Big stars of Wrestlemania XXX ready to finish strong

Playing the heavy

On Sunday, more than 60,000 people will see Wrestlemania in the Superdome, millions will watch at home on pay-per-view or the fledgling WWE Network, and wrestling is firmly entrenched in popular culture.

When Wrestlemania XXX takes place Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it will be very different from its debut 30 years ago in New York City’s Madison Square Gardens.

The Gardens seated approximately 20,000 fans, and the event was seen around the country on closed circuit television. It was a novelty outside the wrestling world, with a main event that included an actor, Mr. T, paired with Hulk Hogan in a tag-team match against Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff.

On Sunday, more than 60,000 people will see Wrestlemania in the Superdome, millions will watch at home on pay-per-view or the fledgling WWE Network, and wrestling is firmly entrenched in popular culture.

WWE Chairman Vince McMahon helped transform professional wrestling into an event that is part theater, part sport and part soap opera. He envisioned Wrestlemania as its showcase event, one aimed at a national audience with a card of main event-quality matches.

Celebrities have helped broaden its appeal. Cyndi Lauper brought an MTV audience when she signed on as a manager for Wrestlemania I to feud with Captain Lou Albano, who appeared in her “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” video.

According to Hogan, the idea of bringing celebrities into the ring was not universally endorsed in the dressing room.

“Piper and Orndorff weren’t very happy that we were bringing an actor into the ring,” Hogan said. “I knew we were on to something big.”

Since then, a number of WWE wrestlers have gone on to have acting careers, Hogan, Piper and Duane “The Rock” Johnson among them.

This year, the main event includes the wrestler Batista, who will also appear as one of the main characters in the summer movie from Marvel Studios, “The Guardians of the Galaxy.” Stars now consider ways to reach the WWE audience as part of the marketing of their projects. Recently, Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the WWE’s “Monday Night Raw” to promote his film, “Sabotage.”

Hogan returns to the WWE at age 60 to host Wrestlemania XXX. He was last in New Orleans when he reigned over Bacchus in 2008. “I will be almost like the King of Bacchus. I’ll be King of Wrestlemania,” he said.

He will be in the Dome and at many community service events the WWE has scheduled, as well as Fan Axxess, a fan festival at the Morial Convention Center that gives fans the opportunity to get autographs and photos with wrestlers.

The superstar of the moment is Daniel Bryan, who will potentially appear in two matches at Wrestlemania. He will face Triple H, and if he wins, he will be part of the triple threat main event for the World Championship against Batista and Randy Orton.

Bryan is an unlikely star — smaller than behemoths once associated with wrestling, and with his shaggy hair and beard, he could be mistaken for the bass player in an indie rock band. But his “Yes!” chant and upthrust hands connected with audiences almost from the start, making him a fan favorite.

Bryan is featured regularly on “Total Divas,” the WWE reality television show on E!. The program follows the backstage lives of WWE “Divas” The Bella Twins, one of whom is engaged to Bryan. He credits the show with introducing the WWE to new audiences.

“On Valentine’s Day, these two relatively wealthy women came up to us and said, ‘We love the show,’ and they had started to watch ‘Raw,’ ” Bryan said.

Being in the Wrestlemania main event has been his goal for a long time, and he doesn’t think he’s alone.

“When you make the decision, ‘I’m going to put on Spandex and boots and fight other men in front of people’ — whether it’s 15 people or 70,000 people — anybody who’s ever made that decision wants to be in the main event at Wrestlemania.”

This year, WWE Superstar Cesaro will make his Wrestlemania debut when his tag team, The Real Americans, participates in a four-team tag match. The Swiss-born Cesaro started his career in Europe in 2000, and he was less focused on the WWE than a career in wrestling in general, but “I always made sure I watched Wrestlemania because that told you what’s going on in wrestling and sums it up,” he said. “You have to see it; it’s the standard in wrestling.”