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Thursday, February 19, 2015

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Losing the "Mania" in WrestleMania: An Open Letter

By True (@TrueGodImmortal)

Can this year, Reigns and all, help put some "Mania" back into WrestleMania?
True God delves into the decline of the Greatest Spectacle in Sports Entertainment (and Pro Wrestling)

First things first, I've been a wrestling fan for about 23 years now. Since I was 4, I've been immersed in this business. Started as a fan, grew to work in the radio aspect of it, set up rings with the crew, met some of my childhood favorites, even done color commentary at for an indie promotion. I have always loved professional wrestling. The first PPV that I truly watched was WrestleMania 8. I watched Randy Savage vs Ric Flair glued to my TV as the VCR played the sweet Coliseum video release. I marked out for The Ultimate Warrior's return. I remember watching Tito Santana go against Shawn Michaels. I just remember it all vividly. From that point, every year, I used to get excited around WrestleMania time. It was always something that you'd expect to deliver, even if the end product didn't satisfy, the ride along was fun. 1995, as a kid, I saw Shawn Michaels win the Royal Rumble, and just knew that he would beat Diesel at WrestleMania 11 (Shawn was my favorite wrestler then. Now? He's blocked me on Twitter for some reason...times change).

Although Shawn didn't win, he did redeem himself the following year against Bret Hart, winning the belt. It was a great story. The most over guy going over for the belt, fulfilling his dream after fighting back from a bad injury (Shawn missed some time for a kayfabe injury after getting beat down at a nightclub, then from an Owen Hart kick) to win the Rumble and the title. Damn, that sounds familiar. Almost like Daniel Bryan fighting back from a near career ending injury after being stripped of the World title and losing his father to win the Royal Rumble and redeem himself in the main event of WrestleMania 31 against Brock Lesnar. Poetic justice, as they say. Oh, wait. Roman Reigns, who got booed out the building, won the 2015 Royal Rumble and Daniel Bryan was eliminated early. Man, how did WWE get that one wrong? Granted, WWE is trying to right that wrong for the moment by allowing Bryan to fight for a chance to main event against Brock, but the redemption story is tainted a bit, isn't it? This leads me to the point of this column.

WrestleMania used to be something to be overjoyed for. Something to be excited about. Something to go crazy over. Every year, the star that was the most over would be involved in the main event, get their just due, and everyone went home happy (or waiting for the payback, in the event the heel/champ won). I remember watching WrestleMania 17. I was older, already beyond thinking of wrestling in kayfabe terms, and just wanted to be entertained. I had never been more excited for an event in my life. I watched RAW and Smackdown faithfully waiting to see what else WWE had to offer. That feeling of excitement carried over for WrestleMania 18, 19, 20, and even 21. I wasn't happy with who the WWE had in line as the next guys to lead the charge after WrestleMania 21, but there truthfully weren’t many options who hadn't already been to the top. So, despite my initial feelings, I figured, let's see where this goes. At WrestleMania 22, I had very few matches that I enjoyed or were excited for, yet somehow the buildup intrigued me. The same goes for WrestleMania 23. I admittedly enjoyed WrestleMania 24 very much and the build up to WrestleMania 25 was intriguing despite a lackluster card. I remember taking a hiatus from watching here and there in 2009 because it wasn't exciting. I did that in 2008 but came back for WrestleMania 25 and was glad I did. I remember as WrestleMania 26 approached, I didn't have the feeling I usually have during WrestleMania season. Bret Hart was back, HBK vs Taker 2--I should be going crazy right? Well, I wasn't. The build to the PPV felt bland aside from one match or two, and the PPV itself fell flat to me. I took another hiatus from watching, returning to catch The Royal Rumble in 2011. I watched Alberto Del Rio win, and Edge and Miz retain their titles. I was bored out of my mind. What had previously been exciting regardless every year. I thought maybe I'm out growing wrestling. Then, I'd watch some ROH or another promotion and be excited, so that wasn't the case. The Rock returned for WrestleMania 27, and I admittedly got excited. Seeing The Rock gave me that WrestleMania feel. I hated the actual event and 90% of the buildup unless Rock was involved.

After WrestleMania 27, I stuck around and kept watching WWE regularly. I wasn't pleased with the product until one day when a Straight Edge Superstar sat on a ramp and cut an amazing promo. The Summer of Punk made me excited…until they fucked it up. Still, I thought, WWE would get it right by WrestleMania 28 and I knew we'd get to see The Rock vs John Cena, which was once in a lifetime (wait for it...). Chris Jericho returned and everyone expected him to win the Royal Rumble and face CM Punk for the title in a huge storyline. Sheamus won the Rumble and received a smattering of boos, which is never a good look. I remember sitting at the house watching RAW as Triple H stood in the ring and The Undertaker's music hit. As Taker walked to the ring to start the rematch storyline against HHH, I mumbled to my ex, "They’re doing this shit again"? Then I watched Chris Jericho win a no. 1 contender's match to set up Punk vs Jericho and I started to get excited. I thought "oh shit, Punk vs Jericho in the battle to see 'who's the best?' Promos weekly, outdoing the other? This will be great"! Then I watched that storyline turn into one about Punk's father being a drunk and loads of family issues. Melodramatic much? Then the main event, Rock vs Cena, should have had an epic buildup, but we just got Rock being held back in order to make Cena look like an equal (when has Rock needed promo notes? Ever? Except that convenient one time? Exactly). The end result delivered but the build didn't feel like Mania.

WrestleMania 29, I had built it in my head that the main event would be Punk vs Taker, streak vs title along with Rock vs Brock. Both seemed like money. I watched the Rumble that year and saw John Cena win the Rumble to a large amount of boos (coupled with cheers)--which is never a good look--and Rock win the title to set up a rematch for the belt. I instantly thought to myself, "wasn't this shit supposed to be once in a lifetime just last year"? I figured, "we have to get a fresh Brock match, right? Something exciting since we sat through his boring feud and match with HHH. Surely they wouldn't fuck up Brock's WrestleMania match, right?” Enter HHH for the unnecessary rematch. Two unnecessary rematches as your main events. The build disappointed and the event as well. I took a hiatus from watching during the fall and winter, but came back in time for the Rumble.

Now, Daniel Bryan had been the Authority for months, getting screwed over, and I just knew that he would win the Rumble to set up an epic story. I was wrong. Bryan was beat clean by Wyatt basically, and ignored the rest of the show. It took CM Punk to leave, the fans to backlash on Batista winning the Rumble, and other factors for WrestleMania to get the ending it should have. The event itself was good, but where was the excitement leading up to it? At this point, there was a period of 4 years where I just couldn't get excited for WrestleMania. 

That feeling has returned for this year’s WrestleMania. The feeling of "Eh" when I watch The Road to WrestleMania. I miss the feeling of excitement when I would watch and be blown away by the product. Or just entertained. That's what inspired this column: I feel like the Mania of WrestleMania has slipped away. With bad booking and bad decisions, WWE now makes the Road to WrestleMania feel like more a chore than actually wrestling to be enjoyed. Admittedly, the Sting angle has been done well but still not enough to salvage it so far.

In closing, this is my open letter to WWE:  I hope they get things figured out. WrestleMania used to be everything a wresting fan dreamed of.... Now it’s just a chore that we do because it's that time of year. As a longtime wrestling fan, I can say that for the 5th year in a row, I really don't have the WrestleMania "spirit". Will it ever return? Will the WWE start listening to their fans more? I remarked earlier about when Cena and Batista headlined WM21 and I wasn't mad because there was no one else really ready. That is not the case this year. We have Wyatt, Ambrose, Rollins, Ziggler, and of course BRYAN ready, yet they gave the shot to Roman, who was not getting over. It’s crazy what just that could do to stifle excitement on the Road to WrestleMania. At 5 weeks away from Mania, it’s very likely that the buildup doesn't live up to what it should and we'll have to look towards WM32 for the next glimmer of hope. Can this company bring the magic back? Is it gone forever? I can only wonder. Time will tell, but I just yearn for the day that the Mania truly returns.
Let's make that happen, Vince.
-The Immortal 


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