The tone was set early. On the kickoff show, Long Island native Tony Nese nabbed Buddy Murphy’s Cruiserweight Championship to the delight of his hometown-adjacent crowd. And in the third match of the night, fellow Long Islanders Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins combined to quash Hawkins’s 269-match losing streak and topple Raw Tag Team Champions the Revival. (It was also something of a continuation of Ryder’s recent, improbable Mania success.) By the end of the night—or that is to say, the following morning, as the combined preshow and feature attraction ran seven and a half hours—virtually every genuine babyface and sentimental fan favorite won the day. The dominant theme of good overcoming evil (or whatever passes as such these days) subtly but profoundly echoed Mania lore and blazed a new path toward the future.
Kofi Kingston prevailed over WWE Champion Daniel Bryan, the capstone of an 11-year climb up the corporate mountain. It conjured memories of Randy Savage’s emotional WrestleMania 4 celebration (to say nothing of what it meant to black audiences and wrestlers around the world). Roman Reigns easily batted back Scottish big man Drew McIntyre in his first singles match since fucking beating cancer. Seth Rollins got the main Mania portion off to a rollicking start by stomping now-former Universal Champion Brock Lesnar all the way back to Las Vegas.
And then there’s Becky Lynch, the lass-kicking “Man” from Dublin who sent millions off to bed believing dreams can come true when you wish upon a star and fight your way back from a devastating cranial-nerve injury and a several-year journey through the soul. The first women’s Mania main event began at roughly the stroke of midnight and concluded 23 minutes later with what has most accurately been described as a “horse shit ending.” But to upend a famous phrase from Dewey Cox’s dad, the right kid lived.
Lynch’s triumph—and by extension, Kingston’s and Rollins’s and all the rest—is an enormously instructive turning point for WWE, which necessarily outgrew its roots as a send-’em-home-happy promotion two decades ago, but forgot how to find its way home when it mattered most. (Bryan’s underdog Mania 30 win stands out as an exception, though even his participation in that match was a delayed reaction to consumer demand.) And when it comes to WrestleMania, even the most contrarian fan wants a happy ending.
Not that we didn’t have to work for it. Seven and a half hours is untenable—for those sitting in arena bucket seats, spending the equivalent of their quarterly earnings on stadium concessions; for those of us whose partners watch in judgment as we carve out an entire weekend to root on hulking men and women in carnival couture waging interpersonal war; and definitely for the weary WWE crew, as exemplified by lead Raw commentator Michael Cole, who could narrowly muster gravelly gravitas in recognition of Lynch’s feat.
It’s also avoidable. Cut out the commercials—don’t worry, we all know Snickers satisfies, and very few people with complimentary-first-month WWE Network subscriptions will make the effort to cancel ahead of Money in the Bank—cut the prematch “here’s how we got here” packages in half, hasten the melodramatic ring entrances and maybe ditch the token legend match (plodded through by Batista and victor Triple H this go-round) altogether. If it isn’t clear, WWE fans are here for the now, for the very youth movement that Triple H himself has helped rear, and for the opportunity to see others who are overdue shine. And Mania is the ultimate occasion for wrestling to become something otherworldly, something frozen in time, an event that can trade on both unrivaled nostalgia and time-tested name-brand cachet to not merely showcase sports-entertainment immortals but offer a snapshot of the culture at that singular moment.
Baby steps. For now, wrestling fans will happily settle for seeing Lynch, Kingston, Hawkins, Ryder, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce’s faces sandblasted into the ever-malleable Mount Rushmore of WWE’s finest. Heading into Monday night’s Raw and Tuesday’s SmackDown at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, there will be far fewer jeers and protest chants, a tilt in the right direction, and a sign that Vince McMahon and his clan eventually made good on their promise from last December to really hear what fans have to say. Mania 35 wasn’t always streamlined or spectacular, but it literally and figuratively heralded the dawn of a new day, and affirmed that wrestling’s future is an open-ended, two-way conversation.