As exhausting as WrestleMania week can be, especially with fans gladly taking on the growing second-shift slate of late night shows, last year’s Mania week in New Orleans was one of the most manageable in recent memory. It was good, too, but the surprising thing was how user-friendly and accessible it all was. Mania pilgrims staying in the French Quarter were at most a mile away from every official WWE event, the WrestleCon fan convention and the multiple notable indie cards associated with it, and numerous non-in-ring independently promoted events—as well as all the other fun stuff that the French Quarter is otherwise famous for. Give or take a couple cab rides to the Ring of Honor and World Wrestling Network’s remote hubs, everything was just right there. WrestleMania week is many things, but it had seldom been that close to quaint.
Anyway, that was last year. The constellation of wrestling events in and around New York City this week around WrestleMania 35, which is on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, may be the most stupidly expensive and dizzying Mania weekend yet. There are close to 50 wrestling cards on the books for the week, almost all of which are happening between Wednesday night and late Saturday night. With WWE topping things off at Tuesday night’s SmackDown Live taping, WrestleMania weekend is now WrestleMania week—a full seven days of wrestling overload.
This WrestleMania week will feature at least four non-WWE hubs, with numerous other cards at other locations. That’s before factoring in non-wrestling attractions like WrestleCon (at the same hotel as the affiliate cards this time), WWE Fan Axxess (which also features its own cards during each shift), rapper Wale’s “Walemania” concert/party, and various storytelling shows and live podcasts. These events stretch across three New York City boroughs and into New Jersey, with cards in multiple counties. The guide to the various shows at Voices of Wrestling seems to be the most complete, but it’s a daunting read even considering that many of the major independent shows won’t require advanced placement subway maneuvering. There’s just so much.
If this seems complicated, please know that it is actually far more complicated than that once you get down to the alphabet soup level, in large part due to the latest split between two bigger Mania-adjacent events. The modern Mania weekend started to take shape in 2004, when then-top independent promotion Ring of Honor ran a major show in north Jersey to piggyback off tourists in town for WrestleMania XX and the related festivities in New York City. ROH drew by far their biggest crowd ever, setting up an obvious blueprint for the future. That all went to hell in 2009, after a change in management led a Ring of Honor splinter promotion, Dragon Gate USA, to start running its own Mania weekend shows. Things started to get competitive, and never stopped.
Modern Mania week didn’t start to come into focus as a phenomenon until 2013, though. That was the year that Highspots, a wrestling merchandise vendor and video producer, launched WrestleCon. In year one, WrestleCon was the usual autograph show fare, but run alongside wrestling shows from DGUSA’s parent company, the World Wrestling Network, and others at the Meadowlands Expo Center. Much deeper into New Jersey, local indie Pro Wrestling Syndicate ran their own convention/wrestling show hybrids with odd mixes of big stars and indie talent. Large crowds turned out for both, which proved the viability of Thursday and Friday night time slots. This would come in handy going forward.
WWN and WrestleCon split up in 2014, in New Orleans, and have been the two main Mania-week indie hubs—organizing different promotions to fill out large slates at venues of their own—ever since. For many promoters, this is the week that both puts them into the black and gets them exposure well beyond the norm. The same goes for the talent, who can make their year with breakout performances during the week and bank enough money to take a weekend or two off later in the year. Keith Lee was a already a rising indie name two years ago, but being the consensus MVP of Mania weekend back in 2017 really solidified him as an in-demand talent; he’s now under WWE contract in their NXT brand.
The arrival of Game Changer Wrestling’s now-annual “Joey Janela’s Spring Break” show back in 2017 really did change the game, at least in terms of WrestleMania week logistics. Spring Break was the most buzzed about indie show of the weekend after debuting at WWN’s venue, and all that buzz paid off when the second installment drew the biggest indie crowd of the 2018 festivities. Game Changer didn’t need WWN anymore—the promotion’s second show, Bloodsport, outdrew most of the other WWN-hosted shows that weekend, as well—and with WWN more solidly a WWE-affiliate than ever before, it made sense for Game Changer to do their own thing. And so they did, forming their own hub, The Collective.
WWN took its sweet time before announcing that this year’s events would be held at the promotion’s usual NYC venue, La Boom, a nightclub in Woodside, Queens. They weren’t alone in their struggle to find a venue, which owes a lot to the current overloaded state of Peak Mania but also something to a weird location-specific twist—for a big city surrounded by a sprawling metropolitan area, New York is strangely lacking in the mid-sized venues that bigger indie shows require. The most appropriate buildings, like Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom, are prohibitively expensive, and the rest... well, Spring Break was initially listed as being at a separate venue from The Collective’s events at the White Eagle in Jersey City, but it eventually ended up at the White Eagle, too, just with a second show added and ticket prices scaled higher to make up for the inability to find a suitable larger venue. Spring Break being Spring Break and Peak Mania being Peak Mania, both shows still sold out in four minutes each.
The Collective’s events at the White Eagle promise to be a unique mix of viral indie wrestling—four shows total, all also sold out—from a slate of truly independent shows from smaller presenters. The lineup features one show each from six other indie promotions as well as as a multi-promotional showcase from IndependentWrestling.tv, which is offering free general admission tickets to subscribers. There’s some overlap, of course, but the fan interest reflects just how much good wrestling there is to watch in New York during Mania week.
It turns out that there may be such a thing as Peak Mania, though, both in terms of basic economics and elasticity of demand. WrestleCon has a somewhat pared down roster of promotions, and for a very practical reason: The ballroom they’re running at the Midtown Hilton is the most expensive venue of the weekend. As a result, only promotions that could be reasonably sure of drawing well are on the docket, most notably WrestleCon’s own Mark Hitchcock Memorial Supershow.
Those tickets have sold well, but elsewhere the glut of supply seems at risk of outpacing demand. With the exception of a sold-out show from Japan’s utterly unique action-comedy masters Dramatic Dream Team, or DDT, WWN has had notable difficulty selling tickets, even with a smaller venue and at least one WWE name (NXT’s Kyle O’Reilly) in the main event of their flagship brand. Queens-based House of Glory has their own hub at their home venue, Amazura Concert Hall in Jamaica, Queens; their own show and one from Japan’s top women’s promotion, World Wonder Ring Stardom, are both on pace to do quite well. But House of Glory’s other shows at Amazura have barely been selling at all, to the point that they raise questions about the wisdom of promotions doing a Mania week show just to say they did. The Twitter account for one of those HOG shows, which features the UK’s International Pro Wrestling, is promoting a sale on general admission tickets at 50 percent off, or £10.00 each. In what is either a blooper or something bleaker, the website itself currently has them listed at £1.00 each. And yes, the coupon still works, which means that 65 cents will get you in the door.
For better or worse, there is much, much more. MLW has TV tapings on Thursday and Friday nights, one of which includes a live special on BeIn Sports. There are LGBT-centric shows from Uncanny Attractions and Matter of Pride Wrestling. In addition to the Impact co-promotion, Wrestle Pro will host four more shows at the Rahway Rec Center. Multiple other local promotions have special shows. There’s even a one-off on Wednesday night, Pizza Party Wrestling. We haven’t even gotten to the big stuff yet.
WrestleMania is WrestleMania, and big enough on its merits to anchor all this. But WWE also has matches at all of its events, and there’s the combined Ring of Honor/New Japan Pro Wrestling Bonanza on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, which will be the first non-WWE pro wrestling show ever in the current MSG and the first in any building by that name since 1960. At the risk of belaboring the point, this is a lot of wrestling. Some time slots are stupidly crowded, to the point where the laws of physics, much more than anything to do with logistics or the struggling subways, will prevent fans from seeing everything they want to see. Friday afternoon alone features Revolution Pro (NJPW’s UK affiliate), Stardom, and Black Label Pro, all of which have strong cards; Thursday night has the WrestleCon Supershow, DDT, and MLW among others.
This also impacts the wrestlers and lineups. MLW’s contract talent are almost all blocked from working elsewhere Thursday or Friday Afternoon or rushing off to another show on those evenings. Thanks to early call times to pre-record non-wrestling segments, they just have too much to do, although they are being allowed to wrestle on late morning morning/early afternoon indie shows. Wrestlers with more complicated contractual statuses, such as Penta el 0M and Rey Fenix, will work one night early in the MLW show and late in the WrestleCon show, and the other vice versa.
Other indie eminences, like David Starr, aren’t bound by contracts. This means that he will find himself running all over the place the whole weekend, with matches at all four of the main hubs. Even non-wrestlers are affected: Shimmer, an all-women’s promotion, runs at the WWN spot on Friday at 11:00 a.m., but promoter/announcer Dave Prazak is also calling Black Label Pro at The Collective at 3:30 p.m. He will also be bringing a number of the wrestlers from his show with him, as there’s significant overlap in female talent. There are numerous other examples of this, all just as or even more exhausting. There’s just too much. The week is always a blast, and this one should be as well, but while the fun of Mania Week is that it’s stuffed to the gills with good wrestling, there’s still such a thing as too much.
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY who co-hosts the Between The Sheets podcast every Monday at BetweenTheSheetsPod.com and everywhere else that podcasts are available. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and view his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix.