It was squared circle nirvana this past weekend for over 100,000 fans in North Texas as Wrestlemania swept through town. The marquee event of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has grown from a single-day card into a multi-day entertainment extravaganza.
The numbers show wrestling's enduring power. The announced attendance for Wrestlemania 32 at AT&T Stadium was 101,763 , breaking WWE’s record set nearly 30 years ago at Wrestlemania 3. That number makes it the fifth-highest attended event ever at AT&T Stadium, behind the NBA All-Star Game, George Strait concert, Cowboy’s Stadium opener and the Super Bowl.
Wrestlemania 32 also became the highest grossing live event in WWE history as the annual pop-culture extravaganza grossed $17.3 million. That surpassed last year’s Wrestlemania record of $12.6 million.
“Every year I ask myself, what are we going to do next,” says 15 time WWE World Champion John Cena. “The Super Bowl is the ultimate brand and the World Cup is globally recognized, but we are so different than them. Their goal is to win whereas our goal is to entertain."
In addition to Wrestlemania, the WWE produced several other events for wrestling fans to get their fix. Friday night, WWE’s developmental promotion NXT ran their “Takeover Dallas” event at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention center, which featured the WWE debut of one of the most charismatic wrestlers in the world: Shinsuke Nakamura. His match Friday night against former NXT champion Sami Zayn received rave reviews from critics and was one of the highlights of the weekend.
“I think wrestling is the greatest form of entertainment out there,” said Stephanie McMahon, WWE’s chief brand officer and daughter of Vince McMahon, WWE's majority owner, chairman and CEO. “WWE combines different genres whether it’s drama, comedy or live action. Wrestling itself is an art form. We take the audience on our ride with our faces and our bodies and cause them to cheer their favorites or boo the villains.”
Wrestlemania has become a combination of Comic Con and Lollapalooza with both WWE, independent wrestling promoters and vendors running events the entire weekend. Smaller, independent wrestling promotions Ring of Honor and EVOLVE rode on the WWE’s coattails this weekend with shows at the Hyatt Regency and Eddie Dean’s Ranch. For the second straight year, Wrestlecon — also not affiliated with WWE — hosted autograph sessions and panel discussions with many wrestling legends past and present such as Rey Mysterio, Kevin Nash and The Iron Sheik, among others.
Saturday night’s WWE Hall of Fame ceremony took place in front of a sold-out crowd at the American Airlines Center. The ceremony had a distinct Texas flavor to it as inductees Sting, The Freebirds, Jacqueline, and Stan Hansen all have ties to North Texas. The Fabulous Freebirds, Sting, Big Bossman and hip-hop artist and wrestling enthusiast Snoop Dogg were among the crop of inductees entering the Hall that night. In a moment that brought fans to their feet, Michael Hayes of the Fabulous Freebirds brought out his biggest rival and Dallas wrestling royalty Kevin Von Erich to share memories of the Dallas Sportatorium and World Class Championship Wrestling.
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The ceremony ended when the headline inductee Sting — best known for his work in WWE’s rival WCW in the '90s — called it a career, officially announcing his retirement from in-ring competition.
Even though the WWE roster has been hit hard with injuries to top stars like Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton; the company still put on a five-plus hour show that wrestling fans will remember for years. Surprise appearances from wrestling icons Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, John Cena, Shawn Michaels and Mick Foley delighted the 101,763 fans. The most heart-stopping moment of the night occurred during the Shane McMahon/Undertaker “Hell in a Cell” (steel cage) match when Vince’s son Shane missed an elbow drop from the top of the cage to a table on the outside of the ring.
The match of the night was for the newly debuted WWE Women’s Championship between wrestling legend Ric Flair’s daughter, defending champion Charlotte, Snoop Dogg’s cousin “The Boss” Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, who refers to herself as the Irish Lasskicker. After a fierce 15-minute battle, Charlotte won the match and the title when she forced Becky Lynch to tap out to her finishing hold The Figure Eight (a play on her father’s finishing hold The Figure Four). When wrestling is done right, it is captivating and can capture the attention of thousands. That match was an example of wrestling done right.
"Year after year we produce a better form of entertainment," Cena says. "I can’t wait to see what the event is like five years from now.”