finish to the first night of this years' Mania.
Night 2's Triple Threat main event exceeded my exceptionally low expectations. I like Edge and Daniel Bryan but I have never been the biggest fan of either one. Same goes for Roman Reigns who I have never thought to be especially interesting. Therefore, I was not particularly excited about the Triple Threat match for the WWE Universal Championship. Well, I should have been.
A career defining effort by all three competitors took this fight to incredible heights. An anger-fueled Edge, the usual "Yes!"-yelling Daniel Bryan and the 'Head of the Table' Roman Reigns who embraced his heel persona to the fullest - even arguing with fans - were the cherry on top of this Wrestlemania.
It might not have been the single greatest Mania of all time, but the fans' triumphant return after months of fan-energy-deprived wrestling-shows turned Wrestlemania 37 into a phenomenal spectacle. WWE finally felt as magical, bombastic, and over-the-top as it did throughout my childhood, and I appreciate that. Possibly more than I should.
Anyways, this mega-event demonstrated the impact the environs have on the show's credibility. I will not argue about whether wrestling is real or not as I have touched upon that in earlier essays. Summarizing, it is to say that wrestling evidently needs a live audience to work its magic. Let's hope it will not take another year until we see WWE superstars making their entrance to the ring while being greeted by loud and organic cheers.