WrestleMania rocks New York
In the words of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: Finally, WrestleMania has come back to the New York area.
This Sunday, the WWE brings its marquee wrestling event to MetLife Stadium, not far from Madison Square Garden, where three previous WrestleManias — including the first one — were held.
And Johnson, doing double duty as the People’s Champion and the WWE Champion, will face off against John Cena in a title match — and that’s just one of the 10 matches announced so far for the event.
Also on the card are showdowns for the World Championship belt, the WWE Tag Team belts and a retirement match between Triple H and Brock Lesnar.
While those matches are certainly main-event worthy, one of the most talked about showdowns pits CM Punk, who is coming off a more than yearlong run as WWE Champion, versus The Undertaker, one of the company’s most successful wrestlers ever, and owner of a spotless 20-0 record at WrestleManias.
Not that it matters to Punk.
“I don’t want anybody to get bent out of shape with this answer,” he says.
“WrestleMania is the biggest show of the year and I take it very seriously. It really almost doesn’t matter who I’m in the ring with. … The fact that I’m across the ring from The Undertaker — for me, that doesn’t make it any better or worse.”
NYC: A wrestling town
There’s a famous story in the world of professional wrestling from Mick Foley, the legendary wrestler and soon-to-be Hall of Famer, who hitchhiked from SUNY Cortland to see a match between Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and Don Muraco in October 1983 at Madison Square Garden.
“When you talk about ‘can’t miss TV,’ you can miss it. You can record it,” Foley jokes. “But for me, Madison Square Garden shows truly were ‘can’t miss’ events.”
It’s no surprise that “The World’s Most Famous Arena” would house the first WrestleMania in 1985, the 10th in 1994 and the 20th in 2004.
“For so many years, Madison Square Garden was the standard for professional wrestling,” Foley says.
The grappler recounts a quote from WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, which was told to him by his father, a pioneering wrestling promoter of what would become the WWE.
“He had a very simple, but very profound [statement]. His father said to him, ‘Vinny, the Garden will always be the Garden.’”
Beyond the three WrestleMania’s, MSG has also housed eight other major WWE events, including three SummerSlams, three Survivor Series and a pair of Royal Rumbles. That’s not counting countless other cards dating back to the 1960s, including a bunch of tapings of “WWE Monday Night Raw” and “WWE Smackdown.”
“Raw,” also has its origins in NYC, having been filmed at the Manhattan Center at 34th Street and Eighth Avenue. It was also a frequent venue in the 1990s and beyond for upstart federation ECW, which was eventually acquired by the WWE. The center continues to house wrestling events, but typically for the smaller federations. It will house Ring of Honor’s “Supercard of honor VII” on Friday at Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom and a TV taping on Saturday in the Grand Ballroom.
Honoring the greats
While WrestleMania is being held in New Jersey, the WWE hasn’t forgotten MSG. The venue will be housing the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday, where Foley and five others will be enshrined.
Joining Foley — who during his career has also wrestled under the names Cactus Jack, Dude Love and Mankind — are an impressive collection of former champions and one celebrity inductee: Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund, Booker T, Trish Stratus and Donald Trump.
“I’d hate to be an entrant in the class of 2014,” Foley says. “Whenever I was asked who should be in the WWE Hall of Fame, my two answers were always Bruno and Bob Backlund. To get one of them would have been stunning, let alone both.
These two held the WWE Championship longer than any two other individuals.”
Punk considers Sammartino, Backlund and Foley to be “main event guys.”
“I think … those guys are important to the business,” Punk says.
As for Trump’s qualifications, Punk points out that a pair of WrestleManias were held at Trump Towers in Atlantic City, and that Trump was part of the main event at WrestleMania 23.
How to watch: WrestleMania 29 is at MetLife Stadium on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. $50-$2,000. You can also watch it on on pay-per-view or streaming online. Go to wwe.com for more information.
Hall of Fame Entrants
This legend holds two unbreakable records: Longest reign as champion in consecutive years (7) and overall years (11). (Inducted by Arnold Schwarzenegger)
Foley has held the championship belt, tag team belts and was the first hardcore champion. (Inducted by Terry Funk)
Backlund held the championship belt for an impressive five years. (Inducted by Maria Menounos)
This bombshell was a seven-time holder of the Women’s Championship belt and is one of the most popular female wrestlers ever. (Inducted by Stephanie McMahon)
Currently the General Manager of “WWE SmackDown,” Booker has held a slew of belts including the WCW World Tag Team Belt 11 times. (Inducter TBD)
WrestleMania IV and V were held at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, and he won “The Battle of the Billionaires” at WrestleMania 23. (Inducted by Vince McMahon)
WrestleMania weekend events
Besides WrestleMania, there are a tons of wrestling events going on around the city:
Roast of the Iron Sheik (Carolines, sold out)
Hulk Hogan Uncensored (Beacon Theatre, $30-$50)
WWE Hall of Fame 2013 (MSG, $55-$105)
ROH Wrestling TV Taping (Manhattan Center, $20)
Shenanigans in the Concrete Jungle Meet & Greet with Kevin Nash (Hotel Pennsylvania, 10 p.m., $40)