Thanks to my children, I am a big fan of professional wrestling once again. I loved the WWF as a kid, but as I grew up, I grew out of my fondness of the squared circle. Now, I’m back…and I’m loving every minute of it.
For about two years now my daughter and son have been watching WWE. They had heard me talk about Roddy Piper and my favorites from the 1980s. They knew about John Cena from the Fruity Pebbles box and perhaps a few other current wrestlers, but basically they went into their initial wrestling experience as a couple of clean slates. It started out small. They would watch part of an episode of RAW or SmackDown maybe every other week. Then it began to take on a life of its own. We quickly went from a house of novice onlookers to a pack of rabid fans. What started as Sky Low Low morphed into Andre the Giant. Now we watch RAW and SmackDown every week. We subscribe to the WWE Network. Santa even brought WWE belts and shirts to the house this Christmas. We are wrestling nuts. It’s really a lot of fun.
Watching wrestling with my kids is particularly enjoyable because it’s become a family event. It’s our thing. We talk about it a lot. We treat the WWE like any other sport. We discuss upcoming bouts and we look forward to the big events. We have our favorite wrestlers and personalities. I’m enjoying watching today’s superstars through their eyes.
My one concern about my children getting immersed in wrestling was the appropriateness of the WWE. I wondered if today’s brand of the sport was as family friendly as it used to be. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that today’s product may be more geared toward families than ever before.
Statistics show my inclination is probably right.
WWE content has been PG since 2008. More parents are watching WWE broadcasts with their children than any other sports league with the exception of the NFL. That gap is closing even more with the huge hit in viewership the NFL has taken of late. Every week, WWE programming reaches more than a half million children. More kids are watching the WWE over MLB, NBA and NHL action. At live events, 60% of the attendees bring at least one child.
The move to PG content in 2008 opened the door for the WWE to have more conversations with big time advertisers. Today, WWE broadcasts are sponsored by well known products and brands like Snickers, KFC, and Cricket Wireless. Gaming partners of the WWE include Rocket League, EA Sports, Square Enix (Final Fantasy), and 2K. WWE Studios has even partnered with Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures Animation to release animated films featuring WWE Superstars. The movies include Scooby-Doo, Surf’s Up 2, and The Jetsons. Families are loving these partnerships. The numbers don’t lie.
All that said, I am more of a gut feeling guy than a Sabermetrics man. The stats point to the WWE being a family affair, but does the company pass the eye test? The only way to know for sure is to take in a live WWE event. So, that’s what we did.
My kids and I headed to a WWE: Live Road to WrestleMania event in the great state of Delaware. Their first live wrestling event may as well be in The First State. I don’t know how they got through their day at school, knowing they were going to see wrestling in person for the first time. They were fired up for days before. I must have heard questions like “Is it today?” and “Where are we sitting?” dozens of times leading up to the big night. I was hopeful the event would live up to their very high expectations.
As we picked up our tickets at Will Call, my son decked out in his Steve Austin shirt and my daughter in her Sasha Banks one, they were very curious to see exactly where we would be sitting. I (wearing a Braun Strowman shirt) told them the tickets read ‘ringside’, so the seats must be pretty good. Not knowing the layout of this particular arena I wasn’t sure how good they were until we walked in.
When we made it inside we realized we were in the front row. My son was silent for the first time ever. My daughter jumped up and down as if she was delivering multiple piledrivers to an unlucky opponent. They were beside themselves.
We had plenty of time to kill before the show began so we headed over to the souvenir stand. There, I happily plunked down some big bucks to get my daughter a new shirt featuring multiple superstars along with a Happy Rusev Day shirt for me. My son went for the Money In The Bank briefcase for his prize. How could I say no? They were so happy and thrilled to be at their first live WWE event. The quality merchandise just enhanced that feeling even more.
We then patiently waited for things to get started. We took some pictures in the first row with the real professional ring right in back of us. The WWE ran some promo videos on the jumbo screen and Byron Saxton, who would later serve as the ring announcer for the night, pumped up the crowd with some fun games and announcements. At one point, Saxton chose a family to move down to the first row. It just so happened to be a father with his three kids that we spoke to earlier in the lobby. They wound up sitting next to us in the first row for the whole event. It was great to have a nice family share the night with us from an incredible vantage point.
Then it began. Seemingly without warning, even tough there were many countdowns, the WWE was in our face. Jinder Mahal accompanied by one of the Singh brothers was in the ring. Baron Corbin entered next. Then U.S. Champion Bobby Roode made his glorious entrance to the ring. It was a Triple Threat match for the belt. Right off the bat. My daughter was screaming and jumping. My son again looked like Alex P. Keaton when he got stage fright during a televised quiz show. He was just staring at the ring. He couldn’t believe his favorite wrestlers were right there.
While the wrestlers went at it, Saxton sat right in front of us. The official bell was right there too. Even Roode’s title belt was within arm’s reach of us. We weren’t near the action…we were in the action.
Roode was able to outlast his two bigger opponents and we had a blast through it all. Singh interacted with us. The kids learned quickly how to scream and yell at the wrestlers. My son went from a trance to a yelling, laughing machine. He loved the sound of the mat, the crash of the turnbuckles, and the sounds of the athletes colliding.
I loved it too. Not just for what we were seeing on this night, but for what it all meant to me personally. I flashbacked to the 80s and remembered my first time at a live event. My father took me and a friend to the Dunn Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey to see the WWF. My friend was so sick that he didn’t even go to school that day. But, there was no way he was going to miss wrestling. Fever and all, he made it. My dad bought us both Hulkamania shirts. It was a night we’d never forget. Now my kids are having that moment for themselves. I was certainly watching the action in the ring, but I was also watching the expressions on my children’s faces just as much.
As the card progressed the action continued to be top-notch. My daughter cheered loudly for Dolph Ziggler even though most of the arena was booing him soundly. My son was thrilled to get a high five from Jey Uso. They both enjoyed heckling Chad Gable, who in turn heckled right back. It was amazing.
The highlights just kept on coming inside and outside of the ring. Every member of The New Day spoke to my kids. When the fans demanded flapjacks, Xavier Woods apologized for not bringing any. My daughter yelled “That’s OK, Xavier”, to which he replied “Thank you, sweetheart” with a wink. I told Woods how much the kids love them and he shot back with “You’re raising them right”. My daughter even grabbed a quick selfie with Big E. Incredible stuff.
The Women’s Division took over at one point and that was a huge hit. Naomi said hello to all of us. My daughter was thrilled to see Charlotte Flair. My son was pumped about Sarah Logan. Truth be told, I was pretty pleased to see Lana and Liv Morgan. The ladies rocked it.
Just when the night couldn’t get any better, it did just that. Rusev and Aiden English entered the ring for a tag team battle against Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura. The cheers were loud for this one. My kids alone were deafening as they screamed for one of their favorites in Orton. As the match took place, we noticed a woman sit down next to my son. It was the aisle seat. She wasn’t there all night, but for this match she came down to that seat and she seemed to be very interested in the match. Earlier in the night we found it odd that that seat was open and then our three seats were next. We even joked with the usher about it. As the match went on, this mystery woman was taking lots of pictures, texting, and posting. While she was clearly interested in the match, she also seemed to be paying close attention to us. I just chalked it up to a nice person enjoying watching kids have a great time. But when the fight ended we found out there was more to it.
Orton and Nakamura won an exciting contest. My son was really excited to shake hands with Nakamura, fresh off his Royal Rumble victory one day earlier. My daughter’s favorite referee Charles Robinson, who said hello to her many times during the night waved to both of my kids. Then he also said hello to the mystery woman in the aisle seat. Now we were certain she knew someone in the match and wasn’t just an enthusiastic fan.
Then The Viper himself walked over and Randy Orton planted a big kiss on the woman. It was his wife. My daughter thought the whole thing was so cool. But then it happened. Mrs. Orton grabbed her husband and said something in his ear while clearly looking at us. The Viper said to her “Here? Here?” When she assured him that he had the right people, Randy Orton took his hoodie vest and handed it to my son, right in his chest. My kids thanked him while smiling ear to ear. I thanked Randy too and told him how much I liked his dad, Bob Orton, Piper’s bodyguard. Randy said “Don’t thank me, thank my wife.” But just like that she was gone. Mrs. Orton, our wrestling angel if you will, vanished into the night. She did her job though. She made two kids ridiculously happy. My daughter immediately put The Viper vest on and wore it the rest of the evening.
The impressive card culminated with a steel cage match for the WWE title. A.J. Styles, the champion took on Sami Zayn. This is my kids’ first live event and they’re seeing a steel cage match for the championship. I repeatedly explained to them how fortunate they are. Honesty, I think they really did appreciate it. At least as much as a 9-year old girl and a 7-year old boy can comprehend such things.
Despite interference from Kevin Owens, Styles was able to retain his title by beating Zayn. My son got a spirited hand slap from Styles after the big victory and the whole crowd cheered for the champ and jeered at Zayn and Owens as they headed back to the locker room.
Never during the event did I see any problems with fans. The packed house appeared to get along and enjoy the show together. No fighting. No belligerent drunks. Nothing but fun. A great experience from beginning to end.
The wrestling portion of the night had come to an end. Now we just had to battle the traffic and somehow figure out how the heck anyone was going to get up for school the next day. But no one cared. Everyone was too busy smiling to worry about anything. My son walked to the car with his Money in the Bank briefcase proudly in hand. My daughter walked right next to him still wearing the shirt Randy Orton gave us right off his back. The kids even wished some fellow fans a Happy Rusev Day as we all made our way to our vehicles.
My daughter slept in that Orton shirt all night. My son had that new briefcase right next to him in his bed. It was the perfect ending to what was truly a perfect night together as a family.
Not only did WWE pass the eye test when it comes to family friendly fun, it exceeded all expectations.
The next day we didn’t get up for school on time. They headed in late with a note reading “We were out of state and didn’t get home until after midnight.” That note could have just as easily read “We were out making family memories that will last a lifetime.” The WWE is to thank for that. To all of the wrestlers and employees that made our special night possible–Job well done. You are all champions.