On April 7, I return to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey for WrestleMania 35.
It will be my sixth WrestleMania in-person. Don’t worry, I’ve already had my pre-WrestleMania nightmare about showing up late to the Show of Shows.
Previously, I’ve been to:
- WrestleMania 23 in Detroit at Ford Field
- WrestleMania 29 in New Jersey at Metlife Stadium
- WrestleMania 32 in Texas at AT&T Stadium
- WrestleMania 33 in Orlando at Camping World Stadium
- WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans at Mercedes-Benz Superdome
When I went to 23 as a 17-year-old kid with my mom and dad, I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Little did I know I’d turn it into an annual tradition. And I’ll be honest, I was gun-shy about going to WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans last year.
The reason I had been going to WrestleMania annually, starting with 32 in Texas, was to make sure I was in-person for The Undertaker’s final match. I presumed, at least, that his final match would take place at WrestleMania and I wanted to ensure I was there for it.
At 33, he certainly seemed to retire against Roman Reigns in the main event of the show; he put his Undertaker garb down in the ring and left. So, with not being entirely sure he’d return for 34, I waited. And waited. Then John Cena started calling Undertaker out for a match.
So, I went. Last minute.
This year for 35 was even more last-minute. To be blunt, I’m not in the most financially secure place to be taking a trip to WrestleMania. I was going to be good and avoid using my tax return on the trip. I kept checking StubHub anyway, teasing myself, until I finally relented, and bought tickets about eight days ago.
What was the impetus? History. I couldn’t stand the thought of missing something that has not been seen at WrestleMania for the last 34 iterations: women not just being one of the “main event” matches, but actually closing the show.
Such a thing is particularly poetic for me because last time I was in MetLife stadium for WrestleMania 29, the women — in an inter-gender match, where Brodus Clay, Tensai, and the Funkadactcyls (Naomi and Cameron) were slated to take on Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow and the Bellas (Nikki and Brie) — were cut from the show at the last-minute.
Think about that. Six years ago, which isn’t terribly long, the women weren’t even featured on WrestleMania 29, and if they had been, it was an eight-man-and-woman inter-gender tag team match at that.
Now, six years later, they are the headline match, pitting Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch.
Recently, as I got into WrestleMania season mode, I’ve been re-watching WrestleManias from the 20s, that is: WrestleMania 20 (well, the two main events), 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25. It’s hard to believe I’m already nostalgic for those shows, but anyhow, check out this history, stretching back to the first WrestleMania in 1985 in Madison Square Garden. A special hat-tip to Bleacher Report for helping me organize this.
Believe it or not, the first WrestleMania did have a single’s match between the women for the Women’s Title, and arguably it was the co-main event of the show. At the time, the Rock ‘N Wrestling Connection was in full swing, and that included Cyndi Lauper, who managed Wendi Richter in her match against Leilani Kai at WrestleMania. The Fabulous Moolah, a decorated, storied, if controversial, women’s wrestler was in Kai’s corner. Richter won the title in a little over six minutes.
WrestleMania II featured Moolah, this time as Women’s Champion at the age of 63, defending against Velvet McIntyre and winning in a roughly one-minute match.
There wouldn’t be another women’s match at WrestleMania until WrestleMania the inter-gender match featuring Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire vs. Randy Savage and Sensational Sherri in just under eight minutes.
Another four years would pass — no match at VII, VIII or IX — until we had another women’s match at WrestleMania and this time, the first for the Women’s Title in eight years. Leilani Kai returned 10 years later to take on the Champion, Alundra Blayze. Blayze retained in just over three minutes.
Continuing the theme, another three years would pass — no match at XI, XII or 13 — before the women would be in a match at XIV; this time another inter-gender match featuring Luna and Goldust vs. Marc Mero and Sable. Sable was getting hot at the time as a big attraction during the rise of the Attitude Era. And the story of this one is that because of that hotness, the women were the featured attraction of this match. Mero and Sable won in a little over nine minutes.
More About the Sex Appeal
The next year at XV, the women’s title would be on the line for the first time in five years, as Sable took on Tori, defeating her in about five minutes. Sable wasn’t a traditionally trained wrestler, and the storyline was one WWE would use many times going forward with the women, including as WrestleMania storylines: Tori was an obsessed fan who turned on Sable. This was the time period where Jerry “The King” Lawler’s, “Puppies!” line was most ascendant. King was the commentator along with Jim Ross, and the, “Puppies!” line was the derogatory, excitable way to remark upon the sex appeal of the women instead of their in-ring prowess.
At WrestleMania 2000, Terri Runnels faced The Cat in a cat fight match, but as mentioned above, this was mostly about being a “sex sells” attraction rather than about in-ring competition. Although, once again, Moolah, this time accompanied by her sidekick, Mae Young, were in the corner. Val Venis, who played a pornstar character, refereed the bout. The match last barely two and a half minutes. Also, this show featured another inter-gender match between Chyna and Too Cool (Grand Master Sexay and Scotty 2 Hotty) against The Radicalz (Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero and Perry Saturn). Chyna often mixed it up against the guys, so it’s hard to count this one as strictly a “women’s match.” Nevertheless, She got nearly 10 minutes in the ring to mix it up with the guys.
Chyna would then find her way into the Women’s Title match at WrestleMania X-7 against Ivory, defeating her handidly in about 2 minutes, 39 seconds. While the match wasn’t long, it should be noted that at least this one had a story and build going into it. The story was Ivory with the help of her group, The Right to Censor, breaking Chyna’s neck. This show is also notable for Lita’s involvement in the classic TLC II match. She mixed up with the boys in a memorable spot, and took a spear from Edge.
The Trish Era
The next couple years saw an improvement, and at least the continuation of the Women’s Title being contended for at WrestleMania.
WrestleMania X8 saw Jazz vs. Trish STratus vs. Lita for the Women’s Championship in a rather underrated triple threat match. This was the star of the push for Trish Stratus, who came in as fitness model-turned wrestler, who in my opinion, became the greatest Women’s Champion of all time. Trish won the match, defeating Jazz for the Title. However, the match was in the “popcorn” spot. That is, sandwiched between the two big main event matches of The Rock vs. Hogan and HHH vs. Chris Jericho for the WWE Championship. Being the match to follow The Rock vs. Hogan was sure to be a downer. It also only got a little over six minutes.
WrestleMania 19 continued the Trish theme, with her defeating Victoria for the championship. They had been having a good feud and matches, albeit, it was the same story as from 15: Victoria was the obsessed fan. They got a little over seven minutes, and this time, weren’t positioned in the dead zone “popcorn” spot. This show also featured more of the “sex appeal” attraction, as Stacy Keibler and Torrie Wilson “competed” in a fatal-fourway pillow fight match with the Miller Lite Catfight Girls, Tanya Ballinger, and Kitana Baker.
The Playboy Theme
Like 19, ‘Mania 20 featured this dichotomy: a serious women’s match, and a sex attraction match. It also started the first of many women’s matches centered around the WWE’s business relationship with Playboy, and not just that, but the exact same storyline: the evil character being jealous of the good character for appearing in Playboy. For example, the Torrie Wilson and Sable vs. Stacy Keibler and Miss Jackie Evening Gown Match centered on the latter two being jealous of the former two appearing in Playboy. On the other hand, Victoria was in the women’s championship match, this time defeating Molly Holly for the Women’s Championship in a Hair vs. Title match. She shaved Molly Holly’s head after the just about seven minute bout. It also went on before the three big matches, so not the worst spot to be in.
As mentioned, 21 follows this Playboy theme: Trish Stratus is back in the Women’s Title picture, as Champion, against Christy Hemme. And the story is that Trish is jealous of Hemme, who had posed in Playboy. Which is ludicrous when you consider that Trish is the Women’s Champion. Even though Hemme had Lita in her corner to jazz it up, the match got just over four minutes.
For 22, WWE returned to the dual offerings: Torrie Wilson vs. Candice Michelle in a — yep, you guessed it — Playboy pillow fight, as the “popcorn” match prior to the main event; and then Trish, as champion was defeated by Mickie James. Up to this point, this was the longest singles women’s match in WrestleMania history at 8 minutes, 48 seconds. It was the match of the night, as far as I’m concerned and had me the most invested. Even though it played on the obsessed fan storyline yet again that we’ve seen at two prior WrestleManias, it was so well done for the months leading into the match. The crowd was also very hot for it.
The Dark Years
Going forward, a new wrinkle would be added to the jealousy-over-Playboy theme WWE relied on in the prior years: Lumberjills. At 23, Melina, as Champion, defeated Ashley in about 3 minutes, 40 seconds. This match was about Melina, despite being Champion, being jealous of Ashley for being in Playboy, with Lumberjills (other women wrestlers) surrounding the ring. It was also positioned in the popcorn slot again.
The following year was the same idea, this time with Beth Phoenix and Melina taking on Maria and Ashley in a Lumberjill, aka Playboy BunnyMania. That year, Maria had been the one in Playboy. The match was more a platform for Snoop Dogg than it was the women. They only got five minutes.
And if you thought those were dark years, the dark years peaked with WrestleMania 25. The entire women’s division was thrown into a “Miss WrestleMania” Battle Royal that lasted just over seven minutes, and saw Santina Marella toss Beth Phoenix out at the end. Santina Marella was Santino Marella playing his “sister.”
At 26, the women had at least gotten away from the Playboy nonsense, but were involved in another clusterfuck of a match, also in the popcorn slot and also only getting 3 minutes, 26 seconds: Alicia Fox, Layla, Maryse, Michelle McCool and Vickie Guerrero defeated Beth Phoenix, Eve Torres, Gail Gim, Kelly Kelly and Mickie James. It also wasn’t really meant as a match; it was more a vehicle for Vickie Guerrero antics and comeuppance.
Trish would return to the ring after her 2006 retirement for another WrestleMania inter-gender tag team match, this time featuring a celebrity, as John Morrison, Trish Stratus and Snooki (from the Jersey Shore) took on LayCool (Michelle McCool and Layla) and Dolph Ziggler. Again, it’s in the popcorn slot. Again, it barely gets three minutes. Again, it’s more a vehicle for Vicki Guerrero antics and comeuppance.
The celebrity theme continued at 28, with Kelly Kelly and Maria Menounous (to be fair to her, at least she’s an actual wrestling fan) defeated Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres. At least it wasn’t the popcorn match, but it still only got 6 minutes, 22 seconds.
As mentioned, no match at 29.
At 30, the women had a Vickie Guerrero Invitational match for the Divas Championship, where the entire division fought in a match for the championship (first time at ‘Mania), with AJ Lee, as champion, retaining. The match got just under seven minutes. And if you thought the women had it rough sandwiched between Rock/Hogan and HHH/Jericho at 18, the women at XXX had to follow Brock Lesnar defeating The Undertaker’s 21-0 WrestleMania streak, and just before the main event with Daniel Bryan. Good times.
Up to that point in 2014, no women’s match at WrestleMania, whether inter-gender or not, had gone more than 10 minutes. The Women’s Championship or Divas Championship had only been defended at 12 of the 30 WrestleManias. Out of 30, 10 WrestleManias didn’t have any women’s match.
That wouldn’t exactly change with 31, where AJ Lee and Paige defeated The Bella Twins (Brie Bella and Nikki Bella) by submission. Again, the match went under seven minutes and was the “cool down” match between HHH/Sting and Cena/Rusev.
The Golden Age
However, the Golden Age is upon us, starting at WrestleMania 32, incidentally the first of the annual WrestleManias I began attending. The event would see the usual clusterfuck women’s match of Team Total Divas (Alicia Fox, Brie Bella, Eva Marie, Natalya, and Paige) defeat Team B.A.D. and Blonde (Emma, Lana, Naomi, Summer Rae, and Tamina). However, it was on the pre-show (before the actual WrestleMania show) and hey, at least it was the first women’s anything to go over 10 minutes at 11 minutes, 25 seconds. The reason story of this card, however, is Charlotte winning the Women’s Championship against Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks in 16 minutes, 3 seconds. For starters, that’s easily the longest women’s anything at WrestleMania ever, by a long shot. Secondly, it was a real match, with a real story, and focused on the three women as professional wrestlers. They had retired the Divas Championship, brought back the Women’s Championship, and were dropping “divas” to refer to women as well. And for my money, this was the match of the show.
33 continued the theme of women getting serious Women’s Championship matches that go over 10 minutes, with Bayley, as champion, retaining against Charlotte, Nia Jax, and Sasha Banks in 12 minutes, 45 seconds for the Raw Women’s Championship (the brands had split by this point, and each brand had a championship). The Smackdown Women’s Championship, however, was in the popcorn spot in about 5 minutes and 35 seconds of clusterfuck with Naomi defeating Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch, Carmella, Natalya, and Mickie James.
This Golden Era would really manifest at 34. This WrestleMania’s best two matches of the night, arguably, all involved women, and there were four matches involving women, the most at WrestleMania ever. First, Naomi won the first Women’s Battle Royal in just under 10 minutes on the preshow. Then on the actual show, Charlotte defeated Asuka to retain the Smackdown Women’s Championship in just over 13 minutes for second best match of the night. Then in just under 21 minutes, and in the show-stealer, Ronda Rousey (in her debut match, no less) and Kurt Angle defeated Stephanie McMahon (Vince McMahon’s daughter) and HHH. The match was absolutely killer. Additionally, you had Nia Jax win the Raw Women’s Title against Alexa Bliss in just over 10 minutes in a rather underrated match. It was a well-built story, arguably one of the best going into the show, and the outcome delivered.
The Main Event
All of which brings us to this year, WrestleMania 25, where Ronda Rousey, as Raw Women’s Champion faces Charlotte, as Smackdown Women’s Champion, and Becky Lynch in the closing match of the show. If you look at the history I just laid out, even taking into consideration the last few years of the Golden Era, it’s freaking wild to see how far the women at WrestleMania and in general have come.
And to be 100 percent clear here: the women deserve this, not because of some PR effort to booster equality or anything like that. They deserve it because they are legitimately the hottest story in the company, which means they should be the most important match at the most important show of the year. And the match features the hottest act in the company in the last five years (Becky), and for my money, the two best wrestlers of 2018: Ronda and Charlotte. It’s a damn no-brainer.
There’s many other ways to look at this main event as well.
- It’s the first WrestleMania main event where the competitors (Ronda and Becky are 32; Charlotte just turned 33) are younger than the event itself.
- It’s the first WrestleMania main event since WrestleMania 19 to not feature a part-timer, or HHH, HBK, Undertaker or John Cena. Those four have been the bedrock of WrestleMania main events the last 15 years. If you include Brock Lesnar, who main evented at 34, 31 and 19, and exclude the ones I mentioned, it’s the first full-time roster main event at WrestleMania since WrestleMania 17, which, for those keeping score, was 18 years ago. In other words, the point is: this is fresh as fresh can get. Even the main event of XXX, which saw Daniel Bryan, a full-timer, fresh face, win, the match still featured a previous WrestleMania main event wrestler in Randy Orton and a part-timer in Batista.
- Becky Lynch was in that 32 Title match, but then at 33, she was in the popcorn slot, and at 34, she was in the pre-show battle royal, but didn’t even make it to the final three. And yet, this year, she’s main eventing WrestleMania.
- Ronda Rousey is the first pro wrestler since Brock Lesnar to main event at WrestleMania one year after debuting on the main roster. Lesnar debuted on Monday Night Raw the night after WrestleMania 18 and then main evented WrestleMania 19. Ronda Rousey’s in-ring debut was at WrestleMania 34 and now she’s main eventing WrestleMania 35.
- This might be my favorite: this is the first time a Flair is in the main event of WrestleMania and it’s not Ric Flair. Ric Flair is considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, if not the greatest. He had a run in WWE, as champion no less, but never did main event a WrestleMania. The fact that his daughter has come along and etched her own legacy and path through professional wrestling and is already considered by many, including myself, to be the greatest women’s wrestler of all time is incredible. And that’s before she gets the honor of main eventing a WrestleMania.
To stay I’m stoked about seeing this history and this story unfold at MetLife stadium in two days is an understatement. It’s truly freakin’ mind-boggling, and in a weirdly aesthetic way beyond everything else, I just need to see it. I need to see what it looks like for the women to close the biggest show of the year.