To call the modern era of professional wrestling a “golden age” might be a stretch, but 2016 is a pretty great time to be a wrestling fan. There are four promotions with TV on a national level in the United States, and it’s easier than ever to find the good stuff coming out of Japan, Mexico and Europe. Connecting with other fans is a snap, there are more wrestling-centric podcasts than time in the week, and behind-the-scenes/inside-baseball wrestling news flows heavy and fast.
Still, even with so much to love, it’s easy to become jaded. Keeping up with so much content is exhausting, and the stories that are being told in ring and out can just be baffling. Imagine if Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Empire ran 52 weeks a year and you followed all of them, and you start to understand the struggle the modern wrestling fan faces.
No weekend in the world of wrestling is bigger than WrestleMania weekend, and it’s become something like Comic-Con for wrestling fans. Dallas played host this year to five days of events, shows and parties, with everyone trying to capitalize on the fact that 100,000 extra wrestling-loving people were going to be in the city.
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While many might have walked out of AT&T Stadium exhausted and confused by WrestleMania 32, on the whole the weekend helped me fall back in love with wrestling. Let me count the ways.
4. The WWE Is Really Good at What It Does
Listen, we can argue all day about the booking of WrestleMania 32 and the post-Mania Raw, but the WWE is going to WWE. Setting aside the in-ring product for the time being, one can’t talk about WrestleMania weekend without acknowledging that without the WWE, there is no Mania weekend and no gathering of the wrestling masses from across the world. Beyond the main event itself, the WWE gave fans lots to love over the weekend, including the NXT show, Axxess and the Hall of Fame presentation. The WWE came to the city and by and large put its best foot forward; it was really hard to miss the fact that it was in town. If nothing else, the presentation of all things was top-notch, even if the results were sketchy.
3. The Indies Are Killing It
There was a ton of great wrestling going on in the city outside of the WWE banner, and many – myself included – would argue that the best matches of the weekend happened in front of the smaller crowds at the various indie shows. Yes, NXT Takeover might be one of the best WWE events of all time, but guys like Will Osprey, Zack Saber Jr., Chris Hero, Kota Ibushi and Ricochet were putting on classics just as good as, if not better than, the big Zayn/Nakamura NXT match. I’ll also throw shout-outs to Matt Riddle, who is going to be amazing when he hits the WWE, and Johnny Gargano, who put in a ton of work over the weekend.
2. The WWE Working With the Indies
For a long time, it was easy to look at the WWE signing indie darlings with a hint of suspicion. For every CM Punk or Daniel Bryan who made it, there was a Matt Sydal or a Low Ki that the company signed but wasn’t sure what to do with. Although the WWE still likes its men absurdly big – see also: Braun Strowman – the relative success of Kevin Owens and AJ Styles gives me reason to hope for the future. With Saber Jr. confirmed for the big cruiserweight tourney, Ibushi’s appearance at NXT Takeover and the rumors going around that Ricochet isn’t taking bookings after June, the WWE is headed for a roster that, on paper, is among the best ever assembled. NXT's being “the WWE super indie” is something no one saw coming, and it’s amazing.
1. The Emergence and Acceptance of Modern Women’s Wrestling
A very good case could be made that the match for the WWE Women’s Championship was the best one to happen at WrestleMania 32. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Charlotte went out and did their thing, and the massive crowd supported them every step of the way. This is miles away from years past, when the women’s Mania match was seen as the thing you ran before the main event so people could hit the restroom and recharge before the match they actually cared about. Women wrestlers had long been seen as an afterthought at best, but over the past year, the WWE has really committed to giving them actual time in the ring and stories to tell. The company treated the title match like a big deal, even giving Charlotte a massive pyro display after her victory. The best news? The women on the roster will no longer be known as “divas”; they’re “superstars,” just like the men. Not only is it great to see the WWE taking women’s wrestling seriously, it’s great that the fans are too.