Is professional wrestling finally losing its lustre?
Wrestlemania 32 takes place on Sunday night in Texas19:40 Thursday 31 March 2016, 19:40 31 Mar 2016
Thousands of Irish fans will converge around their television screens this Sunday night to watch "The Showcase of the Immortals", better known to you and I as WrestleMania. At least 80,000 are expected to attend the event outisde Dallas, including many from Ireland. Despite the size and scope of the event, has professional wrestling finally lost its appeal to twenty and thirty-somethings?
I grew up to become a wrestling fan when the Monday Night Wars were at their peak. The two primary promotions, World Wrestling Federation (now known as WWE) and World Championship Wrestling broadcast their flagship shows concurrently on Mondays in a bid to snatch fans from each other.
After years of back and forth between the two sides, Vince McMahon’s WWE took control of their competition in 2001, and top level professional wrestling in America practically became a monopoly. Since that March day 14 years ago, wrestling has begun its downward spiral in the public’s consciousness.
When every WWE show begins nowadays, you see the PG rating before the credits roll. That is at the heart of the malaise in the product. In his infinite wisdom, WWE owner and chairman Vince McMahon has toned down the violence in his organisation to lure families and corporate America to get on board with his company.
Long gone are the days of Buried Alive, First Blood or Inferno matches, replaced instead with gimmicks which are more suitable to all ages. For those who don’t know the premise of those particular matches, the object of the first two are in the name of the match and an inferno match involves a wrestling ring being surrounded by a wall of fire. The only way to win the match is to set your opponent alight.
We will almost never see an Inferno match again, and looking at the build-up to this year’s WrestleMania, we may never see a truly memorable ‘Mania ever again.
Brock Lesnar is a former UFC Champion. Picture by: Eric Jamison / AP/Press Association Images
The three big matches on Sunday night see Triple H (son-in-law of Vince McMahon) defend his WWE Championship against Roman Reigns. Despite the best wishes of the WWE hierarchy, Reigns just cannot seem to connect with the fans.
Brock Lesnar, the former UFC Heavyweight Champion fights Dean Ambrose in a Street Fight, in the surrounds of the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium. Lesnar, who spent much of his early 20s in the WWE, became the UFC Heavyweight Champion in 2008, winning the title in only his fourth professional fight.
The 38-year-old's comeback in 2012 added much credibility to the WWE, and his return culminated in defeating the Undertaker at WrestleMania in 2014. The Undertaker had won his previous twenty fights at the event and many fans hoped and assumed that “The Streak” would never be broken.
The most intriguing match at the event involves 'Taker and Vince McMahon's oldest son Shane. Up until the end of February, Shane had not stepped foot in a WWE ring for almost seven years. His "unannounced" return to the company was due to the 46-year-old looking for control of the company from his father. In the end, a match in "Hell in the Cell" was announced against the Undertaker. If Shane wins, he will take control of the companies' flagship programme Raw and the Undertaker will have wrestled his last WrestleMania. Should Shane lose, he will be disowned by his father.
For a form of entertainment that has pre-determined winners and losers in the script, the public remain unsure how that match will pan out, but Reigns and Lesnar are widely expected to win their respective bouts. Many people hope that a Shane McMahon win will lead to a freshness to otherwise stale programming in the past 18 months. On the other hand, the Undertaker's last WrestleMania would be difficult for fans to take.
Such is his standing in American pop-culture, the Undertaker even appeared (in character) on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon late last year.
The case of Roman Reigns is one the WWE hierarchy cannot get their heads around. In the main event of last year's WrestleMania in California, Reigns had seemed to gain the respect of the fans after a rocky relationship in previous months. Over the summer months of 2014, rumours began to circulate that Reigns was penciled in to win the 2015 Royal Rumble and face Lesnar at WrestleMania.
At the January event in Philadelphia, it was clear that Reigns was going to win with about 15 minutes to go. The rumours were true and the fans revolted. His cousin, The Rock, even turned up to try and add legitimacy to Reigns’ character but to no avail. At WrestleMania, Reigns failed to win the title.
He eventually grabbed the gold in November, before losing it moments later to Ireland's superstar Sheamus. His crowning moment came a month later when Reigns won the title again, in the same arena where he was booed in Philadelphia, but this time to loud acclaim. In late January he lost it again, to Triple H in the Royal Rumble.
The nine week build-up from the Royal Rumble to WrestleMania has been as timid as it has been uninspiring. The Rock is to return at the event in a non-wrestling capacity to try and add a touch of his Hollywood stardust to the event, but it’s not likely to stick. In a similar attempt to add star power, Snoop Dogg was even inducted in the WWE's Hall of Fame on Saturday evening, further emphasising that there has never before been a Hall of Fame so unworthy of the title.
Superstars such as John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton, Sting and Seth Rollins would all have been competing if they had been fit. The five men (and numerous others) have suffered injuries in recent months to force them to miss the event, and in Bryan's case, end his career. Rollins' injury even happened in Dublin at an event in November where he tore his anterior and medial cruciate ligaments.
WrestleMania will continue in its current form as long as they sell out football stadiums in America, but its demographic is beginning to get younger. I will watch Sunday’s event as I have watched all WrestleManias since I became a fan, but I don’t know how much longer I can last. I’m sure others feel the same.
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