By Matthew Terry
The bell rings for the final time on March 31, 1985. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T stand tall over Roddy Piper and Paul Orndoff in the middle of Madison Square Garden, as the crowd of over 19,000 stands and cheers. The first ever WrestleMania has concluded for Vincent Kennedy McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (WWF), and from all accounts it was a successful event.
35 years later, on April 6, 2019 the bell again rings at Madison Square Garden. This time, however it’s not what used to be WWF running a show from the legendary arena. On this Saturday night, it’s instead a joint show from New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and Ring of Honor (ROH), two companies with very different goals, yet the same method of achieving them. NJPW is in the middle of a western expansion project, having just put their main championship on Canadian wrestler Kenny Omega a year prior in an attempt to bring the western audience in. ROH has just lost most of their top stars, including former WWE star Cody Rhodes and independent wrestling darlings Matt and Nick Jackson (together the Young Bucks), and this is their first big show in their new era and they’re attempting to show that they’re more than Cody and the Bucks. Despite their different goals, they have the common method.
See, WrestleMania has come a long way from the sub-20,000 attendance crowd they brought in back in 1985. The reason the aforementioned NJPW/ROH joint show could run at Madison Square Garden is because WWE (former WWF) has bigger sights. This year WWE is running WrestleMania out of Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, home of the New York Giants and Jets. This is the second time WrestleMania has been at Metlife, the first being in 2013 where they had a reported attendance of 80,676, the third largest attendance ever recorded at WrestleMania. While the city may change from year to year, what doesn’t change is how the world of professional wrestling takes over the town for what’s now known as WrestleMania weekend.
This year, 48 shows will run in the days leading up to WrestleMania 35 on Sunday night. Independent wrestling companies from all over the world pack their bags and set up shop in ballrooms around NYC, just like they did last year in New Orleans and will next year in Tampa. With those companies come the wrestlers themselves, as performers from east coast to west, from the United States to Europe to Japan will make this city their home for the week in hopes that they can become the next wrestling superstar to make their name during this legendary week.
It’s hard to make it in the world of professional wrestling. WWE is just the surface, and for every wrestler that appears on Monday Night RAW, even for a second, there are a hundred wrestlers working four shows in a weekend in order to make it to that spot. It’s a grueling world, and that’s why these performers have to take every risk possible.
In 2017, Joey Janela was another one of those hundreds of independent wrestlers trying to make it big. At the same time, Game Changer Wrestling (GCW) was an unknown promotion that was enjoying its relative success in the NY/NJ area. The two teamed up to put on Joey Janela’s Spring Break, a show that would propel Janela into being one of the top independent wrestlers in the United States, and GCW into one of its top promotions. Janela’a Spring Break was the perfect combination of weirdness (with the first annual Clusterf**k match), hardcore wrestling (with an “Anything Goes” match between then-champion Matt Tremont and Eddie Kingston), obscure wrestling legends such as Glacier and Marty Jannetty, and, above all else, great professional wrestling matches. This show was given such rave reviews that Joey Janela’s Spring Break has turned into a two-night event during WrestleMania weekend, and GCW has launched a series of similar-themed shows, letting their wrestlers take control of shows so each one has its own unique style to cater to different sets of fans. Joey Janela and GCW are now mainstays in American professional wrestling, and they have WrestleMania weekend to thank.
It’s not just the unknown wrestlers that WrestleMania weekend benefits, however. Wrestling old-timers and former legends have used the weekend to dust off their boots and re-vitalize their careers, and none more notable than the career revival of Pierre Carl Ouellet, known as PCO. Ouellet is a former WWF Tag Team Champion in a team known as The Quebecers won the last of their three WWF Tag Team Championships on March 31, 1994, and Ouellet retired from wrestling in 2005. However after returning to wrestling in 2016 at the age of 49, Ouellet appeared at Joey Janela’s Spring Break in 2018 and his performance won over everybody in the building, to the point where Ouellet became one of the top draws on the independent scene, including in the legendary Battle of Los Angeles tournament and later signing a full-time contract with Ring of Honor in 2019.
From a show at MSG in front of 19,000 people to a wrestling hotbed each and every year, WrestleMania has turned from a single show to a showcase of the world of professional wrestling every April. No matter how one feels about WWE and their business or booking practices, there’s no denying that WrestleMania weekend is the greatest weekend of wrestling of the year.
Edited by Garrett Jones | firstname.lastname@example.org