Welcome to the Mania Season return of the column formerly known as “Penny Candy”. I’ll be dropping a column a day from now til Mania Sunday to offer my take on various stuff happening at this hallowed time of year for wrestling fans. Others here on IP are already covering the retro reviews of past Manias, so this will be a little different. I won’t be reviewing old shows, I’ll just be examining the phenomenon of Mania itself.
So on that note, what IS Wrestlemania? How did it start? How did it become the huge media juggernaut it is today? What exactly IS it in this day and age? And how has what it means to fans evolved over the past 3 decades?
Wrestlemania began in 1985 as a large scale supercard show out of Madison Square Garden, viewed in other markets on closed circuit television in movie theatres. No, wait, that’s not accurate. Wrestlemania began as an idea to compete with the NWA’s annual supercards, Starcade and the Great American Bash, and as a bigger, grander sequel to their successful MTV special, “The War to Settle the Score”.
Coined by Howard Finkel, based on Beatlemania, Vince wanted Wrestlemania to be a great big Sports Entertainment shindig, before he’d even thought of the term. Celebrities, spectacle, grandeur. It was indeed a spectacle, like no one had seen in a wrestling show before. But in it’s embreyonic stages of 1985, nowhere near what Vince had envisioned, or like it would someday become. It had too many filler matches with no meaning or storyline. It really had only two matches with any weight at all. In hindsight it doesn’t hold up well. But it was enough to start the ball rolling.
Vince tried again the following year hoping to showcase his creativity by trying to run the show simultaneously from 3 different cities, but again, it was a mostly awkward mess held aloft by the one or two matches the audience cared about. It did however make Vince enough money to try again. And with Wrestlemania 3, he finally got it right.
With Mania 3, Vince finally figured out the right balance between celebrity involvement, spectacle, and actual engaging wrestling content. The first 2 Manias don’t hold up in hindsight because too much was devoted to the former 2 and nowhere near enough on the latter. With Mania 3 the then WWF finally figured out that to keep the audience involved, they needed more than just two matches to care about. The celebs and the spectacle weren’t enough. They’d forgotten that at the end of the day, their audience were WRESTLING fans, and wanted to see some special entertaining wrestling.
So with 3, matches were built up, storylines laid out, and most of the matches, minus a couple of stinkers, were good to great to outright excellent. 25 years later and people STILL have nothing but glowing praise for the IC Title match between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat.
Over the years Mania has been hit and miss, but it stayed ever involving, each year getting bigger. It’s now become an entity unto itself. Wrestlemania is no longer just one day. The “Road to Wrestlemania” begins with the January Pay Per View, Royal Rumble. And the city that Mania itself is in each year gets taken over like a maelstrom, with over a week of events, media blitzes, fan festivas and more. For the past decade the annual Hall of Fame ceremony has become a huge part of Wrestlemania weekend. And starting last year, an NXT special the Friday before Mania has become a part of the event. It’s beyond just a spectacle, or even an vent. Wrestlemania is like unto a force of Nature. Thousands of people from all over the world come to wherever Mania is to be a part of it, extending to the next night’s Raw, which has itself become a guaranteed night of must see tv just for the crowd chants alone.
But what does it all mean in this day and age? We’re long past the era of Kayfabe, and we’re years past the era of clearcut good guys and bad guys. With the exception of NXT, there’s not a whole lot WWE puts out these days that’s even all that good. So why is Mania such a phenomenon? Well, I honestly don’t quite know if I can even explain it.
I watch Raw every week as a force of habit, barely pay attention, and often fall asleep during It’s poorly written and every week proves why Vince needs to step down. But Mania? Even when most of the matches are kind of meh on paper, Mania is the gold standard show where even guys who phone it it most weeks like a Randy Orton or a Big Show bust their asses and pull out their best to try to steal the show. A match we’ve seen a dozen times on free tv can still be something amazing and special at Mania when the participants bring their triple A game. EVERYONE wants to be part of a Mania moment that the fans will remember for decades. EVERYONE wants to be this year’s Savage/Steamboat. EVERYONE wants to the guy or gal you’re still talking about weeks later.
I watch Raw in my pyjamas and barely care. I have friends coming over to watch Mania. Mania is just… indescribable. It’s not an event, it’s a macrocosm, a collection of so many intangibles you can’t quite put into words. It’s beyond words, beyond description. It’s the spectacle Vince originally wanted and so much more. And even when it’s bad, or a match or two are let-downs, the overall atmosphere isn’t ruined. Because you go in knowing SOMEONE is going to do something that makes you forget it’s staged, make you chant HOLY SHIT or THIS IS AWESOME. Something that night will strip away the cynical adult tired of bad booking and stalled pushes, and leave the eagar excited little kid who used to eat cereal in front of the tv on Saturday mornings watching Challenge or Superstars.
Mania is just special. It’s not perfect, and yet somehow it still is. From Savage and Steamboat completely stealing the show from Hogan/Andre, to Daniel Bryan pausing his Yestlemania moment to hug a small child two months from losing his battle with cancer, (I’m not crying YOU’RE crying!), Wrestlemania is guaranteed to leave you emotionally exhausted and happy to be a fan again.
At least until the next night on Raw when we get Orton/Sheamus part 622 for 30 minutes.
Tomorrow; The NXT Factor.
Tags: A Penny For Your Thoughts Wrestlemania Countdown, WrestleMania