I knew Wrestlemania would be great for the city of New Orleans, but I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the crowd that would show up. After the Wrestlemania fans spent the past three days in my neighborhood – I would invite them back anytime!
Since I had never been around a concentration of wrestling fans, my preconceived images of the crowd were based on stereotypes. There was a stereotype that did fit my preconception – but there was surprising diversity, too.
The people who came to New Orleans to experience Wrestlemania, sometimes called the Super Bowl of wrestling, were from rural America, urban America – many were bodybuilders. I was most surprised by the number of young, edgy people with tattoos and extreme hairstyles who would instantly be described as “punk rockers.” Wrestlemania also attracts people from all over the world and late last night I talked to a few guys who had come to New Orleans from Australia!
I admit, I had a condescending image of the fans that are so passionate about an event that is more staged theatrics than a sport, but as I shared the streets of my neighborhood with them – I quickly accepted their passion and dedication even if I couldn’t relate to it.
In a way, I admired how they allowed themselves to become so deeply invested – both emotionally and financially - in an entertaining event that obviously provided a great escape from whatever problems or pressures they face in their daily lives.
It seems that human instinct inspires us to bond in groups with other humans even if we are confident individuals. We bond with groups over politics, social issues, sports teams and bands, along with countless other shared interests.
There was intense camaraderie on Bourbon Street last night when the Wrestlemania fans poured into the French Quarter after the big event. It was different from fans hitting Bourbon Street after a football game because within the Wrestlemania crowd there was not just two allegiances – but many different groups each supporting their favorite wrestler with great passion!
As I walked down Bourbon Street with the post-Wrestlemania crowd, I saw T-shirts of support, Mardi Gras-like costumes imitating a wrestler’s image and heard numerous chants and cheers that were initiated by one group and instantly join in by other groups in support of their favorite wrestlers! The chants and cheers might as well have been in Chinese for those of us who are not part of the wrestling culture.
About 12:30 am in the 300 block of Bourbon - between the Royal Sonesta and Rick’s – an impromptu wrestling match broke out between two young fans! As the two threw fake punches and kicks – as if planned – a bystander played the part of the referee and seemed to know exactly what he was doing. And when one of the mock wrestlers pinned the other on the street – the crowd that had gathered counted down “1 – 2 – 3” – and the referee raised the hand of the victor and the crowd cheered as if they had just witnessed another wrestling match.
The crowd that stopped to watch this mock wrestling match on Bourbon Street witnessed the obvious fake punches and kicks – which are part of professional wrestling. But that didn’t seem to matter because the crowd didn’t know who would win in the end. And that’s what helped me understand the whole wrestling phenomenon – the audience may know it is not all real – but they don’t know who is going to win!
When I talked to fans on Bourbon Street last night – there was one common disappointment – Undertaker lost! After over 20 wins – Undertaker lost! Some fans were visibly upset and some expressed the fact the event was great – except Undertaker lost. But what better way to create drama than to have a crowd favorite lose. Imagine the buzz around Wrestlemania next year!
Wrestlemania proved to be one of the most lucrative events to ever be held in the 'Dome, and considering the major events this city has hosted, that is a an amazing honor! There is now talk of putting New Orleans into a regular rotation to host Wrestlemania and from what I saw with the fans that were here – we should welcome them back anytime!
I may not have understood that personalities of the wrestlers or the passion for the event – but I did understand and come to admire the fans to whom wrestling was their escape from reality. And I am no longer critical of the theatrics of professional wrestling. The punches, kicks and head slams that do not actually connect could be compared to the fake violence we see in movies or on stage in a play. We know the violence is fake – but we are compelled by the unfolding drama and an ending that is not yet known.
In a sense – Wrestlemania is not that different from other forms of entertainment we accept as legitimate – a football game, a movie or a play.
So, how can any of us be critical of Wrestlemania?