One is the queen of MTV's Jersey Shore; the other is WWE's resident Mexican aristocrat. One is famous for being perhaps the worst of the tanned, bouffant-wearing, gum-chomping Italian stereotype. The other invites fans' wrath with a wink and a smile as he drives the world's most expensive cars to the ring and insists on being introduced by his own personal ring announcer - in Spanish.
Only one entity - and one extravaganza - could bring these two very different stars together: World Wrestling Entertainment's 27th annual WrestleMania on Sunday. Snooki will participate in a six-person, inter-gender grudge match while Alberto Del Rio will vie for the World Heavyweight Championship in his WrestleMania debut. Both promise to thrill 70,000-plus screaming fans in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
"It's going to be the peak of my career," said Del Rio, a native of Mexico. "My family, my entire country, is going to be proud of me because I'm going to go out there and become the new World Heavyweight Champion. I'm going to die out there trying to become the World Heavyweight Champion."
So what's behind the infatuation with WrestleMania? Why do fans come from around the world and dole out hard-earned money to watch this spectacle on pay-per-view? What is it about WrestleMania that makes fathers and sons and daughters jump out of their seats and grown, muscle-bound men in tights speak in hushed reverence?
Simply put, it is pro wrestling's greatest annual event. All wrestlers who grew up as fans dream of performing in it and look forward to watching it. Even in the choreographed world of professional wrestling, there is nothing staged about the emotion and excitement from anyone who performs at WrestleMania.
"As a kid, all I wanted to do was be a wrestler," said Del Rio. "Now that I'm here in WWE - WrestleMania is our NBA, our Super Bowl, our World Series of professional wrestling. As a wrestler, as a performer, I always dreamed of being in something like that."
For the fan, WrestleMania's appeal is as nuanced as wrestling's longtime popularity. Wrestling's magnetism goes hand-in-hand with the dawn of the television age in the 1950s, but WrestleMania took it to another level. It is a marriage of headlocks and Hollywood that began in 1985, when WWE Chairman Vince McMahon teamed up the charisma of Hulk Hogan and the diabolical lunacy of "Rowdy" Roddy Piper with the star power of Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper. (Credit: News Corporation)
Wrestling News Media: Shawn Michaels' Speech At WWE Hall Of Fame Induction 2011: 'Thank You' - 2nd April 2011
Thank you. ["HBK!" chant. "Thank you Shawn!" chant. Whoa! Some other chant.] The damnedest thing on my way to my Hall of Fame speech, a damn roast broke out. Thanks. I knew there was no way you was gonna say anything nice about me. For the 15 years we've known each other he never has, and he never will. He's like the Fonz trying to say he's sorry. [Muttering.]
I know how tough it was for you to say . That was a huge deal for him to even recognize that I worked in this line of work for 36 years. You're not aware of this, but we shared a big moment there. There's some psychiatrists going, "They're starting to heal."
I'm nervous, so don't give me cat calls. [Cat calls.] I've been going over what I'm gonna say. ["One more match!" chant.] You're killing me with the one more match thing. Seriously, I know it's good TV, he'll have a nervous breakdown. We sold out the building! He had a heart attack!
["We love you Shawn!"] I'm serious. For the love of God, help me out here. I don't even know where to start. You know there are things that go between ... I can't say, I'm not supposed to say. That's one of the reasons I was OK to retire. Coincidentally, this is the first year where we're not doing it live. They'll chop it up in post to make sure it's ok to air.
When I was 19 years old, I didn't want to be a sports entertainer. I didn't know at the time. I told my mom and dad, I want to do what those guys do it on TV. Making it was going to be going out in San Antonio and wresting in front of 25 people. Fast forward, and I'm a 45-year-old man, and I get to stand here and say thank you.
Along the way, I wasn't really aware of it. I was raised by a loving family, sitting right down here, who loved me every step of the way and supported me. But for whatever reason when I started doing this line of work at 19 I spent the next 26 years searching for validation. I don't even know why. But what my peers thought of me and what you thought of me was the most important thing in my life. And I worked myself into the ground. It was so important to me that you thought I did a good job. I know that sounds patronizing, but I want to thank you so much for giving me that.
I'm very thankful to all the other inductees and especially Triple H for making this fun and amusing. Because as much as I've tried to not make it a deep and heavy cry fest, I can't do it. There are no words to express how much I lived and breathed to do this every night for so many years. And it begs the question, how am I gonna be OK away from this?
Last Monday the Undertaker had mentioned Shawn Michaels will walk into the Hall of Fame with a ton of regrets. If this had happened in 1998, that might've been true. At that time, I was good at my job, but there's no way I could've stood here with no regrets. And although my family would've been proud of me, I know there would've been a little disappointment for them and a certain guy backstage whose name I'm not allowed to mention. [Crowd WOOs. Guy next to me says "RIC FLAIR!" I believe him!]
I came back in 2002 after being told I'd never wrestle again, for one more match. That was nine years ago. I'm thankful I can stand before you with absolutely no regrets. [Missed a part about God and his family. Sorry.] Since they came into my life, I've had not a regret. Not a second goes by that I'm not thankful. The most precious gift of all is my little family. I love you all so much, and I want to thank you for being so selfless and letting daddy finish what he started.
It was very important to me to come back and go away on my own terms. I love my two children more than anything in the world. Thank you so much for letting daddy go wrestle. [I have a daughter. Totally about to tear up.]
There are countless WWE superstars that I've had to create with. I'd love to mention everybody, but I don't want to make this too long. I don't wanna be that guy. [Crowd WOOs.] You guys are implying that. I'm not saying that. Every year there's somebody, and we're like, dude there's WrestleMania tomorrow. I'm gonna assume you know who you are.
Because I did my best to make sure before I left to tell you how awesome it was for me, and how much I appreciate you guys [makes crazy hand gestures] putting up with me when I wanna do something you don't do all that much. I appreciate your time and patience. I appreciate you being a part of my life. A lot of times all we've got is each other. We're like guys in a fox hole together. But when we're with each other, we're all we got. We can stab each other in the back, but can't nobody else do it.
I wanna thank you for allowing me to be a part of that fraternity. We're always gonna look at everybody else and say you're not gonna understand it. And that's OK. It's something we're gonna take to our graves.
And lastly there's all of you. The WWE universe, the fans. I love every one of you, even when you bother me at 5 in the morning, even when I cuss you, you still come back and forgive me. You have been a part of my life and family for so many years, it begs the question, why would a 19-year-old kid from a wonderful upbringing seek validation from strangers?
One thing people used to always say that separated me is that I could make a connection with you. I don't know if I did a good job, but for the last 26 years whether you were connected to me I have no idea, but I was connected to you. I have never won Most Popular, I wasn't the prom king, I wasn't the homecoming king, so I guess in my adult life the most important thing to me was that you believed in me and thought I was good. On this night, 2011 Hall of Fame, I feel it, I thank you, I love my ring. And I love each and every one of you.
I know this has been sappy. I can't help it. And if you're not down with that, I got two words for you. ("Suck it!" from the crowd.)
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