A couple of months ago, I was looking through old photo albums with my sisters and girlfriend when I came across a picture of myself as a child wearing face paint. The oddest thing about the picture was that it wasn’t Halloween, it was just a picture taken from a family trip to Las Vegas in the summer. I reminisced about begging my parents to pay someone at the Circus Circus hotel to paint my face like the professional wrestler the Ultimate Warrior. This made me remember how fanatical I was about pro wrestling growing up.
Though I grew older and my fascination with wrestling chipped away as I became interested in sports and girls, there is still one day out of the year that makes me feel like a child again. That day is Wrestlemania.
Wrestlemania XXIX took place on Sunday at the home of the NFL’s New York Jets and Giants, Metlife Stadium, in front of 80,676 wrestling fans. The number was the highest at a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) event since Wrestlemania III in 1987 and the highest attended event at Metlife Stadium. The WWE also broke its live gate record by making $12.3 million that night, which was also a MetLife Stadium record.
The event was headlined by a championship match between pro wrestling’s main attraction John Cena and Hollywood action movie superstar and former pro wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The mere fact that Johnson has returned to the company where he first gained fame by performing in his second-straight Wrestlemania speaks to what a spectacle the event still is as he is a big time movie star who has no trouble finding work.
Though the main event was reason enough for many fans to shell out $60 for the pay-per-view, I had a bigger interest in a bout featuring Wrestlemania staple the Undertaker and company rebel CM Punk. The 48-year-old veteran, the Undertaker, had a 20-0 undefeated at Wrestlemania streak on the line as well as honoring the memory of his late manager Paul Bearer, who passed away just a couple of weeks ago.
Being the innovator that he is, CM Punk brought an emotional element to the match as he had interrupted the Undertakers tribute to Bearer shortly after his death a couple of weeks ago. Punk had not only interrupted the ceremony but also dumped out Bearer’s “ashes.” Many found this to be in poor taste, however, the organization did get the okay from Bearer’s family.
Punk’s “character” is the only reason I even began following pro wrestling again for the first time in years. He had a legendary fourth-wall breaking “shoot” monologue in June of 2011. In the monologue he went after Cena, Johnson and even the owners of the WWE, the McMahon family. It shortly went viral and captured my attention as I had never seen anything like it before in all my years of fandom. I even had long discussions with friends that I didn’t even know liked wrestling about the monologue.
It is pro wrestlers like CM Punk that could bring the WWE back to its heyday of popularity in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.
While I was watching the event, I was happy to log on Twitter and find that other sports journalists were also taking in the spectacle of Wrestlemania. Editor-in-chief of Grantland and ESPN analyst Bill Simmons was live tweeting through the entire event, making light of Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak by tweeting, “21 Straight for the (Under)Taker—he’s 12 away from the 72 Lakers and 35 away from (Joe) DiMaggio.”
ESPN boxing writer and television commentator Dan Rafael and the Orange County Register boxing writer Damian Calhoun also live tweeted showing that even real fight journalists have a soft spot for the scripted pageantry of a WWE event. It goes to show that the spectacle of Wrestlemania still far outweighs the need for true sports realism.
Though I have grown up a lot and my taste in entertainment has vastly changed, I still look forward to that one Sunday in the spring where I can feel like a child again.