The champs are here
The biggest WrestleMania weekend in history has come to a close, but the fallout is likely to keep filling up social media feeds and online message boards for a few days yet. This year, GamesRadar flew out to Dallas for a day at WWE Axxess and four solid nights of wrestling action encompassing NXT TakeOver: Dallas, the WWE Hall Of Fame ceremony, WrestleMania 32 and Monday Night Raw, more affectionately known these days as Raw After Mania.
There’s much more to the wrestling-packed weekend than what you’ll find on TV, however, which is why I scoured the city and talked with some of the biggest superstars in the business to bring you the ins and outs of the WrestleMania weekend that you don’t get to see from your sofa.
WWE wanted to dictate the crowd’s involvement
“Applause” signs are nothing new to TV – they’re staples of studio shows from decades back. WWE even uses its own applause prompts during its annual Hall Of Fame ceremony, held the night before WrestleMania, to indicate the end of video packages for the crowd for smooth transitions in and out of speeches. But at WrestleMania 32, WWE tried taking a leaf out of some American sports teams’ playbooks to spark certain chants during specific points of matches.
During The New Day’s battle against The League Of Nations, the big screens hanging above the ring encouraged the audience to start the “New Day Rocks” chants, though the smark-heavy crowd didn’t want to play along. Whenever Charlotte Flair went for the Figure-Four or the Figure-Eight in her triple threat bout for the new WWE Women’s Championship, a “Woooooooo!” appeared on-screen. And during the Lesnar/Ambrose match, the screen kept count of the number of suplexes. If you’re wondering why fans kept chanting “ten” over and over, it’s because the screen was late with this particular prompt.
The merchandise gets better and better…
From RustleMania Ranch shirts (depicting the biggest superstars as cartoon bulls) to boxes of BootyO’s (see later), the Axxess Superstore continues to improve more and more every year. Entire stands of WWE POP! Funko figures proved popular – the Ultimate Warrior’s amazing figure is our pick of the bunch, while those with wallets to rival Shane O’Mac could splash out hundreds of dollars on full-sized replica belts and signed paraphernalia
However, the highlight of the official WWE merchandise options was found outside of the Superstore. Painter Rob Schamberger began as a fan of WWE, but now he’s billed as “The Artist Of Champions” and his stand showcased some of the brilliant work available at the WWE Shop.
…Apart from when it gets worse
Awesome merchandise doesn’t mean it’s a total slam dunk for the WWE crew, though. Not every shirt design was a classic, and Brock Lesnar’s POP! Funko figure looked remarkably like a giant baby.
The main offender? It was nestled at the back of the WWE Superstore. Absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the shock of coming face to face with what can only be described as a John Cena death mask. It’s okay John – we’re fine with not seeing you if this is what you look like.
Money In The Banned
Fans at Axxess could buy themselves a replica of the golden Money In The Bank briefcase – used by WWE superstars to ‘cash-in’ a contract for an instant WWE Heavyweight Championship match – for $75. However, it came with a stipulation: the briefcase was banned from the AT&T Stadium and WrestleMania itself.
Though Roman Reigns was struck by a briefcase thrown by a fan during a show in August, it doesn’t appear as if the briefcase was barred to avoid a repeat situation. We actually spotted some on sale at stands inside the arenas this weekend. Instead, it’s stadium policy to not allow certain bag types, or indeed any briefcases, through the security checkpoints. Yet that didn’t stop plenty of people showing up with briefcases in tow, who were promptly turned away and forced to return to their cars to drop it off – or leave it behind.
The row over the WWE 2K17 cover has begun
This year, GamesRadar spoke with more than 20 superstars, and many of them – as you’d expect – staked a claim for why they (or the man they’re advocating, in the case of Paul Heyman) should be on the cover. The New Day, Ryback, Zack Ryder, Emma, The Miz, The Dudley Boyz and Finn Balor all want the glory for themselves
But plenty think others are more deserving, too. Sami Zayn believes Seth Rollins’ run as champion makes him deserving of the next cover; Kevin Owens reckons The New Day’s rise from a stable the crowd ignored to the most entertaining group in WWE earns them the right of WWE 2K17 glory; Hall Of Famer Jake The Snake Roberts is a fan of Bray Wyatt and hopes to see him take the spot; and Kalisto, who retained his US Championship at the WrestleMania Pre-Show, would love to see an Eddie Guerrero tribute cover and Career mode.
WWE’s life-sized cutouts aren’t life-sized
WWE had scattered life-sized standees of its biggest superstars all over Axxess, primarily as decorations inside the queue lines for the different autograph opportunities (though during my journey backstage I spied one solitary Ryback left surveying a corridor where nobody could admire him). Or… did they?
While the standees were most definitely there, we wouldn’t call them life-sized. Not unless Dean Ambrose is pushing closer to seven feet than six, or Brock Lesnar is comfortably smaller than most of the roster. Why wouldn’t they be the right height? I have no idea.
Your audio feed wasn’t accurate
If you watched WrestleMania on the WWE Network or on PPV, you probably didn’t get a true sense of the crowd noise, which was definitely muted for some of the broadcast. In particular, the reaction to Roman Reigns’ entrance and nearly every offensive move was a cacophony of boos and, going by our ears, the audible cheers on the WWE Network after his victory didn’t appear to be coming from inside the arena.
But to give WWE the benefit of the doubt, we don’t think it was just a simple case of turning down the microphones for only the main event. Every speech suffered from noticeable reverb, suggesting the tech crew had to juggle audio issues all event long and change mic levels throughout for the live broadcast. I've rewatched parts of the event on the WWE Network and the pops for, say, Shane O’Mac diving off the top of Hell In A Cell sounded a lot less impressive on tape than the live reaction from inside the AT&T Stadium.
BootyO’s aren’t that nutritious
One of the biggest selling T-shirts at WrestleMania belonged to The New Day, which came inside a cardboard box for BootyO’s – “The perfect way to start The New Day.” But the BootyO’s box had another function, too: a giant version doubled as the entrance for The New Day’s WrestleMania 32 match.
What you probably didn’t see on the side of their entrance box is the Easter egg-esque ingredients panel. More than just housing Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods, it transpires BootyO’s also contain a host of random items, including JBL’s Hat, Howard Finkel’s Voice, Lucha Masks, Turnbuckle Pads, Papa Shango’s Voodoo, Santino’s Cobra, Uranium and Getting Lost In The Woods.
Everybody loves beach balls
Raw After Mania is notorious for its raucous crowd, which has a history of hijacking shows with Mexican waves and chants unrelated to the in-ring action. This year things were a touch quieter and more disciplined than in recent years, though still zany enough to disrupt select segments. While an early Mexican wave fizzed out during the tag team title match, it was an infatuation with beach balls that distracted the crowd the most
When an inflatable ball was knocked from the top tier, the crowd cheered every punch into the air and booed every drop. And when security took it away, the booing was soon replaced by cries of “asshole.” More balls followed, and when the supply dried up the crowd wasn’t done, chanting things such as “Let’s go beach ball/Beach balls suck.”
Hall Of Fame seat plans aren’t what you’d think
While interviewing superstars on the red carpet at this year’s Hall Of Fame, I had a good chance to take in the superstar seating arrangements, and you might be surprised at who sat where.
I didn’t spot any last-minute, hand-written names this year (clearly WWE had learned from the 2015 event), but we were shocked at the seating priorities. The printed A4 sheets taped to each chair revealed that spots for JR and Undertaker were way at the back of the red carpet area, many rows behind chairs for the likes of Sin Cara, Sami Zayn, Summer Rae, Tyler Breeze and David Otunga.
Kofi Kingston is the gaming champ
Before WWE TakeOver: Dallas took place on Friday night (a peerless show that was easily the highlight of the entire weekend), UpUpDownDown host Xavier Woods live-streamed a new edition of his YouTube show from inside WWE Axxess to determine the next 2K champion. Title holder Woods didn’t take part, and instead emceed as his tag partners Kofi Kingston and Big E faced off against Jimmy and Jey Uso in semi-finals for WWE 2K16 glory.
Sadly for the Usos, The New Day knew their stuff and it wasn’t long before both Kingston and Big E were duking it out in the final for all the beans. Kofi played as Brock Lesnar and Big E, who secretly palmed the pad off to his fan ‘manager’ for assistance, chose Cesaro. Ultimately, it was Kofi who scored the win after a german suplex and a pinfall, making him the new 2K champion. We can’t say we were surprised – Kingston also tasted glory back in 2009 when THQ used to run the Superstar Challenge.
WWE can’t do puns
The multi-day WWE Axxess was home to more stories than we could possibly list. From the bizarre realisation that Alicia Fox’s autograph queue was more than double the length of that belonging to Hall Of Famer Larry Zbyszko’s, to the clutch of fans outside “WHAT?-ing” street preachers, there was a lot to take in. However, one part in particular caught my eye.
In one corner of Axxess, near the community partners area and the WWE memorabilia wing, I found this particular attraction. Its name? “Rock Wall.” Surely that should have been The Rock Wall, WWE? No? Perhaps that would have meant royalties to Dwayne Johnson would have kicked in, but a pun that good would have deserved that investment…
The numbers of WrestleMania
How many people attended WrestleMania in Dallas’ AT&T Stadium? According to The Rock, who showed up towards the end of the marquee event, 101,763 were in attendance – a number has been questioned by others in the wrestling media, who claim figures closer to 94,000 fans are closer to the truth. Either way, the show set a new attendance record for a WrestleMania crowd that spent over $17 million at the gate, and who witnessed a near seven-hour event that overran its scheduled end time by a staggering 51 minutes and 57 seconds
Such an overrun would normally be a problem for the PPV suppliers, but these days WWE’s most focused on its WWE Network business. And here it’s set a new record, too: 1.82 million subscribers by the time WrestleMania took place marked a new high for the service, up 39% from the night after 2015’s WrestleMania. Those subscribers bore witness to more records at the show: a six-second Rock victory against Erick Rowan (the fastest ever for a ’Mania match), and Shane McMahon diving off a Hell In A Cell. We’ve seen people plunge from the smaller cells of old, but this insane leap was off the taller, 20ft structure.
Finally, we have the number five: the correct number of results out of the ten total matches that we simulated in WWE 2K16 to generate our WrestleMania 32 weekend predictions last week. That represents a 50% success rate for the game (it correctly called wins for Kalisto, Brock Lesnar, Undertaker, Roman Reigns and Finn Balor), though given that the eventual Intercontinental ladder match champion Zack Ryder wasn’t even taking part in our simulation, it’s only fair to wipe that match from the record books and award 2K a 56% success rate. Not a bad end result for the official videogame of WWE.