WrestleMania, perhaps the greatest spectacle in the genre of “Sports Entertainment,” returned to New Jersey on Sunday, April 7. Over 82,000 fans made their way to Metlife Stadium to be a part of WrestleMania XXXV. A record of $16.9 million was grossed from WrestleMania XXXV – the highest figure that the stadium has ever pulled from an event.
Yet, interestingly, at one time, wrestling promoters had to settle for high school gymnasiums. Those were the times when wrestling fans kept their interests “private,” or be considered “weird.” After all, the “more sophisticated” – the more “hip” – of that time knew that professional wrestling was all “fixed” and “fake”. However, some of us fondly remember “secretly” staying up late to watch the wrestling shows on Channel 9. Let us not forget the wrestling shows broadcast in Spanish on Channels 31 and 37.
Granted, the Armory on Montgomery Street (Jersey City) hosted many wrestling events. And, yes, there were “big matches” at Madison Square Garden featuring Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, Chief Jay Strongbow, Gorilla Monsoon, and many others. But, those matches pale in comparison to the grappling frenzy that has now gripped the nation.
During those times, wrestling was a “morality play;” where, no matter how bleak it looked, the good, clean “face” would always triumph over the “evil,” rule-breaking “heel.” Today, wrestling appears to have “evolved(?)” into a Peyton Place-like “soap opera,” complete with intricate “storylines” that go way beyond the “kayfabe” of “yester-year.”
In the past, there were many wrestling promoters; each promotion had its own unique region. Currently, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has a virtual monopoly over “Sports Entertainment.” Local wrestling circuits serve as a “proving ground” for “up and coming” talent, or they are a place where former grappling stars go for “rehabilitation” or to end their careers.
The wrestling business of today is fiercely competitive and very demanding. That being said, wrestlers take extraordinary risks to gain an advantage. Sadly, there were times where those risks proved fatal. For example, Owen Hart died from injuries sustained during a spectacular ring entrance (i.e., his equipment failed). Chris Benoit became a victim of the head injuries he had sustained as a wrestler; that dementia caused him to murder his wife and son, and to take his own life.
Perhaps if professional wrestling reverted back to the way it used to be, severe injuries and fatalities could be avoided. Then, again, given the transformation of professional wrestling, such a reversion could prove to be as entertaining to the modern wrestling fan as watching a game of tiddlywinks.
John Di Genio