ORLANDO, Fla. – Maybe WrestleMania doesn’t need help from other entertainment personalities to set itself apart as the king of wrestling pay-per-views.
That’s no knock against the celebrities who did take part in the 24th edition. Floyd Mayweather’s match with Big Show was lively and entertaining, far from the train wreck some feared it might become. John Legend handled America the Beautiful with style, Snoop Dogg seemed right at home in the Bunny Mania match, and Kim Kardashian… well, she was used sparingly.
Still, it was the wrestlers themselves and the show they put on that were the stars on Sunday night. The action, pacing and emotion came together to form quite a blend for the crowd on hand at the Citrus Bowl.
And despite reports of trouble selling the last few thousand tickets and bench seating that made it difficult to determine just how full some sections of the stadium were, it was quite a crowd. It was live even before the televised portion of the event, giving Kane a warm reaction for winning the 24-man battle royal, and it certainly made enough noise to sound like WWE’s announced total of 74,635 – which would be a new attendance record for the stadium.
The biggest response of the night came from its emotional peak. After an apologetic Shawn Michaels delivered the Sweet Chin Music that likely ended Ric Flair’s career, the Nature Boy walked back up the ramp without music, but rather the standing ovation of an appreciative group of fans.
It was a poignant finish that had people tearing up, even in the press box. Though WWE doesn’t usually do restrained or understated, it deserves credit for letting the moment speak for itself.
Other parts of the show followed a well-plotted course. The Belfast Brawl between Finlay and JBL was a fitting opener, with the fans in full support of the Fighting Irishman and Hornswoggle. Plenty of innovative spots highlighted the Money in the Bank ladder match, though CM Punk may not have been as popular a choice to win as some others.
Even Bunny Mania made sense coming right after the drama of Michaels-Flair, acting as a palette cleanser of sorts for what was still to come. That included the trio of main events, each of which elicited a decidedly different reaction from the fans.
Surprise seemed to be the number one response to the three-way clash for the WWE title. Villainous champion Randy Orton got his share of boos when he retained his belt, but it was apparent that many on hand expected Triple H or John Cena to walk away with the gold – and backed up by a WWE poll shown that had only eight percent of voters favoring Orton.
The much-hyped showdown between Mayweather and Big Show succeeded in getting the fans to decide on a rooting interest, and they backed the wrestler even though the boxer entered to cannons firing money that floated all the way across the floor. A chant of “one more time” broke out when Show delivered a loud chop, and a chorus of boos greeted Mayweather when he emerged with the win.
Finally, a Smackdown main event that was worthy of anchoring WrestleMania brought things to a fitting conclusion. Edge and the Undertaker built their match steadily until the crowd was hanging on every reversal and near fall. The finish was creative, with the Dead Man locking on his submission finisher right after getting hit with a Spear, and Edge tapped out to send the enthusiastic masses home happy.
That enthusiasm carried over to the souvenir stands, where people were gathered many rows deep to purchase event-specific items like football jerseys, programs and shot glasses. There was also a special “Thank You Ric” shirt in honor of Flair, with the dates of his 16 title wins printed on the back.
Certainly WWE made out well from its gate as well as its merchandise sales, as a press release handed out during the event touted a record $5.85 million take at the gate. WrestleMania 25 is set for Houston, where it last took place seven years ago, but it’s not that hard to imagine it coming back to Central Florida even sooner than that. The other area attractions and venues almost seem tailor-made to host an event that has grown from taking up one night to a nearly week-long schedule of activities.
WrestleMania itself is still the crown jewel, of course, and when it comes off the way it did on Sunday, Orlando will welcome it back any time it wants to return.
|Notes from around the Citrus Bowl:|
Bob Kapur wasn’t content with merely perching himself in the press box. He actually went down and mingled with the fans, and ended up feeling right at home when he rode back up in the elevator with noted little man Dean Malenko and noted really little man Hornswoggle.
Here are Kapur’s observations from throughout the night: