Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Road to Wrestlemania Countdown for XXIX/NY/NJ. In the coming months, we're going to take an in-depth look at the three categories - financials, performances, and intangibles - necessary to determine a definitive "Best Wrestlemania," from 28 to 1.
Doctor's Orders: The Road to Wrestlemania (Business Rankings Part 5)
By The Doc
Feb 28, 2013 - 9:14:30 PM
You can go directly to today's post by clicking the appropriately titled link below. Or you can follow the Wrestlemania list (yellow indicates posted entries). I encourage you to be active with discussion, bringing up any point that you so desire. The great thing about these Countdowns has been the conversations that they've generated.
Follow me @TheDocLOP on Twitter for wrestling/sports discussion or friend me on Facebook (TheDocLOP)
25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania
(Doc's Note - Business Rankings were determined via extensive and multi-source PPV buyrate and buy number research. Because the percentage of people with PPV access has changed so much over the years, both rate and number were given their own, separate category. Attendance was the third piece of data considered)
What you’ll want to understand about the data collected, here, is that the buyrates back in the early days were the best and the number of buys reigns supreme in modern times. The top five buyrates are owned by the first five Manias to be available through PPV. I think both statistical categories are equally as impressive in their own ways. That an event like Mania IV was watched by 6.5% of the potential pay-per-viewing audience provides a “wow” factor when all you’ve been brought up on is the numbers that the Manias of the last seven-eight years have drawn. The same event ranks in the bottom half of the buy numbers, but it’s all relative. If you do some math and work the data to fit modern figures, then the total buyer amount is far greater today. Such is why I decided to factor both elements into the equation.
Mania IV could well have gone with the Andre vs. Hogan rematch from Mania 3 and been just fine. The ratings drawn on WWE’s original “Main-Event,” the Friday night version of the better known Saturday night program, was the most watched wrestling program in history (a 15.2 rating and 33 million viewers). If they had held off until Mania, you certainly have to wonder if the monetary gains would’ve been even more substantial. As such, the WWE tested the drawing power of a tournament, using the Main-Event as a way to set it up. Ted Dibiase bought both Andre the Giant and the referee, Earl Hebner (perhaps in a bit of foreshadowing with his role in the “screw job,” of sorts). Earl fast counted Hogan’s shoulders, awarding the WWE Championship to Andre, who turned around and immediately sold it to Dibiase. The Million Dollar Man’s title reign would not stand, however, as the belt was immediately held up, leading to the 14-man tournament.
I think the underlying success of the title tournament format was obvious, considering that the WWE eventually took the concept and ran with it to the tune of nine years of the King of the Ring PPV. Tournaments, at that time, proved to be a strong hook. I’m not sure there ever was a more stacked tournament than the one held at Mania IV. There were seven WWE Hall of Famers involved and four more that, somehow or some way, will be. If you put that same event on PPV with a month’s hype even today, it would probably still draw several thousand buys. I wasn’t old enough to remember the entirety of the build-up, but looking back and watching the presentation of the SNMEs and other such specials, it was apparent that the Hogan-Andre rubber match was certainly the biggest draw and the possibility of seeing Ted Dibiase get his comeuppance later in that half of the bracket was the 1B to Hogan-Andre’s 1A. Macho Man sat on the other side of the bracket as the clear cut favorite. Eyeing a potential second round Mania 3 rematch of Savage vs. Steamboat was alluring in and of itself, but Macho seemed the logical choice to emerge as one half of the finals.
I’ve always been drawn to tournaments. I love March Madness here in the States, as its one of my favorite sporting events of the year. As such, I love Wrestlemania IV and I’m not surprised that it did so well at the box office in its day. I think it’s a curious question to ask if such a gimmick would work on the modern audience that has been conditioned to look at a tournament as much less of a big deal, what with KOTR now being held in one three-hour special or over a series of throwaway television matches. My ventured guess would be that it would do quite well if they made the call to put all of their creative effort behind it. If you had 11/14 participants as Hall of Famers, then that would unquestionably help, but I think the WWE did a commendable job in 1988 of creating enough internal hooks within the framework of the tournament to make it a must-see.
The only thing that truly hurts Mania IV in the business ranking is its attendance. The Atlantic City venue just does not hold up, historically, with the further accumulation of stadium shows busting out massive amounts of people. Nevertheless, on the merits of a fantastic buyrate, it manages to out-perform three stadium Manias.
As of 1990, Wrestlemania was rolling along just fine. The WWE seemingly had found their next big star in the Ultimate Warrior and their next great hook to sell the biggest show of the year in the Ultimate Challenge, putting Warrior against long-time WWE icon Hulk Hogan. They were riding the wave, as my dad liked to say when things were going so well that you feel like you can do no wrong. Everything that the WWE had tried since Wrestlemania in 1985, from the other Manias to debuting three other PPVs and numerous network television specials, had worked. Intelligently, they decided that they needed to build for the future, realizing that Hulkamania couldn’t run wild forever. All the little Warriors, like me at my house in North Carolina clutching my Ultimate Warrior wrestling buddy, were ready to see a new generation take over. The WWE recognized Warrior’s popularity and decided to give him the chance to shine. They were going to take a calculated risk and have Hogan put him over in front of nearly 68,000 fans in the Toronto Sky Dome (shockingly, only the tenth largest crowd in Mania history).
It was the first huge babyface match of the Wrestlemania era and they played it up just right. Warrior was portrayed as the first true equal to Hogan. Everything that the Hulkster could do, so could the Warrior, all the way down to taking punishment that would have annihilated most and channeling all that pent up aggression into a massive comeback. Hogan fed off his Hulkamaniacs; Warrior gained strength from all the little Warriors. Something would have to give when they clashed in the ring. It would be a battle between two awesome specimens, two fan bases, and two generations. Warrior was the by-product of the very brand that Hogan had built, so it was a fascinating situation when you look at it from Hulk’s perspective. The result was a match that sold out a massive stadium and earned the fifth highest PPV buyrate in Wrestlemania history. Nearly four percent of the entire potential pay-per-viewing audience watched the “Ultimate Challenge.” The title vs. title bout also proved to be a contest that kept on giving to the wrestling world, enticing a 17-year old Adam Copeland to pursue his dreams and become a hot ticket headliner of four of the most financially successful Wrestlemanias as Edge.
Warrior had been built up as the rare secondary babyface that was on Hogan’s level. I give a lot of credit to Rick Rude, who was merely placed in a filler match at this Mania, for getting Warrior to the point where he could be viewed as Hogan’s equal or greater. While Hogan was dancing with Savage in 1989, Warrior was being carried by Ravishing Rick. Hogan and Warrior were the top guys in their respective divisions, so I also give a lot of credit to the Randy Savages and Honky Tonk Mans of the world for building the IC title to such a place of importance that the Warrior wearing it around his waist meant something. Remember, the Ultimate Challenge was more than Hogan vs. Warrior – it was the WWE Championship vs. the Intercontinental Championship.
Flanking the main-event was the biggest match in the career of Jake “The Snake” Roberts, who finished off a year long feud with “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase. Jake was involved in numerous headlining matches throughout his WWE career, but none were bigger than the Dibiase storyline. None had as much heat and none were featured in such a prominent position on the card. Without a doubt, Jake vs. Ted was the icing on the Warrior vs. Hogan cake at Mania VI. If you didn’t care about the babyface clash, then surely you watched because of the classic encounter involving the rich man and the every man. Jake embodied all of the people that Dibiase had stepped on en route to his fortune and his theft of the Million Dollar title was a victory for everyone that had been put and looked down upon by the Million Dollar Man.
Secondary matches such as Roddy Piper vs. Bad News Brown, Demolition attempting to regain the tag titles from Andre and Haku, and the Macho Man teaming with Sherri to take on Dusty Rhodes and “That sweet SAPH-IRE!” provided a little bit of depth and added reason to tune in, but the show was essentially sold as Roberts vs. Dibiase for the appetizer and Warrior vs. Hogan for the main course. Considering that Wrestlemania VI is one of only three Manias that took place before 2001 to be ranked in the top 10, financially, I’d say that the formula was a business success.
The 10th edition of Wrestlemania drew another sell-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, the venue that helped start it all. Yet, gone were the superstars that built the event into the Super Bowl of professional wrestling. Namely, Hulk Hogan was gone. For the first time, Hulkamania wasn’t running to some degree of wild on anybody. Piper was still around, albeit in a guest referee role. Randy Savage wrestled on the card for the 8th time in ten Manias, but his bout with Crush was the fourth or fifth biggest match. There were still celebrities on hand, but none of them were focal points of the show in 1994 like they had been in 1985. In essence, this was the first Mania that 100% relied on a new crop of top talent to sell the PPV and make it seem like the “Granddaddy of ‘em all.” They had to do it without the Undertaker.
It all started with the WWE Championship situation. Yokozuna was the 9 month reigning champion, but he had two challengers in dual Royal Rumble winners, Bret Hart and Lex Luger. Yoko had a nice run with the title and was forced to defend it twice at Mania, first against Luger. Whoever won that match would wrestle Bret in the main-event later in the night. The WWE banked on the combination of a mini-tournament, a rematch of the Summerslam ’93 main-event b/t Luger and Yoko, the prospect of multiple title changes in one night, the potential for a Bret vs. Lex match, and the idea that the most popular superstar in the company at the time (Bret) might win the championship a year after he was screwed out of it. Inserted into the fold were two unannounced guest referees: the aforementioned Hot Scot and Mr. Perfect. The surprise element was added, accordingly.
Bret first had to combat his brother, Owen, in the opening match. Their story had built for several months, starting at Survivor Series, kicking into high gear at the Royal Rumble, and culminating in the Mania match. Of all the matches at Mania X, it was Bret vs. Owen that arguably had the most hype alongside Lex vs. Yoko. Yet, I think anyone who watched during that era will tell you that Luger’s time at the top was wearing thin on people’s patience. The same could also be said for Yokozuna. He seemed like he had gained 100-150 pounds in one year and, though he could still move pretty well for a big guy, he was not the same caliber worker that he’d been the year before. So, it was really Bret’s night. Even though he lost the match to Owen, he won the title in the last match, defeating Yoko. The fact that he was carried on the shoulders of all the babyface wrestlers to close the show was fitting. In essence, he was carrying the company on his shoulders with his worldwide popularity and top notch workrate, even during the year that he wasn’t champion.
One guy desperately trying to claw his way up to Bret’s position was Shawn Michaels. He had felt legitimately screwed over when nobody in management believed his story that he took a tainted supplement that caused him to fail a drug test for steroids. It forced him to drop the Intercontinental Championship and sit on the sidelines. Razor Ramon emerged as the new champion, but HBK came back in short order to regain his prize. In fact, he claimed that, since he never lost the title, he was still the rightful champion. The situation opened the door for Michaels to begin breaking down further size barriers through innovation. In this case, HBK was given the ladder match. He and Bret had actually performed one on television a couple of years prior, but the WWE has successfully swept that one under the rug in favor of making Wrestlemania X the site of the first one. HBK and Razor were good friends in real life and anxious to steal the show. Critically speaking, that’s exactly what they did. The ladder match has been heralded as one of the greatest matches of all-time and a 5-star classic. It was certainly an appealing reason to watch Wrestlemania that year.
It turned out to be a marginally successful night, though it did draw the lowest buyrate of the first ten years worth of Manias. There was just too much turnover without the opportunity for the WWE to use their stars from the eighties to properly put over the New Generation. It was almost as if the WWE had to reach for the stars with popular mid-carders like Bret and HBK or simply start from scratch with guys like Razor Ramon and Yokozuna. To their collective credits, they managed to draw well enough to ensure that Mania kept the WWE afloat to live and fight another day. It still felt like a Wrestlemania and that was one of the key elements to ensuring the long-term success of the new stars that they were building.
The wrestling business, as a whole, was at one of its lowest points of the Wrestlemania Era in 1995. WCW, which had once sold out arenas around the south and midwest, was reduced to malls and a small Orlando television studio. WWE, which had once revolutionized the sport, was looking to cut costs in various ways coming off the heels of the steroid trial. The decision was made to put the biggest event in wrestling, Wrestlemania, in Hartford, Connecticut. No offense to Hartford, but after seeing the venues that Wrestlemania had packed in the past, it was a major downgrade to put it in a place most famous for being the home of a pro-hockey team that left town. At the same time, it allowed the WWE to reduce the event's overhead since Hartford is so close to the WWE's headquarters in Stamford. It was a sign of the times; wrestling had fallen far from its peak.
Any extra money saved from holding the show in a smaller, less heralded venue was thrown toward NFL star Lawrence Taylor, the uber popular linebacker from the New York Giants. It was seen as a return to Mania's roots to bring in an outside talent to sell the show. Mania had originally banked on celebrity involvement to build its name and reputation, but it became a self-sustaining product with Wrestlemania III and wouldn't need the glitz and glam of a Hollywood or sports personality in the ring for a long time. Rather, the celebs could simply attend and be recognized. It was during the steroid trial where the WWE took the biggest public hit and could have used the positive attention brought in by non-wrestlers, but that was also a time when no publicist would dare allow a high profile client near the WWE.
Wrestlemania XI was, therefore, a bit of a renaissance for the WWE. "LT" was a sports icon and his presence brought a lot of positive attention...much needed positive attention. The roster was pretty thin, so LT helped make up for the lack of star power. The WWE had a history of bringing in NFL players, specifically citing the Wrestlemania 2 battle royal in Chicago, so it was not the first time that the NFL-WWE relationship proved beneficial for the wrestling business. LT was on a different level, though. He was more like Mr. T, in that the product was going to be based around his being there. Kevin "Diesel" Nash was the WWE Champion at the time and he took a backseat to Taylor, with his title defense against Royal Rumble winner, Shawn Michaels, going on in the semi-main-event spot. LT's opponent, Bam Bam Bigelow, was thrust into the main-event spotlight for the first time and thrived in the role. Yet, it seemed a tad unusual that one of the faces of the company - the Undertaker, Bret Hart, Razor Ramon, HBK, and Diesel - were not paired with Taylor to get the shine from him that would've helped their profiles get boosted and ensure some potential long-term success. Bigelow was gone by the end of 1995.
Considering that Mania XI was the second least attended and garnered the fourth worst buyrate and number of PPV buyers, you have to sit back and imagine how poorly the event would’ve drawn had it not been for LT. Diesel, though he would become one of the biggest stars in the industry, had basically gone from bodyguard to WWE Champion within the timeframe of eight months. Michaels had more of a track record coming off the historic ladder match at Mania X, but the combination of the two relatively new main-event players did not create a recipe for success. Bret Hart, he the star of the previous two Mania main-events, was virtually cast aside in continuing a rivalry with Bob Backlund that had reached its peak 5 months prior (read as familiar?). Razor Ramon was piddling around in a feud with Jeff Jarrett. Lex Luger and British Bulldog were thrown into a meaningless tag team. Owen Hart, who had main-evented Summerslam in 1994, was tossed back into the tag ranks, as well. In essence, Mania XI was a showcase for the mismanagement of the talent that they had. Only three of the then-current roster members really gained anything from their role on the card and long-term business suffered for it.
Nevertheless, LT’s star power put the spotlight on the WWE in a good way again. Though history does not reflect that Mania XI did “Wrestlemania” caliber business, the fact that a major sports figure of the era saw fit to throw his hat into the wrestling game puts a positive spin on the event, leaving you with a somewhat despondent, but realistic parting shot that “it could’ve been worse.”
“The Baddest Man…the Baddest Man….THE BADDEST MAN ON THE PLANET!!”
“TYSON AND AUSTIN! TYSON AND AUSTIN!! TYSON AND AUSTIN!!!”
“Are you ready…? You think that you’re better…? Well, you better get ready…Bow to the masters…BREAK IT DOWN!”
Three enormous personalities came together for a turning point event for the WWE that helped it turn the tide in the Monday Night War. The WWE did not win the Monday Night War with WCW because of Wrestlemania XIV, but it would not have won the War without it. Mike Tyson’s signing to be the special enforcer at Wrestlemania was the kind of headline needed to get focus on the WWE after two years of ratings beat downs that put it on the brink of bankruptcy. I would imagine that Vince made a deal with Tyson that put a good chunk of his remaining fortune on the line in a similar manner to how he did with the original Mania. If they were doing as poorly, financially, as documentaries have led us to believe, then there was not “Tyson” type money available with any kind of fiscal comfortability.
The nice thing about a big celebrity is that it can make the current wrestling stars look so much better, in terms of their drawing power. Steve Austin made the angle with Tyson. He was a volatile personality that was unpredictable and in-your-face. Does that not perfectly describe Mike Tyson? The two mixed like two angry rams being put into the same space. They butted heads instantly in that iconic Raw segment that garnered huge mainstream coverage. Austin was coming on strong, developing the kind of character that would ultimately benefit from the publicity that Tyson brought to the table. He was ready for it, too. A guy that got jerked around by the same organization that was dominating the WWE, at that point, was plenty motivated to break out and become a huge star. In my opinion, the birth of Steve Austin, the “star,” was at Wrestlemania 13 a year prior and it was his gutsy performance that solidified him as a hero in the antiheroic mold, but the birth of Steve Austin, the iconic megastar, was the television interaction with Tyson. That was the most important moment of the entire Attitude era.
Don’t discount the contributions of Shawn Michaels, as the leader of the revolutionarily sophomoric Degeneration X faction. One of the big knocks on HBK in his career has been his lack of drawing power, especially in his early days as a main-eventer. Though Austin and Tyson got much of the credit for the success of Mania XIV, HBK’s role to the overall presentation of the event was immense. Tyson joined his group, setting up the clear cut dichotomy of Austin being the protagonist. Michaels was injured for most of the weeks leading up to Mania, but he was a huge piece of the puzzle that made the WWE product edgier and more risqué – something that helped WWE Raw overcome WCW Nitro. 500 thousand more people bought Wrestlemania XIV than did Wrestlemania 13 and Michaels was absent from the latter and an integral part of the former.
There were a lot of things going right for the WWE, creatively, during that time. The Undertaker vs. Kane feud was incredibly over the top with all the pyrotechnics and “magic,” but the basic premise was fundamentally sound and thoroughly engaging. They were the second match on the marquee and they did a fantastic job hyping that match. Undertaker was, back then, was at his as a top tier secondary player and this was the perfect way to utilize him. Kane provided the ideal opponent, given his size combined with his actual talent level. You also had the New Age Outlaws coming on strong as excellent upper mid-card guys who could be put in a position to help sell a PPV. Their feud with Mick Foley and Terry Funk was a lot of fun, what with those four being some of the most entertaining acts on the show. A “Dumpster” match was a concept that fit the era nicely and created an added hook for the potential buyers on the fence. The rest of the card was a smorgasbord of Attitude era star power, including Sable, Goldust, Ken Shamrock, and a young Rock and Triple H.
The WWE did a fantastic job of promoting Wrestlemania 21 in Los Angeles, both in terms of the storylines leading to the major matches and the little things that helped make it seem special that it would be in Hollywood, namely the movie parodies presented from the Royal Rumble onward. It worked to the tune of 984,000 buys – good for 6th highest of all-time.
It is most famous for it being the night that launched the main-event careers of John Cena and Batista, but while less heralded, the rise to WM headlining status for Edge, Randy Orton, and Rey Mysterio should not be understated. For Edge, winning the inaugural Money in the Bank ladder match – a brilliant concept to give guys that were at or near the main-event level something important to do when the other top one-on-one spots were occupied – was the unofficial first step taken toward solidifying the budding “Rated R Superstar” as a top guy. 4 straight Mania championship matches were soon to follow. Personally, I preferred Money in the Bank being a predominantly main-eventer-driven concept with a few mid-card guys included to help make names for themselves. I thought that formula had the most financial potential to add to a card like Mania. Is it a coincidence that the 2nd and 6th highest buys in Mania history came from cards featuring a stacked Money in the Bank ladder match? Probably…but it’s an interesting statistic nonetheless.
Rey Mysterio facing Eddie Guerrero in the opener was his step up to the next level. A year later, he was in the semi-main-event winning the World Heavyweight Championship. It also continued the trend of catering to the growing Latino market. I think that has been one of the most underrated aspects of Mania’s rise to consistent business excellence in the last several years – the focus on capitalizing on their global appeal. Mania 21 also featured popular Japanese sumo champion Akebono in a match of his specialty against Big Show. As bowling shoe ugly as it was, it was estimated to have drawn well in Japan, boosting the international profile of the event and helping it earn a buyrate on-par with the Attitude era.
Randy Orton was the first to make a storyline out of Taker’s Wrestlemania Streak. It was the perfect scenario for his Legend Killer persona and it inadvertently started a trend that helped make Taker’s undefeated record a major draw. Orton needed the shine that wrestling, and nearly defeating, the Deadman at Mania brought, as he was quickly falling behind the two young stars wrestling for each brand’s respective World title. Batista, in particular, vaulted ahead of Orton with one of the great stories of the last decade. He became a star organically by the fans wanting to see him take out long-time top antagonist, Triple H. It was arguably the greatest night of Triple H’s career. He had been the top heel before, but he could not claim to be the top draw. Mania 21 was the biggest drawing card with The Game as the unquestionable #1 guy in the business. Batista benefited greatly from the work that the WWE had put into Trips being the leader of the generation that bridged the gap between the Attitude era and the newer generation. In the moment that he’d been groomed for, he won the World Championship in the main-event.
John Cena’s ascension to WWE Champion over on Smackdown was a fairly slow process given his immense popularity. He had been one of the most over acts in the business since mid-2003. For the WWE to wait almost two years to pull the trigger on giving him the ball was a bit of a surprise looking back on it. John "Bradshaw" Layfield had been WWE Champion for nine months, completing one of the longest title reigns in modern history, when Cena became his top contender. It was the ride of JBL’s professional wrestling life, but there was a clear passing of the baton coming at Mania. Cena’s time was about to be “now.” The rest is history…
As if all of the above were not enough reason for Mania 21 to be a smashing financial success, the interpromotional match between Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle had an awesome build and was an awesome match. It was a true dream match for any fan of the athletic performance side of the game. A 1996 Gold medalist and prodigy in the pro ranks taking on one of the greatest in-ring performers of all-time? Where do you sign up on the list of people who want to see THAT? My name was at the top of that list.
Mania 21 is one of the top ten most profitable PPVs in history.
The WWE really thought that Wrestlemania XXV should get one million buys and keep up with the previous two years in the business department, but unfortunately they forgot that they had to put together a card full of fresh matches. For all intents and purposes, the WWE had a chance to knock one out of the park with a couple of must-see main-events and they did not pull the trigger on all of them. The fact that they did get 960,000 buys, good for seventh all-time, and the fifth highest attendance is a testament to the quality of the top two feuds and, especially, to the Undertaker’s Streak finding a logical “Anniversary” worthy challenger in “Mr. Wrestlemania.”
I’ll give the WWE their due when it comes to the booking of Randy Orton vs. Triple H for the WWE title. They took a match that had been done numerous times and as recently as on consecutive PPVs nine months prior and put a fresh spin on it that made people want to see it. I mean, 960,000 buyers is a lot when you consider that there was no big celebrity involvement and their match was a primary reason to order. Orton found his niche as a maniacal heel. In a way, he was like the Joker from the previous summer’s Batman film, leading other men on his own warped crusade toward total destruction. He targeted Triple H’s family because it was Triple H that essentially ruined his career. No matter who made the horrible decisions back in 2004, the fact remained that horrible decisions were made as it pertained to Orton’s character. He suffered a three year setback because of it. His attack on Vince McMahon was fascinating. The work he did against Shane was a little ridiculous but it served its purpose. Everything that did to Stephanie was just flat out brilliant. Triple H has never played the badass, revenge-seeking babyface all that well, but that moment at the end of the go-home Raw where he showed up with Vince and Shane at his flank was really well done.
The question remains: could the WWE have done better if they’d simply gone with the presumed original plan of Orton vs. John Cena? I’ve never read any report suggesting that it was the plan, but they had to do some serious re-routing of the storylines to accomplish getting the World title on Edge. It seemed for several months like we were heading for Edge vs. Triple H and Orton vs. Cena, but reports did come out that Hulk Hogan had signed to face Cena in a generationally iconic battle. Hogan had back surgery, though, and derailed that possible plan, leaving Cena to get inserted into a random triple threat with Edge and Big Show. Of course, the original plan that preceded the other original plan was to see Batista vs. Cena, but the Animal got hurt. It ends up being a fascinating game of “What if?”
The one match that assuredly was scheduled all along had to have been Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels. That was something that many fans had predicted years in advance. Their feud was awesome. It was a fantastic tale of Michaels being the one guy that Taker had never defeated, which combined with HBK’s Mania pedigree made the idea that Michaels could beat the Deadman pretty realistic to some people. Though it took 30-minutes of excellence for HBK to convince me that he had a chance, the light vs. dark storyline was enough to get me hook, line, and sinker (as if I needed a reason to want to watch those two wrestle on the grand stage). It was a lot of fun to watch those guys re-engage.
Yet, can you imagine if Mickey Rourke had really decided to wrestle Chris Jericho? Can you fathom THAT, plus Edge battling Triple H for the WWE Championship AND Randy Orton going psycho on the golden boy, John Cena, in addition to Taker vs. HBK and the Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy story? It just wasn’t in the cards in 2009. As it was, Cena got seriously lost in the shuffle. So, too, did Edge. Both deserved better and would’ve been much better off and added something much more significant to the table if the WWE had gone with other scenarios.
Wrestlemania XXV will likely go down in history as a missed opportunity, if fans choose to remember it for anything more than HBK vs. Undertaker. People might actually forget what event hosted that match, in all honesty, or they’ll remember that match in spite of the rest of the show. Both from a financial and quality standpoint, Mania XXV has often been viewed as a disappointment. Yet, it definitely had the potential to be more. It’s still the seventh highest ranked overall business giant in these rankings, though. So, I guess it didn’t work out too badly…
It matters not whether 2012’s Wrestlemania garnered 1.3 or 1.25 million buys. Either way, it was the highest number of PPV buyers in professional wrestling history, making the one year build-up to the iconic match between The Rock and John Cena a success by the business definition of the word. The WWE rolled the dice when announcing the main-event a year in advance. It had never been done before, but they had to know that the box office appeal that Rock brings to wrestling, whether or not you find him to be an A-list Hollywood star or not, would steamroll previous Wrestlemania records when pitted against the WWE’s very recognizable “face” in John Cena. Mania XXVIII’s strongest competition, Mania 23, probably overachieved on a combination of factors, but The Rock vs. John Cena was expected to be one of the biggest selling matches of all-time and lived up to the hype. It’s simply what you get when you take a guy who was once thought to be #3 on the list of pro-wrestling draws (behind Austin and Hogan) and put him up against the #4. Two of the top four money-making superstars in modern history, in their prime no less, created for a lot of revenue.
Expectations initially soared when ESPN reported a 1.9 million figure, but then came back to reality with the 1.3 number. You have to give credit where it is due to the WWE hype machine for subtle reminders throughout the year 2011 before ramping things up with The Rock returning to the ring at Survivor Series. Seeing The Rock back in the ring was thought by critics to have weakened the potential for the Mania 28 match with Cena, but it could have just as likely had the opposite effect, enhancing the anticipation after seeing that Rock still had what it took to perform at a high level. The main thing standing in this fan’s way of taking the expectation for Rock-Cena to the zenith was the question of the Great One’s ring rust after so many years away. Once that question was answered, it was nothing but visions of Brahma Bulls and Chain Gain Soldiers dancing in the head.
The WWE boosted the card with two other star-studded matches, including the return match from Mania 27 of Undertaker vs. Triple H. The decision made to place them inside Hell in a Cell was brilliant. The Cell’s two greatest combatants (by record) turned a rematch into a dream match. Adding the incomparable Shawn Michaels to the mix as the special referee was also a good decision, effectively placing three of the rest of the top ten draws in modern pro-wrestling history into an engaging three-man story mixing friendship, ego, revenge, one-upmanship, envy, and doubt. The duo of Rock-Cena and Trips-Taker will be difficult to top moving forward. One must wonder if ever there will be another double main-event capable of eclipsing them. Inflation will top the gate – Wrestlemania XXIX’s ticket package prices reflect that – but there’s not another battle between two generational legends on the horizon anytime soon and it will take a long time for history to produce two stars like the grizzled, twenty-year veterans that “ended an era.”
Wrestlemania XXVIII took care of those that may have been on the fence or too critical to realize in the short-term what they’d be sad they missed in the long run by having Chris Jericho challenge WWE Champion CM Punk. Jericho’s schedule worked out perfectly to come back and face a man with a similar moniker of “Best in the World.” Punk vs. Jericho added a pristine third wheel to the non-title headliners, making it difficult not to give in to the temptation of hitting the order button. Internet fans were further enticed by seeing Daniel Bryan defend the World Heavyweight Championship, rounding out every possible sect of the fan base to ensure maximum buyrate potential.
A 3.25 buyrate was an incredible feat, especially when considering that television ratings did not reflect that business would pick up, as it usually did during Wrestlemania season. It goes to show that times have changed and that people will still spend to see the payoff even if they don’t have as much interest in the build-up. WWE TV may not be a bankable commodity anymore (at least not in the way it once was), but the “Granddaddy of Them All” has become a must-see event every spring. Wrestlemania XXVIII was the crowning achievement of the current era in wrestling history – largest PPV audience in pro-wrestling history, biggest buyrate in the modern era of PPV, and third largest attendance. Records are meant to be broken, but Mania 28 has the potential to be what Mania 3 was to the Hulkamania era and be the pacesetter for many years to come.