Reporting Tim Kephart
MIAMI GARDENS (CBSMiami.com) – As the sun began to set over South Florida, 78,353 WWE fans descended on Sun Life Stadium for the once-a-year extravagana that is Wrestlemania.
The buildup for Wrestlemania XXVIII in South Florida has been one of the longest in recent memory. The day after Wrestlemania XXVII, Miami’s own “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson agreed to a match with John Cena at Sun Life in what was dubbed as a “Once In A Lifetime” contest.
The fans began showing up several hours before the entertainment was scheduled to start. The fans were about as close to a cross-section of the population as could ever be seen. Fans from dozens of countries and all walks of life, including professional athletes and stars were all in attendance Sunday.
The event served as a way to market Miami as only the WWE can pull off. From the giant fake palm trees surrounding the ring to the massive stage that took up an entire end zone of the stadium, the WWE put its considerable footprint on South Florida.
The crowd at Sun Life dwarfed everything including a Super Bowl or a BCS Championship game, but those who came Sunday were every bit as rowdy as the action in the ring. In the end, Wrestlemania set a new attendance record at the stadium of 78,353.
Beyond the scheduled main event between The Rock and John Cena was a card that featured almost every star the WWE had to offer. From Triple H to the Big Show to the Undertaker, there was a fan for almost every superstar who was lucky enough to make his/her way down to ringside.
The night’s action started out fast as fans rose to their feet to welcome the pay-per-view audience to the night’s entertainment. The first match out of the gate was for the World Heavyweight Championship and was between Daniel Bryan and Sheamus.
But before the crowd could even get comfortable in their seat, the match was over as Sheamus landed a boot to the face and a new heavyweight champion was crowned in less than 30 seconds.
From there, the action got really large as the seven-foot-tall Kane challenged Randy Orton. Kane came out ahead in the contest after hitting a chokeslam on Orton in a match that finally got the crowd really rolling.
The largest athlete in the WWE came out next as the Big Show did battle with Cody Rhodes. The Big Show made short work of Rhodes and captured the Intercontinental Championship.
But the crowd came to an early crescendo when the match dubbed the “End of an Era” came up on the card. The match was fought inside of a cage known as “Hell in a Cell,” and featured the Undertaker versus Triple H.
The crowd was completely into the match and repeatedly came to their feet as both the Undertaker and Triple H used everything they could against each other including: the ringside steps, the cage, steel chairs, and a sledgehammer.
The bout came to an end with the Undertaker winning his record 20th straight Wrestlemania match. After the match, both the Undertaker and the special guest referee, Shawn Michaels, would help Triple H to the back.
The story of the night was simply the electric atmosphere the crowd brought with each wrestler’s entrance. The Undertaker’s entrance was quiet, slow, and perfectly fitting of his character, while Chris Jericho came to the ring with the entrance that befits a man who is also the lead singer of a rock and roll band.
Jericho entered the ring wearing a jacket that lit up for his match against the WWE Champion, CM Punk. It was another battle of the old guard, being Chris Jericho, versus the new crop of WWE talent in Punk.
Punk’s entrance could only be labeled over the top as Living Colour’s song, “Cult of Personality” blared out over the stadium’s sound system and fireworks lit up the sky over Sun Life Stadium. It brought the flashbulbs out in a scene reminiscent of a Super Bowl kickoff.
CM Punk eventually wound up retaining his championship after a roughly 30 minute-plus match that ended with a submission that saw the crowd rise as one to salute both wrestlers. It was the perfect warm-up for the night’s main event between Cena and Miami’s “The Rock.”
The match had been building for almost a year and had wrestling crowds awaiting the matchup for each of the past 52 weeks. But it wasn’t to happen until a rap performance would set the tone for the audience heading into the main event.
MGK, also known as Machine Gun Kelly, took the stage after being introduced by Sean “Diddy” Combs, who received some of the loudest boos of the night from the Wrestlemania crowd.
Cena entered the ring first to a defeaning chorus of boos from South Florida wrestling fans. Then Miami’s own Flo-Rida took the stage and got the crowd jacked for The Rock’s entrance.
And with a signature, “If you smell…what the Rock….is cookin,” the crowd rose as one to cheer on the former University of Miami Hurricanes football player.
Cena had faced tough crowds before, but the crowd at Sun Life Stadium was decidedly partisan in favor of the hometown boy.
The match itself ended with The Rock’s hand raised in the air, but for the more than 70,000 people that spent thousands of dollars to attend Wrestlemania, they all left winners on this night.