Hitting the Ropes: Saying Good-bye to WrestleMania, New Orleans, the Streak,…and the Ultimate Warrior
As I was flying home Monday morning from New Orleans, heading to Washington DC, I thought back on a memorable and thrilling WrestleMania weekend. Most of my friends stayed in town to go to Monday Night Raw at the Smoothie Center. The Raw after WrestleMania is always a great show; however I chose to skip it this year. It was time for me to head home. I’m 40 years old now and being away from my 2 young children is hard on the entire family. My wife is nice enough to “let” me go to WrestleMania ever year but I need to be respectful and come home the next day. So my yearly trip is now a few days shorter. But honestly I’m not sure how much more excitement I could have handled.
New Orleans and WrestleMania XXX were collectively magnificent.
I know Vince McMahon likes to rotate the host city every year, having already lined up Santa Clara, CA for next year. That will be fine and a nice travel break for those coming from that side of the United States and Canada. However I would be fine leaving the event in New Orleans. What a great town! The cities offers tremendous variety – art, theater, gambling, music, food, bars, and of course Bourbon Street – there was always something going on no matter the time of day. When you combine the collective excitement of the wrestling community, New Orleans was a really fun experience and it provided a great backdrop to the entire weekend.
Plus all of the attractions were CLOSE together! My friends and I actually WALKED home from WrestleMania XXX. This might night sound like a big deal to you, but those of us who were stuck in the parking lot for hours after WrestleMania 25 in Houston remember that nightmare. The wrestling events this time around were all within walking distance of each other, which allowed us to really experience New Orleans flavor. Sorry Miami, New Jersey, Houston, and some of the other recent host cities, New Orleans was a star this weekend. I won’t soon forget the scene on Bourbon Street after Daniel Bryan won the world heavyweight title. Late into the night people partied on and on and on.
WrestleMania XXX itself was also a wonderful experience. This was my seventh WrestleMania overall, and the little kid in me will always treasure WrestleManias IV and V in Atlantic City – being there as a young teenager was almost overwhelming. But this WrestleMania was very emotional as well. Some of the emotion I expected – like Hulk Hogan’s legendary theme song “Real American” opening the main show, which instantly brought back a flood of memories from the old Hershey Park Arena. I loved seeing Hogan and I’m happy he is back with WWE.
It wasn’t a total surprise when “Stone Cold” and the Rock came out to the ring – their presence in New Orleans had been leaked on the Internet – but seeing those three icons in the ring was so special. I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a few moments. I don’t know how you could call yourself a wrestling fan if you didn’t enjoy that. It was a spectacular opening segment that made all three legends look good (once Hulk figured out which building he was is…). I just wish the beer celebration would have gone on longer.
By the way, I should mention the “true” opening to the show was the fatal four-way tag team title match that did exactly what it should have done…it energized the crowd and delivered some very good tag team wrestling. All four teams were given a chance to shine at certain moments, even El Torito (I don’t know what to make of him, but I wasn’t that bothered by Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars so I can probably live with this…plus my son thinks he’s hysterical, so that should count for something). The Usos retained, as they should have, and the Real Americans fell apart after months of tension. All in all, a very solid wrestling match.
Then the main show started, and holy cow what a ride.
I was critical of the way the WWE built this show over the past few months. I was underwhelmed by the card and wasn’t sure why someone like Batista was being forced down our throats when the fans clearly were not interested in his pursuit of Randy Orton. Give Triple H and Stephanie a lot of credit here (if indeed they were the main bookers of the show, as has been reported). They listened to the people and finally did what was “best for business”. People come from all 50 states and over 20 countries to attend WrestleMania, it is a good idea to give them a show that they will enjoy and remember (and then attend again next year)!
Daniel Bryan’s journey from his opening match against Triple H to the main event, when he defeated Batista and reigning champion Randy Orton was everything a true Daniel Bryan fan could have hoped for. I am not a huge supported of the “Yes!” movement, but it was fun being around so many people that were excited about this moment. The matches themselves were well-planned with high drama and creative story-telling…and a super sexy Stephanie McMahon (she was so spot on all night that might deserve its own column) So…good for Daniel Bryan who by all accounts is a great guy, and good for his loyal fans who were praying for this moment.
But that certainly wasn’t all there was to WrestleMania XXX, was it?
The official count is now 21-1. Unbelievable. I’m on record for years saying I don’t like the Streak. That’s not to say I don’t like the Undertaker…I do…very much! But this is scripted entertainment, not NFL football. I just didn’t understand the Streak. We’ve seen Taker lose clean to Vladimir Koslov on a random SmackDown taping for God’s sake, so it’s not like he’s always booked to be invincible.
When Hulk Hogan pinned the legendary Andre the Giant in the Silverdome (right Hulk?) it was a heart-stopping moment that people still talk about. When he GOT pinned by the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI, same thing. Losing and overcoming adversity is always exciting storytelling, and I always believed the Undertaker would be more interesting if the Streak was broken. So when the referee counted “three” and Brock Lesnar got his hand raised, I was one of the few…and I mean FEW…people in the crowd who was excited about it.
The result shocked people. It angered people. It was eerily silent in the building.
I went to the restroom right after the match and by then people in the concourse were literally screaming and yelling in anger. The result really was incredible. But isn’t that the beauty of it? It got a reaction! I’m not in love with “who” beat Undertaker, I would have preferred CM Punk last year, but I am OK with the “Beast Incarnate” Brock Lesnar, if for no other reason than he is a monster and we will now get more amazing Paul Heyman promos as a result. By the way, how much better can Heyman be than he is right now?! He is one of WWE’s true highlights each week. And now he is paired with Cesaro, which can only mean good things for the former Claudio Castagnoli.
Speaking of Cesaro, what a great breakout evening for him at WrestleMania XXX! I was thrilled he won the Andre the Giant Battle Royal (with a Giant slam no less!) because the WWE gave the victory to a guy with real potential. I had the pleasure of meeting Cesaro in New Orleans and he seems to be a true gentleman. Plus he is legitimately HUGE! I solid 6’6”. The line to meet Cesaro at the WWE Superstore was ridiculously long. I’m glad I got there early! People who have known and watched Claudio for years kept saying the same thing…he’s a great guy. Which was similar to what I heard about Daniel Bryan, and Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns, among others. These new up-and-coming stars seem to be very appreciative of their opportunity in WWE and judging by their work ethic and improvement, they don’t intend to waste their chance. WrestleMania weekend was a great showcase for these new stars. Kudos to Triple H and the rest of WWE’s decision makers for allowing them to shine.
The rest of the WrestleMania matches were booked properly in my opinion. People are upset that “Super Cena” was able to overcome the entire Wyatt Family, but win or lose the Wyatts are clearly stars and the work they have done these past 8 months or so has positioned them nicely to be hot for a long time to come. Bray Wyatt held up his end of this match and the loss really doesn’t hurt him. In some ways, watching him drag John Cena into the darkness is much more entertaining than any single match result.
The Divas title match was a disaster because it was so poorly planned out in advance. The booking didn’t make sense. There were some nice spots in the ring, but overall it was kind of silly. At least the right girl won…AJ didn’t deserve to lose her title in some 13-on-1 mess. The shame of it is that the Divas division has some momentum right now because of Total Divas, and a solid title match could have, and should have, been booked for the show.
The Shield rolled over Kane and the New Age Outlaws in a match that solidified the Shield’s dominance and team unity. Does anybody not love the Hounds of Justice? Overall from top to bottom I loved the show and felt I definitely got my money’s worth. That’s all I can ask for!
I was going to spend the rest of my column talking about WWE Axxess (which was very well-run this year), WrestleCon (which was not very well-run this year, but did feature the magnificent Kimberly Page), the WWE Network (which continues to amaze me), and the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony (which drives me crazy because of the long speeches). But then the wrestling community was hit with devastating news…the Ultimate Warrior passed away on Tuesday.
How can this be?
At first I didn’t believe the reports, but then it was corroborated by legitimate news sources and the WWE itself. Ultimate Warrior was dead, a mere 3 days after he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. I was, and still am, literally stunned. I spoke with some people today who reiterated some of the reports we have been reading online – that the Ultimate Warrior did not look good this past weekend. Those who spent time with him in New Orleans said he was “happy”, but didn’t look very “healthy”. If he did pass away of a heart attack (now the speculation), there are many people who would not be surprised, sadly.
I was immediately struck by 3 thoughts:
1) I never loved the Ultimate Warrior as a wrestler (I screamed with joy when “Ravishing” Rick Rude won the Intercontinental title at WrestleMania V), but I recognize how important he is to the history of the WWE. He was wildly popular. He was wildly exciting. He was wildly successful. Maybe he was a pain in the ass, but Warrior was very deserving of his Hall of Fame induction. Beating Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI is enough by itself. I feel badly for his wife and daughters. Their loss is terrible.
2) I was happy Warrior made amends with the WWE and had his Hall of Fame moment. The closure was nice for everybody. However, I am still deeply upset that Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Miss Elizabeth will never have such an opportunity. What a shame. I don’t care who is to blame. It’s just a damn shame.
3) I feel badly for the entire WWE Universe because New Orleans and WrestleMania XXX was a time for celebration. It was a magical few days that will now have a black cloud over it. I hope that when people sit back and think about their time in New Orleans, they will remember the legacy of the Warrior, but also the high spots of the weekend, like Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Razon Ramon, the Cesaro Swing, the YES! Movement, Lita, the Undertaker’s Streak, the Shield, the Wyatts, Bourbon Street, and the promising future of this business.
Good-bye WrestleMania until next year, and congratulations Daniel Bryan on your well-deserved achievement.
And good-bye Ultimate Warrior…thanks for the memories.