What it was like being back in the crowd with fans at WrestleMania 37
By Ryan Satin
FOX Sports WWE Analyst
The roar of the crowd. The thrill of cheering with other fans. The sensation of pyrotechnics. These are things WWE fans had been without for more than a year because of the pandemic.
Going to WWE events has always been an escape for me and, I'm sure, millions of other people.
I have fond memories as a kid of going with my dad and brother to WWE shows that ended up featuring iconic moments such as The Rock vs. Mankind "I Quit" Match, Stephanie McMahon’s Wedding with Test that was interrupted by Triple H and Mr. McMahon winning the 1999 Royal Rumble.
Once I was older, it was moments such as John Cena and Bautista winning world titles at WrestleMania in Los Angeles, Daniel Bryan returning at SummerSlam to join Team WWE, Brock Lesnar annihilating Cena with multiple German suplexes in a row, Kofi Kingston winning the WWE title at WrestleMania, Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch, and so many others I don’t have enough room to list them all.
These are all times in my life that I hold dear to my heart.
Over the past year, though, that escape hasn’t been available when we needed it most. For me, it has been especially difficult.
WARNING: I'm about to get a little personal here, so if you only want to know what it was like being in the crowd at WrestleMania 37 and don't care about this sappy stuff, skip ahead a few paragraphs.
In June of last year, my girlfriend’s father unexpectedly passed away, and the two of us had to move in with her mom, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, so we could begin taking care of her full-time.
Not being able to do things such as attending wrestling shows, going to the movies or watching my favorite bands in concert made the mental strain even more difficult. I had to create a TikTok account just to get my dopamine levels up, for God's sake.
At times, the stress of my personal life started to make me question if the pandemic would go away at some point and if we’d ever even get a semblance of our old lives back.
Then, as WrestleMania season approached, a change started to occur.
Vaccines began to roll out nationwide, and everyone in my immediate circle (including me) was able to get one, my girlfriend’s mom started to become more comfortable letting me help with her care, and WWE announced they were allowing fans back for two nights at WrestleMania 37 in April.
I knew I had to be there.
Fast-forward a few weeks, and I was stepping off the plane in Tampa the day before joining thousands of other fans at Raymond James Stadium, like we were supposed to do last year.
My mission? Bring the fan experience to social media for everyone who couldn't be at WrestleMania in person this year.
As much I've talked about myself in this article and what attending WWE shows means to me, I know there's a vast number of fans with similar stories who were missing out this year as well.
It became my duty to make sure I was sharing everything I could and taking lots of mental notes for this article in order to allow fans to live vicariously through me for a few nights. We got it all on video, so you can watch the entire experience:
That experience began Friday afternoon at Tampa International Airport.
I’ve traveled to a few WrestleManias now, and it’s usually madness as soon as you step off the plane. Wrestling shirts dominate the terminals. People are walking around with title belts or in cosplay. It’s quite a memorable scene.
This year, however, because of the reduced capacity to adhere to local health guidelines, it was a little more chill at the airport. Wrestling shirts were still visible, but it wasn’t the usual sea of black tees.
Luckily, the city of Tampa was still in WrestleMania mode.
Banners were up in the streets. Fans were checking into their hotels. People were making plans with friends they hadn’t seen in a year.
Just like usual, Uber surge prices were way too high for a 10-minute drive without traffic.
The WrestleMania store was smaller than usual this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, and the number of fans being let in at once was kept to a minimum. Thankfully, the merch was still awesome and included multiple event-specific designs that fans scooped up.
The lack of WWE Axxess was a necessary subtraction this year, for obvious reasons, but its absence left me feeling like there were no ancillary places to get me in the spirit for Saturday and Sunday.
That changed the following day, when I arrived at the Ray J for night one of WrestleMania, and my first sight of an actual crowd got me feeling overwhelmed with anticipation. I almost squealed with glee from behind my face mask (though I tried to keep it in since I was with my producer and didn't want to be too embarrassing).
In that moment, it became clearer to me than ever how much I had missed fan involvement on WWE TV.
Prior to the pandemic, I was the guy who’d complain about fans making the show about themselves instead of what was happening in the ring. After a year of not having fans, though, I admit that I was wrong.
It isn't the same product without a large group of fans reacting in real time to the drama unfolding in the ring — even the rude ones who chant "what?" in an attempt to get wrestlers off-track or "CM Punk" to show their disapproval of whatever is happening.
To hear random "woos" as I stepped out of my Uber and see people dressed as John Cena holding signs immediately made me feel like I was finally among my people again. It was only a matter of time before we'd show the world why our presence was needed at WrestleMania.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t care about our plans. To her, it was just another day in Tampa, and we weren’t any more special than anyone else in town. As the show started to get closer and closer, the weather got worse and worse.
Just as you’d expect, though, the WWE Universe in attendance didn’t let that ruin their good time.
When fans were forced to go to the concourse area for weather delays prior to the show on night one, the energy continued, as fans cheered under the cover of the stadium while getting hyped.
To feel human again, I left the dry press box at this time to walk around the concession area and be around people. It might sound weird, but the pandemic taking so many simple things from us has made me appreciate them a lot more as they slowly return.
Just walking around other fans brought me pure joy.
I realize that walking around a concession area isn’t normally a thing people list when they talk about things that bring them happiness, but I’ve missed my old life. I’ve missed the little things. So I have no problem admitting that in that moment, I felt elated.
It was clear to me that this group of wrestling fans were more than ready to let a year’s worth of steam out of their system. Families were ready to bond again, much like I did with my own growing up, and we were all ready to make new memories we’d cherish for a lifetime.
When the time came for the show to begin, that’s exactly what happened. Vince McMahon and the WWE roster walked out on stage to welcome us back for two nights, and the fans went nuts!
It almost felt like a dimming piece of my soul was relit when I heard that explosion from the crowd.
The weather delay to follow might have caused fewer fans than anticipated to be in attendance for the WWE title match, but as someone who was back in time for it, I can say that those of us who saw Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley’s entrances knew we were witnessing a historic moment for wrestling fans.
My voice is still in pain from the amount of shouting I did in that moment and throughout the rest of the weekend. I had almost forgotten how good it felt to cheer as loudly as you want without your neighbors or roommates wondering if something is wrong with you.
Regardless of what you think of the outcome, these were the best Superstars WWE could've chosen to start the show. McIntyre got the crowd fired up, and Lashley's win was such a shock that anyone who was distracted by the weather quickly got sucked back in.
As WrestleMania progressed, bad weather relented, and I was able to be one with an audience of 25,000 people again for a prolonged period of time. This allowed all those positive memories of being at shows with my family to come rushing back.
It didn’t matter that there were cardboard cutouts of people helping to space fans out. In the right light, it looked exactly how I remembered it. The limited capacity didn't feel any different when it came to the amount of noise produced, either.
The collective confusion about a moment such as The Fiend being pinned by Randy Orton was less frustrating because of how it felt to share that bewilderment with a crowd of strangers.
Same goes for watching a guy such as Bad Bunny surprise his fellow wrestling fans by putting on an unforgettable performance against The Miz and John Morrison.
Getting the chance to boo a celebrity such as Logan Paul and beg for a wrestler such as Kevin Owens to beat him up is something you can’t get anywhere other than a pro wrestling show.
To say the fans in attendance at WrestleMania this year were grateful would be an understatement.
It wasn’t a wall of muted video screens cheering. There were real people with real emotions making real noises — and creating new memories.
Same goes for Cesaro and Rhea Ripley getting wins on "The Grandest Stage of Them All." Their wins were our wins because we felt like we were doing it together, able to be there by their side.
One moment that stood out in particular was Bianca Belair's crowning achievement of becoming SmackDown Women's Champion after defeating Sasha Banks in the main event of night one.
For those who were watching on TV, you could see both women get emotional before locking up. What you probably couldn't see, however, were how many people in the crowd were having similar reactions, knowing they were watching a historic moment in wrestling and becoming teary-eyed in their seats.
Two black women main-eventing WrestleMania and putting on an unforgettable match. The importance of that match was felt just as much in the stadium Saturday night as it will be 20 years from now.
During the final match of night two, in which Roman Reigns defended his Universal title against Edge and Daniel Bryan, fans reacted with the most prolonged "this is awesome" chant of the entire event.
While it wasn't the first time this happened throughout the weekend, it was certainly the loudest and most enthusiastic. An entire stadium of people letting three of the top performers in professional wrestling know their work is appreciated.
Not through social media. Not through a screen. In real life.
After almost a year of questioning whether we’d get through this, in that moment, I finally felt newfound confidence that we will.
There's something about being around a crowd of enthusiastic people again that can remind you of the good in the world and how important it is to have hope.
As all of us left the stadium both nights with smiles on our faces, enthusiasm in our hearts and excitement flowing through our veins, all I could think about was that chant from the main event to sum up my thoughts on attending a WWE show again.
That was awesome.
For more on my experience being part of WWE's first crowd in more than a year, watch my WrestleMania 37 vlog below:
Ryan Satin is a WWE analyst for FOX Sports. Satin previously appeared on FS1's "WWE Backstage" and founded Pro Wrestling Sheet, where he broke countless news stories as editor-in-chief.