On March 31st, 1985, young, brash businessman Vincent K. McMahon took a huge gamble by staging the first WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden. This gamble would ultimately pay off, being the launching pad for their National Expansion and ultimately securing their spot as the top promotion in the United States. Now on April 2nd, 2017, the WWE will put on their 33rd iteration of the famous event, emanating live from the Citrus Bowl (I refuse to call it Camping World Stadium) in Orlando, Florida. What was once a huge financial gamble from the McMahon’s and then WWF, is now an international phenomenon. Last year’s event, WrestleMania 32, set an all-time attendance record for the company with 101,763 fans packed into AT&T Stadium, but that’s not all. Those one hundred thousand plus in attendance represented all 50 states as well as 35 countries. WrestleMania, with its next iteration emanating live from the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. An estimated seventy-five thousand people will be in attendance will make the trek from all over the world to take in the best of what the WWE has to offer.
However, over the past several years, that has not been the only thing that fans have traveled into see. The “More than Mania” movement has taken hold in recent years, showcasing the very best in independent wrestling from across the globe. This year’s event has over 90 shows set to take place in the Orlando and surrounding areas, and this does not include stage shows like “Ringside: An Afternoon with Jim Ross,” and “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard,” club parties like “MLW’s WaleMania,” or “The #Broken Tailgate Party,” or fan conventions like “WrestleCon” and “WWE WrestleMania Axxess.” WrestleMania week has become more than just Mania, but an international gathering and festival of those most diehard (and financially affluent) wrestling fans from across the world. However, this was not always the case and this article will explore how this event has become nearly as big as the event that it piggybacks.
While there was the occasional local independent show during WrestleMania weekend, there was not a major event until WrestleMania 22 weekend in 2006. This was the weekend of the first ever Ring of Honor “SuperCard of Honor” show. Bryan Danielson headlined this card, taking challenger and current NXT competitor Roderick Strong nearly 60 minutes before defeating him to retain the ROH Championship. For anyone that has not seen this card, I highly recommend it as it had not one but two 2006 match of the year candidates with Do FIXER taking on Blood Generation and the previously mentioned Danielson/Strong clash. This was a match featuring Dragon Gate talent and was absolutely fantastic. Ring of Honor has been a stalwart for the “More than Mania” weekends, running their SuperCard of Honor shows for 11 straight years now, as well as other shows and television tapings.
“Supercard of Honor” became a WrestleMania of sorts for Ring of Honor. For instance, the first SuperCard of Honor show was nearly 5 hours long and featured some of the best that the Independent circuit had to offer at that time. While pioneering the major independent show during WrestleMania weekend, they certainly would be the only act in town for long. Over the next several years, independent companies such as UXW, NAWA, and Dragon Gate USA became fixtures during WrestleMania weekend, featuring top level Indy talent such as Jon Moxley, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, and CM Punk as well as ring legends such as Tommy Dreamer, Abdullah the Butcher, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. After seeing the critical and financial success of SuperCard of Honor, it was only a matter of time for other promotions to capitalize.
Despite in recent years WWE’s attempts to stop this from happening by putting moratoriums on venues and keeping the events a certain mileage away from their building, they ultimately hurt their own cause by developing “WrestleMania Axxess.” WWE has had Axxess around in some form or fashion since 1988 at WrestleMania IV, but never to the level it was at in recent years. The first Axxess event was featured at WrestleMania IV and included small autograph signings, a brunch and even a 5K run. This evolved over the years, even running a short-lived angle with Bret Hart and Lex Luger at the Axxess Bruch, where ‘The Narcissist’ attacked ‘The Hitman;’ this was never mentioned on television. However, it was not until 2001 when the event expanded to three days and took on its modern form. The three-day festival drove in thousands more fans, which only fertilized the host city for more and more wrestling.
This eventually led to WrestleCon, which may be the biggest wrestling convention in the country. Starting in 2013 during WrestleMania 29 weekend, WrestleCon hosted a wide variety of independent talent and old school legends, as well as a place for fans from across the globe to congregate. However, this event has also grown exponentially over the past several years, bringing in exclusive Q&As, exclusive podcast tapings, and even wrestling events featuring the talent from ChIkara (which broke Chikara’s attendance record), Dragon Gate USA, Evolve, Combat Zone Wrestling and SHIMMER. This year, WrestleCon had their own “super card” with many cross promotional matchups. The original WrestleCon was sponsored by Highspots and WWN, however, while both are still involved in the convention, WWN has turned its focus towards its own set of promotions and its budding relationship with FloSlam.
It was with the introduction of WrestleCon when the shows at Mania began to grow exponentially. While there were only five promotions involved in the initial WrestleCon, many more came the following year, while many more promotions came to New Orleans on their own, finding their own venues and booking shows in hopes of cashing it in big during WrestleMania’s 30th anniversary. Promotions such as Kaiju Big Battel, and Lucha Libre Femenil were added to the list of the promotions from the previous year, as well as more crossover show much like the critically acclaimed CZW/PWG SuperShow. This show featured the likes of future WWE Superstars such as Cedric Alexander, Drew Gulak, Chris Hero and Kevin Steen.
WrestleMania 31 grew the independent wrestling slate even further adding shows from King of Indies, Empire Wrestling Federation, Hoodslam, NWA Vendetta Pro Wrestling as well as WWE’s attempt at a “super Indy” in NXT. WrestleMania 31 weekend also led to other unique additions to the “More than Mania” slate with stage shows such as “An Afternoon with Jim Ross” and club parties such as “WaleMania.” WaleMania provided a unique experience for the fans where not only could they listen to a podcast recording, have a Q&A, and autograph session with the talent provided, all of which was standard fare at the time, but they also provided a concert following the show, and allowed the fans to hang out with superstars from the WWE and the independent scene. This was unheard of at the time and has become an instant success and just one more staple of WrestleMania weekend.
In 2016 for WrestleMania weekend, there were nearly 30 independent shows booked of a variety of sizes. However, this year, that number has nearly tripled with over 90 shows available for the WrestleMania 33 patrons in Orlando. There were reports from the Indyriffic Podcast at MLW Radio that there were many of these shows that were going to lose significant money. In fact, they reported that some of these independent shows had less than a dozen tickets pre-sold for the event. Is there too many shows during a three day stretch at WrestleMania? Has the bubble burst in regards to what the wrestling fan can logistically take in? I believe that is the case. With the addition of FloSlam, an over the top service that has deals with many of the major independent promotions holding shows WrestleMania weekend, it becomes easier and exponentially cheaper to stay home and watch these shows from the comfort of your own home. Coupled with the increasing cost of travel, and WWE’s desire to gobble up as much independent talent as possible, there is a good chance that as many shows that succeed during this weekend, will also fail. There’s only so many dollars to spend and only so much talent to book. There is a possibility that if extending the shows over a period of a week, you could have more chances for more eyes to see these individual shows, but I believe that the success of that would hinge on WWE expanding their operations for Mania for the entire week as well. And with this year’s Mania being over 7 hours long, that is not necessarily the pipedream that it once was. Hopefully in future years the “More than Mania” weekend will find a healthy balance and continue to provide the hardcore wrestling fan a safe haven to meet and celebrate their love of professional wrestling.
I hope you enjoyed the article. If you would like to chat about what is written or wrestling in general, please comment below. Or you can seek me out on my wrestling group Ringside Chat (link below). You can also follow me on Twitter @gfreeland739; although honestly, I am not very active there (maybe you all can help me with that!). Also thanks to the MLW VIP Podcast Indyriffic, hosted by Matt Farmer. Its $1.99 a month and if you are an independent wrestling buff and are seeking more content than the already robust collection that PWP provides, Indyriffic is a great place to look. You can find Indyriffic at MLWradio.com. You can follow Matt Farmer @MattFarmer93. I also have a very special thanks to Tim Regal and Thomas Montgomery, two posters from my Ringside Chat Facebook group, who helped me out with hunting down some of the information in this article. Tim has a podcast over at prowrestlingiowa.net called “Off the Chest with Timothy Regal.” If you do not know Tim, he’s the gentleman who Seth Rollins/Tyler Black moonsaulted off early on in his career. You can also follow Tim @scwregal444 and @offthechestTR. Thomas you can also follow on Twitter at @thomas_d_m. He’s very active there and is worth a follow.
Ringside Chat: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Ringsidechat/
Gary’s Twitter: @gfreeland739
Pro Wrestling Iowa: https://prowrestlingiowa.net/
Tim Regal: @scwregal444 (Twitter)
Thomas Montgomery: @thomas_d_m (Twitter)
Off The Chest w/ Tim Regal: @offthechestTR