We are delighted that Hooked On's Rob McNichol shares his first piece on our brand new website.
Did you watch Wrestlemania 33 at the weekend? You did? Cool. You just watched the greatest Wrestlemania of all time. How does that feel?
OK, you may not say it was the best ever. You might not even say you liked it. That does not greatly matter. There has never been a finer example of the sports entertainment pay-per-view. Trust me.
You see, Wrestlemania is different. It is not simply about what happens bell to bell; who walks away with titles; who steals the show. It is about the package, and what it delivers – and this show delivered on every level that WWE would want to deliver in as a live show.
Everyone will have an opinion on the card – the matches, essentially – that will vary depending on your tastes. I thought it was a most enjoyable show, almost no bad matches, albeit a couple that were below that they could have been. It was too long by half, meaning I lost the enjoyment of later matches as I was so tired, but in fairness they probably were not booking to suit me, who had that day travelled for four hours, then hosted a live show for 600 fans in Walkabout Temple London four a further four. The fact that my eyelids drooped a little by 5am was hardly surprising.
You will have your own reasons for loving, liking, hating or feeling indifferent towards Wrestlemania 33. It will likely depend on your fondness – or lack thereof – of Roman Reigns; your tolerance of gimmickry such as that used during Bray Wyatt v Randy Orton; your excitement at seeing the Hardy brothers return; and other matters covered on the show.
For WWE, they have to worry about a great deal more than all that. On their mammoth checklist, I cannot imagine too many unticked boxes offering mega cause for concern. Whether or not a critic gives two stars or four stars to Chris Jericho v Kevin Owens is of piffling significance.
From the outset, things looked good: the set was magnificent; the performance of America the Beautiful was sound; the opening video package was of the usual high standard; even the weather was playing ball, although there were reports of possible storm activity.
“Gimme the green light, cos I’m ready to go...” I keep singing that – I think even the post-Mania Raw crowd adopted it into one of their chants at one point – so that suggests that it struck the right chord.
Throughout the show, as the Floridian evening turned suddenly to night, various tricks of the trade enhanced what was on show. A selection of outfits looked classy, like special one-offs for a special night; fireworks seemed to be timed just right, and for the right people, lighting up the Citrus Bowl and its environs.
The ridiculous length of the stage was actually no hindrance to matters. John Cena made light of his long run to the ring, and the enjoyment he shared as he ran past his other half, Nikki Bella, was genuinely quite heart-warming. Randy Orton was accompanied by a visual viper, spied slithering beneath him from above, while gold-clad Seth Rollins mimicked the Olympics with a flaming torch ceremony.
There was not perhaps as many overly elaborate entrances, although Triple H got his usual hoopla, piling down the ramp complete with police escorts, wife and monster trike. Chris Jericho’s inflatable ‘List’ and light-up scarf were magnificent adornments to his act.
As far as actual match action did go, many matches had added extras, both overt and subtle, that are saved for the big days. Whether it was 47-year-old son-of-a-boss Shane McMahon doing shooting-star presses or Kevin Owens placing a finger on the rope to break up a pin, there were touches that - consciously or otherwise – were pressing home that this was Mania, and it is special.
The post-script worked for WWE too, placing them where they wanted to be. The involvement of Rob Gronkowski, a New England Patriots NFL star, was designed to nab some sports-related headlines. The engagement of Cena and Bella, genuine or otherwise, sets up future episodes of Total Divas, Total Bellas, Total Cenas and so forth, with buzz in the reality world within with Cena and his new fiancé dwell.
What of the legit fighting star? He’s the WWE champ again, having vanquished the video game superstar, who totally exceeded expectations of his return. Brock Lesnar v Goldberg was probably the most perfectly put together match of the night when all factors are taken into consideration, and Lesnar’s pull outside of WWE can continue to draw the kind of eyeballs that flit occasionally into the sports entertainment genre from that of more mainstream fighting worlds.
And then there is Undertaker, bowing out in the most perfect of performances. Not the match, which will not rank anywhere near his greatest ever, but the post-ball antics. The slow sit-up, after defeat, and the placement of gloves, hat and coat mid-ring. No-one has yet said the words “Undertaker” and “retirement” on WWE TV in a definitive sense, but news outlets the world over picked up on the symbolism.
All this adds up. You may not have watched wrestling in a while, but you cannot help but cast an eye when it is Wrestlemania season. When you see Shane, Brock, Goldberg, the Hardys and especially Taker, it draws the eye. You may simply smile at a world you once followed, and go back to your life. You may just decide, though, to cast a glance at Wrestlemania, and you may think it worth checking these fellas Styles, Owens and Orton. They sound nifty!
And what of Roman Reigns? Three straight Wrestlemania main events, a man everyone will have an opinion of, and who will forever have had Undertaker’s last match. Heel turn, push down the throat? Doesn’t matter; he’s a made man. A made man that WWE can happily place on national television sofas, that looks the part and will make non-wrestling people understand what WWE is all about.
The wins go on. Raw, the night after Mania, was raucous and boisterous as per usual, delivering surprises, debuts and returns, but without the crowd hijacking matters and doing completely their own thing, save for the odd beach ball knocking about. It got a heck of a rating, too.
The subscriber numbers for the WWE Network look extremely healthy. A report of over 1.9m folks worldwide having the power to screen all that content at the drop of a hat followed Mania, and although the figure is massaged by the fact that 300k are so on are on a freebie, taking advantage of an offer, it is still a staggeringly good number.
Throw in the boasts of five straight nights of sell-outs, record crowd numbers and record grosses, and WWE have even more that they can tell the world about. Are they accurate? Does it matter? It is still a net win, all told.
And there you have it – the greatest Wrestlemania of all-time. Even better, there is so much scope to make it better next year, as WWE increasingly bring in indie promotions under their wing. As we will discuss on the Hooked on Podcast this week, Wrestlemania is looking more like Edinburgh or Glastonbury every year.
Next year, in the Big Easy? The biggest: easy.