Stephanie McMahon said it best as she stood in the middle of the ring during “Monday Night Raw” on Sept. 8 at the Baltimore Arena.
“God, it feels great to be back in Baltimore,” the WWE’s principal owner said, soliciting a boisterous cheer from the crowd attending the latest live chapter of the longest-running episodic TV show in history.
The feeling was mutual, as Baltimore continues to embrace the WWE, which has stopped in the city more frequently in recent years.
But this isn’t the WWE of the 1990s, when its “Attitude Era” was great viewing for adults and terrible for kids. The days of The Rock throwing “Stone Cold” Steve Austin off a bridge, Vince McMahon getting blown up in a car and gratuitous sexual scenes are over, as the WWE has focused on returning the best action to the ring.
John Cena, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns and Randy Orton – four of the WWE’s biggest stars – provide kid-friendly entertainment that was absent during the WWE’s height during the “Attitude Era.”
The WWE’s level of athleticism across the board has never been higher, as it has centered on muscle-ripped eye candy instead of obese freaks of nature like Yokozuna, Viscera and Rikishi.
Baltimore Arena was filled with fans off ages – from kindergarteners to the elderly – who were treated to more than three hours of just, well, pure fun. Fans cheered when the steel cage was lowered so Jericho and Bray Wyatt could settle their score to start the night and yelled at the top of their lungs when Cena came to the ring to confront the trash-talking Paul Heyman, the manager of Cena’s nemesis, Brock Lesnar.
“John Cena coming out to the ring was the best part,” said Brooks Giro, a third grader at St. John’s Lane Elementary School in Ellicott City after attending his first WWE event, a birthday present from his dad. “It was really loud.”
Has Baltimore Arena ever been this divided?
Half the crowd chanted “Let’s go Cena,” while the other half countered with “Cena sucks!”
But the fans were united by their love for the WWE, which waited until after Orton, Seth Rollins and Kane had beat down Reigns to end the main event to give fans an even bigger treat: the announcement Baltimore Arena will host a pay-per-view in May 2015.
This can’t be understated. WWE holds one pay-per-view a month, always on a Sunday. Pay-per-views are reserved for the best matches, where only the best of the best step into the squared circle.
The country’s newest arenas have dominated getting these marquee shows for the past few years, as Baltimore and it’s 51-year-old relic has only hosted two in the past four years – Extreme Rules (2010 ) and Tables, Ladders & Chairs (2011).
“Payback” will mark the WWE’s third event in Baltimore since April 2014. “People underestimate Baltimore’s position,” Frank Remesch, the arena’s general manager, said in April. “We are in a top 30 touring city in the U.S. and we often get overlooked because we are between Philly and D.C. It really comes down to our support.”
The WWE has become a hit with parents because of its community involvement. In 2011, The Creative Coalition and the WWE launched the Be a STAR (Show Tolerance And Respect) program that stresses a positive and equitable social environment for everyone regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation through grassroots efforts beginning with education and awareness.
Superstars who make their living fighting at night spend their days teaching young kids tolerance and peace, promoting positive methods of social interaction and encouraging people to treat others as equals and with respect.
The program’s free anti-bullying curriculum, which includes lesson plans and video clips, has been downloaded by more than 3,000 educators nationwide, according to WWE. More than 30,000 from all 50 US states and from 91 international countries have taken the pledge to end bullying through the Be a STAR program.
But on Sept. 8, fans, including many dressed in T-shirts with their favorite wrestler, snaked around Baltimore Arena more than an hour before the first match.
“This is the greatest thing ever,” said Brooks’ brother, Jack, a first grader at St. John’s Lane Elementary who had the front of blonde hair slicked back to look like his favorite star, Jericho. “I’ve wanted to go to this for a long time.”
And considering how frequently the WWE has stopped in Baltimore in recent years, it probably won’t be the last time Brooks and Jack watch the WWE at Baltimore Arena.
Upcoming events at Baltimore Arena
Sept. 25: Five Finger Death Punch & Volbeat, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 10: Hip Hop Legends, 8 p.m.
Oct. 20: Washington Wizards vs. New Orleans Pelicans (NBA exhibition), 7 p.m.
Oct. 29 – Nov. 4: Disney on Ice: Frozen, numerous shows and times
Nov. 15: Shogun Fights, 7 p.m.
Nov. 19: Slipknot, 7 p.m.
Dec. 4: The Black Keys, 8 p.m.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 19 years of experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.