Former World Wrestling Entertainment announcer Kevin Kelly knows exactly what it’s like to be a part of the “Showcase of the Immortals” having been with the company for five WrestleMania events, with his first being the thirteenth installment of the event which was held back in 1997 at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago, Illinois.
“When I started, the WWE was in a heck of a lull and was just beginning to come around. I don’t think the concept of WrestleMania changed since day one until when I left; it just got bigger as time went on,” Kelly told SLAM! Wrestling.
“From my first WrestleMania until my last at Mania 18, WrestleMania evolved from an arena show that didn’t feel much different than a Raw, to a grand spectacle in the Reliant Astrodome in front of 70,000 fans. WrestleMania is like the Super Bowl, a Rolling Stones concert and NASCAR rolled into one. Fans are everywhere, decked out in t-shirts and are having a great time.
“It’s a party with people coming from all over the world to be entertained. I always enjoy meeting fans but the global reach of the WWE is front and centre at WrestleMania, it’s where I met fans from all over the world. Those were great times.
“WrestleMania makes the company’s financial year and all the biggest storylines are held off or positioned to culminate at WrestleMania. Holding off things is tough because you’ve got 52 weeks of TV and 12 pay-per-views but it’s the best thing for business.”
While Kelly, 43, was never a part of Vince McMahon’s “inner circle” he did however contribute in some creative capacity. It was Kelly who developed the storyline that saw Stephanie McMahon marry Triple H. He details that plans for WrestleMania can change at any time and recalls that at WrestleMania XV in 1999 plans did indeed get altered.
“I remember Vince Russo changed two matches on that show the week before, Billy Gunn and Road Dogg wound up appearing in different singles matches because as Russo said ‘nobody would expect it.’
“Of course, Mick Foley was talked about being in the main event for WrestleMania 15 but [Steve] Austin nixed that. Mick deserved to be there in my opinion, as a reward for the hard work he had put in during Stone Cold’s absence because of injury.
“I would be willing to bet that at least a portion of every creative meeting held heads toward WrestleMania. If I was pitching a storyline to Vince, I would hope that it would intersect with the biggest event of the year.”
While with WWE, Kelly realized how important it was as an announcer to detail the story in the ring but he remembers that he was never allowed to fulfill that task in WWE.
“When I first started they told me to ask questions, be the last person to know the obvious. Their advice was pure shit and totally useless. Vince reviews storylines before the show and screams during the show. I never found his producing helpful.
“A wrestling announcer has to guide the audience through the competitive struggle in the ring while balancing mentions of other important information throughout. They wanted us to largely ignore the match and sell everything else; it pissed me off.”
Kelly, who is now the Ring of Honor lead announcer, witnessed some of his favourite wrestling matches at WrestleMania.He said that it was he who realized The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak, which WWE happily capitalizes on at every WrestleMania.
“I actually was the first person who pointed out that The Undertaker was undefeated at WrestleMania. It was while I was writing notes for J.R. [Jim Ross] and the Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler for their commentary at WrestleMania 19.
“Bret Hart vs. Austin at WrestleMania 13 was my first great live WrestleMania match, I also loved Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit at WrestleMania 17 and of course the main events with Rock and Austin were amazing, they were my favourites.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than the Rock and Stone Cold. Their rivalry was grown around WrestleMania and they took WrestleMania main events to a whole new level.”
Looking ahead to this year’s extravaganza, Kelly believes that The Rock’s presence could be the main reason people will buy WrestleMania 27, but he also believes that Triple H vs. The Undertaker could be a let-down for fans excited about watching this match and the event itself.
“The Rock being there is huge. There aren’t five people who know who or what The Miz is, but all of those five know exactly who The Rock is.
“Taker vs. HHH was a great, bloody war 10 years ago. I think it will fall way short this year. I could be wrong, but I wonder if either has that kind of effort left.
“I’m sure fans will enjoy the event overall, however I won’t be watching this year. It won’t be the best WrestleMania that has ever happened, but it certainly won’t be the worst.”