"True happiness is...to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future." - Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Oftentimes within the hardcore wrestling enthusiast community, the vitriol takes over and the negativity reigns supreme. I say that as someone that engages in that kind of thinking rather often, but as I've argued in the past, that's because I've seen this business at its highest point. I've witnessed WWE at the top of the mountain and I grew up with Jim Crockett Promotions. I know what pro wrestling looks like when it's on fire, and I so desperately want to bask in that glorious feeling again, I rage when it ceases to exist.
Long before I left school in 1998 to chase a pro wrestling dream, I was addicted to this form of entertainment. Now, after I've returned to school, finished my degree, and entered the media, I'm still addicted to it. It's in my blood. There's no antidote. It's a wonderful drug.
We all recognize that the past month of WWE television (for some, much longer than that) has largely been sub-par. Roman Reigns gets booed out of every building, we've received more than our share of droning Authority promos, and some of the feuds seem to have picked out of thin air. We've bitched and moaned and I've read the anger from every corner of the Internet. I understand it. I do it myself every week on radio and often, I do it here at Cageside.
But, this is Wrestlemania week. What we need to remember is this: Last year's build may well have been WORSE than this year's, and Santa Clara looked like a disaster two weeks before the show. Recall the March 2, March 9, and March 16 RAW broadcasts, which weren't just bad, they were hideous. In 2015, much of February stunk out loud, and a mundane Fastlane show was saved by its main event. That Royal Rumble match was all-time awful and the roster looked unbelievably thin because almost no one felt like a star. This one was fun, and had far more excuses for its blemishes.
Oh, and lest we forget, most vocal fans hated Roman Reigns then too, and were begging for either a Brock Lesnar victory or a Seth Rollins cash-in.
The Intercontinental Title, which will be defended in a seven-way ladder match in Dallas, was defended in a multi-person ladder match last year as well, but at least Kevin Owens kept his hands on the title in the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania 32. Last year, R-Truth stole it repeatedly, and basically everybody in the match at one point or another held the gold, despite the fact that Wade Barrett was the Champion. It became a comedy sideshow. It was pathetic.
WWE blew the Randy Orton face turn, deciding to delay it a few weeks, rather than completely pulling the trigger and committing to it in Nashville the night after Fastlane. The New Day was a joke at that point, being berated far and wide, and the Tag Team Division was in shambles, just as it is today. The Divas division was still in the infancy of "Give Divas a Chance" and Nikki Bella was carrying the division as AJ Lee became less interested and Paige was mishandled.
We got tag matches featuring the likes of Big Show and Kane against Ryback and Erick Rowan, and meaningless bouts like the Ascension squaring off with the Primetime Playas. Reigns got pinned less than a month before main eventing against Lesnar, there was no Vince or Shane, and Bray Wyatt did his best, but largely failed to singlehandedly sell a match with Undertaker.
Last year's build sucked. it's that simple. And I didn't even mention the March 23 tug of war between Brock and Roman to send us home in the final pre-Wrestlemania RAW segment.
But, that week, we came together. We talked about our favorite Wrestlemania cards, top matches, and the moments that changed our lives. I'm reminded of Sean Rueter's piece on Kurt Angle v. Eddie Guerrero, fighting back a few tears while reading why it was the most important Mania match to him. So many people wrote so many great things last year here and otherwise. This year has been no exception.
In 2015, we read every word of the news, expressed our hopes for a fun night, watched a fairly forgettable Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and then came Sunday morning, which may as well have been Christmas morning.
For me, my radio show hosted a viewing party at a Nashville restaurant. It was jam packed and was one of the best nights I've had in a long time. We rose and fell with the live audience. We cheered the nWo, we marked out for Orton's RKO on Rollins, we rolled our eyes at the music, we laughed at Rusev's tank, we mocked the Usos for their ring gear, prayed Ambrose wasn't injured, and then lost our minds when Seth Rollins walked back out during the main event.
And, caught in the moment, I composed a piece for Cageside Seats that included my belief that Wrestlemania 31 was one of the best Mania shows of all-time. That same Wrestlemania that I couldn't be bothered to give two flips about ten days earlier.
Perhaps it was the lack of expectation, but I still love that show. It didn't have a five star match, but even what was mediocre wasn't bad. Wrestlemania 31 was a fun show, even though it wasn't the show of the year.
Guess what, Wrestlemania 32 is going to be a very entertaining show as well, and we're all going to have plenty of opportunities to come together that night on social media and with our friends and families to just marvel at the biggest stage and what WWE has prepared for us. It's a show that generally serves as an annual reward to the audience for sticking with the company through the good times and bad. The babyfaces usually come out on top and the unpredictability is often at a minimum, but the performances are often at a maximum.
We'll see three quarters of the roster (if not more) debut brand new ring gear, which is one of my favorite things about a big wrestling show. They'll try out new colors, a new font, something extra, or maybe even a drastic shift into an entirely new look. They're out to impress. They want to stand out.
We'll get extravagant entrances and live performances and enough extra content to last for months. Not every finish will satisfy us, but something will catch our attention.
This isn't the old WWF where some members of the roster were painful to watch. Here, those folks are either collected in a battle royal or not on the card, possibly saved for a run-in during a key match.
Even with all the injuries, WWE has a talented roster. Whatever you might think of the road to Wrestlemania, on that night, none of it really matters. We're watching wrestling matches, canvas waltzes all given time to tell a deeper story.
Everyone comes out to steal the show. A Wrestlemania moment is something no one can ever take away from a WWE performer, and on this card, some of our favorites will be taking part in their first such slice in time. Each one of them gets their first shot at true, lasting immortality. From AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn, to Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Braun Strowman, and THIS version of New Day, we'll see so many hard working entertainers get that initial taste.
That alone should at least force a half-smile out of every wrestling fan.
Outside of Mania, we've got what could be the show of the year on Friday night from NXT, two great Ring of Honor cards, a ridiculous EVOLVE show, Sting's induction into the Hall of Fame, the best RAW of the year with buckets of surprises, podcasts and radio shows and opinions from everybody you care about, and then on Sunday, we all gather around our flat screens or projectors or laptops.
What I truly hope is that as we approach that time, we sit back long enough to take note of how blessed we are just to have the opportunity to watch a Wrestlemania with those we love or our closest confidantes. Social media and sites such as ours expand the friend group to a much larger conglomeration of people who generally all desire one thing above all else:
An unforgettable show and a special night.
The clock stops. Many of our day-to-day problems retreat into the recesses of our grey matter for a few brief hours. We're occupied you see. It's Wrestlemania night. The build might have been embarrassingly bad, but on Sunday night, none of that matters anymore.
In two weeks, we're likely all back to being jaded and curmudgeonly and full of piss and vinegar over this angle or that burial or an eccentric billionaire in a two-toned tie who is woefully out of touch...
But that's 14 days from now.
For the next five, because we're pro wrestling fans, we're the luckiest people on the planet.