This Sunday, April 7, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) will broadcast its biggest annual live event, WrestleMania, from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. It's eight miles from the heart of Manhattan, but you'd never know that from the marketing campaign, which is decidedly New York centric. Even the show's logo is wearing a Statue of Liberty-inspired crown.
What was once a single blockbuster show, has transformed into an entire weekend of city events. On Friday evening, NXT Takeover: New York, a WWE developmental league event, will pack Brooklyn's Barclays Center. On Saturday, Barclays will host the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. Sunday is WrestleMania. On Monday and Tuesday, WWE heads back to Barclays to broadcast Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live.
WWE last held WrestleMania at MetLife Stadium in 2013. But the New York connection goes back much further. Madison Square Garden hosted WrestleMania I, WrestleMania X, and WrestleMania XX. Beyond that, the Garden has been witness to key narrative moments in the company's continuous storyline. It's where John Cena made a shocking Royal Rumble return in 2008. It's where "Stone Cold" Steve Austin gave Vince McMahon a Stunner for the first time in 1997. It's where "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka took to the skies and dove onto Don Muraco from the top of a steel cage in 1983.
Despite being based out of Stamford, Connecticut, the WWE considers New York, and more specifically, Madison Square Garden, to be its spiritual home. WWE Chairman Vince McMahon is a third-generation wrestling promoter; all three generations of McMahon booked fights, whether boxing or wrestling, in the Garden.
Vince's grandfather, Jess McMahon, was a Manhattan-born boxing and professional wrestling promoter, who co-founded Capitol Wrestling Corporation. When he died, his son (and Vince's father), Vincent J. McMahon took over and founded the World Wrestling Federation, which would eventually become the WWE.
This was a northeast promotion, with influence in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New England, Baltimore, and Washington D.C-although it was all colloquially referred to as "New York." At the time-prior to 1982-professional wrestling was a "territory" business; a wrestling promotion would control a geographical area, broadcast its programs on local television, and host its shows in its territory's big arenas. Promotions would exchange talent and guests on each other's programs to create variety and "out of town" excitement, but by and large, these promotions operated separately from one another and didn't upset each other's business.
But after Vince K. McMahon bought out his father's business, things began to change. The younger McMahon had national ambitions and sought to unite the territories under his banner. He bought out and "raided" the top talent from rival territories. He used his influence to get on television in non-local markets; he held no allegiance or loyalty to the old, feudal way of doing things. And he gambled and risked financial ruin on the first WrestleMania, a closed circuit television event that was the first of many national successes.
Today, WWE is a global company, and McMahon is slowly passing the company's reins to his daughter, Stephanie McMahon, and her husband, Paul "Triple H" Levesque. Its shows are broadcast in over 180 countries and 27 different languages. WrestleMania 35 is a victory lap in for a company that has grown far beyond its humble beginnings. But it still retains its essential New York DNA: its emphasis on entertainment and pageantry over the more realistic wrasslin' of the south, and the big-league ethos that made the company endure and survive for decades against all rivals, big and small.
As far across the globe as it continues to grow, the WWE will always have a historical connection to the Empire City, one that stretches for over a century and across five generations of New York fans.