Twenty-nine years ago, WWE boss Vince McMahon bet big on a mainstream wrestling spectacular called WrestleMania, an event that would help launch his company past all competitors, securing his status as the king of all promoters. WrestleMania was a long-term difference-maker, giving McMahon the edge on rivals like Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling.
Today, it seems like the ultimate no-brainer. Of course WrestleMania would be a hit. After all, we've seen it 29 times, each incarnation seemingly bigger and better than the last. It's always the biggest show of the year and an annual tradition.
But in 1985, plotting and scheming in its Greenwich, Conn., headquarters, WrestleMania was far from a sure thing, even for the masterminds behind it.
"The first WrestleMania is probably something I would've never had to the courage to have done on my own," WWE CEO Linda McMahon told WWE 50 author Kevin Sullivan. "...It was a gamble. We really hocked everything we owned for WrestleMania I, because in those days it was closed circuit. So in every arena where we offered closed circuit, we had to rent projectors, landlines for microwave transmission of the event...We assumed every bit of that risk."
At WrestleMania 30, for the first time in decades, the WWE shifted the paradigm. The risk, as it was in 1985, is huge. Rather than distribute the show on pay-per-view, a time-honored delivery platform that has made the company hundreds of millions of dollars, WWE has shifted the show onto its new online WWE Network.
The WWE, once again, is on the cutting edge of technology, gambling that its fans are ready for something new. Instead of paying up to $70 for a high-definition pay-per-view broadcast, WWE is asking for $9.99 per month with a six-month commitment to the WWE Network. For a similar price, you get not just WrestleMania 30 but a 24-hour streaming network and an a la carte selection of every WWE pay-per-view in history, all on demand.
The risk, in many ways, is even bigger than it was in 1985. After all, there's a lot more to lose today. Failure, simply put, is unthinkable. Once again, the WWE is in a must-win position.
The stakes, as you can see, are high. Daniel Bryan won the WWE championship and Brock Lesnar ended the Undertaker's iconic streak. But for the company as a whole, the real battle was behind the scenes. The future of the wrestling business depends on it.
We won't know those results for some time. We can tell you what happened in the ring in what was a very entertaining show. What follows is our trademark instant analysis and letter grades from A-F.
Disagree with our assessment? Feel free to sound off in the comments.