My first real, communal wrestling experience happened 25 years ago yesterday. I was 9 and went with my two brothers, mom, dad, and several friends bought tickets to see WrestleMania III.
I remember the deafening roar of the live crowd when Ricky Steamboat rolled up Randy Savage for the three-count. I remember the lines for the bathroom being so long that men were relieving themselves in sinks. And, most of all, I remember the jubilation that we all felt when we witnessed the “bodyslam heard around the world.”
And we were just watching it on a big screen at the Nassau Coliseum.
A quarter-century later, it’s still widely considered the biggest wrestling event in American history. And that’s because it was headlined by the biggest match in American history—Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. Over the 24 WrestleManias that followed the event, WWE would try time and time again to recreate the magic feel of that match. On a couple of occasions, they would come close, most notably at WrestleMania VI with Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior, and at WrestleMania X-8 with Hogan vs. The Rock. But no pairing has ever been able to match the monumental clash that took place on March 28, 1987.
In two days, WWE will try once again to put on the biggest match of all time when it presents the long-awaited showdown between The Rock and John Cena. On paper at least, it has many of the ingredients of the truly epic matches that preceded it, including Hulk-Andre.
First, it has a feeling of exclusivity—having never happened before, and with a possibility that it may never happen again.
Second, it’s had a slow build. On top of the 12 months of hype since WWE announced the match, the verbal jabs and resentment between Cena and The Rock goes back several years.
Third, it features two truly huge stars. The Rock is on the shortlist of the biggest wrestling stars in history. And Cena, despite coming along during a relatively down business time for wrestling, has undoubtedly made more of an impact on the sport over the past decade than anyone else.
Fourth, the stakes are incredible. Like Hogan vs. Andre or Hogan vs. Warrior, it’s hard to picture either of the two stars losing the bout. A Cena loss would mean that WWE’s most valuable full-time star was sacrificed at the altar of a visiting, special attraction. A Rock loss, in his hometown of Miami and in his first singles match in eight years, might spark a riot.
And lastly, the stage is right. It’s WrestleMania—the “Showcase Of The Immortals.” With 60,000-plus fans in the building and more than a million watching around the world, just about any match takes on greater significance.
What’s more, The Rock and John Cena have something going for them that many of the epic matches of the past did not: They are both terrific wrestlers, capable of putting on great performances against even lesser-talented opponents. Together, they are capable of something truly great.
Regardless of where Rock-Cena eventually ends up on a list of wrestling’s biggest matches, this much is for certain: Sunday night will be a heck of a fun time to be a wrestling fan. And a wrestling writer, too.-Al Castle
PWI Senior Writer