Besides watching the rubber match between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs, one game that one B5Q writer will attend later on, today is a national holiday to some.
That would be because this Sunday, April 7, holds a special place in professional wrestling and sports entertainment fans’ hearts with WrestleMania 35 taking place.
Love it or hate it, professional wrestling is a part of our culture and has been for some time. For me (Jake), for a time being, I became a very small part of the indy wrestling scene in the 2000s.
With that, some of our writers came together to reminisce about their favorite wrestling memories and what they’re looking forward to watching later on Sunday.
What is your earliest pro wrestling memory?
Andrew Rosin: The end of the Intercontinental title tournament between Mr. Perfect and Tito Santana after WrestleMania 6. It was actually a really good match when the WWF was more about cartoon characters. Don’t get me wrong I was a huge fan of the Ultimate Warrior starting out, but that Superstars had the right variety to get me hooked and a real cool sweeps related main event.
Owen Riese: Hulk Hogan driving a semi truck into an ambulance that the nWo has locked the Rock in just prior to WrestleMania X8. In retrospect, the perfect time to be introduced to the sport.
Drew Hamm: My earliest pro wrestling memory is being told not to watch it by my mother. I would always try and sneak around and watch it and when she’d catch me I’d get in trouble. She eventually came around though and is still probably one of The Rock’s biggest fans. She can do The People’s Eyebrow and I can’t so what’s even the point of genetics? Some of my earliest memories of pro wrestling involve ECW, which played on some bizarre channel late on Friday nights in Philly. Joey Styles is still my homeboy. OH. MY. GAHD!
Jon Beidelschies: Andre The Giant-Hulk Hogan WrestleMania III, which remains one of the best feuds in history, aided and abetted by the incredible talents of “Mean” Gene Okurlund and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. I was eight and it could not have been more real to me. I was terrified for the Hulkster and fully expected Andre to come out on top. My little brother and I lost our minds when (spoiler alert) Hogan slammed Andre.
Jake Kocorowski: I think mine was going to see a show in Milwaukee at the now defunct Bradley Center in Milwaukee and watching the Ultimate Warrior go up against WWF champion Macho Man Randy Savage (with Scary Sherri) in a steel cage, and just being in awe of the event itself. I think the Bushwackers were on that show as well, one of my favorite tag teams at the time, and the combination of storytelling, athleticism by the superstars, and the extravaganza inside a large arena drew me in. I’ve been hooked ever since.
Why yes, that’s former UW wrestler and current WWE NXT superstar Eric Bugenhagen.
OK, deep question. Why do you enjoy wrestling?
Andrew: Because when pro wrestling is good, there’s nothing else like it in the world. You go to a live event and stumble on someone pretty unknown, and all of the sudden through some combination of athleticism and charisma, you’ve got yourself a new favorite performer. You can see two stars give a little bit extra beyond what their time on TV would allow. And sometimes you can flip through and find a match on TV and you’re hooked and watching the WWE see that storyline through. It’s the best kind of spectacle.
Owen: It’s a spectacle, man. And once you get through the theatrics and pageantry, you have to respect the ability of the performers. They’re, in essence, actors, stuntmen, body builders and professional athletes all in one.
Drew: I am a bit of a lapsed wrestling fan, as I do not regularly watch the weekly programs and usually only tune in for the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. I’m like one of those Catholics that only goes to church on Christmas and Easter. However, I still enjoy wrestling because it transports me back to being a kid watching preposterously large dudes flying through the air and smashing through tables. It didn’t get any better than that when I was 13, and it still doesn’t get any better at 33.
Jon: It’s a highly athletic, acrobatic soap opera. It just fun, man.
Jake: Many here wrote a shorter, more succinct explanation. For me, it goes a little deeper. It was ingrained in me at a young age growing up on the south side of Milwaukee. Old school AWA territory, and my dad was a huge wrestling fan, and he had been since he was an adolescent. His love of it faded when he got older, but mine exploded and became a major part of my identity when I had to move around a lot during my high school years.
I think Owen summarized it all very nicely with what goes into being a professional wrestler. I should also know to an extent, as I trained as an indy wrestler back in my day while a college student at Wisconsin. Hours of training, road trips packing six or seven guys in a cramped car for a $20 payday (if that), setting up/breaking down rings. That’s just at the local level with guys trying to hone their craft to even get noticed by WWE, Ring of Honor and other professional wrestling companies. I still have friends and acquaintances who perform every weekend, and though I left it for good before our oldest son was born, I still keep in touch with them.
To be perfectly honest, when I’m at the gym doing cardio, I’ll watch some of my favorite matches on the WWE Network, or right before a deadlift or bench, I’ll feel an adrenaline rush imagining I’m out on the entrance of the ramp heading to the ring.
The emotional connection of being in that squared circle and hearing fans cheer or boo still clutches on to me like a young child tugging tightly on his or her parent’s jacket. It’s still a part of me in that fashion, and why yes, I still have my pairs of wrestling tights.
There’s so much that goes into professional wrestling, and if you get the right characters, the right storylines, it transcends sports entertainment itself and becomes a part of our culture. I know in Madison there’s not a lot of interest (though former Wisconsin wrestler Eric Bugenhagen actually now wrestles in WWE’s NXT brand), but throughout Wisconsin—Milwaukee and Green Bay/Fox Valley area—there’s a lot of folks into it.
On a broader level, why do you see sports teams buying/holding up title belts or quoting The Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin?
What is the one match you’re really looking forward to for this year’s WrestleMania?
Owen: Kurt Angle’s final match. It sucks it has to be against Baron Corbin, but for a guy who’s given nearly his all to this business, it’ll be nice to see him be able to go out on his own terms. Angle was a part of a ton of huge memories of my wrestling fandom, and he’s been an awesome performer to be able to grow up with in a sense.
Drew: I think any match that Finn Balor’s “demon” character participates in is bonkers, mostly because I don’t get it, and I hope he’s actually possessed by a dark spirit, but that isn’t the match I’m most looking forward to. I’m looking forward to Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan (c.) the most for multiple reasons. Firstly, hippie Daniel Bryan (who I’m assuming was created by Vince McMahon to own the libs) is amazing. He is basically trashing the billionaire, conservative McMahon to his face, and the fans are loving it. I know it’s all an act and Bryan works for McMahon, but there is a bit of truth in there too and it is juicy. On the other side of the ring, Kingston is a black wrestler getting a title shot (which is pretty rare) and he and the rest of the New Day are saying, without really saying it, that black people don’t win wrestling titles. I hope Kingston wins, but a friend of mine who watches WWE religiously says he is “terrified of a New Day heel turn” to keep him from beating Bryan. Add that to the ever-increasing list of things I’m terrified of along with emus, drowning, talking to women who aren’t my wife and an errant Iowa punt flying through my window and breaking my TV.
Jon: Ronda Rousey—Charlotte Flair—Becky Lynch main event. The work Becky has been doing over the past year has been sublime. Arrogant heel Charlotte is the best Charlotte. Ronda hasn’t quite found her voice on the mic, but she is an elite athlete and a heck of a worker (question: am I the only one who sees a lot of Shawn Michaels in the way Ronda sells opponent moves?). The floor for this one should be the WrestleMania 20 triple threat and it has the potential to be an all-time main event.
Jake: To me, it’s the Daniel Bryan-Kofi Kingston match. #KofiMania has swept up the nation, and I am extremely excited to see how these two go at it on Sunday. The New Day has been one of my favorite stables for a while, and yes, B5Q even interviewed Big E back in 2013 for a story during Iowa-Wisconsin week (he was a former Hawkeyes defensive lineman, so that’s the angle I used to pitch to Mike at the time, lol).
Andrew: I mean there’s obviously the women’s main event and KofiMania that will be amazing. Angle nearly killing himself for the business and being able to retire on his own terms is also going to be great although weird because the fans are going to chant you suck to a guy they like. But for me, I’m going to go with the match that could very well be a 30-minute match that’s a horrible mess where someone gets hurt but it’s also got one of my favorites going in his last match because I’ve always liked the heel jerk version of Batista. And the theme song. You hear that live and you don’t yell out “YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAHHHH?” Man, I just don’t know.