Today is the biggest day on the pro wrestling calendar: Wrestlemania Day! Yes, even fans left cold by some of today’s “sports entertainment” still warms to hear that the annual extravaganza is on the way – if nothing else, it’s the only time you hear the word “wrestle” on a wrestling show these days. But it’s also the fabled “showcase of the immortals,” and brings to mind the epic, feud-ending battles of years past. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior. Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock. Basically Hulk Hogan vs. a lot of guys.

I have plenty of Wrestlemania memories – I vividly remember the World Wrestling Federation’s weekend show, “Superstars,” informing me that the diabolical King Kong Bundy had viciously attacked champion Hulk Hogan at a card in Chicago, injuring the Hulkster’s ribs and sending the champ to Good Samaritan Hospital, barely a mile from my house.

And then there was Burt Reynolds.

Wrestlemania X at Madison Square Garden. It was the first Wrestlemania not to feature Hulk Hogan, but it had all the star power it needed in guest ring announcer Burt Reynolds. Burt didn’t quite seem himself, though, as he made his way to the ring. For one thing, it was pretty obvious he was being helped to the ring by WWF official Pat Patterson and Jennie Garth of “Beverly Hills, 90210.” He had a cast on his right hand, and as he ambled past the announcers’ table Burt gave commentator/CEO Vince McMahon a… high-five? handshake? Even Vince wasn’t sure. Burt got into the ring, slurred “I’m happier to be here than you are!” and then stumbled his way through the introductions to the match between Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Yokozuna.

About a year before this I had, for the first and only time in my life, fallen away from pro wrestling, had stopped following its storylines and larger-than-life gimmicks and gone off to do other things. I’d only started watching again (and then only sporadically) because of a storyline between Bret Hart and his jealous brother Owen. They opened Wrestlemania X with a phenomenal match that convinced me to stay with the rest of the show. When I saw Burt…. I knew I was home, and would never leave again.

And I never have. I was even fortunate enough to attend Wrestlemania 13, which featured one of the true standout Wrestlemania matches, between Bret Hart and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin – an intense brawl that showcased Austin’s unique, ruthless badassery and set him on the road to superstardom. The rest of the show hasn’t aged well, chiefly because of its main event – Sycho Sid vs. The Undertaker. I saw quite a few people bored enough with the brawl-by-numbers action that they actually left the arena. Me, I stayed to see the Taker finish off Big Sid with a Tombstone piledriver and reclaim the world title. Internet fans have kept alive a rumor that Sid was legitimately shaken up by the Tombstone to the point of losing control of a certain bodily function just as he hit the mat. “Its a ruimor,” says a poster of limited spelling ability on Yahoo Answers UK, “but i think its true because if you look at undertaker face after the match it looks like he was bout to throw up.”

But when I want answers, I don’t cross the Yahoo Answers pond to find them, especially when said answers are about the World Wrestling Federation, “what the world is watching.” No, I go to what the world is editing: Wikipedia. And while there is no mention of a “Smelly Sid” moment in the Wrestlemania 13 article, I did find plenty of great Wikipedia moments that I want to share with you. I am reading them out loud in my best slurred Burt Reynolds voice as I write them.

Let’s start with the granddaddy, Wrestlemania I at the Garden, which featured an Intercontinental Title match between Greg “the Hammer” Valentine against the Junkyard Dog. It’s often forgotten today that the Hammer had only won that belt relatively recently before the big show. Let’s let Wikipedia explain further:

Valentine, however, lost his Intercontinental Championship back to Tito Santana after WrestleMania. Santana, whom Valentine had won the title from in September 1984, won the title back in a cage match, which is a standard wrestling match that takes place in a wrestling ring surrounded by a cage, on July 6, 1985—almost one year after their storyline feud originally began.

In case you didn’t catch that, a cage match is a match in a cage. Other specialty matches of the era included an empty arena match, held inside an empty arena, and a lumberjack match, contested inside a lumberjack. (Now you see why wrestling was so big in Portland, Oregon.)

Let’s skip ahead now to the start of the “Attitude” Era, Wrestlemania XIV in Boston. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was looking to finally grab the brass ring and take the world title from Shawn Michaels, but he had two problems, WWF owner Vince McMahon and guest referee Mike Tyson.

Also that week, a St. Patrick’s Day Tuesday broadcast of Raw on March 17, Austin called out Vince McMahon and attacked him for describing Tyson as ‘the baddest man on the planet’ but McMahon would not be goaded into a fight, instead he forced Austin to fight Rocky Maivia the following episode just, before WrestleMania

It was smart to schedule the St. Patrick’s Day broadcast for March 17th. The timing was perfect! I remember an Independence Day show one year that was on July 4th. It’s like they planned it that way or something!

Our next stop is Wrestlemania 2000 – named after the year it was held, or because the company’s marketing people count in a math system that goes fourteen, fifteen, two thousand, seventeen. Either way, the must-see match from that card was the “Tables, Ladders and Chairs” three-way dance between the Dudley Boyz, the Hardy Boyz and Edge and Christian… uh, boyz.

The situation allowed Edge and Christian to reach and grab the championship belts that were hung from the rafters, thus gaining their first ever the Tag Team Championship.

By grabbing the championships they gained the championships, or, as this article puts it, “their first ever the Tag Team Championship.” Andre the Giant, a Frenchman known to mispronounce a word or two in his non-native tongue, once called his World Wrestling Federation heavyweight championship title something like the “World World Wrestling Tag Team Championship.” I’m just going to assume the ghost of Andre the Giant edited this entry.

Moving on! Wrestlemania X8 was part of the waning days of the “Attitude” Era, in which gritty action and compelling characters were gradually being overrun by increasingly sketchy gimmick matches and incomprehensible storylines. Still, there was this:

The Hardcore Champion Maven defended his title next against Goldust in a Hardcore match.

You can see the silliness of needing to point out that the Hardcore champion defends his title in a Hardcore match. The fun part for me, though, is seeing the phrase “Hardcore Champion Maven.” I actually liked Maven a fair bit more than the average wrestlingist, who dismissed him as a pretty boy without a whole lot of fire in the belly. This entry from the Home Shopping Network website shows us who’s right and who’s wrong:

Maven Huffman taught sixth grade for two years in Portland, Ore., before leaving the profession for the action-packed world of professional wrestling. After winning the reality show “WWE Tough Enough,” he earned a contract with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). He later hosted BET’s “J List” and starred in Season 6 of VH1’s “The Surreal Life.”

Maven has degrees in history and social science and is a history buff who loves to read (and occasionally write) poetry.

So, yeah, as usual, I was write and everyone else was wrong. Poetry-writing schoolteacher-turned-Home Shopping Network host Maven was, is, and shall always be the king of extreme.

Maven is hardcore.

Let’s motor through a few more. Wrestlemania XIX had a match notable for the people in the match being in the match!

The next match was a triple threat Tag Team Championship match between the team of Rhyno and Chris Benoit, against the team of Los Guerreros (Chavo and Eddie Guerrero), and the champions, Team Angle (Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas). A non-stop action match, as all competitors participated in the match.

Back in my day, participants in a match always participated in a match. But these days, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. For proof of that, look at Wrestlemania 21, where the winner of a match won a match by winning.

The next match was between Akebono and The Big Show in a Sumo Match. The match was a little over a minute and Akebono won the match after he threw The Big Show out of the ring, thus winning the Sumo Match.

He won by winning. Akebono: the original Charlie Sheen.

But even winning-via-winning is not basic enough for us. Here’s the “background” section on Wrestlemania 23:

The event featured eight professional wrestling matches that involved different wrestlers from pre-existing scripted feuds, plots and storylines. Wrestlers were portrayed as either villains or fan favorites as they followed a series of events which built tension, culminating in a wrestling match or series of matches.

First off, if it took you twenty-three Wrestlemanias to figure out that there are scripts involved, neither I nor Wikipedia can help you much. That said, it’s good to know that wrestling events culminate in wrestling.

Lastly, a true Wrestlemania moment from Wrestlemania XXV:

Before the match started, JBL kicked Mysterio and punched him down to the ground for a few seconds. But once the referee started the match, Mysterio surprised JBL by quickly hitting the 619 before pinning him for a win via pinfall in twenty-one seconds.

This is why Rey Mysterio is one of the true greats: he didn’t just settle for winning by winning, he pinned his opponent for a win via pinfall! Not just anybody with a pair of tights can do that, y’know.

So may we see many great wins during this year’s Wrestlemania, be they by winning or by pinfall. Let the cage matches have cages, let the competitors participate in the matches in which they’re competing, and let us all congratulate whoever walks away with their first the Tag Team Championship.

And for heaven’s sakes, let’s get Burt Reynolds back out there.