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WrestleMania In Tampa Is A Sort Of Homecoming

Hulk Hogan on stage
Mark Schreiner
WUSF Public Media
Pro Wrestling legend and Tampa-area resident Hulk Hogan at the 2019 announcement that Wrestlemania 36 was coming to Tampa.

Professional wrestling, or as it’s called in some circles, “sports entertainment,” has a long history in Florida and in Tampa.

It date back to the days of Championship Wrestling in Florida - where Dusty Rhodes, Eddie Graham, Boris Malenko and perhaps the greatest announcer to ever call a wrestling match, Gordon Solie, would act out their athletic feats and personal dramas each week for the television audience.

In the 1970s, Florida pro wrestlers included Haystacks Calhoun and Boris Malenko.

The love affair continues next month, when the WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment, brings WrestleMania 36 to Raymond James Stadium.

Florida Matters this week takes a look at what the week-long event is all about and why non-fans might want to take notice. Host Mark Schreiner spoke with Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer newsletter. 

Meltzer said people who don't consider themselves fans of pro wrestling should take WrestleMania seriously because it attracts close to 75,000 tourists congregating, travelling from all over the world and all 50 states.

“It's almost like become a Woodstock-type, yearly event for pro wrestling fans, because … there are wrestling companies from all over the world that are coming to Tampa to run shows and WWE has a multitude of shows,” he said. “WrestleMania is obviously the biggest on Sunday, but there's NXT on Saturday, there's New Japan Pro Wrestling going to be running, Impact Wrestling, and the Ring of Honor show is in town.”

In addition to the main event at Raymond James Stadium, venues like the Italian Club and Cuban Club in Ybor City will host events, as will the Bryan Glazer JCC which is built within the former Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, a legendary home for many pro wrestling matches.

Stephanie McMahon
Credit Mark Schreiner / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon hailed the economic power of WrestleMania, noting that Forbes Magazine named it one of the top 10 most valuable sporting events.

Hear the entire episode of Florida Matters with host Mark Schreiner speaking with Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer newsletter and Jody Simon, a former pro wrestler and son of wrestling legend Boris Malenko.

At last year’s announcement that WrestleMania was coming Tampa, WWE paid homage to the Armory.

“Tampa is ingrained in the fabric of who we are. So many performers over the years have been here whether it was at the Tampa Armory, in that un-air-conditioned building, watching somebody like Dusty Rhodes tear it up and take down all the bad guys,” said Paul Levesque, executive vice president of talent for the WWE. “And that spark - it started here, so to bring WrestleMania here, we couldn't be more excited.”

Meltzer said WrestleMania’s main event is a massive 7-hour-long spectacle, while smaller matches during the week will offer something different, including some with an international flavor.

“If you like fast action and athletic stuff, it's there. Wrestling's a great form of drama,” he said. “The other thing is, is with the international shows, what's really cool is it's almost like you bring a culture to the United States … kind of like getting a chance to watch a Japanese event in your own hometown.”

Jody Simon in front of books
Jody Simon is the son of famed wrestler Boris Malenko.

I’m the lucky one who guides the WUSF News team as it shares news from across Florida and the 13 amazing counties that we call the greater Tampa Bay region.
Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.