The experience of WrestleMania has evolved over the years, but it has consistently been WWE's biggest annual moment. In the last few years, that evolution has taken an unfortunate turn, with the show growing longer and longer in running time.
What was once an impressive four-hour experience has become a ridiculous seven-hour event. While the company heralds this length as a record that highlights the scope of the show, it is a far more contentious concept for fans.
Is there any other entertainment outlet that asks its fans to sit down and watch for seven straight hours?
Even the best 'Mania in recent memory, WrestleMania XXX, included an uncomfortable match between The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar, in which Taker suffered a concussion early in the match, and a mess of a women's championship match, just one night after Paige and Emma arguably began the women's revolution at NXT Arrival.
The Showcase of the Immortals is never perfect, and it is hard to say how many hours will be worth watching each year. But the answer is certainly not seven. While fans are not required to commit to the entire experience, no one outside of WWE knows what matches and segments will happen when on the show, so if you walk away, you might miss the best part.
Last year at WrestleMania 33, it would have been easy to take a break after the women's Fatal 4-Way and miss the return of The Hardy Boyz and the ladder match, returning to John Cena and The Miz having a bland TV-quality bout to set up Cena's proposal to Nikki Bella.
It's important to understand where WrestleMania began. WrestleMania 34 will be the longest in history because that is WWE's goal, but how much longer will it be than the first?
We've used WWE Network, YouTube, Wikipedia and the Internet Wrestling Database (profightdb.com) to collect statistics and determine the length of each WrestleMania, the duration of each match, the percentage of time spent on wrestling and the number of wrestlers who performed at each show.
The data is subject to human error, but it is as close to consummate as we could muster.
Times, They Are A-Changin'
The first WrestleMania was a mere two hours and 16 minutes long and featured only 22 wrestlers. These numbers are so outrageously small in comparison to the norm that it shows this is not a great baseline to start from. The first event was a trial run, with WWE hardly aware of how big it would all get.
It is more interesting to start from WrestleMania III, the first event to showcase the star-studded formula that would go on to define the Grandest Stage of Them All. It clocked in at 3:04:30 and featured 38 performers.
This is still minuscule when looking at recent editions of the Show of Shows. Compare this to the largest 'Mania to date, WrestleMania 33, which was a total of 7:09:38 and included 71 wrestlers.
Interestingly, though, the growth has not been a clear upward progression over the years. The following graphs show the total minutes in length of each WrestleMania and the total number of performers at the events.
Until WrestleMania XXX, which was the first to include a two-hour kickoff show, the longest events in the show's history were between WrestleMania X-Seven and WrestleMania XX. Other than XX, which was an extended special show, all the other 'Manias in that span did include a 45-minute pre-show on Sunday Night Heat.
Without including the pre-shows (an addition to 13 WrestleManias), XX was easily the longest show in history before 32, which clocked in at 4:51:55 only to be topped the next year by almost 20 minutes.
The number of wrestlers included at each event mostly follows similar trends, as the strength of the roster usually defines how long the event will be. However, no event has more frequently had Battle Royals on the card than the Showcase of the Immortals, which can inflate random events' numbers.
A Battle Royal allows way more performers to get on the card and compete on the Grandest Stage of Them All, a necessity especially in recent years. With the roster growing larger by the month, the number of performers included on each card is also rising.
The first 29 events averaged 34 performers while the last five averaged 65, nearly double. This is despite the number of actual matches on each card remaining static. XXX had eight matches on the card, while Wrestlemania 31 went up to nine. In comparison, the first five 'Manias averaged 12.6.
This shows how much more time is being given to each match. However, it also shows just how cramped the matches are getting over time with more wrestlers in each match. One-on-one matches at 'Mania are becoming increasingly rare with each year.
It is possible that the numbers will decrease over time, with WWE becoming more cognizant of how bloated the show is. However, it is important not to lose the true spectacle of the Show of Shows, which allows it to rival any other sporting event.
Wrestling Event vs. Spectacle
Even more than how long each show is, the biggest concern is the time on the card spent wrestling. Just because a pay-per-view event is five hours long does not mean it contains five hours of wrestling.
This is especially true of WrestleMania, which is a spectacle even more than a typical WWE event. Even if fans are coming in for the matches on the card, they will also get short concerts, impromptu promo segments and extended entrances.
The average percentage of time spent wrestling on any given WrestleMania is 48.3. For a three-hour show, that means around 93 minutes of time spent on anything but the wrestling. On a seven-hour show, that number increases to 217.14 minutes or 3:37:08.
That is bad enough, but the last five events on the Grandest Stage of Them All have some of the lowest percentages in the show's history. The following graph highlights the noticeable downward trend of in-ring percentage.
The number does not noticeably fluctuate wildly, which makes the historically bad 38.5 percent and 35.5 percent at WrestleManias XXX and 31 shocking outliers. As shown in the table below, only WrestleMania XV stands among its modern peers as a show lacking so clearly in wrestling.
|Worst Wrestling Percentage in WrestleMania History|
|Collected Match Times from Wikipedia|
Wrestling frequency does not always correlate to quality, of course, with the span from WrestleMania VII to XIV showing a peak in the average amount of wrestling on the show at 55.8 percent. That time is hardly the most revered in the history of the Showcase of the Immortals.
However, it becomes harder to invest in the quality of the matches on the card when so much time is spent on events that do not directly connect to what fans paid to see. It was evident the moment Pitbull stepped on stage late in the show last year how tired fans were getting given the Twitter response:
By the home stretch of 'Mania, all those in attendance and watching at home are waiting for are the remaining matches. Promo segments are a dime a dozen on Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live, but these matches are unique and worked at a higher level than any other time of the year.
The Problem and Potential Solutions
The Grandest Stage of Them All has not lost its mystique. Every wrestler dreams of competing on that stage, even just once, and fans will always flock to see the special bouts waged on each card. However, it is becoming easier to be overwhelmed by the whole spectacle.
The shows grow larger while the time given to in-ring action remains mostly the same, leading to large stretches of unnecessary excess. Eventually, this growth will become too much for WWE to manage.
The company is already expecting fans to sit down and take in seven straight hours of wrestling, which starts late in the afternoon and finally ends long after it has turned dark in the United States. The whole experience is exhausting.
While a change is needed, a radical course direction would be a mistake. Seeing wrestlers get their chance to compete at the Showcase of the Immortals is what makes the show special, and the event deserves time to stand out as an impactful WWE exhibition.
Going back to a three- or even four-hour experience would be too little time for the performers to shine. What is necessary is a cut-back on excess. Nothing would make 'Mania stand out stronger than a dedicated focus on the in-ring product.
Rather than giving just 40 percent of air time to the wrestling, why not give the action 70 percent of the spotlight? A five-hour WrestleMania with 70 percent of the time spent on the wrestling would lead to an unprecedented 3:30:00 of in-ring action, more than even the three hours of wrestling on the seven-hour WrestleMania 33 card.
Cut out the unnecessary concerts. Push back significantly on the expert-panel analysis. Limit the time spent drawing out all the top stars' entrances. Shorten video packages, especially those shown repeatedly on the Road to WrestleMania. Avoid promo and interview segments on the show altogether.
This would require far tighter editing and organization by WWE, but the result would be a show dedicated to the talent, which is exactly what 'Mania should always be. Weekly TV already does the work of building these matches up, leading to an event airing with the intention to let the wrestlers fight.
There will always be an inclination to make WrestleMania longer. The roster is arguably the most talented in the company's history, and it grows larger by the month. Why not let all these stars compete?
WWE should do just that. Let as many as possible wrestle, but don't use them as an excuse to bog down the event. A change is needed to make WrestleMania great again, and the last thing that change should include is a further increase of the bloated size of the Showcase of the Immortals.