WrestleMania for Sissies, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Spandex

I'm just going to come right out and say it: I am a wimp. A pansy. One of those girls who has to ask men to open jars and help get her luggage down from the overhead compartment. I've never been naturally gifted when it comes to sports, and I've always preferred curling up with a book to running around a soccer field or whatever.

I also grew up on Lifetime movies and episodes of Law & Order: SVU, so I find big 'roided-up dudes to be extra scary. I'm a feminist, so they also make me angry. And that's not exactly a recipe for professional wrestling fandom. I once seriously considered dumping a guy I was dating because I found out he was a big wrestling fan.

Instead, I married him. And that's how I found myself at WrestleMania XXVIII last night.

Having actively avoided professional wrestling my whole life, this summed up my entire knowledge of the sport: It is fake. There is spandex involved. Rednecks love it. Hulk Hogan got famous this way. The Rock went to UM. And ... yeah, that's about it.

So it was a little intimidating walking into Sun Life Stadium surrounded by hundreds of hardcore wrestling fans, almost all of whom wore the same uniform: black t-shirt with wrestling catchphrase, and jeans. Even before we'd gotten inside, fans had begun dueling chants: "Let's go Cena!" "Cena sucks!" I was relieved that I'd chosen to wear a dark shirt and jeans as well (thanks, Girls' Guide to WrestleMania), because I imagined that, should a violent riot start in the stands, I would not be immediately targeted. (I took enough sociology in college to know how crowd mentalities work.)

There was something really silly about droves of dark, seemingly angry people filing into a building covered from top to bottom in Britto art, though. "It's weird," I told my husband Joe. "Britto is so colorful, and so happy, and so gay." "So ... just like wrestling?" he responded. Point.

We found our seats, then decided to walk around in search of funny costumes. I was told WrestleMania is like the Lady Gaga concert of sports, and wacky getups were one part of the experience I was genuinely looking forward to. But we saw very few elaborate outfits -- mostly just black t-shirts and plenty of people (dudes, mostly) carrying enormous golden belts slung over their shoulders. I asked Joe if there was any meaning to right shoulder vs. left shoulder where the belts were concerned. "Y'know, like how in the '90s it meant something if you had one ear pierced?" He just looked at me with disappointment.

I was disappointed, too, because the three dudes in this story's opening photo made up the majority of the costumes we saw. There was also this guy -- yes, this guy -- signing up for a raffle:

And this fellow, who I'm betting really enjoys beef jerky:

But that was it. So we went back to our seats and waited for the show to start. I was feeling a little more relaxed at this point, because there appeared to be a good number of children sitting around me. If one of them tries to start a fight with me, I figured, I could probably take them. (It later turned out that we were sitting right next to the Make A Wish Foundation seating section. Seriously.)

If there's one thing WrestleMania does well, it's spectacle -- and that's coming from a former figure skating fan who's attended both a Super Bowl and two Lady Gaga stadium shows. I knew enough to expect some pyrotechnics, but the giant light-up stage was genuinely impressive. It also had the effect, from where I sat, of completely dwarfing any person to stand upon it. So when, say, The Undertaker made his entrance, and we were supposed to be all scared of him? Dude looked like an ant.

In the very few occasions I've seen pro wrestling on TV, the dudes are all greased up and snarly and throbby-veined. They're gross and intimidating. But at the actual event, they just look like dudes with muscles dressed up in funny costumes. And there's so much going on around them that you're not even really paying attention to what they're doing. Well, I wasn't, anyway. The fanboys seated in front of me? Not so much:

​That's a look of sheer joy on that guy's face. He was so genuinely excited for this shit. He told me he was 30 years old, and made a big point of mentioning that he had a girlfriend, lest I think he was one of those wrestling stereotypes. Watching him was just as entertaining as watching the show.

It's hard to sit in a crowd of 78,000+ psyched-up people -- record attendance at Sun Life, by the way -- and not get a little psyched yourself. I was in a safe place, surrounded by children and fanboys who acted like children, and the stars in the ring were hilariously dressed and even more hilariously overacting. They'd fake-punch or fake-kick or fake-throw each other to the ground, then writhe in pain for a minute or two, then do it all over again. As spectacle for spectacle's sake goes, this was top quality.

An Irish dude named Sheamus beat his opponent in a matter of seconds, before I could even snap a picture. The Undertaker continued what I'm told was a 20-0 WrestleMania win streak. Extra's Maria Menounos was laughably unconvincing, even by my very low pro wrestling standards, but won anyway. A midget was tossed. Fireworks exploded. Diddy made a cameo. Flo Rida performed. At points, I actually wanted to cheer. All was right with the world.

Then the fights started. One a couple sections over to my left, and a few minutes later, another down and to the right. As I craned to see what was happening, part of me wondered what all these kids around me were going to take away from an experience like this, watching thousands of people cheer two people beating up on each other. I worried, a little. But the other part of me realized that I was cursing the people in front of me for blocking my view of a real, live fight in the stands instead of watching the fake fight on the stage, and that maybe I was part of the problem. Woah. Better concentrate on the pretty lights rather than think too hard on that.

Don't worry. By the time the rest of the fireworks had gone off and The Rock beat John Cena (who sucks, in case you hadn't heard), I'd forgotten all about it.

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Ciara LaVelle is New Times' former arts and culture editor. She earned her BS in journalism at Boston University and moved to Florida in 2004. She joined New Times' staff in 2011.
Contact: Ciara LaVelle