WrestleMania is habitually promoted by the WWE as the show of shows, the granddaddy of them all, or the showcase of the immortals. Each year, those cliches induce an eye roll or chuckle simply due to the fact that those terms are overused, overproduced, and extremely corporate in nature. Overstated? Not so much.

My flight from Chicago landed a little before 11:30am central time in New Orleans. The plane was full of wrestling fans wearing shirts from various wrestling entities around the world be it Bullet Club, Cody, Seth Rollins, Kenny Omega, Roman Reigns, John Cena, and much more. The fans traveled in packs and the buzz at gate C23 was almost tangible enough to reach out and grab. While sitting, watching, and feeling this, I couldn’t help but look back and see just how far the WWE has come with WrestleMania. Twelve years ago, WrestleMania 22 was held in Chicago, IL and attended by 17,159 rabid Chicago fans at the Allstate Arena. NXT wasn’t a thing and WrestleMania Axxess was in its infancy. WrestleMania simply wasn’t the big time brand that it is now.

Today in New Orleans proved how the times have changed. After landing, the droves of wrestling fans walked off the plane and filtered in with their brethren near the baggage claim area. The WWE and WrestleMania owned the place. Posters lined the stairwells, Roman Reigns’s face was plastered above the escalator, and the ten plus cylinder posts near the taxi stand were each lathered up with WWE superstars.

In the limo on the way to the hotel, the driver spoke of WrestleMania and how important it was for the show to return to the city after such a short turnaround. He then casually dropped a few entertaining stories pertaining to driving Ric Flair around the city nearly ten years ago as we passed street lights with WWE and WrestleMania branding all over them. When arriving at the hotel, the bellhop assumed WrestleMania was the reason for our presence in New Orleans and proceeded to run down which matches he was looking forward to while questioning whether we’d be seeing Deadman Undertaker or Biker Undertaker come Sunday at the Superdome.

After putting our bags in the room we opened the doors to the streets of New Orleans which looked as if WWEShop.com threw up all over them. Kids were wearing shirts of John Cena and Sasha Banks. Women supported the likes of Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Finn Balor, while the coveted male 18-34 demo was decked out in AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura gear; thus proving that the WWE brand truly does have something for everyone this weekend. The rogue fans were out in full force as well. Cody, Kenny Omega, Bullet Club, and Ring Of Honor were all represented well in the line for beignets at Café De Monde.

The WWE went big.

Not a single entrance song had played and not a single punch was thrown, but from the moment you stepped off the plane, the WWE made you feel as if you were in the wrestling capital of the world. They’ve cultivated an environment where pro wrestling fans can stand out and be proud of what they love so dearly. In addition, for the casual wrestling viewer, the experience is eye opening. As a once or twice a year fan, it’s impossible not to look around and start asking questions about who Shinsuke Nakamura is, why AJ Styles is so beloved, or why Roman Reigns is so detested. Bourbon Street was crawling with opinions and the drinks made it easy for those opinions to come out.

The WWE doesn’t do everything right and deserves to be criticized when appropriate. They deserve credit where credit is due as well and they’re onto something here. The vibe in New Orleans tonight was hot and the WrestleMania brand was the kindling.

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