Ticket – Check
Camera – Check
Phone – Check
Money – Check
After I confirmed I had everything I would need for the next several hours, I locked my door and left the house. All week my excitement for the event I would be attending had been building. But today, April 1, 2012 was the day. There was no longer need for anticipation. I wouldn’t be watching promos on the WWE programs “Monday Night Raw,” which airs on the USA network and “Smackdown’ which airs on Fridays on the Sci-Fi channel. Today, I was headed to Wrestlemania XXVIII (28) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida. This would mark the third time in the event’s twenty-eight year history that I was getting to see it live.
I had never been to Sun Life Stadium (formerly Joe Robbie Stadium) where the Miami Dolphins and, up until the start of this baseball season, the Florida Marlins (now known as the Miami Marlins) play. I had called ahead to find out about the price of parking. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that, unlike when I went to see the New York Rangers play the Florida Panthers at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida, it would not be free. The courteous sounding woman on the telephone told me that parking for Dolphins and Marlins games was $25. I thanked her, but I am really glad I didn’t listen to her because the first thing that greeted my eyes when I got off of exit 2X on the Florida Turnpike was a sign for parking, which read “Parking for today’s event $40.” It’s a good thing I had hit the ATM the day before because the attendants weren’t taking credit cards and my Wrestlemania experience could have been over before it even began.
I paid my money and drove into the lot. Unlike many other places where you can drive around and find a space that suits your needs, especially since I arrived early, I was directed to row 206 between signs 32 and 33 and I wasn’t about to argue. I parked; got out of my car, and felt the brutality of the sun blast me in the face; so I quickly put on my sunglasses and hat to remedy the situation. It was 5:00PM and I had about two hours before the event was to begin, so for a little while I just lingered in the parking lot taking in the scene before I walked into the stadium. The closer I got to the entrance gate to walk into Sun Life, the more I could feel the electricity in the air. Men, women, and children of all ages – some dressed in costumes of both past and present WWE wrestlers, most others wearing a t-shirt showing support for their favorite wrestler – were engaged in activities that ran the gamut from good natured trash talk, to buying items at concessions, to taking pictures, to talking excitedly on cell-phones about what they were about to see, and so on.
Surprisingly, two hours of waiting went by very quickly, and the event kicked off on time. The ringside bell rang and Wrestlemania 28 officially began with a World Heavyweight Championship match between Daniel Bryan and Sheamus. The match was over before it even had a chance to begin. After Bryan kissed his girlfriend AJ (April Jeanette), he turned around and was greeted to a kick to the face by Sheamus, who pinned him for the one, two, three and was awarded the title belt. My initial reaction could have been to have felt ripped off because the first of eight matches on the card had lasted a grand total of eighteen seconds, but I didn’t. I looked skyward and was wondering, if there is indeed a heaven, was my father watching and smiling because something very similar had happened at the very first Wrestlemania. At the first Wrestlemania, King Kong Bundy, the man who wrestling announcer, the late Gorilla Monsoon, referred to as a condominium with legs, took only nine seconds to defeat the late S.D. Jones (Special Delivery Jones), whose real name was Conrad Efraim.
The next few matches thankfully lasted longer and were all entertaining in their own way, but nothing that needs to be singled out. Randy Orton fought the big red monster Kane and lost. Cody Rhodes, who had been running both his mouth and embarrassing video clips on WWE programming showcasing his opponent the Big Show’s failures at past Wrestlemania events took a shot to the face from Show and was knocked out cold. The 7’0”, 441 pound Big Show, who is billed as the world’s largest athlete, easily pinned Rhodes shoulders for the victory and won the Intercontinental Championship in the process. Next came the WWE Divas tag team match between Beth Phoenix teaming with Eve against Kelly Kelly and guest celebrity wrestler Maria Menounos from the Access Hollywood television show. The match had good moments, but I would’ve been shocked if the outcome didn’t turn out the way it did with Menounos pinning Divas’ Champion, Phoenix’s shoulders to the mat to score the victory for her team.
Next up, in this blogger’s opinion, both the best match of the evening and one of the greatest Wrestlemania matches of all time, The Hell in a Cell match, which would determine the “end of an era” between Triple H and The Undertaker with WWE Hall of famer Shawn Michaels as the special guest referee. Prior to the match it was announced that the Wrestlemania crowd of 78,363 people had set a new attendance record for Sun Life Stadium. The Undertaker came into the match with an unprecedented record of 19-0 at Wrestlemania to face his opponent from the previous year, Triple H. When The Undertaker, who was wearing a hood, took it off, the long, wet looking, auburn hair fans were accustomed to seeing him with was gone revealing a new look for the wrestler who is also referred to as “the dead man.”
After the bell rang, the two combatants of the square circle that was placed inside of a cage for the occasion, hence the name of the match, proceeded with reckless abandon to beat the hell out of one another. The match was replete with the use of folding chairs, steel ring steps, a sledgehammer, and the cage itself. Triple H delivered shot after shot with the aforementioned folding chairs onto the Undertaker’s body in an attempt to batter him into quitting, but it was to no avail. In addition, every attempt he made to get Shawn Michaels to end the match fell by the wayside as well. Even when Triple H took a sledgehammer to the Undertaker, there was no quit in the dead man; he soldiered on refusing to let go of his undefeated streak.
Knocked for a loop, thanks to the sledgehammer, when referee Michaels came over to check on the Undertaker, the dead man, unaware of who was in his vicinity, slapped on one of his signature submission moves, “Hell’s Gate,” and knocked Michaels unconscious. Next, he got a hold of Triple H and did the same thing to him, but of course there was no referee to award the victory to the Undertaker. A second referee, Chalres Robinson, ran down to the ring and was quickly greeted to a choke slam by the Undertaker. The carnage continued afterwards with back and forth action the likes off which brought the majority of the crowd to its feet and kept them there for a good fifteen minutes straight.
Triple H was able to power his way out of a choke slam, Shawn Michaels hit the Undertaker with his signature move, Sweet Chin Music; Triple H hit the Undertaker with his signature move, the Pedigree, but the Undertaker simply wouldn’t relinquish victory – the streak would be protected, no matter what the cost. The Undertaker got his second wind and unleashed an offensive output that would have been enough to end the match against most anyone, especially after he hit Triple H with his patented move, the Tombstone piledriver, but Triple H, who also is never one to give in, amazingly kicked out of the move denying the Undertaker victory. After more back and forth battling, Triple H again went to use the deadly sledge hammer, but this time the Undertaker was having no part of it. He paid Triple H back for his earlier abuse, and after 30 minutes of an incredible match, the end came in dramatic fashion when the Undertaker hit Triple H with yet another Tombstone piledriver to seal the victory and advance his streak to 20-0 at Wrestlemania.
In this blogger’s opinion, it is a streak that will never be broken. Of equal importance, Triple H and the Undertaker proved to the WWE universe that even though they are in the waning years of their respective careers as far as in-ring competition is concerned they are still top-notch performers. In addition, in this blogger’s opinion, more importantly after the match, after the Undertaker received his well deserved applause from an insanely jubilant crowd, both he and Michaels picked up the unconscious Triple H and the three men walked back to the dressing room area together. At the top of the entrance ramp, the three ring greats paused, and acknowledged the crowd, who was giving them a standing ovation. The men, in this blogger’s opinion, were not only acknowledging their appreciation of the fans for the support all three have received for over the past two decades, but also, perhaps, just like in life, the old regime was signaling they knew that eventually the day would come where they would have to make way for the younger generation to take over. I would like to give a big thank you to all three wrestlers for giving me over twenty years of exciting, and often times, unpredictable entertainment.
Other matches that were on the card, before I get to the main event, were the match to determine which general manager would have complete control over both “Monday Night Raw” and “Smackdown.” Team Johnny versus Team Teddy was a twelve man tag match that featured a whole host of diverse WWE talent. Introduced by one half of the Bella Twins, Brie Bella, Team Johnny was captained by brainy and brawny “David Otunga,” and included the vociferous “Miz,” the world’s strongest man “Mark Henry,” the up and comer “Drew McIntyre,” the confident “Jack Swagger” and “Dolph Ziggler.” Brie’s twin sister, “Nikki Bella,” introduced Team Teddy, which was captained by the popular “Santino Marella” and included the high flying “Kofi Kingston,” the gigantic “Great Khali,” the highly entertaining “R-Truth,” my fellow Long Island native “Long Island Iced Z,’ (Zack Ryder) and five time WCW champion “Booker T.” Every participant in the match got select moments to showcase their respective talents and overall the match was enjoyable. In the end Team Johnny, thanks to interference by Eve, who had accompanied Zack Ryder to ringside, was able to score the victory when “The Miz” took advantage of the situation and delivered the win for his team.
After the twelve man tag match the fans were treated to another Championship bout, but unlike the first match between Bryan and Sheamus, the WWE title match between CM Punk and Chris Jericho lasted over twenty-minutes. In the end, after trading their signature submission moves that consisted of Jericho’s “Walls of Jericho” and Punk’s “Anaconda Vice,” it was Punk who caught Jericho in a position that he could not escape from, forcing the author, rock musician, “Dancing With The Stars” contestant, and former World Champion to tap out.
One remaining match to go and it was, of course, the most hyped of the evening, between John Cena and “The Rock,” which pitted one of the stars of the WWE Attitude Era against the modern day face of the franchise. The question on my mind was would it live up to the hype? The short answer, after the two competitors battled for 30 minutes, is yes. Since venturing to Hollywood to star in films Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has maintained his wrestling looks, which gives him the appearance of someone who has only been away from being an active wrestler in the world of WWE entertainment for a short period of time, instead of, in actuality, the years that it has been.
The “Rock” was clearly the crowd favorite judging from the reaction he got compared to the largely unfavorable greeting John Cena received when he came to the ring. I did see a number of fans wearing Cena t-shirts, but if they were chanting loud for their hero, their voices were drowned out by the sheer volume of Rock supporters. Once the bell rang and the match got under way, The Rock proved he still has the talent to deliver a main event performance.
The match was a back and forth hard hitting classic. An exchange of close pin falls and submission maneuvers that kept fans glued to the ring, or one of the two main stadium televisions that didn’t miss one minute of the action, every time I glanced up at one of them. John Cena delivered an extremely painful STF (Stepover Toehold Facelock), which the Rock sold to perfection to the crowd of spectators with his facial expressions of agony. The Rock, however, didn’t submit, instead he powers out of the move and regains control of the match where he manages to lay Cena out and drop his patented “people’s elbow,” but Cena to his credit at the last possible second escaped defeat. The Rock made his way to the top rope and attempted a high risk move, but Mr. Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect, Cena catches him in his arms, a testament to the man’s incredible strength. Sending the Rock to the mat, it looks like John Cena is about to do what many wrestling prognosticators felt was the impossible and beat the Rock. He stands over the Rock’s body on the mat and taunts him with his “You Can’t See Me” hand gesture, but at the last second instead of finishing the Rock off decides to mock the Rock by using his own version of the “people’s elbow.” It was the wrong choice because just as Cena was about to do drop the elbow, the Rock sprung to life and caught Cena with his signature move “The Rock Bottom.” Cena sells to the crowd that he is stunned. He can’t believe that he was just handed the biggest loss of his career on what is considered wrestling’s grandest stage of them all at Wrestlemania – an event which is also known as the showcase of the immortals. The Rock stands in the center of the ring receiving a bombardment of adulation from the crowd as fireworks explode lighting up the night sky. I watch for another few minutes taking in the sheer spectacle of what I just saw.
“A Few Words on the Late Wrestler Yokozuna”
On October 31, 1992, fans of World Wrestling Entertainment (known at the time as the World Wrestling Federation) on the television program WWF Superstars were greeted to the debuted of the 6’4” over five hundred pound behemoth known as Yokozuna. The first cousin of WWE superstar “The Rock” once removed was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on March 31, 2012 at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. Yokozuna, whose real name was Rodney Agatupu Anoa’i, even though not of Japanese ethnicity, used his in-ring moniker as a tribute to the sumo wrestlers of Japan. The name Yokozuna actually refers to the highest rank a sumo can achieve.
Born on October 2, 1966 in San Francisco, California, the Samoan Anoa’i, would go on to become the world champion twice; the first ever Samoan to accomplish the feat. Becoming the 1993 “Royal Rumble” winner gave him the opportunity to face then champion Bret Hart at Wrestlemania IX in Las Vegas, Nevada. Yokozuna would go on to win the match and capture the first of his two world titles. His first title reign lasted for a very brief period of time. It was actually lost at the very same Wrestlemania minutes later, after his manager, longtime heel (wrestling term for bad guy) Mr. Fuji, issued a challenge to wrestling mega-superstar Hulk Hogan, who at the time had recently returned to in-ring action after a layoff. Yokozuna’s second title reign, however, was one he would be able to savor; kicking off at the “King of the Ring” pay-per-view in 1993 in Dayton, Ohio; it would last for two-hundred and eighty days before he lost the belt to Bret Hart at Wrestlemania X in March of 1994 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. In addition to being the world champion twice, Yokozuna was also a two time tag-team champion with the late, great, Owen Hart. Not much happened in the wrestling world for the once mighty champion after 1996. Yokozuna continued to gain weight to the point where it was not only very unhealthy, but it severely impacted his mobility in the ring. Sadly, Yokozuna’s escalating problems with weight claimed his life just twenty-one days after his thirty-fourth birthday on October 23, 2000 in Liverpool, England.
Congratulations to the Anoa’i family on Yokozuna’s much deserved induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. Also congratulations to the other inductees of the class of 2012: “Edge,” “The Four Horsemen,” “Mil Mascaras,” “Ron Simmons” and “Mike Tyson.” I certainly don’t know, but I hope somewhere out there in the great unknown, Yokozuna has been able to get rid of the unhealthy weight that plagued him in the later years of his career and is entertaining the dearly departed masses with his “Banzai” drop from the second rope.