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WrestleMania is absolutely for hardcore fans of pro wrestling

There is a talking point about WrestleMania that I don’t agree with, but I see it every year. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Person A: “WWE is clueless, how could they not put my favorite wrestler in a more important match at WrestleMania?”

Person B: “That’s because WrestleMania isn’t for hardcore fans like you, it’s for casual fans.”

I consider myself a hardcore fan of professional wrestling. I have been following WWE since I was 5 years old in the late 80’s when Hulk Hogan was screwed out of the WWF Championship by twin Hebner referees. 1995 through 2001 was the peak of my fandom, constantly flipping TV channels back and forth between Raw and Nitro on Monday nights, buying merchandise and tickets for ECW while rooting hard for Paul Heyman to one day overtake the behemoths of WWF and WCW. I was the president of my high school Math Team and gave no shits about showing up to our yearbook photo wearing my favorite ECW logo shirt. Just like today, I spent way too much time searching the internet for wrestling-related spoilers, rumors, and news of the on-goings behind the scenes of WWF, WCW, and ECW.

When it comes to the type of wrestling that appeals to me, I care a lot about move set and work rate. I strongly prefer watching wrestlers who can perform smooth feats of athleticism, like Cesaro, Seth Rollins, Rey Mysterio, RVD, or Neville. I have little desire to see performers like Big Cass who are basically there to just look tall and dish out a bunch of big boots, clubbing blows to the chest, and the occasional powerslam. I love compelling characters who don’t need anything besides a microphone to get me to care about them, such as The Rock, Dean Ambrose, AJ Lee, Cactus Jack, Paige, New Day, or Paul Heyman. My absolute favorites are the ones who combine both facets well, such as Macho Man, CM Punk, Kevin Owens, Kurt Angle, Becky Lynch, and Chris Jericho. There are some exceptions to all of this, of course, but these are generally the kinds of performers who positively capture my attention.

As a hardcore fan of pro wrestling, I scoff at this notion that WrestleMania is not for me. Now, if WrestleMania was currently comprised of cards likes the ones from WrestleMania 1 through WrestleMania 9, then maybe it wouldn’t be for me. There are tons of matches on those first nine cards that are just plain awful and certainly don’t hold up well today. I was a childhood mark for Hulk Hogan back then, but today that sort of main event match doesn’t sound very appealing to me.

But I look at WrestleMania 17 as something of a turning point for the WrestleMania brand. It was a critical step necessary for taking it into this current period where just about every year it’s a larger-than-life major stadium event, and the brand name of “WrestleMania” is enough to bring in at least 65 thousand worldwide fans to the venue. The idea that WrestleMania might ever go back to being a show for roughly 20,000 seat venues, which happened as recently as 2004 to 2006 (WrestleMania 20 through WrestleMania 22) seems kind of absurd right now.

I’m a hardcore fan of professional wrestling, and I have enjoyed nearly every single WrestleMania card since 2001.

WrestleMania 17 is one of the greatest cards of all-time, and that doesn’t really need much explanation.

The atmosphere surrounding Hulk Hogan’s match with the Rock at WrestleMania 18 was completely nuts and I was totally marking out at seeing the iconic Hulk-Up again in a WWF ring. Undertaker and Ric Flair also had a hell of a match that night with a terrific Arn Anderson cameo, and I still remember the sound of Christian slamming that door into Molly Holly’s face as she tried to escape the arena with the Hardcore Championship.

WrestleMania 19 is perhaps my favorite ever, with good-to-great matches up and down the card. Hardy vs. Mysterio, a triple threat tag match featuring Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, Michaels vs. Jericho, Hogan vs. Vince, Rock vs. Austin, and Lesnar vs. Angle. My goodness, just listing it all out like that makes the current card for WrestleMania 34 seem pedestrian in comparison.

WrestleMania 20 included the return of Dead Man Taker, which had an amazing entrance even though the match was a dud. But the card also included fun action featuring Chris Jericho vs. Christian, Evolution vs. Rock & Sock, Guerrero vs. Angle, and the amazing victory Chris Benoit had over Triple H and Shawn Michaels. The ending embrace between Guerrero and Benoit is simply incredible.

WrestleMania 21 included a solid match between Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero, a thrilling battle between Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle, the first ever Money in the Bank Ladder match, as well as a great tease that Randy Orton might actually end the Undertaker’s undefeated streak.

WrestleMania 22 will always stand out in my memory for the brutality on display between Mick Foley and Edge, which reminded me of some ECW matches that I used to adore. There’s also the great story between Trish Stratus and Mickie James, another high caliber MITB Ladder match, Mysterio vs. Angle vs. Orton, and the crazy entertaining overbooking of Vince’s war with Shawn Michaels.

There was another great MITB Ladder match at WrestleMania 23, as well as one of my favorite Batista matches ever when he challenged Undertaker’s streak. My ECW guys got their spotlight in an 8-man tag match. The spectacle of the Vince vs. Trump battle with Steve Austin right in the middle of it also had its moments.

Big Show’s match with Floyd Mayweather at WrestleMania 24 is a great model for all celebrity matches to follow, and this card also included the emotional finale of Ric Flair’s WWE career, two of my favorites doing battle in the main event (Edge vs. Undertaker), and yet another great MITB Ladder match.

The fight between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 25 is one of the greatest matches I’ve ever seen, Matt vs. Jeff Hardy had some jaw-dropping bumps, and I couldn’t get enough of Ricky Steamboat showing Chris Jericho that he could still kick some serious ass.

WrestleMania 26 had a wonderful rematch between Michaels and Undertaker. Cena’s match with Batista is my pick for Cena’s best WrestleMania match of his career. The MITB Ladder match also reliably delivered exciting action, though it was probably a notch down from the previous years. Punk and Mysterio did the best they could with a very limited amount of time.

WrestleMania 27 was a dud. CM Punk’s match with Randy Orton wasn’t enough to save this mess.

Daniel Bryan’s 18 second loss at WrestleMania 28 was outrageous yet fascinating to witness, Triple H and Undertaker had a far superior match to the one from the prior year, Punk and Jericho was a no-nonsense great wrestling match, and the electricity of the main event between Rock and Cena is impossible to deny.

I attended WrestleMania 29 live and was completely in awe of the magic that Undertaker and CM Punk created on that night.

My favorite moment of WrestleMania 30 was Cesaro tossing out Big Show over the top rope to win the first ever Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. And of course seeing Daniel Bryan finally overcome the tyrants holding him down was super cathartic.

WrestleMania 31 finally brought back group ladder matches to WrestleMania. Orton’s RKO on Seth Rollins is my favorite RKO of all-time, and Seth Rollins cashing in his MITB contract during the main event was the perfect way to end the show. I also marked out seeing the NWO interrupt Sting’s match, as well as seeing two of my favorites in AJ Lee and Paige teaming up to take out the Bella Twins.

I enjoyed WrestleMania 32 despite this being the only WrestleMania main event I have never watched, partially due to how the mere concept of it nauseated me. The highlight for me was the triple threat match between Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch. Zack Ryder winning the group ladder match was one of those stunning WTF moments, as was Shane McMahon jumping off the roof of Hell in a Cell. Stone Cold, Foley, and HBK coming out to confront the League of Nations was also cool, and I was rooting like hell for Dean Ambrose when he pulled that chainsaw out from under the ring.

Finally, WrestleMania 33 had plenty to enjoy, such as Neville and Austin Aries battling it out on the pre-show, AJ Styles pulling out a borderline great match from Shane McMahon, the shocking return of the Hardy Boyz and their ensuing tag team ladder match, Kevin Owens putting his lone finger on the rope to break the count against Chris Jericho, Lesnar and Goldberg having a short but sweet car crash kind of match, and what appeared to be the Undertaker leaving his gear in the ring and disappearing under the ramp into retirement.

I have listed out all the content on these WrestleMania cards that greatly appealed to me, a hardcore fan of professional wrestling. Yes, I would love to see Cesaro or Kevin Owens taking on Brock Lesnar in the main event of WrestleMania 34, and I would love to see Sasha Banks wage war against Bayley for 20 minutes. I don’t need to see Triple H hogging the spotlight yet again, nor am I interested in seeing Roman Reigns main event for the 4th straight year. I find John Cena’s story completely laughable. I don’t buy the Miz as being on the same level of Rollins or Balor, nor do I want to see Braun Strowman go over two far superior workers in Cesaro and Sheamus.

But just because WWE isn’t following my ideal fantasy booking to a tee doesn’t mean that WrestleMania is not for me, a hardcore fan of professional wrestling. It’s way too reductive to assume that hardcore wrestling fans can’t find enjoyment in a celebrity match, or spectacular entrances, or part-timers in prominent roles, or a Battle Royal, or a Roman Reigns wrestling match.

Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns are a pretty good bet to have an entertaining match, the Rousey spectacle will likely be fascinating to witness, and I am always interested in seeing Undertaker do his thing. I actually get to see Daniel Bryan compete in the same ring with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. I have tremendous anticipation for Charlotte putting her title on the line against Asuka’s undefeated streak. A dream match between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura sounds like a must-watch match to me.

Sasha, Bayley, and Becky are as good as it gets as far as potentially giving us a great finish for a Battle Royal (like Cesaro had at WrestleMania 30). Mustafa Ali and Cedric Alexander are going to prove that they deserve better than the pre-show. I’m very curious to see who Braun Strowman’s mystery partner turns out to be. The Usos and New Day finally have the biggest stage to show they are the best damn tag teams in WWE. And I can’t wait to see 70+ thousand people chanting for Rusev Day.

Of course it all won’t exactly play out as I currently envision it, and some matches I am hyped for will probably disappoint me while others overperform my current expectations. But one thing I am pretty confident about is that the concept of WrestleMania absolutely appeals to hardcore fans of professional wrestling. I have little doubt that WrestleMania 34 will join the long list of WrestleMania events that I have enjoyed going all the way back to 2001.

If some folks want to argue that WrestleMania is meant to appeal to casual fans, that’s fine. But please don’t tell me that WrestleMania is not for hardcore fans of pro wrestling. Hardcore fans of pro wrestling are thrown into the same bucket far too often when the reality is that we each have highly varied tastes within our own hardcore fandom. WrestleMania throws a bunch of different matches and segments out there to try to fit a wide variety of fandoms, casual or hardcore.

And for this specific hardcore fan of pro wrestling, that concept has worked very well because I have enjoyed 16 of the last 17 WrestleMania events.

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