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In what is the annual celebration of all things Wrestling, Wrestlemania took over the city of New Orleans, Louisiana for the second weekend of April!
Wrestlemania is no longer one single event, but a 5-day celebration, which this year saw thousands of fans from all around the world descend upon the fun loving streets of New Orleans.
Before the primetime action begins, fans have the opportunity to visit Wrestlemania Axxess, the ultimate fan experience! This year Axxess kicked off on Thursday evening with numerous attractions for fans to enjoy. WWE Superstars attend Axxess sessions for fan meet-and-greets, giving the most dedicated fans the opportunity to meet their favourite stars! Other attractions at Wrestlemania Axxess include the Undertaker’s Graveyard, The Elimination Chamber and memorabilia from throughout the years including ring gear, old championship belts & entrance stages!
After visiting these you can take a break and watch some great in-ring action from the NXT stage. Some of the best UK talent was on display including WWE United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne, Moustache Mountain (Tyler Bate & Trent Seven) and the self-proclaimed ‘Liverpool’s number 1’, Zack Gibson.
This year I attended the International Media event on the Friday morning of Wrestlemania, sitting down with some of the biggest names of professional wrestling including The Big Dog Roman Reigns, Bayley & Dolph Ziggler. Keep an eye on our social channels for these!
Friday evening hosts the annual WWE Hall of Fame ceremony celebrating the careers of the chosen inductees. This year witnessed the induction of Goldberg, Mark Henry, Ivory, Jeff Jarrett, Hillbilly Jim and The Dudley Boyz, while Kid Rock was inducted into the ‘Celebrity Wing’ of the WWE Hall of Fame. This night is a fan-favourite every year with a sneak peak into the characters who have graced our TV screens over the past couple of years. On the same night. a special award is presented to an extremely deserving person outside of the wrestling community. The ‘Warrior Award’ honours someone who exhibits the warrior spirit, and this year it was awarded to a very special boy, Jarrius JJ Robertson. JJ had undertaken a double liver transplant before he had turned 15 and continues to display a passion for life. He is an inspiration for us all!
Saturday kicked off with more Wrestlemania Axxess, and even more in-ring action at the NXT stage! Saturday also included some special moments outside of Wrestling. WWE have become synonymous with the Make-A-Wish foundation, an organisation which grants the wishes of sick children. On Saturday morning, John Cena hosted his annual Make-A-Wish luncheon in which he inducted more than two dozen children into the WWE Circle of Champions. Cena has granted more wishes than anyone else world wide, having now contributed to more than 550 wishes.
After lunch on Saturday, Stephanie McMahon hosted, ‘Connor’s Cure’, a charity movement set up by the WWE to induct special children, who have been affected by pediatric cancer, into the WWE Universe. ‘Connor’s Cure’ was established in memory of Connor Michalek, the first ever winner of the Warrior Award.
Moving back to in-ring action, NXT Takeover took place on Saturday night at the Smoothie King Centre (one of the strangest Arena names I’ve heard!). This is the ‘third’ brand of WWE (after RAW & Smackdown) and is synonymous with being a show focussed more on the wrestling side of the business than the sports entertainment side. The show kicked off with one of the most exhilarating matches of the entire weekend, a ladder match for the new NXT North American Title. Those in attendance got to see EC3 & Ricochet make their debuts in NXT! This was nothing short of amazing, if you only get to watch one match from the weekend, make it this! Other matches on this show included former UFC star Shayna Baszler winning the NXT Women’s championship, Roderick Strong joining the Undisputed Era allowing them keep the tag-titles, and Aleister Black winning the NXT Men’s title! Not to mention a match in the making for nearly a whole year, the unsanctioned match between Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa. This event was nirvana for wrestling purists!
Sunday brought me to the New Orleans Superdome, home to the New Orleans Saints American Football team, for the 34th installment of Wrestlemania! After a 4-year hiatus, the grandest stage of them all returned to the Big Easy! Last time around, in 2014, Daniel Bryan finally overcame the authority to claim the WWE World Heavyweight championship. Now, almost 4 years to the day, we get to see Daniel Bryan back in the ring, something which seemed like only a fantasy up until recently due to a serious concussion issue.
This would be one of the longest shows in the history of the event with the whole show lasting more than 7 hours (2hr kickoff show, 5hr main card)!
On the kickoff show we had two Battle Royals: the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal for the men, and the first-ever Wrestlemania Women’s Battle Royal. WOKEN Matt Hardy & Naomi respectively took the victories here.
Also during the kickoff show we had the final of the WWE Cruiserweight Championship tournament which saw Cedric Alexander finally capture the title when he faced Mustafa Ali. This was one of the best technical matches of the night and deserved to be on the main card. It even had John Cena in awe as he sat ringside attending Wrestlemania as a fan (More on that below!).
The main show kicked off with a bang, literally, as a whole load of pyrotechnics went off and scared the bejesus out of this guy! Great spectacle though! First up, the triple treat Intercontinental Championship match between Seth Rollins, Finn Bálor and The Miz. Very entertaining match and a great way to kick off the show. Seth Rollins claiming the win and joining only a handful of men in becoming a Grand Slam Champion!
The biggest shock of the night came when Charlotte Flair successfully defended her Smackdown Women’s Championship against Asuka. This was Asuka’s first ever defeat in WWE, an undefeated streak which lasted just shy of 1000 days! This was a fantastic spectacle of women’s wrestling which hopefully inspires future generations!
In the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania John Cena had been ‘calling-out’ The Undertaker, to no avail. Cena, a 16-time-Champion, said that in the absence of a match with the Deadman he would go to New Orleans and attend Wrestlemania as a fan, and he held true to his word! After sitting ringside for the kickoff show and the first couple of matches on the main card he apparently received word from a referee that The Undertaker was in the building.
One of the main attractions for this year’s Wrestlemania was the in-ring debut of former UFC Champion Rowdy Ronda Rousey! It was a major shock when she made her first appearance at the Royal Rumble and now she was teaming up with WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle to face the Authority; Triple H & Stephanie McMahon in a mix-match challenge! This was great, unbridled fun which everyone enjoyed, especially when Ronda made Stephanie tap-out!
Next up we get John Cena emerged at the ring to see if The Undertaker would finally appear! As Cena appears to give up hope the lights go out, and everyone thinks we are about the see the Deadman, but alas, it’s Elias who comes out! After a quick performance by Elias including and awful rendition intended to insult the Wrestlemania crowd, John Cena executed his illustrious Five-Moves-of-Doom on poor Elias. However, as John exited the ring & began to walk up the ramp the lights went out again and we heard that famous gong! The Deadman lives and he looked as good as he ever did and puts away Cena within 3 minutes!
Daniel Bryan made his triumphant return to in-ring action when he teamed with Shane McMahon to gain their revenge on Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn after they were viciously beaten by the two in previous weeks. This win meant Kevin & Sami are fired from Smackdown!
The fans’ main event was the coming together of the WWE Champion AJ Styles & Shinsuke Nakamura with the Champion retaining the gold! However, after the match, Nakamura turned on his one time confidant and attacked him! This was not a popular decision and the crowd let him know! Will be interesting to see how this one plays out.
While Ronda was one aspect everyone was expecting, the debut of another performer called Nicholas was not! Leading up to Wrestlemania, Braun Strowman was tasked with picking a partner to face The Bar for the RAW Tag Team Titles. Right up until the start of the match we still didn’t know who his partner was! Braun got on the mic and announced that his partner was going to be someone from the audience, the place went insane! After walking through the crowd he finally stopped and chose a little boy to be his partner, 10-year-old Nicholas. Pure Wrestlemania magic! Nicholas was more popular with the fans than John Cena ever was! But the magic didn’t end at merely being picked to being Braun’s partner, instead they only went and won the match to become the NEW RAW Tag Team Champions! What I would have given to have been that kid when I was younger!
The final match of the night, was the Universal Championship match between (let me get my Paul Heyman voice ready) the reigning, defending, undisputed, Universal Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar facing off against ‘The Big Dog’ Roman Reigns!
This match has been building for a full year and is the pay off of months of personal and vicious attacks. Reigns was not happy with the fact Lesnar has been a part-time champion, while Lesnar, through Paul Heyman, has pointed out that many pretenders have challenged the Beast Incarnate but no one has been able to dethrone him as Champion.
This match was brutally physical, Lesnar putting Reigns through the announcers table and even hitting him with multiple F5 finishers. Ultimately, the punishment was too much and Lesnar retained, much to the delight of the fans.
So ended a mammoth 7-hour-event which had fans thoroughly enthralled throughout with entertaining wrestling and storytelling throughout!
For international fans, it’s not always easy to attend Wrestlemania or other WWE events outside of our own countries, thankfully WWE tour over here a couple of times a year. But if you have the opportunity to attend a Wrestlemania then grab it with both hands, you will have the time of your life! There are so many events on around the week that you cannot be bored and with great host cities like New Orleans, you will have so much to do and see outside of wrestling too!