(Obviously not an actual liveblog, but I will be framing my thoughts on this year's WrestleMania and wrestling in general via a time frame of that event).
By not asking for this, you all asked for this
April 1, 2012
I have decided that since I subject everyone in the residency to various aspects of my wrestling fandom and experience every summer, and every summer someone says “hey, you’re writing about this, right?” and I generally either lie and say “yes” or shrink away mumbling incoherently, I owe some sort of attempt of sophisticated wrestling analysis and writing to the one or two people who know that this website exists. Also, I’d like a break from revisiting my nanowrimo failure.
A critical wrinkle in the landscape of the current WWE is the need for WrestleMania to be bigger than everything else. This is critical both to the powers that be in the WWE (who need money) and to the fans of WWE (who need some pure thing to look forward to, some objectively wonderful experience that justifies the complicated ups and downs of being a wrestling fan for an entire year between WrestleManias). This was easier for WWE when there were only four Pay Per Views a year, but has become increasingly difficult as the PPV schedule has evolved to once a month.
That said, WrestleMania does indeed feel huge every year. Maybe it’s because it’s marketed well (which it mostly is), maybe it’s because it’s supposed to be big (and perception is reality) and maybe, and most likely: it’s big because fans like me really really really want it to be big (and desire has a great capacity to augment reality).
Also, there really are a few ways that WWE succeeds in making ‘Mania feel like an enormous event every year. Generally, there is real storyline closure at ‘Mania (which is why there was such outrage at last year’s WrestleMania when the main event (!) ended in a victory for The Miz without him winning cleanly).
Also, the yearly WWE Hall of Fame inductions occur the night before ‘Mania, and it’s an opportunity for an organization that is not normally associated with sophistication (see: a storyline in which Trish Stratus has to strip to her bra and bark like a dog to keep her job, see: a storyline involving Kane and necrophilia) to show some class.
Case in point: this is how much Ric Flair means to the business: in 2008 he was given the greatest sendoff in wrestling history. Ric Flair was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame while an active wrestler, and his last match was against Shawn Michaels, the opponent of his choosing, at WrestleMania. Keep in mind that most wrestlers
a. are not performing when they are Ric Flair’s age
b. are certainly not performing on television when they are Ric Flair’s age
c. do not even live to be Ric Flair’s age.
So the fact that Ric Flair, a near 60 year old man and the greatest wrestler of all time, was performing in the main event on literally the most widely-viewed wrestling show in the history of the planet is ludicrous beyond my ability to convey. It was the biggest deal in the history of a man whose career was made almost entirely of things that were a really big deal.
I was there, and it was beautiful. I drove through the night after WrestleMania ended (in Orlando) to get back just in time for a Monday morning class (in Greenville, SC), and me and my friend were forever changed. A giant bowl full of tens of thousands of people had just helped the most prolific figure in the history of this niche bastard art form ride off into the sunset. Giant men cried. The closest approximation would be if everyone who Superman ever saved got to shake his hand when he retired. Attending a wrestling show is a paradoxically intimate event, and so to convey the emotional complexity of the situation is nearly impossible to do in worded communication, and yet I could say to another wrestling fan “Ric Flair, WrestleMania 24” and we’d both get the same weird homesicknessey feeling.
Put it this way: The Undertaker, whose mysterious and vague “deadman” persona has kept him squarely in the upper echelon of WWE talent for 22 years, which persona is so guarded by the WWE that he is forbidden from attending any of their constant publicity tours, was allowed to totally break kayfabe the next night during Ric Flair’s retirement ceremony on Monday Night Raw, in front of probably their biggest tv audience in years, just so he could give Flair a hug. That’s how big of an era was ending.
Which was why it was such a shock, and an almost personal slight to a lot of individual wrestling fans, when Flair stayed retired for less than a year, due to fiscal need (a lifetime of financial irresponsibility) and came back to crap all over his own legacy in TNA, a much lesser known wrestling promotion (though technically the WWE’s biggest competitor). The ego of Flair was also on full display, since he surely could have made money in some capacity with the WWE, but instead chose to go where they would allow him to actually compete in-ring.
Vince McMahon (owner of WWE) famously holds grudges, so this was perceived as Ric Flair taking the last bridge he would ever want to burn and dropping an atomic bomb on it.
But here’s the class: the WWE worked out a deal with TNA, an organization that they won’t even acknowledge most of the time, so that The Four Horsemen, a group that Ric Flair led, could be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, Flair included. In short, the organization that will generally do anything for a buck took a financial hit so that they could induct Ric Flair into the Hall of Fame for a second time. Simply because it was (and we’re dealing with entertainment industry and therefore very specialized ideas of “right” and “wrong”) the right thing to do.
In short, WrestleMania is epic, because it’s supposed to be, because I want it to be.
 That is, events that you have to pay for to watch. Traditionally, the big four were The Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, Survivor Series, and SummerSlam.
 A lot of “smart” fans view this, an obviously revenue-chasing maneuver, as one of the downfalls of modern wrestling, and a continued justification for extreme nostalgia (perhaps the most defining characteristic of the modern wrestling fan).
 The classic model for selling wrestling PPVs is unchanged since the days when promoters were merely trying to sell more tickets, not glitzy televised events: send a storyline careening towards a conclusion, make the stakes high, and wrestling fans will pay to see their desired outcome. The old(ish) rule was that the desired outcome would be achieved at a PPV, but with one every month nowadays, the WWE can’t maintain really long storylines without having some matches at PPVs end under questionable circumstances in order to keep the storyline going. All of this is to say that payoff is often denied even at PPVs, but generally ‘Mania is a time for storylines to reach final denouement.
 Official attendance: 74, 635
 Basically an all-encompassing industry term for the fictional universe in which the WWE storylines play out.
 The kind of ego that can only come from a 30-plus year career of emotional manipulation of large crowds, and the better Flair got, the larger the crowds got. This was a man who became larger than life; he had to believe at least part of his own hype.