Fighting

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer talks WWE, WrestleMania

With a proud dad, Ric Flair, watching atop the rampway, WWE Divas Champ Charlotte stands over Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks. They are vying for spots at WrestleMania 32 on Sunday, April 3 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
With a proud dad, Ric Flair, watching atop the rampway, WWE Divas Champ Charlotte stands over Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks. They are vying for spots at WrestleMania 32 on Sunday, April 3 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. Photo By Jim Varsallone

Just how serious is Orlando about hosting another WrestleMania?

Well, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer did something which helped make WWE take them very seriously, again.

“I actually traveled to Connecticut and met with [WWE CEO/Chairman] Vince McMahon and the executive team for the 2008 event,” Dyer said, “and I was part of our proposal for the [2017 and 2018] events as well.”

The easy way would have been a meeting in Orlando. WWE executives are in the area as the WWE Performance Center and WWE NXT are based in the city.

Instead, Orlando looked more impressive with Dyer taking time to travel for 1-on-1 interaction on WWE’s official home turf in Stamford, some 1,100 miles away.

Dyer said “I don’t think they’ve had many Mayors who have come [to Stamford] to make the pitch for WrestleMania, so there’s some mutual admiration going on.”

That spoke volumes, too.

And it paid off.

“We’re in a competition right now, and we understand it’s down to a handful of cities for 2017,” Dyer said. “We put in bids for both 2017 [WrestleMania 33] and 2018 [WrestleMania 34].”

In 2008, WrestleMania made its Florida debut at the out-of-date Citrus Bowl in Orlando. WWE sank some money into the stadium, making it look very respectable for the global phenomenon. Still, Orlando knew it needed a major upgrade with its 65,000-plus seat venue.

“No.1 was the stadium, because we had reached a point where you could pick any unflattering term you would like to use as an adjective, and that would fit for the state the stadium was in back then,” Dyer said, “ but I have to say WWE dressed it up [in 2008] in a fashion that it was almost unrecognizable. It looked so good.”

WrestleMania 24 in 2008 set the Citrus Bowl record for attendance (74,635), ticket sales, gross concession sales.

The completion of the renovations to the Citrus Bowl bolstered their confidence in expediting the application process for 2017 and 2018.

Dyer said: “Now we’ve got a really high quality stadium that we have about 14 months under our belt. It opened in November [2014]. That’s going to be a light years difference in the experience people are going to have in coming to the actual event.

“In terms of the event itself, we pulled out a lot of stops the last time around. We worked with them to get a pasture in the flight path of the landing with their logo mowed into the grass there. We had a number of different types of events. We had the arts community at an event with Jimmy Hart. So we cross-pollinated a lot.”

WrestleMania may not be on the exact same level as the NFL Super Bowl, but it’s up there. WrestleMania 31 in 2015 became the highest grossing live event in WWE history and broke the attendance record for Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The spectacular grossed $12.6 million, as 76,976 fans from 50 states and 40 countries converged on the home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. The previous attendance record for Levi’s Stadium was 70,799, and WrestleMania 29 at MetLife Stadium in 2013 in East Rutherford, N.J. held WWE’s prior record for gross revenue at $12.3 million.

A graduate of Brown University, University of Florida and Osceola High School, Dyer, 57, grew up a wrestling fan in Kissimmee, which neighbors Orlando to the west of I-4.

“Growing up I watched Championship Wrestling from Florida with [commentator] Gordon Solie,” he said. “Dusty Rhodes and the bionic elbow, his counterpart Dick Murdoch, Jack and Jerry Brisco were big back then, the Great Malenko, Andre the Giant.”

Dyer knows his old school wrestling.

“I’ve been out to the [WWE Performance Center],” Dyer said. “Dusty Rhodes was working there, and I really kick myself, because the last time I was out there, he wasn’t there that day, and I should have made sure to go back and get a picture with him, but I didn’t, and he’s since passed away. That is one thing I regret that I didn’t meet him.”

Dyer has the memories of the American Dream to share and is hopeful of helping create new memories for himself and others with WrestleMania in his own backyard.

WrestleMania shares something in common with Orlando. They draw tons of people from around the world.

“We’d love to get in a rotation where [WrestleMania] comes here every four or six years,” Dyer said.

The Citrus Bowl is an outdoor stadium, and in 2008, it marked the second WrestleMania outdoors.

It did drizzle a little early for WrestleMania 24 in 2008. For that facility, Mother Nature has to be on her best behavior.

“You can’t always feel 100-percent great,” Dyer said, “but I can promise that it will not snow.”

Dyer believes a decision on WrestleMania 33 and 34 will be made in the near future.

@orlandomayor

- WWE WrestleMania 32

WrestleMania 32 is Sunday, April 3 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

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