WrestleMania: Why Indie Wrestlers Don’t Star in Summer Blockbusters

NOTE: The following is an editorial submission by Daniel Lee. You can follow Daniel on Twitter @Lee_Daniel721

WrestleMania 33 is this weekend, and we will witness the annual convergence of casual wrestling fans and the hardcore internet wrestling community who are prepared to watch, dissect, and critique Vince McMahon’s latest blockbuster. 

As WWE’s biggest showcase, Vince McMahon spares no expense. The main event matches are filled with remnants of the Attitude & Ruthless Aggression Eras (Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, Triple H, Chris Jericho, and Shane McMahon) all involved in the highest profile matches.

We may also see cameos from The Rock, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold, and Mick Foley.

The presence of these relics from bygone eras is tantamount to Vince’s version of The Expendables franchise. Their spots on the card leave Indie darlings like Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Cesaro, and The Club relegated to the pre-show, bottom of the card, or the Andre the Giant “Jobber” Royale. Furthermore, Finn Balor is likely to be kept off the show altogether and Shinsuke Nakamura is not likely to debut.  

The diehards will decry that their favorite stars deserve to be in the main event, how AJ Styles deserves to be in the title match instead of "placating Shane McMahon’s ego". None of this is new.

Remember when Daniel Bryan was squashed by Sheamus on WrestleMania 28 in 18 seconds?

Remember when CM Punk faced the Undertaker in WrestleMania 29 because Vince McMahon wanted the sequel to John Cena vs. Rock?

I would like to play devil’s advocate and argue that our favorite wrestlers are exactly where they should be on the card. 


If we are to compare wrestling pay-per-views to movies, then WrestleMania is Star Wars, Titanic, Avatar, and The Avengers. Vince McMahon’s objective is to create a blockbuster that will pack stadiums, generate PPV buys (now WWE Network subscriptions), and create “did you see that” moments that will play well in video packages.

Does he care if Dave Meltzer gives any match a 5-star rating?


Let's use The Dark Knight as an analogy to delve a little deeper, because it is the perfect summer blockbuster. Not only did Christopher Nolan (with David Goyer) write a compelling script about two iconic characters, but it was expertly cast. We had Christian Bale and Heath Ledger as the leads, but surrounding them were brilliant actors in Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Aaron Eckhart.

 Aaron Eckhart (left), Gary Oldman (center), Christian Bale (right)

Aaron Eckhart (left), Gary Oldman (center), Christian Bale (right)

In the case of WrestleMania, John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Undertaker, Goldberg, and Shane McMahon belong on the Christian Bale & Heath Ledger level: main event stars (at least in Vince’s mind) who carry his movie and who sell it to the casual moviegoer. 

On the next tier we have Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, AJ Styles, The Four Horsewomen, Nikki Bella, The Miz, etc. who belong on the Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman tier. They are stars in their own right whose primary function is to interact with the leads, and who will most likely be the best part of the movie.

You know who Indie Wrestlers are?

They’re character actors like Eric Roberts, Cillian Murphy, Anthony Michael Hall, William Fitchner, and Tiny Lister.

Their role in The Dark Knight was to advance the larger story. Because as talented as they might be, as much as they could be lead actors in smaller independent movies (ROH, PWG, etc), casual moviegoers don’t rush to see their movies. When these performers show up in blockbusters, the reaction is almost always, "Oh yeah, I love that guy. What other movies was he in?" 

Character actors don’t carry blockbusters.

Movie stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger (Hulk Hogan) Sylvester Stallone (Macho Man), Tom Cruise (HBK), Harrison Ford (Bret Hart), Bruce Willis (Stone Cold) or the Rock (The Rock) do.

And what makes those guys leading men isn’t just wrestling ability or promo skills. What makes a wrestler a true main eventer is that their stardom exists independently of the quality of their story. In the 80’s, people flocked to theaters to watch the latest Schwarzenegger or Stallone movie, regardless of whether or not the movies were actually good.

During Hulk Hogan’s heyday, people tuned in whether he was facing another main eventer like Andre the Giant or a character actor like Big Boss Man.

None of this is meant to be a slight against character actors or indie wrestlers. Take a look at William Fitchner’s filmography. He was the Bank Manager in The Dark Knight, but he’s also appeared in Malcolm X, Quiz Show, Heat, Armageddon, the Perfect Storm, Black Hawk Down, Crash, Blades of Glory, etc. He never received top billing, but that’s one heck of a resume, one that most working actors would aspire to have.

Cesaro is the William Fitchner of the WWE.

He’s an extremely talented character actor who enhances any movie he’s a part of, but one you don’t center a movie around, unless your goal is arthouse for movie purists like Focus Features (ROH, PWG, New Japan, etc).

If Cesaro is William Fitchner, then Seth Rollins is Gary Oldman.

Gary Oldman is an actor’s actor, a brilliant character actor who can play smaller roles in big budget franchises (Harry Potter), play a secondary babyface (The Dark Knight), but Oldman truly excels as the main heel opposite the protagonist in high profile movies (Dracula, Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, The Book of Eli).

On Sunday I will be excited to see my favorite Indie Wrestlers play a pivotal role in WrestleMania 33; their technical brilliance and athletic ability will add credibility and substance to the WWE's blockbuster event. However, I am no longer smark-enough to believe that "WrestleMania would be better" if Cesaro was in the main event against Brock Lesnar or Bill Goldberg. 

If anything, I want Vince McMahon to find a proper showcase for his very own Chris Evans (Roman Reigns). Fantastic Four movies won’t make him a movie star, but Captain America will.

Because character actors like Daniel Day Lewis (CM Punk), Robert Duvall (Daniel Bryan), Philip Seymour Hoffman (AJ Styles), and Paul Giamatti (Kevin Owens) are the exceptions in an industry like Hollywood or WWE, not the rule.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, even the most diehard of movie fans doesn't go to summer blockbusters to see arthouse cinema, just as the diehard wrestling fan doesn't go to WrestleMania to watch beloved character actors.

All we ask is that Vince McMahon be more like Christopher Nolan and less like Michael Bay.

Follow Daniel Lee on Twitter @Lee_Daniel721

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