Wrestling fans can be notoriously jaded, but WrestleMania is the one WWE grappling extravaganza that even the weariest fans find hard to resist.
Taking place at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, Wrestlemania 35 will stream live on the WWE Network on April 7. With nearly 2 million subscribers, the WWE Network is a Netflix-like streaming service that broadcasts live pay-per-views, original documentaries and more. WrestleMania is the network’s crown jewel.
WWE tries to make history every year at WrestleMania, but this year’s event is an especially big one. Here’s why.
In 2015, Charlotte Flair declared that she wanted to main event WrestleMania.
Being placed in the headlining match of WrestleMania is the wrestling world’s greatest accolade. It means the WWE thinks you and your opponent(s) are its best bet to a record-breaking box office. In 2015, just four years ago, it was inconceivable that a women’s match would main event WrestleMania.
Women on WWE television had, since the mid-’90s, been portrayed as little more than sex objects. The female performers were referred to as “divas.” Bikini contests and bras-‘n’-panties matches were standard. Diva matches on pay-per-views and other big events — if they were there at all — were almost always under five minutes long.
This began to change in 2015, though, when fans created the #GiveDivasAChance hashtag. The company lent an uncharacteristic ear to this movement, notoriously deaf as it is to other fan complaints, and began treating its female athletes more seriously. (Ronda Rousey drawing millions of pay-per-view buys for the UFC around that time probably had something to do with it too.)
The term “diva” was dropped, with the women now being called, well, women. Though wrestling will always be a cosmetic business, these women are now treated primarily as athletes rather than sex objects. Most importantly, women are frequently given enough time in a good spot on the card to have great matches.
Now, Charlotte Flair will wrestle Becky Lynch and Rousey in a Triple Threat match for the Raw Women’s Championship. (WWE is split between two separate television brands, Raw and SmackDown.) Many fans expect their match to main event the show.
Lynch, since last summer, has been the promotion’s most popular act. A performer on the SmackDown brand, she invaded Raw in November to attack Raw Women’s Champion Rousey in what, thanks to an unplanned injury, produced an instantly iconic scene. Since then, Lynch beat on-screen nemesis Flair in the main event of the first ever women’s-only pay-per-view and, in January, won the Royal Rumble, earning her a shot at WrestleMania against Rousey.
As part of a television storyline, Lynch was briefly replaced in the match by Flair, who as a statuesque blonde and daughter of wrestling legend Ric Flair is presented as the “corporate pick” to lead the women’s division. This story was resolved at March’s Fastlane pay-per-view on the network, when Lynch beat Flair by disqualification to re-enter the WrestleMania match, making it a Triple Threat.
While Lynch and Flair have rekindled their 2018 rivalry on SmackDown, Rousey has gone into full mixed-martial-arts killer mode on Raw. The results thus far have been spectacular.
This match closing WrestleMania would be historic in the best way. WWE, always keen for mainstream recognition and good PR, is not above promoting matches in order to publicly pat itself on the back. However the women, should they get the coveted main event spot, would have earned it. Flair is arguably the most consistent performer on the roster. Lynch is, as mentioned, the most popular, and Rousey is inarguably a huge box-office draw and an uber talented performer.
We won’t know until the day of the show which match goes on last at WrestleMania. The women’s match itself is bound to be terrific, but the real-life story behind it may be the show-stealer.
A Guardian lays down his shield
You may know actor Dave Bautista from such hits as Guardians of the Galaxy, James Bond: Spectre and Blade Runner 2049. But before he was a bona fide Hollywood star, Bautista was just Batista — his real name without the “u” — a six-time world champion in WWE.
Now 50 years young, he is ready to strap up his wrestling boots one last time before he bids farewell to the squared circle. On last Monday’s Raw it was made official. He will face Triple H, his oldest on-screen rival, in a no-holds-barred match at WrestleMania.
This is worth getting excited over for several reasons. Firstly, Triple H only wrestles a few times a year and Batista’s last match was in 2014. WrestleMania is all about dream matches, and these two actually feel like special performers. That’s rare, since most wrestlers, after three hours of Raw and two hours of SmackDown each week, end up feeling overexposed. Triple H is 49, so neither are spring chickens. But the two have a wealth of experience and, with no holds barred meaning no rules, will have all sorts of tools to make sure this is a spectacle.
But it’s possible that the best part of this whole rivalry will be the buildup. Batista is playing the bad guy in this story. Batista is one of the best bad guys of recent decades. His back and forth with Triple H on last week’s Raw was a hot start, and this week he gave a a great interview with commentator Michael Cole. Any time he’s at the microphone, it’ll definitely be worth checking out.
Batista has long said he wanted his retirement match to be against Triple H, and that’s been worked into the story line. “All I ever wanted,” he told Triple H on last week’s Raw, was “that one last match to end my career on my terms. And that one last match to end your career on my terms.”
All this means that Batista will be in a key match at the biggest wrestling event of the year and a key character in one of the biggest movies of all time,— both in the same month.
Not a bad way to go out.
At Fastlane, the final pay-per-view event before WrestleMania, fans at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, were going crazy during the WWE Championship match.
“Kofi! Kofi! Kofi!”
The only problem? Kofi Kingston, the man they were chanting for, wasn’t actually in the match. Kingston is the WWE fandom’s latest favorite underdog. Debuting in WWE back in 2007, Kingston has been something of a journeyman performer. He’s had flashes of brilliance, and the WWE has shown flashes of interest in promoting him like a top star, but he’s mostly been more of a background character.
That changed in February when Kingston wrestled over an hour in a gauntlet match on SmackDown Live, WWE’s Tuesday night show. The herculean performance ignited fan interest in seeing him claim the WWE Championship. Since then, #KofiMania has been an online movement that seeks to push Kingston into a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania.
So, when Daniel Bryan battled and defeated Kevin Owens and Mustafa Ali at Fastlane to retain the WWE Championship only for the crowd to chant zestfully for Kingston, it seems all but official that KofiMania is upon us.
Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan is not yet official for WrestleMania, however all signs point to it being added soon. On the most recent episode of SmackDown, Kingston, mirroring the aforementioned performance that skyrocketed him to the top of the card, took part in a gauntlet match against 5 men; if he won, he’d go on to WrestleMania. He did win, but the dastardly WWE CEO Vince McMahon added a sixth opponent at the last minute — Daniel Bryan. Bryan beat a depleted Kingston on SmackDown, but retribution will surely come at WrestleMania
Kingston walking out of WrestleMania with the WWE Championship, historically the most prestigious title in the industry, is not likely to wow casual fans. Devoted watchers, however, are desperate to soak in the feel-good story of an often-overlooked wrestler overachieving at the year’s biggest show.
It won’t be the match that gets all the post-WrestleMania headlines, but Kingston vs. Bryan may still be the highlight of the night.
The Beast, The Olympian and The Big Dog
WrestleMania is a long night. Last year’s event ran five hours, not including the two-hour preshow, meaning there’s plenty of time for big matches. In other words, the above matches only scratch the surface.
Brock Lesnar will defend his Universal Championship against Seth Rollins, who won the men’s Royal Rumble in January to earn his shot. A former WWE Champion himself, Rollins has been one of the best performers in the company for the past few years. Lesnar, meanwhile, is a legitimate fighting machine. WWE often does something special for Lesnar’s matches, so this is certainly one to watch.
Kurt Angle, a legend in both amateur and professional wrestling, announced on last Monday’s Raw that he’ll be wrestling his retirement match at WrestleMania. This week, his opponent was revealed to be Baron Corbin. This is frankly bad news. Corbin isn’t known for stellar in-ring performances and fans, wanting Angle to go out in a match befitting his career, vocalised their disappointment on Raw and social media. Great match or not, at WrestleMania fans will farewell one of the greats.
Finally, WrestleMania will get the unexpected benefit of a Roman Reigns match. Reigns, who the company has for years earmarked as its next, had to forfeit the Universal Championship in October due to a very real-life struggle with leukaemia. No one knew how long he’d be out for, but he returned to Raw on Feb. 25 and revealed that the leukaemia is in remission. We don’t know who he’ll be wrestling yet — probably Drew McIntyre — but it almost doesn’t matter. A cancer-free Reigns is a sure-fire feel-good moment.
First published March 14, 2019 at 5 a.m. PT.
Update, March 19 at 11:36 p.m.: Adds new information from Raw and SmackDown shows.