NXT, Hall Of Fame, Axxess, WrestleMania, Raw: even for the most ardent of WWE Network addicts, the hottest weekend on the wrestling calendar can be a challenging one to keep up with. For four days, an entire city becomes over-run with 6 ft beastmen, beautiful divas and passionate fans, all wanting their super-sized slice of the sumptuous WWE cake. And as youll very shortly learn, that cake is an actual thing.
See, GamesRadar headed to San Jose ostensibly to talk video games with the likes of Xavier Woods and Sami Zayn, but couldnt help noticing numerous happenings that go far beyond the realm of WWE 2K15, Monday Night Raw, and Seth Rollins shocking title win at Mania. Here, then, are the 13 must-read secrets from our time spent in Silicon Valley including Ronda Rouseys love for Dragon Ball Z and Paiges admission that she too is a secret glutton
Xavier Woods is probably a more hardcore gamer than you
The New Day hasnt done much of note since its debut last year. Despite that, trio member Xavier Woods might have just anointed himself GamesRadars favourite wrestler. Away from the ring, hes living his WWE dream exactly as we would. I have a briefcase that I carry with me when I travel, with a built-in 19-inch TV, he reveals. My PS4 straps inside along with the controllers and cords. When I get to hotels I pop that open, I get on the internet, and I play Final Fantasy XIV until I pass out.
I wasnt very social as a kid, but video games were a good way for me to connect with other kids. I was obsessed with everything from Nintendo onwards Mario, Duck Hunt and I still have my regular NES. I even had a Virtual Boy but that thing gives me migraines, so I had to get rid of it. His favourite game ever? Mario Kart: Double Dash on the Gamecube. If they put all the options from that into modern Mario Kart, the online game would be unreal.
There is a Championship cake, and it is (justifiably) very expensive
WWE wrestlers were housed in the Fairmont Hotel, eight miles from the hosting Levis Stadium, for the weekend. To enjoy a drink at the bar on any given evening was to live out every fans dream: Bret Hart and Natalya catching up with family and friends, The Miz and Maryse beaming with Hollywood smiles, John Cenas dad enthusiastically congratulating Rusev and Lana on their bout with his son in the hours after Mania. And then there was the cake.
Specially commissioned by the hotel and designed to mimic the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, this calorific wonder greeted wrestlers and fans alike upon entry to the building. It contained 50 pounds of dark chocolate, with red fondant and gold and silver dust added for that final jewel-like flourish. And it was being sold off after the show to raise money for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, at a cool $1500. Presumably delicious, /and/ made for a good cause? That is our kind of elevenses.
Enzo, Big Cass, and Carmella are definitely the next big thing
Friday night saw San Jose State University host a three-hour NXT show featuring what WWE hopes will be its WrestleMania headliners of the future. Japanese import Hideo Itami and Irishman Finn Balor got understandably loud reactions from the 5,000 strong crowd (who seemed especially well-fuelled thanks to an unconventional 10pm start time), but it was New Jersey trio Enzo Amore, Colin Cassidy and Carmella that popped the audience loudest. The trio's call-and-refrain entrance shtick echoes The New Age Outlaws, packing in more catchphrases than Roy Walker. Booked right, this unconventional trio can be huge on the main roster.
Also evident from the show: divas Charlotte, Sasha, Bayley and Becky Lynch are already good enough to compete believably with big stage ladies Paige, AJ Lee and Nikki Bella; Itami's future looks secure now that he's reclaimed the GTS finisher borrowed by CM Punk; and Rhyno, the former ECW favourite defeated by Baron Corbin mid-way through this particular card, still has plenty of gore in the tank.
Moving from NXT to the main roster? Sami Zayn says he's ready
With former indie favourite El Generico now better known to NXT fans as Sami Zayn hotly tipped for a main roster debut on Raw which never materialised, GamesRadar was surprised to hear him cut a promo on Friday night in which he stated he was sticking around to reclaim the NXT title from Kevin Owens. Yet he categorically refuted our suggestion that hes content to stay on the main rosters periphery.
Im not in a rush. This time last year, everyone was telling me I cant wait until youre on the main roster, but this year Im hearing much more of I love you on NXT, he explains. But Ill never be happy being sedentary. As long as Im with NXT my goal is to be champion and leave a void here that when I leave either cant be filled or is very difficult to fill. The goal is always to move forward. GamesRadars prediction? A WWE call-up and secondary title run (imagine an Intercontinental showdown with Daniel Bryan) at Summerslam.
The Warrior's wardrobe is a thing of poignant beauty
WWE Axxess at the San Jose Convention Center featured Superstar signings (and ginormous queues for Superstar singings) with close to the entire roster, in addition to the ability to step inside the 16-foot high, ten-ton Elimination Chamber (although security was stepped up after one attention-seeking twonk decided to climb the structure). Its big pull, however, was a curtained-off Hall Of Fame showcase, packed with items familiar to fans young and old.
The casket bearing Brock Lesnars name which went up in flames before his WM30 contest with Undertaker was there, next to the real European and Smoking Skull title belts, and countless outfits worn by Randy Savage most of them signed. Fans also delighted in being photographed next to a daunting life-sized statue of Andre The Giant. Most humbling were the many items taken from Ultimate Warriors always kaleidoscopic wardrobe, including poignantly the coat he wore for his final Raw appearance, just two days before his untimely passing last April.
WWE merchandise is actually cool now
Wrestling fans have long accepted that WWE merch is a bit naff. Shirts with noisy (and often senseless) slogans on the rear made of heavy material that takes on twice its own weight the instant you add a single drop of sweat have been a company mainstay for longer than Howard The Fink Finkel. It never stopped us from buying them; but you had to accept a cloud of existential sadness would accompany every wearing.
Well, not this year. Packed with more than 600 items, the WWE Superstore in downtown San Jose showcased an array of shirt designs that could be worn in public without the threat of city-wide laughter. (The Mecha Powers tee featuring AI versions of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage? Oh goodness, yes.) Not only that, the $35 tees on show boasted a lighter, thinner material which enabled us to enjoy Mania in comfort //as well as// looking relatively normal. It was an experience almost as miraculous as that main event finish.
Macho Fan Danny Savage is our new favourite cosplayer
WrestleMania weekend tends to be a festival of cosplay. Spotted at Axxess alone were a pint-sized AJ fan wearing matching garb who could have passed for her sister (it felt un-PC to request a photo), and three huge dudes in full-on Shield attire including bandanas across their mouths whod have been arrested for intimidating the public if they went out dressed like that in Croydon.
42-year-old Danny from Sacramento was our favourite, however. In addition to looking (a bit) like Macho Man, he had the voice and mannerisms down pat. Hes been attending events as a Randy Savage looklike for ten years, and has seven Macho-style outfits, all of them self-created. It takes about two months to make one outfit, and its not as expensive as you think. Its the belts that are expensive. Do we sort of want him to make us one ahead of Mania 32 in Dallas next year? Ohhhhh yeeeah.
The WWE Hall Of Fame: beware paper cuts
Though some mock its legitimacy the Bushwhackers, really? - WWEs annual Hall Of Fame ceremony has become a fixture of WrestleMania weekend. Glitz and glamour is laid on thick, with wrestlers and divas kitted out in all manner of designer suits and expensive gowns. The thing you dont see on camera: their front row seats are reserved using nothing more than names on pieces of paper, just as yours might be at a local theatre for an amateur production of Battlefield: The Musical.
While we might lament Luke and Butchs induction, one Hall Of Fame entrant deserves every last ounce of recognition. Connor The Crusher Michalek, a young wrestling superfan who passed away from brain cancer at just eight years old, was inducted via a series of moving speeches from Ultimate Warriors wife Dana, Daniel Bryan, and his father Steve. It was a stirring reminder of how this fake sport touches very real lives, with the male bravado so commonplace among wrestling fans replaced by humility and tears throughout much of the speeches.
MMA star Ronda Rousey might be the hardest geek around
17 minutes, 23 seconds. Thats the total amount of time it would take for you to sit through Ronda Rouseys catalogue of UFC fights, all of them wins. Its unsurprising, then, that the most dominant woman on the planet got a near-deafening reaction from the 70,000-plus crowd when shown on the big screen at WrestleMania. But this was a mere hint at what was to come.
Rousey later joined The Rock in the ring to send cocky ownership duo Triple H and Stephanie McMahon packing and she did it wearing a Dragon Ball Z T-shirt. As reported by Kotaku (opens in new tab), away from the Octagon Rousey is a huge World Of Warcraft fan, and also used to moderate a Pokemon forum. Theres always been a crossover between wresting and games, but this goes down as the most high profile example ever. The only way it can be topped? Goldberg returning at Summerslam in a Cloud Strife tee.
Paige hearts America. Particularly the cake
Anyone whos seen the fantastic Fighting With My Family doc showcasing the Knights of Norfolk will be aware of Norwich lass and two-time Divas champ Paiges initial struggles with homesickness on arrival in Orlando. Id lived by myself in England, but here it was so different, she tells GamesRadar. Im different from the rest of the girls, and they werent very nice to me for the first six months. They were very territorial. I got a lot of crap, and was crying every night on Skype.
She says the turning point was realising she wasnt here to make friends, and in the 18 months since has grown to love her adoptive homeland. Great food, great company, great people. You get to see so much more than in the England. Desert, mountains. and the weathers a little bit better, isnt it? As for the American thing she loves most: I enjoy the junk food, Im a big cheesecake fiend. When I came over here I put on 40lbs of cheesecake weight. If only we could look similarly svelte after a twelve-pack of Krispy Kremes.
The old guard teases a Raw appearance, but all the young dudes shine in the end
At a Fairmont Hotel conference call to promote WWE 2K15 on Monday morning, Hulk Hogan openly told journalists that he was meeting Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in the afternoon to go over plans for that nights Raw. But when the time came, both his NWO troupe and rivals DX whod received huge ovations from the crowd when interrupting Sting vs Triple H at WrestleMania were absent. So too Trips, Undertaker, The Rock, and Bret Hart, all of whom had appeared the previous night.
Instead, on what is essentially the start of a new WWE season, younger bucks and beauties were given a chance the shine, with sparkling results. Every match delivered. Lucha Dragons and Geordie high-flyer Nevilles aerial prowess shone through on their official debuts; both title bouts (Bryan vs Ziggler and Cena vs Ambrose) could believably have headlined most pay-per-views; and despite some unnecessarily base chants regarding their sexual preferences, the six-woman tag bout showcased particularly strong work from Natalya, Naomi, Paige and AJ, proving that the #givedivasachance hashtag has turned heads backstage. A sign that WWE finally recognises wresting fans love /wrestling/? We can but hope.
NXT-amania is running wild
A full four days after the San Jose State University show, city-wide fan love for NXT showed no sign of dying down. GamesRadar saw more grown men wearing Bayley T-shirts than those bearing many main roster stars, even before AJ Lee adorned that particular purple-and-yellow garment on Raw. Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens merch was omnipresent, too.
Then there were the chants outside hotels, while waiting to head inside Mania and the Hall Of Fame, and incredibly throughout the six-man main event of Raw. Bayley, Zayn and Owens were clamoured for alongside Hideo Itami, Tyler Breeze and Sasha Banks, as veterans Big Show and Kane looked exasperated (and Randy Orton furious). But while the big names mightnt like it, this fan love for its next wave of stars is exactly what WWE needs. Adam Rose and Bo Dallas floundered on the main roster as NXTs cult-like popularity hadnt reached wrestling fans wider conscience. Now the opposite is true, and names like Owens and Finn Balor should be instant stars as a result.
WrestleMania 31 in numbers
WWE announced the live attendance as 76,976, which, to our eyes, seemed slightly exaggerated. The stadium was sold out, but one entire side of it housed three massive video screens and the entrance way. Including the pre-show, 39 men and four ladies competed, 9 of them pulling double duty. With 23 matches and 22 wins Undertaker remains the most experienced, and successful, WrestleMania combatant. 11 wrestlers or divas actively participated at Mania for the first time, among them Sting, Paige, Rusev and Hideo Itami.
Three belts changed hands: Daniel Bryan scored his first Intercontinental title victory, while John Cenas US Championship triumph kicks off his fourth reign with that particular strap. The total wrestling time on the show was two hours, six minutes and 51 seconds, with Sting vs Triple H having the longest match from bell to bell, at 18 minutes and 36 seconds.
In the bank
That then, was WrestleMania weekend. Wed love to know your views on the event itself, as you saw it back at home. Match of the evening? To our eyes, the honour goes to the Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns main event, chiefly for the impromptu, unconventional title-winning introduction of new world champ Seth Rollins. And that ladder match. Good Lord, that ladder match...
Want more wrassle-related content? Check out our interview with Kenny Omega, the wrestler every gamer should know (opens in new tab), and then join us as we muse upon 7 great new uses for the WWE license (that dont actually involve wrestling) (opens in new tab).