TAMPA — This is the first year that Tampa hosts WrestleMania, but the area has always dominated the wrestling industry’s biggest event.
The men’s heavyweight title is the center of WWE storylines. Although outcomes are predetermined, holding or competing for that championship belt means the performer is trusted to “carry the ball” for the entertainment company, WWE Hall of Famer Gerald Brisco said.
“Everyone who gets into wrestling wants to be the heavyweight champion for the WWE,” said the area resident. “Wrestling in the title match at WrestleMania, what we call the greatest stage of them all, is the biggest deal.”
Including this year’s two-night event April 10 and 11 at Raymond James Stadium, there have been 37 WrestleMania cards. A Tampa Bay area wrestler has either defended or competed for a world heavyweight title on at least 28 of those.
“That’s pretty crazy,” WWE performer Drew McIntyre said. “That’s an interesting number of times.”
McIntyre, who lives locally, accounts for two of the cards. He won the WWE championship at last year’s WrestleMania by defeating Brock Lesnar and seeks to win it from champion Bobby Lashley this year.
“It’s like starring in the biggest movie of the year,” McIntyre said. “WrestleMania is our Super Bowl, our World Series, our World Cup. This is the premiere event.”
He is not the only local in a WrestleMania men’s heavyweight title match this year.
Two heavyweight championships are being defended, with the other being the universal title currently held by area resident Roman Reigns. He will fight Edge and Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 37.
A heavyweight title was not defended at the inaugural WrestleMania in 1985, but area resident Hulk Hogan was the champion and performed in a tag team match alongside actor Mr. T against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff, also a local at the time.
When including years in which there were two or three heavyweight titles or a single championship was defended twice, a men’s heavyweight title has been on the line 55 times at a WrestleMania, by Tampa Bay Times count, and area wrestlers have performed in at least 36 of those matches.
In all, at least 15 area wrestlers have been in a men’s heavyweight title match at a WrestleMania.
Counting this year’s card:
⋅ John Cena has done so the most times with eight. (2005-2011, 2013)
⋅ Next is Hogan with six. (1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993)
⋅ Edge had four as a resident before moving away. (2008-2011)
⋅ Dave Bautista also had four. (2005, 2007, 2010, 2014)
⋅ The Undertaker (1997), the late Eddie Guerrero (2004), Sheamus (2012), Jack Swagger (2013), Bray Wyatt (2017) and Kofi Kingston (2019) each competed for a heavyweight title once at a WrestleMania while area residents. The Undertaker competed for a title in other years but lived elsewhere.
Locals have squared off for a heavyweight title on at least four WrestleMania cards: Hogan vs. Savage in 1989, Bautista vs. Cena and Jericho vs. Edge in 2010 when there were two titles, and Edge vs. Cena vs. Big Show in 2009.
Why do so many professional wrestling stars reside in the area?
Brisco said this area once was known as the “mecca of wrestling.” Before the WWE was a global promotion, states and regions had their own wrestling territories. Championship Wrestling from Florida was based out of Tampa from the 1960s through 1980s.
“Wrestlers in those days always wanted to work in Florida,” Barry Rose, an archivist of Florida professional wrestling history, said, because it was “a very attractive place to live.”
Tampa stars known globally included Brisco and his brother Jack, Terry and Dory Funk, Dusty Rhodes, Kevin Sullivan, Boris Malenko and Buddy Colt.
The promotion’s boss, Eddie Graham, made sure the wrestlers were involved in the community, Brisco said, typically by volunteering for charities that help kids.
“The locals began respecting us and seeing us as part of the community,” said Brisco, who also worked as a talent scout for the WWE. “They became used to seeing us around, so we were all comfortable living here. Then future generations wanted to live here, too.”
Retired wrestler and area resident Steve Keirn said another reason is because he is “the best in the world at what I do.”
Keirn was the promoter of the Tampa-based Florida Championship Wrestling that served as the WWE’s training ground from 2007-2012 before the WWE Performance Center was established for that purpose in Orlando.
Reigns, Sheamus, Swagger and McIntyre are among the WrestleMania stars Keirn trained.
“When I talk to students, I talk about more than wrestling,” Keirn said. “I talk about attitude, humbleness and how to plan their life. I talk to them about staying in Tampa because of a lack of state income tax.”
Tampa realtor Vincent Acuri, whose WrestleMania clients include The Undertaker, Jericho, Edge, Bautista and Big Show, said Tampa International Airport is another of the area’s selling points.
“These guys travel the world, so our airport is great for them,” he said. “Other airports can be a nightmare. In Tampa, you can land and be home in 20 minutes. That’s a big reason why they live here.”
McIntyre said what attracted him was the warm weather in an area with cities that he considers the most relaxing in the state.
“I come from Scotland. The weather there’s terrible, really cold,” he said. “Here, it’s sunshine all the time and palm trees all the time. No one’s in a rush to get anywhere. It’s so friendly. There are beaches on your doorstep.”
All of that, McIntyre said, might also be why so many area wrestlers have been starred at WrestleMania. “You’re not stressed out here. You’ve got a clear picture in your head what you want to achieve, what you want to get done and you get it done.”
April 10-11, Raymond James Stadium
Notable: Hulk Hogan and Titus O’Neil will host the two-night event, which will stream live exclusively on Peacock. Tickets are on sale now at Ticketmaster.com.