Want this article read to you? Click below to listen:
A Comparable Conundrum: Is WrestleMania Still the Super Bowl of Wrestling?
By Andrew Terrance Kaberline
Yesterday on the podcast we gave a definition of the term “WrestleMania.” It is a term that has reached a level of commonality in the cultural zeitgeist, perhaps even eclipsing WWE being equivalent to “wrestling.” The recently re-birthed Nickelodeon show Hey Arnold even had an episode where Helga was trying to make it in time for Wrestle Mania, without any WWE branding involved whatsoever.
You would think that wrestlers on the promotion circuit wouldn’t have to explain why WrestleMania is important so often, yet, they always feel the need to, and there is only one comparison they make…
“Wrestlemania is the Super Bowl of wrestling. Royal Rumble is getting in — winning the Royal Rumble is getting into the Super Bowl of wrestling. Screw the Super Bowl, we’re talking about Wrestlemania. Super Bowl ain’t got s–t on Wrestlemania. Wrestlemania is the biggest show on earth, the greatest show on earth, and I feel like everyone knows that.” – Randy Orton to NBC Washington, in 2017
Both WrestleMania and The Super Bowl appeal primarily to that 18-35 year-old male demographic, with goals to bring in any casual fan with a modicum of interest. They both have coverage that takes place seemingly all day. They both have musical performances in the middle of their presentation. They both want groups of people to get together and throw parties and make it an event viewing worth dominating the next day’s 24 hour news cycle and beyond.
But the comparisons end there. The NFL, whether they try to or not, has become a part of the social discussion in terms of race relations and safety issues, respectively. The WWE on the other hand, has mostly stayed away from any nationwide talking points, which is impressive to say the least, considering things like Linda McMahon being a Trump appointee, Daniel Bryan’s concussion-related retirement, and the Chris Benoit murder-homicide being recent history.
The Super Bowl comparison never fit snuggly in my mind, and not just because there is no WrestleMania equivalent to Super Bowl Commercials or the Puppy Bowl.
**(Animal Planet, if you’re reading this, PLEASE get PuppyMania into production, promptly!)**
The comparison doesn’t work because their approach is so different. You will probably see less wrestlers lazily jumping to this go-to comparison now that Vince McMahon has his eyes set on reviving the XFL. So what other primetime event will wrestlers compare WrestleMania to in its place?
The first place you might think to stop is the Academy Awards. WWE is sports ENTERTAINMENT, after all. That’s the biggest distinction between wrestling and pure sport. Those great moments you hope for at the Super Bowl like Tom Brady’s comeback against the Falcons can’t be scripted, but in wrestling they can and will be. You’re guaranteed to get a moment at WrestleMania each year that will live on in video packages. Speaking of, the art of the video package is what WrestleMania and the Oscars have most in common. If you feel apathetic about wasting another Sunday night on either of these events, the powers that be will slap a montage of every moment that made it worth watching. By the end of it, you’ll ask yourself why anything else in the world felt more important than this?
Both shows live in their own bubble of self-importance, and both are targets for pundits complaining for years about who should’ve really won. Also, they’re both a lock to run way over time. So is the Oscars the best comparison?
Not quite. A lot of those moments that show up in the aforementioned video packages are of the acceptance speeches. Though wrestling is built on promos, WrestleMania is where the action is. Wrestlers getting on the mic at WrestleMania is scarce. In fact, the last time WrestleMania was in the Superdome, it’s location this Sunday, Hulk Hogan was given a microphone and promptly referred to it as the “Silverdome.”
The biggest knock against this particular comparison comes down to viewership. WrestleMania’s attendance and viewership numbers have been steadily increasing the past decade, with last year’s WrestleMania 33 breaking the record for highest viewership in company history. The Oscars viewership this year was the lowest in 44 years.
Maybe I’m overthinking this. The best comparison of WrestleMania would be to think of it as a boxing supercard, like Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, or Mayweather vs. McGregor, or Mayweather vs. The Big Show – No wait, scratch that last one. That one actually was at WrestleMania.
They both take place in a ring, they both have good guys and bad guys, they both have combat at the forefront of the storytelling. This is a no-brainer, right?
The problem is with the intended audiences. Boxing is brutal and slow. It’s stars, like Floyd, are foulmouthed and say offensive things to sell their fights. Wrestling is trying to get the younger audience. Wrestling wants you to go “I thought this was super violent, but now three guys dressed like Dragonball characters just danced their way out of a giant cereal box…I think one of them had a trombone? Oh yeah, I can get into this.”
Boxing continues to breathe by romanticizing its smokey, dimly-lit, sketchy past. Wrestling is upfront about its scripted nature, and wants the lights to be so bright that all ages are welcome. Boxing just doesn’t pass the eye test in this matter.
We can start calling WrestleMania the Comicon of Wrestling. WrestleMania does take over an entire city, and now it’s more than one night of fun. Lots of different subcultures of wrestling fans are represented with panels, and autograph signings, and independent ventures. But WrestleMania doesn’t have the one biggest thing that Comicon is known for; standing in lines for hours on end. So, it’s out of the equation.
Maybe an event that brings in occasional fans is where we should be looking. The Kentucky Derby, for example, makes everyone an expert on horses once a year. The Kentucky Derby has a big gambling element, and so does WrestleMania despite its scripted nature. They’ve both got competitors people can get behind based solely on a funny sounding name. Kid Rock likes to appear at both of them!
Have we done it!?
Nope, now it’s a class issue. While there are plenty of drunk bros in polos at the Kentucky Derby, the only people who stand to gain anything are the already uber-wealthy. That elitism stench that hovers around the Kentucky Derby wouldn’t fly with Vince McMahon. He may portray a villainous company man from New York with an unlimited bankroll, but real life Vince is closer to his East Carolina roots and succeeding through tireless work and betting on yourself. I mean this is the guy who took on the money of Turner and AOL and won by making a better product. WWE comes from a proud blue collar background. The people with the best seats at the Kentucky Derby have elegant dresses and loud hats. At a WWE show, the dude with the best seat is a guy wearing a green smiley face t-shirt. This comparison just won’t fly.
But that’s ok! Because there is one more event that focuses on bringing in casual fans, making them feel like invested experts quickly, taking over a city with its festivities, and turning sporting events into an elaborate spectacle with lots of fire!
WrestleMania is the Olympics of Wrestling
It’s so perfect. They’re both (for now) on the family of NBC networks. They both aim to be a worldwide event. Fans flock from all over the world to come to WrestleMania, and while that is probably true for the Super Bowl too, it doesn’t feel as authentic since Football is an America-only sport. Plus, virtually every athlete in the Super Bowl is American. WWE’s roster this weekend features American, Canadian, Japanese, Irish, Bulgarian, Swiss, Pakistani, Mexican, Dutch, and Albanian competitors.
With the Super Bowl there is just one game to watch, but WrestleMania is full of 13 plus matches that have their own stipulations and stories, closer to the lineup of the Olympics. You can come in and out as a viewer, get super hyped about something you didn’t realize you’d like (Curling or Handball in the Olympics, Ladder matches and battle royales at WrestleMania), and then move on to the next event/match.
The biggest similarity though is the spectacle. The pomp, the circumstance. Some people watch wrestling just for the colorful entrances, and the opening ceremonies is just that. Are you telling me that the shirtless guy from Tonga doesn’t have wrestling written all over him? That guy learned a second sport in a climate he never lived in just so he could do that entrance again. You KNOW that the WWE Performance Center is going to pick up the phone and give him a ring sometime soon.
The only things that make the Olympics different is the inclusion of amateur athletes and the presence of Bob Costas. But “Pro Wrestlers” aren’t professional at wrestling the way that “amateur” wrestlers are. And Bob Costas is done with the Olympics, so that hurdle is taken care of, because you know Vince was never going to have him at WrestleMania, based on their history.
So let it be known, hence forth, that when you’re at the office and you say “I’m going to a WrestleMania party this weekend,” and your co-worked replies “Whatever is that?” You may proudly reply,
“Why WrestleMania, it’s like the Olympics of Wrestling.” ■
Check back every day this week for more content as part of
Subscribe to Much Ado About Wrestling at iTunes