As my friends and I filed out of Orlando’s Amway Center following the post-WrestleMania WWE Raw last April, an arena staffer loudly promoted the next evening’s feature entertainment.
“Don’t forget,” she announced, “We’ve got WWE SmackDown here tomorrow night.” Her words sounded more like a threat than an invitation.
After four straight evenings of attending sports entertainment extravaganzas, another live wrestling event was the last thing we wanted to see. We’d traveled from other regions of the country to make our annual pilgrimage to the Super Bowl of Wrestling. My two co-voyagers (who have been dating for years) had been sleeping on a crummy air mattress for the past five nights. I had been trying vainly to find some bubblegum anywhere in the arena after puking in our hotel courtyard upon our afternoon return from Universal Studios (the only witness was some braying jackass in a Sami Zayn t-shirt). And we’d just expended a considerable amount of energy engaging with the in-ring action during a four-hour Raw and WWE Main Event taping. After all, Roman Reigns wasn’t going to boo himself out of the building.
Now, a cumulative mixture of Florida heat exhaustion and sports entertainment fatigue was smothering us like a sleeperhold, and we were ready to tap out. Even the best wrestling weekend of the year has to end sometime.
WWE fans have gained notoriety in recent years for their rowdy behavior at the live Raw events that are broadcast the day after WrestleMania. And the company itself has taken notice. In recent years, WWE has provided the equivalent of a parental advisory warning to brace television viewers for what their fellow wrestling fans might say and do. At the onset of the 2016 post-Mania Raw, WWE color commentator JBL explained their behavior by simplistically stating, “Sometimes, they’ll boo the guys they normally cheer, they’ll cheer the guys they normally boo.” Other WWE commentary descriptions of these crowds range from “very vocal” (Byron Saxton) to “non-traditional” (Michael Cole).
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Vince McMahon himself weighed in on the “Bizarro Land” audience during the 2016 post-Mania Raw. “This is a crazy crowd, it always is,” said the Chairman. “The craziest crowd, the day after WrestleMania. You people say and do nutty things.” Even while portraying a megalomaniacal heel, Vince’s manner betrayed the tone of a bemused Southern matriarch declaring, “Well, bless your heart.”
More pointedly, former WWE Champion Chris Jericho divulged his perception of these infamous Raw audiences in his 2017 book No is a Four-Letter Word:
“Every year, the Raw after WrestleMania is notorious for being infested with hardcore fans from around the world who try to hijack the show by doing whatever they want … They seem to be more concerned with getting themselves over than sitting back and enjoying the show, and it’s become an annual tradition to see what ridiculous s--- they come up with throughout the course of the night.”
Such criticism may seem warranted to the wrestlers who risk their health nightly to entertain such audiences. But it’s a touch unfair to the loyal fans that have made WrestleMania weekend so incredibly profitable for these performers and who add an aura of anything-goes unpredictability to a show that maps the journey that WWE will take throughout the spring and summer.
Fans come from around the world annually to attend not only WrestleMania, but a host of other wrestling events (like Raw) scheduled around that long weekend. There are independent wrestling cards, conventions, speaking engagements, autograph sessions, and watch parties with retired superstars. American fans can indulge their compulsion for maximum intake of wrestling—and maximum output of impulse spending. (I once entered the WWE gift store’s checkout line while unwittingly carrying $110 worth of Mania shot glasses.) International fans may be making their first trips to the States, and are eager to take in all that the country has to offer.
By Monday night, however, you’ve had nearly a week to enjoy every imaginable public gathering related to professional wrestling. And you’re probably exhausted from the experience. If WrestleMania is positioned as a cross between Armageddon and the Academy Awards, the post-Mania Raw feels like the final day of summer camp. The festivities are ending and we’re all headed home tomorrow, so let’s live it up on our last night here.
And that energy can be extraordinary. On a perfect Monday night, you could see a sold-out New Orleans arena celebrate Daniel Bryan’s WrestleMania XXX title victory by exulting in mass chants of “Yes!” Two years later, current WWE champion AJ Styles received a hero’s reception when he main-evented the post-Mania Raw, winning a number-one contender’s match that helped launch him into a magnificent run of world titles and top billing.
The post-Mania Raw audiences play a crucial role in soundtracking the immediate response for storylines that will drive WWE for the rest of the year. They can make returning performers seem like demigods, and shape the perception that debuting wrestlers are big stars worthy of attention. Behold the first appearance of Big Cass and Enzo Amore in 2016, when the crowd response cemented Enzo as a vocal force to be reckoned with in WWE.
Post-Mania Raw fans also help to create an environment that, as Stephanie McMahon and Triple H often claim in their roles as The Authority, is “best for business.” Ensuring that tens of thousands of WrestleMania attendees stick around for Raw and the post-Mania SmackDown show doesn’t hurt anyone’s financial bottom line, making it easier for WWE’s corporate execs to do business with interested municipalities vying to host these annual events. And since these Monday night audiences have created a tradition (as Jericho noted) that entices others to watch what they’ll do on live television, they’re likely drawing additional viewers, which can push Raw to its highest TV ratings of the year.
Tellingly, WWE led off last year’s post-Mania Raw broadcast by showing the Orlando crowd passionately pay tribute to the Undertaker for two minutes, 40 seconds. No wrestlers appeared and no commentary was provided during a scene that play-by-play announcer Cole subsequently called, “One of the most incredible moments I [sic] ever remember to begin Monday Night Raw.”
When the live crowd itself comprises the opening hook for a critical episode of WWE’s flagship television show, the company has no business complaining about their fans’ antics for the rest of that show.
But, for every transcendent moment spawned by the post-Mania Raw fans, there have been missteps. No one needs the random crowd call-outs dedicated to everyone and everything that seem to ring out toward the beginning of the broadcast’s third hour. And, last year, the Orlando audience marred a superb Neville/Mustafa Ali match with its insatiable lust for beach balls. (I can confirm that the culprit who sparked this nonsense at the 2016 post-Mania Raw was apprehended by security; he was seated one section to our right in the upper bowl. His female accomplice—who inflated the offending spheres before he launched them—remains at large.) This is one wrestling tradition that reasonable fans can agree deserves to be tombstoned out of existence.
Regardless of esoteric chants or the occasional misplaced focus, however, there is no crowd hotter than a post-Mania Raw audience. Whatever WWE serves up will be met with peak enthusiasm from the industry’s most diehard fans. And when the company’s powerbrokers attempt to force-feed its customers an unappetizing main course, the post-Mania Raw crowds will be there to, in wrestling parlance, give them a receipt.
You can email Kyle Schmitt at Kyle81ARL@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: @kyleradioviolet.