Let's take a trip into the weird world of professional wrestling with entertainment editor John Turnbull, who checks out the biggest WWE pay-per-view of the year and an independent promotion with little money but lots of heart.
WWE WrestleMania 35
For better or worse, I am old enough to remember the first ever WrestleMania, held back in 1985 at Madison Square Garden. That historic event pitted Hulk Hogan and Mr T against Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff in front of almost 20,000 rabid fans, and set the path for WrestleMania to become the biggest event in the weird pseudo-sport that is pro wrestling. The entire event ran for 1 hour and 54 minutes, which is probably a reasonable amount of time for a wrestling show.
Fast forward 34 years, and WrestleMania 35 has blown out to over five hours, plus a couple of hours of pre-show matches if you’re really into competitive cuddling. Held at MetLife Stadium in scenic New Jersey, the main show included a dozen matches, featuring larger-than-life characters such as Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Triple H in a glossy, super-slick production.
Kicking off with UFC monster Brock Lesnar taking on the far smaller Seth Rollins for the WWE Universal Championship, the event set a pattern for unlikely wins, with Rollins walking away with the victory in just over 2 minutes. The upsets continued, as fan-favourite Kofi Kingston beat vegan eco-warrior Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship (yes, there are a lot of different championship belts in WWE), becoming the first ever wrestler from Africa to hold the title. Aussie tag duo the IIconics (Billie Kay and Peyton Royce) won a four-way match to win the Women’s tag belts, and non-wrestler (and heir to the WWE business) Shane McMahon won a Falls Count Anywhere match against The Miz.
While the production values of Wrestlemania are top notch, some of the booking choices are a little odd, such as bringing back former wrestler turned actor Dave Bautista to take on Triple H — only to have his nose ring torn out with a pair of pliers. On the upside, for the first time ever, the main event featured female wrestlers as Becky Lynch won the WWE Women’s title from former UFC champ Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair in a triple threat match.
Almost as exhausting for the viewers as the wrestlers themselves, the event finally concluded after 5 hours and 23 minutes. You would think this would be enough pro wrestling for anyone but, apparently, you’d be wrong…
MLW Battle Riot 2
Despite what their name might suggest, Major League Wrestling is definitely the minor leagues, particularly when compared to the behemoth that is WWE. On the upside, now is probably the best time in history to be running an independent wrestling promotion, with the impending launch of All Elite Wrestling threatening to shake up Vince McMahon’s monopoly of the business.
Held at the Melrose Ballroom in New York, Battle Riot 2 in centred around a 40 person elimination match similar to WWE’s Royal Rumble, with the twist that there are no disqualifications and foreign objects (like chairs, tables, screwdrivers) are all legal. A new wrestler enters the ring each minute, with eliminations being by pin, submission, or being thrown over the top rope. While this might sound like a shambles (and is at times, to be fair) it’s also pretty entertaining, particularly with personalities like the 190kg behemoth Barrington Hughes, the high-flying Lucha Bros (Pentagon Jr and Fenix) and MMA pioneer Dan "the Beast" Severn.
Running for 1 hour and 48 minutes, Battle Riot 2 only features 4 matches, starting with the MLW Middleweight title match between Teddy Hart and Ace Austin. Once heralded as the "next big thing" in pro-wrestling due to his athleticism and connection to famous Canadian wrestling dynasty the Hart family, Teddy Hart made a series of poor life choices (mostly involving drugs) that rendered him unemployable by WWE. Still, he didn’t let this stop him and has been wrestling around the independent circuit for the last 15 years, partnering with legacy wrestlers Davey Boy Smith Jr and Brian Pillman Jr as the New Hart Foundation.
Produced with a fraction of Wrestlemania’s budget, Battle Riot 2 showcases a different side of pro wrestling — packed with passionate wrestlers who are too small, too fat, too old or simply too weird to fit into WWE. It’s oddly compelling.
Pro wrestling isn’t for everyone — that much is certain. There’s a good chance that the majority of IA readers skipped this article altogether, as many people consider wrestling a freakshow only fit for kids or people with summer teeth. Still, when you consider that WWE brought in revenues of around $1 billion USD last year, you have to admit that wrestling is big business, along with being a cultural "guilty pleasure", equivalent to the likes of Married At First Sight.
Despite the millions spent on production, WWE remains a rather soulless affair, with little genuine emotion on display. MLW, on the other hand, is all about emotion. Rather than being on six figure contracts, many of the wresters are working for what amounts to minimum wage, putting their bodies on the line to entertain.
From a cost perspective, MLW wins all the way, as it’s free to view on YouTube. If you’re so inclined, you can subscribe to the WWE Network for around $12 per month, which gets you access to thousands of hours of content from the last 35 years, weekly shows and pay-per-views.
Wrestlemania 35: 6/10
MLW Battle Riot 2: 7/10
Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Damnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).
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