My Second WrestleMania
Some time back, I wrote about experiencing My First WrestleMania live in 1990 (WrestleMania VI) and in summary, it was everything I hoped it would be and more. Twelve years later, I returned to the same venue (Toronto's SkyDome) for My Second WrestleMania and while I certainly enjoyed the show... it wasn't as grand an experience as the first go-round.
Part of the issue may have been, our seats were good but not great. While I'm certainly not a ringside snob or anything like that... I want to be able to see the action somewhat up-close and personal. And for the biggest event to hit Toronto in a dozen years, the seats we were able to score made it hard to see the action at times, and taking photos of the action was next to impossible.
Another (larger) part of my overall malaise with the show was the event itself... but we'll get to that in due time. Whereas in 1990 I was just a teenage punk, I was a full-grown adult and parent by 2002 and thus wanted to create a whole WrestleMania weekend for the experience.
The first stop of said weekend was WWF WrestleMania Axxess, which began the Friday before the event. If memory serves correctly, you could purchase either the day or the evening package and because we both had work obligations during the day, my brother The Big Rybowski and I selected the evening shift.
Huge mistake! The lineups to even enter the venue were massive and we made the mistake of not getting to the building hours early, so ended up spending significant time waiting to get in to the event. Everything had lineups and within a couple of hours, the event was done for the night.
Now... we definitely got to see some cool artifacts, such as the cement-filled Corvette that Stone Cold Steve Austin had created for Mr. McMahon; Andre The Giant's handprints; a bronzed statue of Rikishi's butt (yes, really); even the ambulance that the nWo had recently crushed The Rock in was on display. We also got to see some upcoming WWF action figures and had the opportunity to buy all kinds of overpriced merchandise (I don't remember buying anything at the Fanfest, which for me is unusual).
But in the end, we got to stand in line for exactly two exhibits: an autograph signing by Billy and Chuck (we got the autographs, but it took over an hour) and then there was a commentary simulation booth which we stood in line for nearly another hour, only to find that the fan festival was closing as we were two or three turns away from getting into. To say that Axxess was a colossal waste of time and money was an understatement.
The following evening, I headed to downtown Toronto (traveling solo) to see if there were any wrestling festivities happening. These days, there are dozens of independent shows and fringe conventions happening on the weekend of Mania; in 2002, there didn't appear to be anything happening other than an autograph signing by Missy Hyatt at a local strip club (and no, I didn't go).
Sunday afternoon, Rybowski and I headed downtown to watch The Showcase Of The Immortals for the second time in our respective lives.
As you can see with the lineup sheet above, the WrestleMania X-8 card was.... okay on paper. Unadvertised was a Sunday Night Heat matchup featuring Rikishi, Scotty 2 Hotty and Albert against Mr. Perfect, Lance Storm and Test that only went a few minutes.
The first few bouts on the pay-per-view (Rob Van Dam vs. William Regal, Diamond Dallas Page vs. Christian, Maven vs. Goldust -- which turned out to be a running Hardcore Title sketch throughout the show -- and Kurt Angle vs. Kane) were barely passable and would feel like an afterthought in today's PPV landscape. The Undertaker taking on Ric Flair was the first true highlight of the card and one of Flair's better matches during his early WWF run (it was also the first time Undertaker acknowledged his winning streak).
Things settled back into a rut after that, with hometown hero Edge having to deal with his "shampoo endorsement" feud with Booker T in a passable but basic match. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Scott Hall has to be considered a letdown and in fact was the beginning of the end for Austin's run that year. A four-way tag team match saw Billy and Chuck go over The Hardy Boyz, APA and The Dudley Boyz and considering the talent in at least three of the four teams, it was no one's best effort.
The pace then picked up with The Rock against Hollywood Hulk Hogan and, as great as the televised version of that match was, it was even more special for the 68,000+ fans in attendance. The Toronto crowd, often dubbed Bizarroland, made the early call to root for Hogan in favor of The Rock and many of the longtime fans had instant flashbacks to the early days of Hulkamania. While the match itself was hardly a five-star classic, it was one of the most emotional and interesting experiences I've ever had as a wrestling fan.
Right after that, we saw hometown hero Trish Stratus lose her effort to regain the WWF Womens Championship in a Triple Threat against Champion Jazz and Lita. If the air hadn't already been sucked out of the SkyDome following the emotional Hogan match, this bout cemented that feeling.
By the time the WWF World Championship match between Triple H and Chris Jericho came around, it hardly felt like the "main event." Yes, it was the title match and the last bout on the card, but fans were already getting ready to leave by the time the match started. And that's a shame because, watching it back later, it was a decent match... but the feeling in the crowd was that it was a foregone conclusion that Triple H would regain the gold.
Honestly, had Rock-Hogan gone on last, I think my entire perception of the card may have changed. But putting it on third-last was a mistake in hindsight and left much to be desired in terms of the WrestleMania aftertaste.
That's not to say the show wasn't historically significant. It was the last WWF event in the SkyDome (now called The Rogers Centre) to this date. It was actually one of the last WWF events ever, as two months later the company would be rebranded as WWE. And one day after the show, the promotion would debut Brock Lesnar, forever changing wrestling history.
So looking back and everything in balance, I enjoyed WrestleMania. Just not nearly as much as my first time.