Bright lights. Blaring music. Tens of thousands of screaming fans.
While the average New Orleans resident may equate the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with Drew Brees and the Saints, on Sunday night, a different set of gladiators took center stage on the hallowed Black and Gold gridiron.
The event was WrestleMania 34, which is equal parts rock concert, athletic spectacle and a three-ring circus, and it was glorious.
Crazed wrestling fans travel from around the country, and globe, descending upon the Mecca of wrestling, WWE’s annual pop-culture extravaganza, to watch superstars, such as Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, John Cena, Undertaker, Ronda Rousey, Triple H and many more battle for wrestling’s most coveted titles.
Being a wrestling novice, who watched the WCW and NWO as a child, and has watched just one prior WrestleMania (last year), I was more excited for the ambience and spectacle of WWE’s main event than who took home the various championship belts.
And let me tell you, the spectacle did not disappoint.
In every match, the contending WWE Superstars emerged from a giant, neon Mardi Gras mask, set up in one of the Superdome end zones, and were typically accompanied by pyrotechnics and intoxicating walkout music.
One of the most riveting parts of the performance came not from the ring, but from those paying to attend the event. From the clever, home-made signs seen ringside to the almost choreographed chants, cheers and jeers of the fans, the crowd participation was one of WrestleMania’s most endearing qualities.
While the atmosphere does not compare to the stakes of the ancient Roman Coliseum gladiatorial contests, the “win the crowd, and you’ll win your freedom,” mantra that Proximo advised Maximus of in Gladiator still feels relevant.
Never was that combat theme more apparent than during the WWE debut of “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, former mixed martial arts champion-turned-(hopefully)-WWE Superstar.
Rousey and WWE legend Kurt Angle faced off against Stephanie McMahon and Triple H, but when Rousey emerged from the neon Mardi Gras mask and descended the catwalk while Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” blasted through the Superdome, one would have thought The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Beyonce or any number of famous musical acts had entered the stadium.
The roar of the crowd during Rousey’s entrance was deafening, matched only when she defeated McMahon later in the ring with her signature arm bar.
While Rousey may have garnered the loudest applause, every WWE Superstar entered the arena as a force of nature, with signature music blaring and trademark flair on full display. Some of my personal highlights included the wildly ridiculous entrance from The New Day trio, tossing stacks of pancakes to the audience and accompanied by midgets dressed as short stacks of pancakes, Shane McMahon’s “Here Comes the Money,” John Cena’s own hip-hop ditty, “The Time is Now,” or whatever the hell Undertaker did that made the Superdome crowd go bananas.
For a neutral observer who does not understand the difference between the Universal Championship Match and the Intercontinental Championship Match, WrestleMania 34 was an exhilarating sensory overload, filled with passionate fans that make up a unique, but strongly unified subculture in America (and international) pop culture, filled with Austin 3:16 t-shirts, Hulkamania tank tops and Macho Man impersonators.
If you ever get a chance to experience the delightfully zealous environment that comprises a WrestleMania, do yourself a favor and immerse yourself in the passion, the pleasure and the spandex that makes up pro wrestling’s biggest stage.
Trust me, you won’t regret it.