WrestleMania is the signature event in the world of pro wrestling. There have been imitations, but Vince McMahon’s creation-which originally popped into his mind during a rare family vacation-has shared no peer for the past 33 years. As the buzz builds and the WWE prepares for WrestleMania XXXIII in Orlando, there is also significant activity away from the ring. Kurt Angle finally returns home to WWE for his induction into the Hall of Fame, Bobby Roode defends the NXT championship on Saturday against Shinsuke Nakamura, and the WWE universe will invade the entire Orlando metropolitan area.
These 33 notes, quotes, and anecdotes will take readers on a journey of WrestleMania both past and present.
I.) TRIPLE H
Triple H, who was the subject of a Sports Illustrated feature on the way WWE builds brands earlier this week, will be wrestling in his 21st WrestleMania match this Sunday as he battles Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 33.
Triple H was the fifth and final member of the Kliq, which included Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Sean Waltman. Triple H credited those men with helping piece together the foundation of a transcendent WWE career.
“Those guys in the Kliq had a passion for the business,” said Triple H. “Before I hooked up with them, I’d been on the road and ridden with other guys in WCW. I hated it. I wanted to think about the business, what I did wrong at the show and what I was going to do tomorrow. There were guys who wanted to talk about everything else but wrestling.
“With the Kliq? Scott would start the car ride by saying, Let’s not talk about business tonight. Let’s just have some personal time, but I did notice that...’ and that would start the conversation. It was the same thing every day, and that’s all we’d talk about-the business, constantly, every day.”
II.) JOHN CENA
John Cena has not headlined a WrestleMania since 2013, when he defeated Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for the WWE championship.
“I’m very thankful to Dwayne Johnson,” said Cena. “His success has gotten me a lot of opportunities that I’m extremely thankful for, and certainly wouldn’t have without him. I don’t think it will happen in my generation hopefully a generation removed, people will view WWE superstars as much more than they are. That’s my ultimate goal. It’s not, I want to be Dwayne Johnson and I’d like to do this.’ Dwayne’s success really helps WWE in letting everyone know that we are more than just WWE superstars.”
III.) HULK HOGAN
Today marks the 30th anniversary of WrestleMania III, which featured the clash of titans between Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant.
“When this whole thing first started to take off with Hulk Hogan and Hulkamania,’ it kind of caught me off-guard,” said Hogan. “Then you get in the middle of it and really rolling, and you learn how loyal the fans are, and you get really used to it. When I would start hulking up,’ it felt like the whole building was breathing and turning into a monster with me. Andre is one of the top two guys that have ever come along in this business. It’s between him and Randy Savage, I don’t know who is the top guy in my opinion.”
IV.) CODY RHODES
Cody Rhodes worked as Stardust at WrestleMania 32 in the Intercontinental title ladder match, and he is now working the independents, Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and New Japan Pro Wrestling in lieu of the WWE. Rhodes reflected back on his WrestleMania matches, and the meaning they held for his father, the late “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes:
“The two WrestleManias where I had singles matches?” said Rhodes. “For my dad, you would have thought it was my high school football game in Texas and I was the quarterback. He had this beaming pride. He walked into my rehearsal WrestleMania is the only time you ever have rehearsal in WWE just to let his presence be known. I was in the ring with Big Show and Mike Rotunda and, actually, The Rock and John Cena were in the ring, too and he was so proud of me. That is all I ever wanted.”
V.) ERIC BISCHOFF
Eric Bischoff will be returning to live WWE programming this Friday as he inducts “Diamond” Dallas Page into the Hall of Fame, who he believes is the greatest underdog in the history of wrestling.
“Dallas didn’t really decide to start to be a wrestler until he was well into his mid-30s,” said Bischoff. “For that reason alone, for what he accomplished and the level he reached was amazing in and of itself. Wrestling is an incredibly difficult art to learn, and it’s a very physical art to acquire. If you start in your 20s, maybe you’ll have it figured out by the time you’re in your 30s. But to start in your mid-30s and reach the level of success that Dallas did is phenomenal.”
Bischoff also confirmed that he will not be reappearing on Raw as the new general manager:
“I love teases, I love suspense, I love surprises, but I can assure you that I am going to be on a plane and I’ll be in Los Angeles on Monday evening for another project,” said Bischoff. “I can promise you that I will not be on Raw next Monday.”
VI.) FRIENDSHIP THE MAGICIAN
WWE’s favorite magician is Friendship, who debuted on Raw during Chris Jericho’s “Festival of Friendship”. The Vegas magician reconnected with Sports Illustrated to share his prediction for the upcoming United States championship match at WrestleMania between Kevin Owens and Jericho:
“If the Festival of Friendship’ and the events that followed taught us anything, it’s that the unpredictable is always happening in WWE,” said Friendship. “That said, if I were a betting man, my bet would go to Owens to win and claim the championship. But no matter the results, I am sure it’ll be a match for the ages.”
VII.) SHAWN MICHAELS
Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker combined to create magic together at WrestleMania XXV and XXVI.
“We were two locker room leaders, but we led in very different styles back then,” said Michaels. “’Taker and me were two cornerstones always with the WWE. One was a very quiet, reserved Cool Hand Luke, and the other one-me-was loud, obnoxious, and out-going. That’s how we both were, and that reflected our real lives at the time. There never were big problems between us, but we always had an understanding that we didn’t care for one another. So, all of these years later, we changed through our faith, our marriages, and our children. We created these two unbelievably memorable matches together. Matches don’t go perfectly unless the two guys are harmonizing with each other behind the scenes. That’s what he and I enjoyed the most out of this entire process. All these years later, we’re amazed it brought us as close as we are.”
VIII.) DANIEL BRYAN
Daniel Bryan sacrificed his adult life on the road wrestling, sustaining potentially life-altering injuries along the way. Yet, despite his years of sacrifice, he was humbled when he saw The Undertaker, lying on the ground after his match with Brock Lesnar, before Bryan went out to wrestle the main event at WrestleMania XXX.
“The scene was tragic, but also motivating,” said Bryan. “It just goes to show you the passion that people go through to do what they love. Why does the Undertaker keep coming back at WrestleMania? He loves this. There are sacrifices to what we do, and this man has sacrificed. You look at everything he’s done to make WWE better and make wrestling better, and I believed I needed to go out there and be good enough to carry that on.
“It was really hard too, because after Brock had beaten Taker, the life was just sucked out of the building. And you can’t have the show end like that, you have to bring it back up. You don’t want a WrestleMania ending with people depressed. So there was that kind of pressure to go out there and bring the people back.”
IX.) BRET HART
Bret “The Hitman” Hart dropped the WWE championship to Yokozuna at WrestleMania IX, but it was the encounter with Owen Hart at WrestleMania X in Madison Square Garden that still resonates with him:
“WrestleMania X will always be my most special one because of the memory of being with my brother Owen,” said Hart. “It’s one of my favorite matches. I love the memories I have with my brother Owen. There was a lot of pressure on Owen to fill those shoes as a top heel. The storyline was the bitter hatred between two brothers, but Owen was really grateful to work with me. I went to bat a lot for Owen for that chance, and he really shined that night. I thought that was one of his finest hours. There were two reverse sharpshooters in that match, which had never been done before. Those are the tiny little things that no one really remembers or notices, but made that match a real treat. And what I really love about the match is how it launched my brother’s career.”
X.) SCOTT HALL
Ladder matches are now an accepted part of wrestling, but Scott Hall’s WrestleMania X ladder match for the intercontinental title with Shawn Michaels remains one of those rare matches that changed the business.
“We didn’t have a backup ladder,” said Hall. “People don’t realize that but the match was new to wrestling, so there wasn’t even a backup. If we’d have bent the ladder and it broke, we’d still be standing in Madison Square Garden trying to get the belt back.”
XI.) DINK THE CLOWN
Bam Bam Bigelow’s finest moment took place at WrestleMania XI in the main event against Lawrence Taylor. The year prior, Bigelow teamed up with Luna Vachon to battle Doink the Clown and his sidekick Dink at WrestleMania X.
“I’m very quick in the ring, so I had no trouble keeping up with Luna Vachon and Bam Bam,” said the four-foot tall Dink. “Playing Dink wasn’t difficult, but there was a lot of jealousy from the other wrestlers when the fans liked me.”
XII.) KAYFABE NEWS
Kayfabe News, the top news source in all of wrestling, delivered another gem with, “Cantankerous neighborhood coot hollers at young scallywag to stay off his yard.”
XIII.) WWE CREATIVE HUMOR
Robert Karpeles, who runs the WWE Creative Humor page on Twitter, connected with SI.com for an exclusive piece of insight regarding his coverage of WrestleMania 33:
“WrestleMania 33 is a magical time of year where fans young and old from across the globe gather together and, in one unifying voice, proclaim How the hell did you not book The Undertaker vs. John Cena?’”
XIV.) THE ANDRE THE GIANT MEMORIAL BATTLE ROYAL
The WWE is once again showcasing its talent in an “Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal” at WrestleMania XXXIII. The WrestleMania II battle royal featured a brief encounter between Bruno Sammartino and Bret Hart. This connected generations, as Sammartino won his first WWWF championship in 1963, while Hart would capture his first heavyweight title in 1992.
The WWE is once again showcasing its talent in an “Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal” at WrestleMania XXXIII, but its impact is questionable.
The WrestleMania XXX battle royal was won by Cesaro, and that appeared to be the breakout moment for the “Swiss Superman”. Unfortunately, this was just another example of the start-and-stop booking for Cesaro in WWE. As for this year, all signs point to Braun Strowman winning the battle royal on Sunday.
XV.) COURT BAUER
Court Bauer, the former WWE creative writer who has built an empire with MLW Radio, shared the uniqueness of tomorrow night’s WaleMania:
“WaleMania isn’t just one thing,” said Bauer. “It’s about six things mashed up with a live MLW podcast panel with a fan Q&A, a meet and greet with some of the stars of New Japan Pro Wrestling as well as a Vegas Style After Party featuring a who’s who from the wrestling world. And oh yeah, Wale will perform while DJ Jamie Iovine spins in the booth.
“This is the one night of the year where where and pop culture mesh for a wild and fun time. Where else can you have insightful conversation with the likes of Jim Ross, Dave Meltzer, Ricochet and MVP only minutes later enjoy bottle service as Wale puts on a live performance?
“This is pro wrestling’s Mos Eisley Cantina where every type of character from the wrestling universe come together for an unforgettable one of a kind experience. WaleMania is on pace to keep it’s undefeated streak of sell outs at a perfect 30. Join us at Tier Nightclub Thursday night. Tickets may be available at the door or you can buy in advance at MLW.com.”
XVI.) AJ STYLES
AJ Styles made his WrestleMania debut a year ago in a loss to Chris Jericho, and Ryback generated headlines when he later revealed that Vince McMahon’s original plan was to have Ryback “squash” Styles at ’Mania:
“I think what Ryback said may have been true at that time,” said Styles. “I don’t know that Vince knew exactly what he had in AJ Styles, and I think his opinion of me changed somewhat quickly. That’s OK, I’ve been doing that my whole life-changing people’s opinion of me and what I’m capable of. I’m not mad at Ryback. If it was said, it was said, and I’m not mad at Vince McMahon-opinions vary, and they change.”
XVII.) KEVIN NASH
Kevin Nash is among those who believes AJ Styles is great enough to headline a WrestleMania:
“AJ is special,” said Nash. “I’ve worked a lot with AJ, and I never had a bad match with him. He was great in TNA. I was in my mid-fifties when I worked with him, but I could still have a really, really good match with him. He’s that good.”
Nash does not mind that Styles, The Club, and the Bullet Club use his “Too Sweet” finger gesture.
“If you’re over enough to use that and the people don’t sh-- on you, you’re over,” said Nash. “I don’t mind it at all.”
XVIII.) BROCK LESNAR
A year ago, Brock Lesnar defeated Dean Ambrose in an underwhelming match at WrestleMania 32. Lesnar then returned to the UFC, and made this statement when asked by Sports Illustrated at the time if he worried that a potential loss or bad showing in the Octagon would hurt his wrestling career:
“This isn’t about me or about my fans,” said Lesnar. “This is about me living my life, being the person I want to be. Without the fans, none of us would be able to do this-I get that. But I don’t sit up at night and wonder, Is my drawing power going to be hurt?’ Or Are my WWE fans going to tune in and watch me to do this?’ I don’t give two sh--- about that. This is about me. I want to get in there and be an athlete again, that’s what it’s about.”
For what it’s worth, Lesnar won his UFC fight in July over Mark Hunt, which was then overturned to a no contest due to an anti-doping policy violation, and then retired from mixed martial arts this past Valentine’s Day. The whole affair has not hurt his drawing power in pro wrestling, as he is set to headline WrestleMania 32.
XIX.) KURT ANGLE
The next time Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar meet up in the ring won’t be the first. The two headlined WrestleMania XIX together, as well as battled one another at SummerSlam and a 60-minute Iron Man match in 2003. It turns out they also fought for real behind the scenes on one occasion-and Angle was the winner.
“We fought in a wrestling ring during the day before our show,” said Angle, the current TNA world champ, recalling his 2002 victory over Lesnar. “It wasn’t fun. It was nerve-wracking. Someone was going to win, get hurt, or die.”
Angle captured a gold medal in wrestling during the 1996 Olympics, but Lesnar did not believe Angle could survive in the ring with him.
“The match started because someone asked how he’d do in the ring against me,” explained Angle. “Brock said I was too small for him. That got to me.”
Lesnar was only two years removed from his NCAA Division I championship in wrestling, and enjoyed inflicting pain on his fellow WWE wrestlers before the show while the building remained empty.
“Brock was in the ring with Big Show,” said Angle. “He was literally throwing this 530-pound man around the ring like a little kid. I’d never seen anyone lift up Big Show like that without his help, but Brock was picking him up and throwing him around.
“I said to Big Show, Get out of the ring.’ Then I tapped Brock on the shoulder and said, Let’s go.’ And that’s when we started.”
Lesnar came into the fight at 300 pounds, outweighing Angle by nearly 80 pounds.
“I know I’m not the biggest person, but I’ve annihilated people a lot bigger than me,” said Angle. “You’re one of the best in the world as an NCAA champion like Brock, but when you’re an Olympic gold medalist, that’s a whole other level. The guys who saw Brock and I wrestle that day witnessed how much of a gap there is between the two.”
The intensity thickened each time the two locked up during the fifteen-minute fight.
“We were doing take-downs, and it was very, very tight,” said Angle. “Brock showed me that he knows how to wrestle. A lot of heavyweights are big and strong and know how to use their weight, but Brock knew how to wrestle. He was a lightweight who grew into a heavyweight body, and he brought that technique with him. That’s how good Brock was.”
Despite Lesnar’s skill, he was not able to score on Angle.
“There’s nobody like Brock,” said Angle. “The man is just a mammoth. When he’s healthy, I don’t know if there is anyone on the planet who can beat him.”
Except, of course, for Kurt Angle.
“When I got done with him, I didn’t want to wrestle him again,” Angle said.
XX.) REY MYSTERIO
Rey Mysterio believes that Randy Orton will steal the show at WrestleMania 33.
“Randy Orton is, in my eyes and in my heart, the best wrestler in that company,” said Mysterio. “I’m not talking about high-flying, I’m not taking about the fast-paced acrobatic style. To me, he’s the best in WWE right now. I don’t think there is ever going to be a guy that works the style he does. The way he carries himself in the ring means a lot to me. Randy has a great presence and style that can’t be compared to anyone, and nobody can imitate his style.”
XXI.) RANDY ORTON
Randy Orton, who pursues Bray Wyatt’s WWE championship at WrestleMania 33, is among those thrilled to hear of Kurt Angle’s return to WWE:
“Kurt was one of the greatest I ever got in the ring with,” said Orton. “It’s funny, I look at Jason Jordan and Chad Gable with American Alpha, and I got the chance to work twelve matches with them in Europe and Saudi Arabia, as well as live events here in the states, and they’re so smooth and fluid but powerful. They can do anything and they’ve got a great attitude. When Kurt came in, I wasn’t there, but when I came in and got to know him, these guys remind me of him, and that’s a huge compliment.”
XXII.) THE NEW DAY and MEGA RAN
The New Day is hosting WrestleMania, and Mega Ran-who was brought as a guest to WrestleMania 31 by Xavier Woods-has a new wrestling album, Mat Mania: The Revenge, for wrestling fans.
XXIII.) BOBBY LASHLEY
Bobby Lashley helped headline WrestleMania 23 in front of over 80,000 people at Ford Field in Detroit in a memorable “Battle of the Billionaires” match between Donald Trump and Vince McMahon. Lashley fought on Trump’s behalf, and defeated the late, great Umaga, who was representing McMahon.
“I wanted to see how Trump conducted himself behind the scenes,” said Lashley. “He’s the real deal. He understands success, and everything he did was top notch. A lot of the success from that WrestleMania was because of him.”
XXIV.) BOBBY ROODE
Bobby Roode admitted that he is a big fan of WWE Hall of Fame inductee “Ravishing” Rick Rude.
“Rick Rude was a larger than life character, and he was one of those guys who was different from everyone else,” said Roode. “He looked the part, he was a legitimate tough guy, and he carried and presented himself in a way that really stuck out. As I progressed in the business, and really studied certain guys, Rick was one of the guys I studied. I started wearing robes years ago, and it’s a different presentation and makes you stand out from the rest. I’m more of a traditional type of guy, and the robe is very traditional. Look back to the 80’s, Ric Flair, of course, was also wearing a robe, as was Greg The Hammer’ Valentine, so it’s a throwback to that.”
XXV.) SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
Shinsuke Nakamura looks to reclaim the NXT world title from Roode at NXT TakeOver: Orlando on Saturday, and IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada admitted that the wrestlers in New Japan Pro Wrestling were caught off-guard that Nakamura left for WWE.
“I was very surprised he left for WWE,” said Okada. “I was so surprised, but it’s no problem. That’s what he wanted he wanted to go.
Okada was asked if he, like Nakamura, ever has plans to wrestle in any other companies.
“No, I don’t want to be champion anywhere else,” said Okada. “IWGP is the number one title in the world.”
XXVI.) PETE GAS
Pete Gas-whose new book, Looking at the Lights, is now in bookstores-is fully confident that Shane McMahon can deliver a genuinely compelling match with AJ Styles.
“I’ve never heard one person say that Shane had a bad match,” said Pete Gas. “I’m sure Shane’s wheels are spinning, and he’s looking to do something crazy. People expect it now, so I’m sure Shane will provide it.”
XXVII.) DALTON CASTLE
Ring of Honor’s Supercard of Honor takes place on Saturday night in Lakeland, Florida, and Dalton Castle receives his shot at world champion Christopher Daniels.
“This is the match I have been working for since day one,” said Castle. “Christopher Daniels is a great wrestler and I genuinely respect and like him a lot. However, he is the champion and I’m not sure if anyone has told him yet, but that is my spot. I'm the strongest I’ve ever been, I’m the fastest I’ve ever been, and I’ve got better hips then Elvis Presley. I’m going to suplex Daniels so fast I may end up turning back time like Superman did in 1978.”
- SI Extra Mustard (@SI_ExtraMustard) March 16, 2017
XXVIII.) CONRAD THOMPSON
“We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, and we’ve worked really hard to put together some surprises and some fun guests,” said Thompson, whose Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard podcast will detail Hulk Hogan on Friday. “We think we’re going to give people their money’s worth.”
Though the card is always subject to change in professional wrestling, Thompson revealed that Bruce Prichard is currently scheduled to sing “Alone With My Baby Tonight” on Saturday.
“Well, you know, Bruce sings on every show,” said Thompson. “And this is another show. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that, yes, Bruce sings.”
XXIX.) JOHNNY MUNDO
Mundo, the Lucha Underground star who is now busy with his “Boone The Bounty Hunter” film, remains close with The Miz. Mundo offers an interesting take on the Miz’s mixed tag team match with Maryse against John Cena and Nikki Bella at WrestleMania 33:
“I predict a much more polished match than we saw with Cena versus Miz at Wrestlemania 27,” said Mundo, who wrestled in WWE as Johnny Morrison. “At first I thought this would be a really fun match, but the build-up has gotten seriously personal between Miz/Maryse and Cena/Nikki, which, in my opinion, has made this go from fun to interesting. I think Miz has more to gain than Cena with a win at this year’s Mania and because of that think Miz/Maryse are going to leave with the win.
XXX.) STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN
WrestleMania XXX was chock-full of highlights, but to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, none were more amusing than when Hulk Hogan mistakenly referred to the Superdome as the Silverdome.
“We were all backstage in the Gorilla Position,” said Austin. “Me and Rock and Hulk had been back there talking and telling stories, laughing our ass off, and all of a sudden, Hulk’s music hits and he goes out there. Me and The Rock are still laughing and talking, and then when he starts cutting his promo, obviously we were listening so we could respond accordingly. And Hulk blows it.
“We laughed our ass off. I told Rock, Hey man, I’ll just cover the Silverdome gimmick. I’ll let you say Superdome.’ So I worked that out with The Rock real quick, then went out and busted Hogan’s chops. Then Rock went out and announced that we were indeed at the Superdome. It was hilarious, and I had a great time out there with Hulk Hogan. We’ve haven’t always seen eye to eye, but I have nothing but respect for the guy’s career. He’s certainly made an indelible, lasting mark on the business of pro wrestling, and for that matter, so did The Rock.”
When Sting agreed to his match against Triple H at WrestleMania 31, he also gave consent to the finish.
“People took the loss personally, but in this business, you have to learn real quick not to take anything that personally,” said Sting. “For me, it was a memory just being in Levi Stadium in California, my home state, with that crowd there.
“There was so much nostalgia with having DX and the NWO all together at WrestleMania. I can’t tell you how many pictures I’ve signed of all of us in the ring. Fans talked about that and loved it.”
By the time next Wednesday’s Week in Wrestling runs on SI.com, Brock Lesnar will be WWE Universal champion; the Hardys will have returned on Raw; Austin Aries will be the new Cruiserweight champion; Kevin Owens will defeat Chris Jericho, then help Triple H finish off Seth Rollins; Enzo and Cass will be in their first run as tag team champs; Baron Corbin will hold the IC title; Roman Reigns will have reclaimed his yard from The Undertaker; Bray Wyatt will reform the Wyatt Family with Luke Harper and Erick Rowan as he retains the title against Randy Orton; AJ Styles will have defeated Shane McMahon; and, in the upset of the night, The Miz will defeat John Cena when Maryse pins Nikki Bella.
XXXIII.) JIM ROSS
The sadness hovering over the past two weeks is the loss of Jim Ross’ wife, Jan Ross. Even for those of us who never met Mrs. Ross, we feel so connected with JR after listening to him call wrestling matches for the past three decades. Ross will be present during WrestleMania weekend, where I am sure he will receive support from the most loyal and dedicated fans in the world.