Around this time every year, late March, early April, there is a manic fever that sweeps across wrestling fans worldwide. At this mid-Lental time, be we fasting or feasting, there is an unashamed break from normal interactions when we, as a collective fan-base, gorge our senses with the lights and sounds and colours of the showiest show of shows, the most expensively elaborate spectacle for a taste so peculiar that only the Eurovision comes close in its eccentricity.
Whether you have any knowledge of it previously or if this is the first time this particular portmanteau has scarred your retinas, you can get any and all information you need to know about the occasion from the very name itself.
It involves jamming together things that normally wouldn’t be jammed together, it’s slamming together of Wrestle and Mania gives echoes of the Super Bowl, something manufactured to be big, an idea wholly and unabashedly American. It is a word bigger than itself, a depiction of an overwrought occasion (much like this description) where organisers and fans alike obsess and craze over the topic and that topic, you probably have guessed, is wrestling.
Sometimes there’s not enough wrestling, but there is, without fail, plenty of mania. TLC II at WrestleMania 17 where Edge Speared Jeff Hardy off the ladder, WrestleMania XXII where Edge Speared against Mick Foley onto a table of fire, the Undertaker nearly breaking his neck at WrestleMania XXV; these moments inspire lads to either become daredevil wrestlers or make them realise this shit hurts and just watch it instead.
There are also legitimately great stories told at WrestleMania, Shawn Michaels v The Undertaker at both XXV and XXVI being insane. If this promo does not raise your interest in their story or what they are capable of producing, then I am afraid I cannot help.
And this year’s edition, WrestleMania XXIII, takes place in Orlando, Florida this Sunday, April 2nd, and the WWE are ready and rearing to deliver an assault on all available senses to its 70,000+ live audience as well as the million plus watching online through their semi-successful/semi-failing self-streaming platform of the WWE Network.
The card looks similar to that of an overfed cow; you will get good, tasty cuts of meat from it, you could well garner some milk from its udders, but there is a high possibility of fatty substances getting in the way. And a severe threat of gaseous emissions too.
Last year, in Arlington, Texas, WrestleMania XXXII saw the confirmation of a women’s wrestling “revolution” in the company with Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch getting actual time to showcase their talent, while the belated coronation of Roman Reigns as WWE Champion finally occurred to a maelstrom of abuse. This show also provided us with a far too elaborate spot involving Shane McMahon, a table, and a mental amount of distance and gravity.
But besides those “Moments™” – something the management wanted to push down our throats until we accepted it and coughed up a lung with the suffocation – it was a rather vanilla-esque event for something pushed as the Grandest Stage of Them All. And one of the main factors of this has been cited as an exhausting running time of 4+ hours. Even as an excited red dwarf as a part of the gigantic WWE Universe™, the event brought me to sleep at times from complete boredom.
And this year is more of the same, four hours of a main show prefaced with a seemingly excessive two hours of a pre-show. So, will the quality be there over the course of the hours? Will it improve on last year’s effort? Has the company and its storytelling evolved, or just got better?
Well, a year on from its self-promoted revolution of its treatment of its women contingent, they have still at times floundered in its booking decisions, Bayley’s championship win on Raw to set her up as a babyface champion going into WrestleMania being one I would raise – my argument being a babyface is better chasing than defending. But dropping pushes and storylines brings them up to the level of their male counterparts, so in one respect they’re doing A-okay. The four way this Sunday only adds to frustration of a preferred match up of Charlotte and Bayley, the other women added in because no other storyline really caught traction with the audience. So, treated exactly like their male counterparts on Raw.
But over on brand SmackDown Live, it has been hit after hit in keeping up several stories at one time – imagine women being able to do that! SmackDown Live seems to be surpassing Raw specifically in story quality and the women there are far passed their Monday rivals. However, for all their work they were rewarded to be clumped together with a mere pre-show match, an utter slap in the face. Thankfully, the main show match has been restored. Surely that will fire up the women to deliver a top-drawer match, but the odds are not on their side with a large drawback of the match being the number of participants with no gimmick to play with. We can only wait and see. And gwan Becky. Nothing like dirty national bias, eh? Go n-éirí an t-ádh leat!
And Roman Reigns? How’s he fairing then? Well, he’s doing alright. He’s no longer champion but is still very much hated by the crowd with a fervent passion I haven’t seen or experienced a heel elicit in the modern-day product, baring Brock Lesnar post-WM 30 and Stephanie McMahon at her most potent. He is a man hated by the “smarks” – that is to say “smart marks” or fans – and his actual fans seem to be tepid towards his endeavours, and it looks as though this Sunday that he’ll pass towards eternal damnation taking on the Undertaker. Defeating the Undertaker, a character beloved without question by all fans, will only cement the universal hatred held for him. But are management going to play towards this natural negativity and make the man a monster heel? Or will they persevere with the narrative of being a tough guy face asserting dominance? Treading this line can be dangerous and there’s no definite answer to that question, but will the WWE worry about what people concerned about the quality of some of their stories? There’s a far more definite answer for that one.
Thankfully this year Shane McMahon has no cage to jump off. But that was Shane McMahon’s gig, he was the man who jumped off things. And he’ll be in a plain ol’ ordinary match with AJ Styles? Hmm. It peaks the interest if nothing else. It’ll probably provide Styles with his first WrestleMania win too. There’s also potential in the other matches, the tag team ladder match, the John Cena match feat. other folk, and Lesnar finally destroying Goldberg. That’s even not touching on some of the best work of the past year done by Chris Jericho as a conniving sniveling heel beside his former best friend, Kevin Owens which should also be a cracker and a half. Save the bathroom break of the Battle Royale, this looks like a good card. Between these matches full of promise, the signs, the crowd, the spots, the moments forced down our gob, the utter spectacle of it all, the utter mania it can induce, surely that is something to stay up for?