By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Co-Senior Staffer (@itswilltime)
For the third time in my 12 years writing for ProWrestling.net, I adventured out of my home and to WrestleMania weekend. Well, sort of. For the first time since I have been in this industry, WrestleMania weekend actually came to my home! WrestleMania was in Los Angeles this year and WWE put on their full spectrum of events around it. Here are some notes/observations/feelings from the week!
First off, I went to WWE’s press junkets. They were held at the WrestleMania talent hotel in a conference room there. It was packed, noisy, crowded, and oddly competitive. It was also a great chance to chat quickly with some of the wrestlers involved in the weekend. I got to talk to Rhea Ripley, Alpha Academy, The Miz, Shayna Baszler, Zelina Vega, Legado del Fantasma, Carmelo Hayes, Iyo Sky & Dakota Kai, Roxanne Perez, Alba Fyre & Isla Dawn, and Zoey Stark.
It was also a really great time talking with fellow members of the wrestling media and other media folks. This is where oddly competitive met up with friendliness in interesting ways. Some folks were jealously guarding their time, questions, and access to wrestlers while others were really friendly and helpful towards everyone. Obviously, the friendly folks are better.
A few wrestlers made sure to make the rounds even multiple times in the room. Braun Strowman, Iyo Sky, Dakota Kai, Rhea Ripley, The Miz, and some I’m sure I’m forgetting made multiple laps and were extra friendly towards anyone wanting to talk to them. This is part of the job in WWE, but the good humor and kindness the wrestlers showed here really mattered.
Moving on from the Thursday and Friday morning press junkets (these things started at 8:00am, by the way), I ventured over to the WWE SuperStore. I don’t live quite close enough to Downtown LA to drive home and back before the 4:30pm Smackdown show began, so I wandered about WWE’s merchandising palace set up in the LA Convention Center.
First thing first, no one brings the amount of merchandise with them that WWE does for WrestleMania. This was a full convention center set up as a shop, with shirts for almost every wrestler in WWE, a fair amount of nostalgic wrestling merchandise, and almost every kind of creative display you could think of. WWE also brings an absurd amount of replica championships with them. When you walk through a WWE crowd, it is easy to see why. Each of those belts costs $300 – $500 each and you’ve likely got 10-20% of the crowd holding them. It’s wild.
The store didn’t just have merchandise though. WWE has eliminated their Axxess fan festival event, which used to consist of meet-and-greets, a small museum area, and a smaller store. In an epic monument to capitalism itself, WWE has made the entire thing a store, but added in historical displays around the room. This makes it worthwhile to walk through, even if you don’t plan to spend a ton of money (also don’t bring you kid if you don’t want to spend a ton of money). This year’s display had some classic Rey Mysterio costumes, a low rider, some Miz and Triple H gear, some Cody Rhodes’ gear, and the costume from The Great Muta’s final match.
My one disappointment with the store was the lack of Mattel’s WWE Elite Series 100 figures, since I likely would have bought all of them. I only saw the “Stunning” Steve Austin one and he was not quite worth waiting in line for. Wrestling action figures have become an important part of my fandom in the last three years (another blog for another day, friends) and that suit-wearing Andre the Giant looks too good to pass up.
Smackdown itself was a standard WWE taping with a little more energy and buzz to it. WWE has really monopolized the weekend by running every night Friday – Monday with wrestling shows people are eager to see. Smackdown had some of the energy we used to see in the Raw After WrestleMania before that became a branded deflating experience (stay tuned to this blog for more on that). The show was mostly enjoyable with the crowd seeming a little younger and a little more excited. I assume all of the angry dudes went over to ROH, which seemed like a great show and also an angry dude experience.
Following Smackdown was the Hall of Fame, which was a little awkward. WWE’s two night WrestleMania is one of the most successful moves they’ve made in the last decade, but it did leave the Hall of Fame homeless. It now follows Smackdown and gives a crowd already tired from a two hour wrestling show a two hour talking show.
This year’s list of honorees was pretty short, which did help. Fans were respectful of the speeches from Stacy Keibler, the family of Tim White, the family of Andy Kaufman, and The Great Muta. I’d say Ric Flair’s induction speech for Muta was less than respectful, as it was mostly a list of Japanese people Flair has met along with some rambling about Asuka. Muta deserved better.
The highlight of the Hall of Fame was Konnan’s speech about Rey Mysterio. After a mildly deflating ceremony, Konnan brought the crowd back to life and reminded the largely Latino crowd that they were about to see something special in actual Latino hero Rey Mysterio being inducted. If you’re looking for something to watch from this year’s ceremony, Mysterio’s induction is the best part.
I wandered back to my car after a long day, purchased a hot from a street vendor for the first time in my life (great choice, by the way), and passed out. Saturday would be its own long day.
Saturday was whenI realized the true stranglehold WWE has placed on WrestleMania week. Even though I didn’t attend NXT’s 10:00am show, it replaced indies that used to be able to run from Saturday morning to about 3:00am Sunday morning. WWE has monopolized WrestleMania weekend, not by giving preference their affiliated indie promotions (RIP Evolve), but just by adding a night of WrestleMania.
You can read my WrestleMania live blogs for my experiences there, so I’ll just lay out some basics. The crowds both nights were electric. WWE put on two really great shows. And Saturday was maybe the best wrestling show I’ve ever been to.
Monday night closed WrestleMania weekend and did so super awkwardly. First of all, after two nights of WrestleMania, the buzz is kind of gone for the Raw that follows. People are just tired by the time they make their way into the arena for Monday night. Gone was the beach ball, wave, sexist chant energy of years past. While some fans tried to do each of those things, it was really just isolated pockets without support of the larger crowd.
The Raw After WrestleMania used to be a rebellion against overly corporate wrestling shows, but WrestleMania was more sponsored and corporate than ever, but also more fan friendly. We saw Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens main event a WrestleMania, what more could we ask for? Fans don’t need an outlet to rebel against overly sanitized wrestling. Both fans and WWE have adjusted and wrestling has been sanitized in more bearable ways.
WrestleMania 29 was a decade ago and was the ultimate depressing corporate wrestling show. The Raw that followed felt like a major release of energy from the crowd. WWE has come a long way from that night.
While this Raw was super deflating, I don’t know if an amazing show would have been treated better. As I said, this was a tired crowd brought down a little by Cody Rhodes’ loss at WrestleMania. The energy was not celebratory in the arena. It was also not an angry arena full of people looking to rebel. This Raw didn’t feel like anything special, it felt like I was attending a Raw from any other time in the year.
Once again, the two night WrestleMania claims another victim. Fans in town just for WrestleMania likely left before Monday and keeping energy levels super high for three or four nights is just too tough. WWE is going to get subdued, but friendlier crowd reactions from their Monday night crowds during WrestleMania weekend these days.
As far as deflating the crowd, I do want to note how excited fans were for LA Knight from Friday all the way to Monday. To not feature him in a key segment on any of those nights was a major unforced error. I would say the same for Candice LaRae, who should have been in a slot on the WrestleMania card. She’s as much of a Reseda hero as Zayn and Owens and should have been treated better.
Overall, WWE made themselves look great during this weekend. A local hero went into the Hall of Fame. WWE was sold for an absurd amount of money. And aside from one of the worst Raw episodes I’ve ever seen, the shows were all good. WrestleMania weekend is an exhausting adventure. Even without checking out the indies running all over LA, my feet were sore and tired by the end. My heart was also pretty happy. Wrestling is the best thing to experience live and getting a full weekend of it was delightful.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. To see his video content subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email him at email@example.com.