11 years ago today (April 3, 2005) I attended Wrestlemania 21 at The Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. I went with my brother, friends from college and friends from high school. We couldn’t all get seats together so my friends from high school were seated right across from us. It was a magical day for a kid (at that time I was 21) who had been in love with pro-wrestling for his entire life. I finally made it to the Show of Shows. Wrestlemania. It was a good one too. It featured the first ever Money In The Bank Ladder Match. It featured two standout matches - my favorite wrestler Shawn Michaels versus Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle and The Undertaker versus Randy Orton. The event also featured Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and Roddy Piper. In the co-main events Dave Bautista, who starred in the latest James Bond film and plays Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, wrestled, Motorhead played live and, John Cena won his first ever world championship. Since then Cena has won it 14 more times and become the undisputed face of WWE. Sadly, it was also the last Wrestlemania match for one of my favorites - Eddie Guerrero who would pass away in November of 2005 from acute heart failure. After Eddie’s passing I slowly lost interest with wrestling. Wrestlemania 21 would be the last Wrestlemania I’d watch for 8 years.
I am not sure how I reconnected with wrestling. I really don’t. I very rarely watched it on TV over the next 8 years. In fact the only time I would watch a match was if it would be good enough to become part of a social media news feed but safe to say around three years ago I got hooked again. Last year I was lucky enough to go to my first ever house show in Madison Square Garden. Right behind Wrestlemania this is probably one of the coolest things you could do as wrestling fan. It was a wintery late February night. I was fortunate to attend with a young woman whom I had been dating and had convinced myself I had converted into a fan through watching the E! reality show Total Divas. I was wrong. Half way through a 3 hour and 15 minute show I looked over and though ‘Dear God! She’s bored out of her mind.’ It has been 45 minutes since her favorite wrestler - Nikki Bella - had won her match and I dreaded how much she was going to hate sitting here with a bunch of ‘smarks’ for the next hour plus. 'Smarks' or ‘Smart Marks’ is a wrestling term for fans who know the product is fake but still love it anyway - often times too much. Smarks are the people who complain about why Wrestler A isn’t a bigger star, or why Wrestler B is in the main event when he doesn’t “deserve” it, etc. etc. etc. Lucky for me she was loving and just happy that I was doing something that gave me joy. It was a special night and one I haven’t forgotten.
One of my takeaways from that night was that while a lot of the smarks were annoying to be around - they were often joyless and sarcastic, I got a huge kick out of watching the kids in the audience. It reminded me that wrestling isn’t FOR me. I mean I can still enjoy it - and I clearly do - but it’s for kids. These are characters. Men and women dressed as good guys and bad guys, monsters and myths. The awe and excitement that I saw in the little boys and little girls made me so happy. It reminded me of what I must’ve looked like and felt like watching wrestling Saturday mornings after Catechism classes at the local church. My brother and I learned the sacraments from 10:30-11:00am and then we learned more lessons about right and wrong from Hulk Hogan, The Million Dollar Man, Randy Savage, Sgt. Slaughter and The Ultimate Warrior from 12:00-1:00pm. The lessons were taught in their interviews and in the ring. The bad guys telling us how terrible America was and how anyone could be bought for the right amount of money. The good guys telling us to train, say our prayers and take our vitamins, and to fight hard even when the odds are against you.
Today I will watch Wrestlemania for the first time with children. I’m anxious to see what it’s like. I hope they are filled with the same awe and wonder that I left watching my first Wrestlemania 26 years ago. Wrestling isn’t for me. It’s for them. It’s about taking simple stories and simple men and women and transforming them into something larger than life. Larger than life characters for little kids and the little kid that lives inside of us. It’ll always be for kids and that’s how it should be. If not, how else will you have a a new generation of young men and women who drag helpless dates to wrestling shows.