I’ve got my camera in hand, heading to Times Square, and I’m more excited than any tourist in NYC to catch a glimpse of the Big Apple. I’m not in town to see the skyscrapers and the bright lights of Broadway. No, I’m here to experience something way more exciting and impressive—the larger-than-life WWE Superstars.
As I excitedly check in at the press desk, I take a peek at the press release I was handed and immediately walk into someone. I quickly turn around to politely apologize and realize that not only is the man I klutzily bumped into gigantic, he is in fact Mark Henry, the World’s Strongest Man. Luckily Mr. Henry is in a good mood and not looking to induct any goofy bloggers into his “Hall of Pain” this morning; instead I get off relatively easy with his making a joke about my hairstyle … which hurts coming from a dude who used to rock a cornrow comb-over. It’s at this point I realize that I’m surrounded by some of the biggest and most recognizable wrestlers in the WWE’s formidable roster—not only Henry but the 7’1″ Great Khali, the 7′ Big Show, and the 6’5″ Alberto Del Rio. The four behemoths welcome me to the Wrestlemania 30 press conference.
I take my seat and wait for the festivities to begin as I watch a clip package showcasing the WWE’s significant charity outreach initiatives. The global leaders of “sports entertainment” are very involved with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, granting ailing children meetings with their favorite superstars, Susan G. Komen, to help fight cancer, the Be a STAR anti-bullying movement, and many more charitable organizations.
After WWE announcer Michael Cole is introduced to MC the event, he talks about the WWE’s and Wrestlemania’s long history in the New York City metropolitan area, going back past the first Wrestlemania event 30 years ago.
Stephanie McMahon, the chief brand executive and daughter of WWE founder and CEO Vince McMahon, is the first main participant to take the stage. Amusingly enough, she does so to her WWE ring entrance music. “We all have entrance music—you’ll get used to it,” she jokes. Mrs. McMahon-Helmsley (as she’s referred to on WWE programming but is actually Mrs. Levesque) talks about her earliest memories from Wrestlemania, cheering for her friend Andre the Giant. Andre was a wrestling icon (and film star, specifically in the beloved The Princess Bride), who at 7’4″ would have some inches on even the quartet of giants who welcomed me to the event. Mr. the Giant (Andre or “Boss” to his friends) is being honored at this year’s Wrestlemania with an inaugural “Battle Royal” named after him.
The next guest is the immortal Hulk Hogan, a man I’ve idolized since childhood and I am totally geeking out to see. The Hulkster walks to the podium after a few minutes of doing his signature poses and muscle flexing. The sneakerhead in me can’t help but notice his red-and-black Jordans. Hogan then tells everyone what a dream come true it is to be back in the WWE for Wrestlemania.
Third to enter is the wrestler turned heir apparent of the WWE, executive vice president Triple H (also known as Hunter Hearst Helmsley but actually is Paul Levesque, husband of Stephanie McMahon). Mr. Plural H discusses the multiple hats he figuratively wears in the WWE, from executive to in-ring performer to, most important to him, fan. He mentions it’s the dream of every wrestler to “make it” and headline Wrestlemania. He says no one exemplifies this dream more than his Wrestlemania opponent the ascendant Daniel Bryan. Unfortunately, according to Triple H, Bryan’s dream “intersects with me.” And he concludes, “Only the Game is forever”—the Game being another of HHH’s nicknames, and not the Compton-based rapper, who is, in fact, not forever.
Aside from Hulk Hogan, the man the crowd is most excited to see is next: Daniel Bryan. The bearded Bryan will be facing Triple H at Sunday’s Wrestlemania event, and if he is victorious in that match, he will be granted a shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship later that evening in a triple-threat match against two beasts, action movie star and returning wrestler Bautista and the current champion, Randy Orton. If it seems like the deck is stacked against Bryan, it’s because that’s exactly the story line the creative professionals at the WWE want you to buy into. Bryan is far from the cut-from-the-mold WWE Superstar. Not only is he considerably shorter than the assembled leviathans I met at the door; he’s also considerably smaller than me. He’s dressed in a suit and stylish knit tie, but Mr. Bryan admits he’d be more comfortable dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans. Besides his ebullient smile, his face is nearly fully concealed behind a long, stringy beard. This dude looks like he’d be more comfortable appearing on IFC’s Portlandia than the WWE’s Monday Night Raw.
It is this dichotomy that forms the heart of his rivalry with the corporate-minded Triple H. HHH wants a more traditional star to be the face of the franchise, and Bryan is a determined underdog challenger.
The fans of the WWE have almost unanimously chosen Bryan as their champion, shouting his catchphrase “Yes, Yes, Yes” over and over at WWE events going back to a Wrestlemania two years ago. This “Yes Movement,” as it’s referred to, has become a mainstream phenomenon, popping up at sporting events and college campuses worldwide.
It is to this cheer that Bryan takes the stage and tells the audience that headlining Wrestlemania has always been a dream of his. He explains: “Dreams aren’t things that run through your head while you’re sleeping. Dreams are what you’re thinking about and wishing for before you go to sleep.”
The next two participants are his other possible opponents Bautista and Randy Orton. While Orton does a fairly standard and short “bad guy” spiel, Bautista subverts expectations slightly by cracking jokes and coming off pretty charming. Bautista (or “Boo-tista” as he’s become known to Bryan fans) makes fun of his recent fashion misstep on WWE television: “I own one pair of skinny jeans, and I’m going to wear them every week to piss you all off.” He says it’s also a dream come true for him to be main event at Wrestlemania, but that it “kind of sucks it has turned into a triple threat,” alluding to Bryan’s possible insertion into the match.
Along with Bryan, the final participant of the press conference will be familiar to fans of the E network’s Total Divas, perhaps the most popular WWE stars of this era John Cena. Cena detailed a story about spending time with Hulk Hogan and how a fan excitedly reminisced to the Hulkster a story about “being there” at Wrestlemania 3, a 1987 event famous for Hogan lifting up and slamming Andre the Giant. It dawned on Cena after hearing this that the magic of events like Wrestlemania is “being there” and put in a plug telling us how we can all “be there” at Wrestlemania, thanks to the WWE Network.
I’ll be at an apartment on the Upper West Side watching on TV for the ‘Mania, but thanks to this press conference, I got a little taste of the magic of “being there” today.