Wrestlemania weekend is almost here! I love the rituals, the hype, and the production value of Wrestlemania. Vince McMahon has taken a lot of risks, financial and otherwise, in his unending quest to bring The Show of Shows to a wider audience.
From the very beginning, Vince recognized that the key to attracting media attention was adding celebrity names to the marquee. Cyndi Lauper’s alliance with Captain Lou Albano at the first Wrestlemania was referred to as the Rock n’ Wrestling Connection, just one of many examples of cross-promotion to get more recognition.
Jerry Lawler says it well on “The True Story of Wrestlemania” DVD: “Purists frowned on it, but any time you can be seen in the same light as a movie star or TV star, it can’t do anything but good.”
I have always been intrigued by Vince’s choices for celebrity guests. Does he consult anyone to find out who’s hot right now? Does an athlete or actor whose stock is falling have a better price tag? When P Diddy was announced as the musical guest for this year’s Wrestlemania, my first thought was, “What does Diddy bring to the table at this moment?”
My second thought was the music at last year’s Wrestlemania, because I had recently changed my opinion of it. I am compelled to take you back with me, all the way back. Which performances enhanced the show, and which ones simply gave us the opportunity to go pee?
Run DMC - Wrestlemania 5 - Trump Plaza Atlantic City
Given Liberace's appearance at the first Wrestlemania (as a timekeeper), I am glad that Vince took an updated approach to his first official musical performers. These guys were pioneers for the new school of Hip Hop, and by 1989 could boast a long list of firsts in the genre. They were set up in the ring to perform "The Wrestlemania Rap". Jam Master Jay brought the fans to their feet with some warm-up chants, before Run and DMC enter with their trademark Adidas and chains. The first few rows remain noticeably seated - likely people who weren't at the event as die-hard fans, but as members of the Donald Trump Palm-Greasing Society.
As enthusiastic as Run DMC is, it's hard to make out their words over the poor audio system, and their mad lyrical stylings are lost. Dammit, Trump! The crowd's energy drops to simply standing around. "A little bit of that went a long way with me!" says the amazing Gorilla Monsoon, in an effort to cover for the quiet applause. It pains me to BATHROOM BREAK these guys, but I need to make like Jesse Ventura and tell it like it is.
Salt-n-Pepa - Wrestlemania 11 – Hartford Civic Center
I think of these years as the Arena Era: average-sized venues with very little glitz (the entrance area consists of a poorly-lit sign and a sliding door). Conversely, the card is a star-studded affair, with Jenny McCarthy and Pamela Anderson accompanying HBK and Diesel to their match, and football star Lawrence Taylor facing Bam Bam Bigelow in the main event. The crowd in Hartford is HOT. The noise in that arena makes you forget the simplicity of the setting. Also super hot that year? Salt-n-Pepa.
They’re from nearby NYC, and had just won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance. The fans went wild when the rap trio busted out a slick, custom version of their hit “Whatta Man”. Their lyrics praised the babyface Lawrence Taylor just before he and his all-pro team came down the aisle. My favourite part comes with Bam Bam’s entrance; he is mad at Salt-n-Pepa for doing such a kickass tribute to his opponent, so he rips off his jacket and throws it at them up on their little stage. They react with the perfect amount of “HA HA! No You Didn’t!” and toss the jacket back at him. He puts it back on, which is when I realize it’s just a regular leather jacket from the Sears Husky Cartwheelers Collection, and he needs to take it off 8 feet later when he reaches the ring. I am rating this performance (LITERALLY) BOOTY SHAKING.
Salt-n-Pepa were very skilled on the mic, the crowd loved them, and it was well-integrated with the show.
“The DX Band” – Wrestlemania 14 – Boston Fleet Center
Do we count this one? The DX Band would not have been considered a special attraction, but their presence and performance is worth noting. It’s the Attitude Era, and we’re still showcasing our immortals in a simple arena. It’s actually surreal to see these ‘Mania entrances, because they are so…unremarkable. It makes you realize how BIG things are now.
When Mike Tyson comes out, as the Special Enforcer for Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin, he shows an awesome level of commitment. What an enthusiastic crotch-chopper! It’s a classic DX entrance: rapid-fire cuts between “scandalous images” and DX antics, heightened by the frantic live music, and Shawn Michaels in his unhinged period. It had a Huge Match Feeling despite the venue’s aesthetic, and for that I need to give this a BOOTY SHAKING. Live music is proving to be a good complement to the show.
Ice T – Wrestlemania 16 – Anaheim Arrowhead Pond
Two years later, you see changes. We’ve got trons at the top of the ramp and more signs in the crowd than ever before. This was a scintillating time for fans: the kamikaze delights of the first TLC match, and a borderline-burlesque women’s division. Ice T opened this event by leading The Godfather to the ring and singing “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy”.
It was a great choice for the curtain jerker because the crowd loved it. What better representation of the times, to kick off Wrestlemania with the man who penned “Cop Killer” proclaiming “Godfather’s in the house, bitch!” The fans’ appreciation of this moment grants it a BOOTY SHAKING, even though Ice T’s coat was made of Elmo.
Motorhead - Wrestlemania 17 - Houston Astrodome
"We are Motorhead. And we're going to kick your ass." Well, they have come to the right place. Lemmy's voice has the perfect raspy growl as he sings Triple H's entrance theme. I love that Triple H doesn't dilly dally coming out here; he acknowledges the band with a special rendition of spitting water on himself, then boots it down the aisle. I am hugely in favour of this genuinely intense and spare version of Triple H. No helmets or scampering hobbits. Nothing gets lost despite it being a large venue.
The music is tight and I am BOOTY SHAKING. And like well-behaved brand ambassadors, Lemmy finishes with, "We are Motorhead, and it's time to play the game!"
Saliva and Drowning Pool – Wrestlemania 18 – Toronto Skydome
Saliva opened the show and they proved to be a decent icebreaker for a daunting stadium crowd. We now have a huge set with big screens showing clips of wrestlers while Saliva sings “Superstar”. It’s a high-energy performance, with lots of snarling guitar and crazed yell-singing. When it ended, everyone cheered. Are they cheering for Saliva’s performance, or because Wrestlemania is starting now? It doesn’t matter! These people came to witness Rock-Hogan, and this performance was a worthy prelude.
Drowning Pool performs midway through the card, accompanying a video package to tell the story of Y2J and HHH for the Undisputed Championship. Their performance is controlled and befits the mood of the video. The singing is pretty lacklustre though, and the crowd has lost interest. I’m going to call this, at 45:11 into the event: BATHROOM BREAK. And the singer’s last words after I pronounced him pee-worthy are “I can’t hear you!”
Limp Bizkit – Wrestlemania 19 – Safeco Field Seattle
We are firmly entrenched in the dramatic stadium era now. I remember watching this webcast on my laptop and thinking it was great. Limp Bizkit is introduced after the first match to perform “Rollin’”. Part way through the song, Fred Durst and the back-up dancers make their way down to the ring and continue singing while the Undertaker enters for his match. This is the Deadman Inc. Biker Phase which looked a bit awkward to me. Perhaps because Taker doesn’t seem as natural (or Dead?) when he’s bopping his head to the music and raising his arms to get a cheer. He’s still cool no matter what.
About 90 minutes into the event, Limp Bizkit performs again, I suspect as a welcome break after the tremendous match between Y2J and HBK. They do “Crack Addict” because they are addicted to crackin’ skulls, and they are rocking OUT, and it is contagious. I would love to snark on Fred Durst because of his recent finger-giving stint on Raw 1000, but I can’t take anything away from his (and the entire band’s) performance here. A BOOTY SHAKING to you, saucy Fred.
Motorhead - Wrestlemania 21 - Staples Center Los Angeles
Can we all agree that the video packages created to summarize story lines and build hype for a match are sometimes the best part of the program? I remember Shawn Michaels even thanked one of the guys who makes those packages in his Hall of Fame speech. The package hyping Triple H/Batista in their post-Evolution clash is another chilling example. Cut directly to Motorhead's drummer and Triple H's entrance theme. For a few seconds I think, "Yes okay, this is the same as Wrestlemania 17," which is a testimony to how fast the human brain works, because it really only took a few seconds for everything to go awry. Okay, not everything. Just the words of the song.
You know how it is. A song comes on the radio, and you know you're going to rock it, and you crank the volume, and you sing and sing even though you only know every sixth word? Old Lemmy here must have left Wrestlemania 17 thinking, "Well I'll never need to sing THAT song again", and used the song sheet as a coaster for four years of malt liquor bottles. The words he doesn't know, he fills in with other random words, words he already said but aren't right, and gibberish. I think the gibberish is my favourite. Then Triple H rises up from under their stage, spits on himself, and goes to the ring. If only Motorhead had been playing at Trump Plaza, we wouldn't have had this problem. BATHROOM BREAK.
P.O.D. – Wrestlemania 22 – Allstate Arena Chicago
For the secondary main event, Rey Mysterio (wrestling in honour of Eddie Guerrero) was meeting Randy Orton and World Heavyweight Champ Kurt Angle in a triple threat. By this point in Wrestlemania history, we have become accustomed to increasingly elaborate sets – this one is a series of tall buildings, the top of one housing a stage for P.O.D. The company is clearly building up Mysterio for the big win here, as he is the only one getting a special entrance.
After beautifully executing that cool popping-up-from-under-the-stage trick, things get awkward as Rey bounds back into the faux buildings, hastily climbs up, dons a large native headdress, and comes on stage with the band. The band is doing fine, singing “Booyaka 619” and Rey strikes a few poses before disappearing again to return to the ramp. I’m not sure the band was needed, or perhaps they could have planned the logistics better. Rey’s entrance was intended to be big, but it was disjointed. Take a quick BATHROOM BREAK.
Kid Rock – Wrestlemania 25 – Reliant Stadium Houston
Don’t go looking for this one on the DVD; apparently Kid Rock wanted more royalties on DVD sales than Vince was willing to give. You can imagine my confusion, as this was the Wrestlemania I attended, and I saw Kid Rock perform, and in all the times I’d watched this again on DVD I never noticed that he wasn’t on it!
He played a 5-song medley right after the first match, and the divas all shimmy out for their Battle Royale at the end of his set. I can tell you that the crowd wasn’t into it: it was too long at 11 minutes, and too early at only 30 minutes into the show. Take your BATHROOM BREAK even if you didn’t have to go. Kid Rock put on a respectable show, but it was not a good fit. Was it just a coincidence that when Sunny was grooving past Kid Rock, they cut to a band member ringing a gong?
MGK (featuring Skylar Grey) and Flo Rida (featuring Sia) – Wrestlemania 28 – Sun Life Stadium Miami
P Diddy comes out to introduce MGK because he’s part of Diddy’s Bad Boy Records label. I forgot about that connection last year. MGK sings “Invincible” prior to John Cena’s entrance, but Skylar Grey is distracting me. She is thin in a way that makes me want to go eat a sandwich, she is wearing Leeloo’s costume from The Fifth Element, and her vocals are weak. BATHROOM BREAK. MGK does his best, then offers a personal plug for the “underdog” Cena to a stadium full of boos. Cue Cena’s music, and he gets to go stand in the ring, losing any adrenaline rush, waiting for the next musical performance.
Flo Rida sings “Good Feeling” and “Wild Ones” as a prelude to The Rock’s entrance. I remember thinking “hurry up” last year. This was such a long show, with everyone chomping at the bit to see the main event, and these musical performances were not welcome in my books. But, upon recent review I now deem Flo Rida’s outing BOOTY SHAKING.
Allow me to enumerate: 1. Flo Rida enters on a Tron bike. 2. Flo Rida has a bejeweled map of Florida on his mic stand. 3. Flo Rida’s back-up dancers and singer have all eaten sandwiches. 4. Flo Rida is like a jolly man who’s misplaced his shirt. 5. Flo Rida likes to air guitar and air drum. 6. Flo Rida barely sings, and I barely noticed!
P Diddy – Wrestlemania 29 – MetLife Stadium NJ
At last year’s event, they introduced Diddy as a music mogul, network owner, entrepreneur, and fashion icon. In 2012, Forbes named him the richest man in Hip-Hop. His group Diddy – Dirty Money supplied the oft-used Wrestlemania tune “Coming Home”. He hasn’t released his own album since 2006, but that hardly matters. Vince McMahon sees something that will bring him more buys, or that coveted mainstream status. I can’t wait to see what happens, and if it isn’t good, I hope I have the sense to figure it out while there’s still time to excuse myself.
That was more booty shaking than expected. Vince has paid a lot of money for celebrity appearances and he has always held firm that sometimes it doesn’t matter if you make your money back. It’s not just about ticket sales and buyrates, but also about the attention you get when you invest in big names.
I’d love to read your memories of these performances. Have a great Wrestlemania weekend, however you spend it!
In Grade 6, I argued with a public speaking judge over my topic, wrestling, and whether it was real (given my age, you can guess which side I was on). Grown-ups assumed I wanted to be a wrestler, but I really wanted to be a manager. I spent hours doodling costumes, making lists of who would be in my stable, and cutting promos in my head before falling asleep at night. Fast forward 26 years. The managerial aspirations have faded, but I will still defend my choice to love wrestling. My favourite wrestlers as a kid were Ricky Steamboat and The Dynamite Kid, and in the last decade have been Shawn Michaels and CM Punk.