Best/Worst? Wrestlemania 30, The Last One That Matters
I’m pretty much dead center in between Wrestlemania 27 (on the low end) and Wrestlemania X-7 on the Wrasslemania hype scale. If you’d told be back in October that Daniel Bryan would probably win the WWE Heavyweight Championship (wait, the what?) in the main even of Wrestlemania I’d be all a-tingle with anticipation, but six months of screwjobs and bad storytelling have dulled my excitement a bit. At this point Daniel Bryan winning on Sunday is Martin Scorsese finally getting his Oscar for The Departed. It’s a nice thing I’d like to happen to Daniel Bryan because I like him and enjoy his work, but it’s not something I’m particularly invested in, and dammit, it really should’ve happened when he was in his WWE prime (the 2011/2012 AJ period).
Still, even if I’m not crazy about any of the storylines heading into Wrestlemania, I still feel a certain obligation to watch the show, because, well, it’s the last one that’s going to matter (and trust me, this one matters). WWE is using “9.99 Wrestlemania!” as the main selling point for the WWE Network, and we’re going to see the ultimate crowning of a guy who’s been the biggest fan-driven phenomenon since Stone Cold Steve Austin. That’s big! Sadly Wrestlemania won’t be this big again for a long time (if ever). Ironically Wrestlemania exists this year to sell the Network, and if Wrestlemania succeeds it essentially destroys itself.
The goal of the Network is to replace WWE’s ailing pay-per-view business, but Wrestlemania without PPV isn’t Wrestlemania. Wrestlemania’s importance is based on it being THE BIG SHOW (uh, the metaphorical big show, not the chokeslams guy) and when I say the big show, I mean the show that makes the most money. It underlies every Road To Wrestlemania storyline. All the stuff about wanting to have a “Wrestlemania moment” or “win the title at the grandest stage of them all” is code for “I want to have a high profile match at Wrestlemania because that s–t is crazy lucrative.” The storylines work because the element of truth is there — for up-and-coming guys, getting on Wrestlemania is the difference between making a decent middle-income and being the wealthy wrestler they always dreamed of being. For the established guys, a top spot can be the difference between a good year, and a “buy a second mansion” year.
If the Network succeeds Wrestlemania ceases being a product and becomes just another TV show. A star-studded TV show in a bigger arena than usual, but still, just a TV show. It will be “important”, but only because WWE tells you that it’s important. One more meaningless WWE trinket backed up by empty words. At one time, for instance, championships were used to draw audiences to shows, and the guy who held the championship could tour with it and make more money. Titles meant something concrete to wrestling promotions and the guys who held them. Today WWE tells you a dozen times per hour how important titles are, but nobody cares, because there is no concrete value. John Cena with and without the title is the exact same dude in the exact same place. The titles are props, and Wrestlemania will become a prop too once it loses that underlying concrete value. It’s all too fitting that Wrestlemania 30 features the debut of the Andre the Giant Memorial Trophy, a brand new prop WWE hasn’t made the slightest attempt to imbue with any real value.
The Andre The Giant Memorial Trophy — Wrestlemania’s new spirit animal.
It’s also going to be some time before we see another truly gratifying ascension at Wrestlemania. Your Roman Reignses and Big Es are good, talented guys, but they’ve been hand picked by WWE. They haven’t had to legitimately fight their way up the card like Daniel Bryan has. When Roman Reigns wins the title at Wrestlemania 31 it won’t be because the fans invested in him, and the same level of catharsis isn’t going to be there. It’s the difference between Eddie Guerrero winning the title at Wrestlemania and Batista winning the title at Wrestlemania. We’re in for a lot of Batistas over the next few years.
But perhaps I’m making things sound too bleak. The pomp and circumstance of Wrestlemania isn’t going away, there’s just going to be less substance behind the flashy lights. Ultimately, if Wrestlemania is going to continue on as an important thing, it’s going to be the fans’ doing. Over the past few years Wrestlemania has, more than ever before, become a massive gathering of wrestlers and wrestling fans from around the world and different walks of life. The Raw after Wrestlemania is now more important than Wrestlemania itself — it’s where the “Yes Movement” truly started, and quite possibly where the next big thing will happen too.
So hey, maybe we’ve just moved towards a more literal interpretation of Wrestlemania. Instead of it just being a big wrestling show, its value going forward is as a convention of sorts where people with a mania for wrestling gather. I can deal with that. Have fun on Sunday folks.