TAMPA — BIG. That’s how World Wrestling Entertainment does everything.
Thursday’s slickly packaged and meticulously produced news conference announcing that Raymond James Stadium will host WrestleMania 36 in April 2020 was no exception. It had a script, entrance music and, of course, larger-than-life wrestling personalities. All that was missing were the body slams and elbow drops.
It was loud and grandiose — the bass was deep enough that it could have kickstarted a failing heart — and yet that’s exactly what you’d expect from WWE, the global sports entertainment juggernaut that for WrestleMania 33 in Orlando constructed an entrance stage that featured a full-scale roller coaster. Why? Because the event was billed as “The Ultimate Thrill Ride.”
Here are some takeaways from the announcement:
Tampa has never seen anything like a WrestleMania.
Sure, Tampa has hosted four Super Bowls (with a fifth to come in 2021), a college football national championship game and numerous high-profile musical acts such as Taylor Swift and U2.
“No Super Bowl compares to it. No concert compares to it. There’s nothing like it on Earth,” said Stephanie McMahon, WWE’s chief brand officer.
“The energy is palpable. It will make the hairs on your arms stand up. It will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It’s all of these people from all over the world sharing this one thing that they have in common, this passion for WrestleMania and celebrating that love all together.”
For many WWE performers, their careers started in a small gymnasium just down the road from Raymond James Stadium.
“I laced up my first pair of boots here,” said Charlotte Flair, a seven-time WWE women’s champion. “I learned how to hit the ropes here. My first match was here. I got my ring name here. So pretty much my career started here, and it’s come full circle.”
Roman will reign again.
A prediction: Tampa resident Roman Reigns will raise the WWE Universal Championship to close out the show.
This is too good of a story for it not to happen.
In October, Roman Reigns, whose real name is Joe Anoa’i, revealed during a broadcast of Raw that his leukemia had returned and that he would be relinquishing the Universal Championship so that he could undergo treatment. In late February, he returned to the ring to announce that he was in remission.
Expect WWE to lean even further into Reigns’ battle with cancer (it’s selling “We fight, we overcome, we believe” shirts online) and make it part of the on-camera drama as he seeks to regain the Universal Championship.
“For me, it would be an awesome feeling to represent Tampa as a local resident (in the main event of WrestleMania 36),” Reigns said. “But I think no matter what, WrestleMania is one of these events where it’s not just one main event. We have the fortunate ability to be able to put on multi main event card.”
“Popcorn matches” have become main event matches.
Matches between WWE’s female wrestlers used to dismissed and derided as “popcorn matches,” an opportunity to hit the food or merchandise stands. Not anymore. The female wrestlers are top draws and are headlining the weekly Raw and Smackdown shows as well as pay-per-views. In fact, the top bout at this year’s WrestleMania is expected to feature former mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey against Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch, though that storyline hasn’t completely played out on television just yet.
“Because I’m in it, it’s go, go, go, go, so I don’t really realize just how much has changed, but when I debuted on Raw my goal was to main event Raw, then to main event Smackdown, then to main event a pay-per-view,” Flair said. “The more WWE gives us, the more we deliver, and it’s just that we want it. We’re just running with the ball, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.”
About that 300-pound elephant in the room …
The news conference began with Hulk Hogan stepping through the curtain as his iconic Real American entrance music pulsated through the speakers.
When it comes crashing down, and it hurts inside
You can’t promote a Tampa WrestleMania without the 65-year-old Hulkster, right? He’s the Babe Ruth of professional wrestling. And this is his backyard. He grew up in South Tampa, went to Robinson High School and began his wrestling career in Florida.
Like movies, professional wrestling asks its audience to suspend disbelief, but are we supposed to forget about the 2015 sex tape and n-word scandal?
For the record, Hogan has apologized for using the racial slur.
"I’m not a racist, but I never should have said what I said. It was wrong. I’m embarrassed by it,” he said in a Good Morning America interview. “People need to realize that you inherit things from your environment. And where I grew up was South Tampa, and it was a really rough neighborhood, very low income. And all my friends, we greeted each other saying that word.”
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected]. Follow @tometrics.