Wrestling fans can be notoriously jaded, but WrestleMania is the one WWE grappling extravaganza that even the weariest fans find hard to resist.
WrestleMania 35, taking place at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium on Sunday, has 12 matches announced so far, plus three preshow bouts. It's a long night, but one that's sure to produce memorable matches and unforgettable moments.
You can watch all of it on the WWE Network, WWE's Netflix-like streaming service. Nearly 2 million subscribers strong, the Network features live pay-per-views, original documentaries and more, but WrestleMania is unquestionably its crown jewel.
WWE tries to make history every year at WrestleMania, but this year's event is especially important in the best way.
Main event mania
In 2015, Charlotte Flair declared that she wanted to main event WrestleMania.
Being placed in the headlining match of WrestleMania is the wrestling world's greatest accolade. It means the WWE thinks you and your opponent(s) are its best bet to a record-breaking box office. In 2015, just four years ago, it was inconceivable that a women's match would main event WrestleMania.
Women on WWE television had since the mid-'90s been portrayed as little more than sex objects. The female performers were referred to as "divas." Bikini contests and bras-'n'-panties matches were standard. Diva matches on pay-per-views and other big events -- if they were there at all -- were almost always under five minutes long.
This began to change in 2015, though, when fans created the #GiveDivasAChance hashtag. The company lent an ear to this movement and began treating its female athletes more seriously. (Ronda Rousey drawing millions of pay-per-view buys for the UFC around that time probably had something to do with it too.)
The term "diva" was dropped, with the women now being called, well, women. Though wrestling will always be a cosmetic business, these women are now treated primarily as athletes rather than sex objects. Most importantly, women are frequently given enough time in a good spot on the card to have great matches.
Monumentally, Charlotte Flair's prediction becomes a reality on Sunday when she faces Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch in the main event of WrestleMania. WWE is making it as big a bash as possible, with both Flair's SmackDown Women's Championship and Rousey's Raw Women's Championship on the line. WWE's Raw and SmackDown brands are usually kept separate, so this winner-takes-all stipulation is the company's attempt to raise the stakes as high as possible.
The women deserve the spot. Lynch has been the promotion's most popular act since last summer. An unplanned broken nose last November led to one of WWE's most iconic scenes in years, and she won the Royal Rumble in January to earn her shot in the main event. Rumours swirled as early as last April that this year's main event would be Flair versus Rousey, but Lynch's unexpected popularity was such that she simply had to be added.
The storyline has the heroic Lynch hated by WWE CEO Vince McMahon and the executive brass, but Flair, a statuesque blonde and daughter of the illustrious Ric Flair, as the corporate pick. Flair was added to the main event match by McMahon for that reason. Last week she unexpectedly won the SmackDown Women's Championship, with the idea that she's given opportunity after opportunity while Lynch is made to repeatedly toil for just one shot.
Flair is a villain here, but not the only villain. Rousey has been a fan favourite for much of the past year, but in recent weeks has gone to the dark side. Bitter that crowds cheer Lynch over her, Rousey has entered mixed-martial-arts killer mode, defeating opponents in minutes, or even seconds.
Wrestling is stupid and fake, Rousey tells fans, but she's real.
The buildup culminated on Raw with a ridiculous brawl in which the three women assaulted a team of police officers and smashed their cars, all while handcuffed. It was awesome.
This match closing WrestleMania is historic in the best way. WWE, always keen for mainstream recognition and good PR, is not above promoting matches in order to publicly pat itself on the back. However the women have earned it. Flair is arguably the most consistent performer on the roster. Lynch is the most popular. Rousey is inarguably a huge box-office draw and an uber talented performer.
Not only does this match deserve to go on last, it would be crazy for it not to.
A Guardian lays down his shield
You may know actor Dave Bautista from such hits as Guardians of the Galaxy, James Bond: Spectre and Blade Runner 2049. But before he was a bona fide Hollywood star, Bautista was just Batista -- his real name without the "u" -- a six-time world champion in WWE.
Now 50 years young, he is ready to strap up his wrestling boots one last time before he bids farewell to the squared circle. At WrestleMania he faces Triple H, his oldest on-screen rival, in a no-holds barred match. This is a rematch of sorts from WrestleMania 21, an event the two headlined back in 2005.
As you may infer from that tidbit, these aren't growing boys we're talking about. At 49, Triple H is just one year younger than Batista. But don't write this one off just yet.
WrestleMania is all about dream matches, and these two actually feel like special performers. Triple H only wrestles a few times a year and Batista's last match was in 2014. That's rare, since most wrestlers, after three hours of Raw and two hours of SmackDown each week, end up feeling overexposed. And Triple H, as real-life second-in-command behind Vince McMahon, rarely puts himself in a position to have a dud match.
Batista has said this will be his last match, and a stipulation added on Raw weeks ago says that Triple H must retire if he loses. That probably means a Triple H win, but nothing is for sure. He's certainly on the tail end of his career, and there have been bigger surprises at WrestleMania.
The two have a wealth of experience, and with no holds barred meaning no rules, will have all sorts of tools to make sure this is a spectacle. If this is the end for Batista, he'll have been in a key match at the biggest wrestling event of the year and a key character in one of the biggest movies of all time, Avengers: End Game. Both in the same month.
Not a bad way to go out.
At Fastlane, the final pay-per-view event before WrestleMania, fans at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, were going crazy during the WWE Championship match.
"Kofi! Kofi! Kofi!"
The only problem? Kofi Kingston, the man they were chanting for, wasn't actually in the match. Kingston is the WWE fandom's latest favorite underdog. Debuting in WWE back in 2007, Kingston has been something of a journeyman performer. He's had flashes of brilliance, and the WWE has shown flashes of interest in promoting him like a top star, but he's mostly been more of a background character.
That changed in February when Kingston wrestled over an hour in a gauntlet match on SmackDown. The herculean performance ignited fan desire to see him claim the WWE Championship. Since then, #KofiMania has been an online movement that seeks to push Kingston into a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania.
So when Daniel Bryan battled and defeated Kevin Owens and Mustafa Ali at Fastlane to retain the WWE Championship only for the crowd to demand more Kingston, it was clear that KofiMania was upon us.
After weeks of teases, including two more gauntlet matches, Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship was made official for WrestleMania last week.
On Tuesday, the final SmackDown before WrestleMania ended with the two signing the contract for their championship match. Unlike every other contract signing in WWE history, this one didn't end up with the table flipped and punches thrown. But no punches are necessary, the crowd made it clear that they were already keen as can be.
Kingston walking out of WrestleMania with the WWE Championship, historically the most prestigious title in the industry, is not likely to wow drop-in, casual fans. But devoted watchers, the type who'll be paying for tickets to see WrestleMania for instance, are desperate to soak in the feel-good story of an often-overlooked wrestler overachieving at the year's biggest show.
It won't be the match that gets all the post-WrestleMania headlines, but Kingston vs. Bryan may still be the highlight of the night.
The Beast, The Olympian and The Big Dog
Every WWE star you need to know aboutSee all photos
WrestleMania is a long night. Last year's event ran five hours, not including the two-hour preshow, meaning there's plenty of time for big matches. The above matches only scratch the surface.
Brock Lesnar will defend his Universal Championship against Seth Rollins, who won the men's Royal Rumble in January to earn his shot. A former WWE Champion himself, Rollins has been one of the best performers in the company for the past few years. Lesnar, meanwhile, is a legitimate fighting machine. WWE often does something special for Lesnar's matches, so this is certainly one to watch.
Kurt Angle, a legend in both amateur and professional wrestling, will have his retirement match at WrestleMania. His opponent was two weeks ago revealed to be Baron Corbin. This is bad news. Corbin isn't known for stellar in-ring performances and fans, wanting Angle to go out in a match befitting his career, vocalised their disappointment on Raw and social media. Many are hoping a returning John Cena will take Corbin's place, which would be more symbolic: Cena's first match in the WWE was against Angle in 2002.
Great match or not, at WrestleMania fans will farewell one of the greats.
Finally, WrestleMania will get the unexpected benefit of a Roman Reigns match. Reigns, who the company has for years earmarked as its next John Cena-like leading man, had to forfeit the Universal Championship in October due to a very real-life struggle with leukaemia. No one knew how long he'd be out for, but he returned to Raw on Feb. 25 and revealed that the leukaemia is in remission. Reigns will be wrestling Drew McIntyre, an awesome Scottish wrestler, in what will likely be an explosive brawl.
First published March 14, 2019 at 5 a.m. PT.
Update, March 19 at 11:36 p.m.: Adds new information from Raw and SmackDown shows.
Update, March 29 at 11:19 p.m.: Adds new information from Raw and SmackDown shows.
Update, April 3 at 6:28 p.m.: Adds new information from Raw and SmackDown shows.