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When WrestleMania debuted March 31, 1985 in Madison Square Garden, the event maxed out with an attendance of 19,121. The last seven years, attendance hasn’t dipped below 70,000 as fans fly in from all over the world to see WWE’s Super Bowl.
From Mike Tyson punching out Shawn Michaels to The Undertaker’s undefeated streak to Edge spearing Mick Foley through a flaming table, WrestleMania has a head-slapping history of shock and awe as superstars try to snatch the spotlight on the biggest stage of the year.
This Sunday, WrestleMania XXX is about celebrating the past as much as it is looking into the future, as Hulk Hogan returns to host the event, while younger stars such as Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan get their opportunity to steal the show from more established headliners like Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker and John Cena.
But are Bryan and Wyatt the future of the business? Or is a heel-turned Cena the future WWE really needs?
Hogan and Cena sat down with Extra Mustard to give us the inside info on everything WrestleMania before Sunday’s big event.
When Vince McMahon decided to take a chance on the first WrestleMania, how big of a risk was it? If it failed, could we have seen the end of WWF?
Hulk Hogan: Vince McMahon has never been happy doing the same old thing. He could’ve kept doing what he was doing and he would’ve had what he always had. WrestleMania was a gamble, but Vince wanted to roll the dice. He inherited the company from his father, but it was a very regional promotion. That’s why Vince came to me and we teamed up. It was his vision to take the chance on WrestleMania to make this thing a global phenomenon. So if WrestleMania failed or never came to be, WWF would’ve still been around, it would have just continued to be regional. And what’s funny is, the more things change, the more things stay the same because we’re at a pivotal point once again. We’ve had 30 WrestleManias, so what’s next? 30 more? 60 more? No, Vince wants WrestleMania 31 to be under this groundswell of the WWE Network. So here he is rolling the dice again. He’s had 30 years of getting things locked in and now he’s ready to take this thing where no entertainment company has ever been. The WWE Network is one of the reasons I wanted to come back. I know how great Vince has made things, and I know this is his vision, so I wanted to come back so I can be here to ride this wave all the way in.
How do fans at a WrestleMania event differ than fans at your average Raw?
John Cena: You just see passion, and passion comes in all forms. We do these big stadiums for WrestleMania, where we did Ford Field in Detroit then we bounced around to the Georgia Dome and MetLife Stadium, and 70-percent of that audience is not domestic. People fly in from 45 different countries, and to these people, this is something that they’ve saved up all year for to be a part of, so when they finally get there, they’re overwhelmed with excitement. You see people breaking down and crying in front of you, they’re speechless, they throw fits of excitement … everyone is just really excited to be there, not just from a superstar’s standpoint, but from an audience standpoint, and that really helps make WrestleMania special.
What’s been the most elaborate way a fan has tried to contact you or attempt to get your autograph?
John Cena: I can’t say elaborate, but I can say awkward. Someone followed me into a bathroom one time and while I was in a stall, there was a piece of paper and a pen slid under the stall. I didn’t sign the autograph, and I did not use the paper for what I was going to use it for before sliding it back, I just kind of left it there.
Hulk Hogan: We get the chance to meet the fans at Axxess, and fans will be wearing costumes, they’ll dress as me, they’ll dye their beards black and paint mustaches on. The girls will dress like me, the guys will dress like me, but the craziest thing I’ve seen are people who will get Hulkamania tattoos on their arms or their rear ends, then they want me to sign their tattoos so they can have my real autograph underneath the tattoo. Where they actually put these tattoos is crazy.
What do you think has been the biggest change to the wrestling business from WrestleMania I to WrestleMania XXX?
John Cena: To me, the one word answer is expansion. The first WrestleMania was held at Madison Square Garden, and if you wanted to watch it outside of the Garden, you had to watch it on closed-circuit television, which means you had to find it in a movie theater or a screen showing this event, and you had to watch it in that theater. Fast forward to WrestleMania III and you had pay-per-view, so if you weren’t in the Pontiac Silverdome, you paid your cable provider a fee and you were allowed to watch the event. But now, for WrestleMania XXX, the 30th anniversary of all this, WrestleMania can be watched on even more devices thanks to the forward thinking of the WWE Network. You can watch it on iPad, iPhone, any Android device, Xbox, PlayStation, you can stream it through any digital device anywhere you want and still experience WrestleMania. So expansion is giving us more eyeballs, and more eyeballs makes the event even more spectacular. All we need to do on our end is deliver with the most unbelievable pageantry and the most unbelievable show on the planet, and to us, that’s what we do on the regular.
Hulk Hogan: The biggest change to me is how the storylines just move so much quicker. It’s not like I could confront Andre The Giant this week then wait to fight him a year later. Now you start a feud and end it in 12 weeks just so you can have it air at the top of the hour and spike the ratings. Everything just moves at such a faster pace.
When you look back at the early days of WrestleMania, are there any wrestlers who would fit in better today? Are there any differences in what it took to be in the main event back then compared to today?
John Cena: It’s tough to say. We always come up with these whimsical scenarios of “what if.” What if Hulk Hogan was in his prime right now or would John Cena survive the Attitude era or vice versa, how would a flipping the bird “Stone Cold” Steve Austin find success on a program that’s PG? I think ability is just rewarded, period. The people who have made it before would have been successful again because you can’t knock that drive, you can’t knock that hustle, and you certainly can’t knock that passion. This is certainly not an easy job, but if you love it, it’s very rewarding. So if you’re in it just for the money, it becomes old hat very quickly and you walk away. But for those who have had a wonderful career over a certain amount of time and have made an impression on the fans of the WWE, I think they would be successful no matter what.
Hulk Hogan: I think you have to have it in your blood. If you want to be a top guy, back then, if you’re not up at 5bam and working out with Hulk Hogan, then you’re not taking my spot. The shortest day I ever put in was a 14 hour day, so if you weren’t out there putting in 14 to 18 hour days, then you’re not going to take my spot. I think Cena has this down to a science. He works harder, trains harder and does everything with more intensity than anybody out there today. You have to be totally dedicated to make it to the top. This has to be the priority over friends, family and everything. The only thing that can be in your focus is being the top guy.
How do you think fan expectations at WrestleMania have changed throughout the years? WrestleMania I’s main event only lasted like 13 minutes. I don’t see anyone putting up with that today.
John Cena: It was 13 minutes long, but it was a spectacle. You had Mr. T, Muhammad Ali and Liberace all involved and it was something really special. I’ll give you a comparison. Arnold Schwarzenegger was just on Raw, and if you go back and watch Commando, then you watch a recent action movie like Taken, it is a very, very different dynamic. Would the main event of WrestleMania I be a success now? It’s tough to say. Was it an unbelievable success back then? Absolutely, even if it was only 13 minutes long. Will the main event at WrestleMania XXX be 13 minutes long? I don’t know, but I know it will be spectacular.
Hulk Hogan: It was a completely different situation. We had an actor in there with us in Mr. T. I think he did a great job when he was out there, but it would be really hard to go out there with an actor and put a 45-minute match in. I think the fans expect to be taken on a roller coaster. They want to experience all of the emotion, excitement, drama and tension while they scream and yell for their hero or scream and yell at the villain. They want to be taken on that ride, and it’s not so much about the length, it’s about the quality of that ride.
How much pressure is there being in the main event of WrestleMania, not only from the fans, but backstage from Vince McMahon?
John Cena: I love it, and I want to be in that position. I think everybody who laces up a set of boots wants to be put in that position. Put me out there in the spotlight in front of everybody and let me bring the people these special moments that are unexpected. That’s why I do what I do, man, and if there are superstars in the locker room who don’t want to be in that position, then they’ll flame out rather quickly. I don’t feel any pressure from the audience, I don’t feel any pressure from my boss, I don’t feel any pressure from my opponent. My job is to be out there and I get excited to be out there and I embrace those moments. The bigger the stage, the better performance from me. That’s what I live for.
WrestleMania is known for celebrity involvement, from Kane tombstoning Pete Rose, to Mr. T in the main event of WrestleMania I. Do you have a favorite celebrity moment?
John Cena: I loved Mike Tyson, just because of what he brought to WrestleMania. It’s moments like that where maybe you feel the momentum of WrestleMania dwindling a little bit, but then here comes the baddest man on the planet to make it so enormous, that WrestleMania became bigger than it ever was before, and because of that, Tyson is my favorite.
Hulk Hogan: My favorite celebrity moment is when I was standing in the ring at WrestleMania I and looked across the ring to see Muhammad Ali as the referee. That said a lot to me about what WrestleMania was all about and how we were on to something special.
WrestleMania XXX is putting some of the younger stars like Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan in high profile matches. Do you see any of these guys as main event players in the next five to ten years?
Hulk Hogan: Well, John Cena is definitely not done, brother, and to me, he’s at the perfect time to pull a “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan on everybody. If he was to switch and take that hustle, loyalty and respect and tell everybody how he was running game on everybody the whole time, he’d have another ten years wide open without even looking back. So maybe in five years, it’s John Cena running the game on everybody. When I look around the roster, Daniel Bryan is on one hell of a roll right now, but he gets beat to death every night he goes out there. The big guys just go out and stomp on him. Can he handle that for five more years? I don’t know. It’s anybody’s game at this point.
I think this is a very interesting time, and this is why I love WrestleMania XXX. If you look back at WrestleMania XX, all of the showcase matches had these up and coming talents like Randy Orton, Batista, Brock Lesnar and John Cena. These names became etched all these years later as the people who would be carrying WWE. This year, you have a flux of brand new superstars or superstars who are just waiting to make their impression once they get their opportunity. Bray Wyatt, The Shield, anyone involved in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal, and then, of course, you have Daniel Bryan. So if you ask me right now who is going to carry the WWE into the next decade, I don’t know, but I truly think that you will get your odds on favorite at WrestleMania XXX on April 6, and that’s one of the things that just makes this event so interesting. It will give you a little bit of insight into what’s to come for WWE.