Wrestlemania goes Hollywood, but should it stay there?

Jennifer Moglia, Staff Writer

My favorite weekend of the year is WWE’s Wrestlemania. Since the first Wrestlemania was held in 1985, it has become the biggest wrestling event of the year, not just WWE’s biggest event.

I love watching my favorite wrestlers wrap up long-term feuds with incredible matches, complete with extravagant entrances and post-match storytelling shenanigans. However, I’ve always been wary of celebrity appearances at the “Showcase of the Immortals.”

From Shaquille O’Neal’s appearance in a battle royal match at Wrestlemania 32 to former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart costing John Cena a monumental championship win, WWE is no stranger to nailing big names. Even in the middle of a global pandemic, it got football star Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski to host Wrestlemania 36 in 2020.

What has caught my eye in recent years is the amount of non-wrestler celebrities participating in full-length wrestling matches. Sure, there’s something to be said about Cyndi Lauper taking a hit from Roddy Piper or Machine Gun Kelly getting tossed by Kevin Owens, but Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of “Jersey Shore” winning a tag team match alongside the legendary Trish Stratus? Now, that’s impressive.

There are a few celebrities who have become mainstays in WWE programming as of late, and to my surprise, I haven’t hated it. Bad Bunny is the best example of this.

According to People Magazine, the Puerto Rican rapper and singer was Spotify’s most-streamed artist for both 2020 and 2021 worldwide, with over 9.1 billion streams in the latter year and 8.3 billion in the former. He grew up a huge fan of wrestling which inspired him to write his song “Booker T,” which he ultimately performed at the Royal Rumble event in 2021.

However, Bunny wasn’t there as just a performer. When notorious villain wrestler The Miz flipped over the musician’s turntable set-up, he rushed to the ring. He created a distraction to get Miz eliminated before performing a devastating move of his own.

I had no idea what to expect when I saw a rapper I wasn’t familiar with carrying out actual professional wrestling spots at a major event, but he absolutely killed it. He did so well that night and on TV in the weeks following that he earned himself a match at Wrestlemania 37, a tag match where he teamed up with Damian Priest against The Miz and John Morrison.

For his first WWE match, Bad Bunny showed an impressive amount of skill, having a better showing than some experienced wrestlers had that weekend. According to the WWE’s website, “Bunny shocked the WWE Universe by taking out Morrison with a ‘Bunny Destroyer’ on the arena floor … pick(ing) up a win in his debut on The Grandest Stage of Them All.”

Bad Bunny’s presence in the WWE felt different than that of other celebrities who had entered the squared circle in the past. I wasn’t staring blankly at the screen complaining about the appearance being an obvious cash grab – I was hooked, and I definitely wanted to see more.

In the two years since that first match, the musician has stayed involved with the company, taking bumps from Brock Lesnar at the 2022 Royal Rumble and receiving a Luchador mask from Rey Mysterio. He appeared ringside at this year’s Wrestlemania and even got in the middle of the match between Mysterio and his son Dominik.

His former tag team partner Priest attacked Bunny on last week’s episode of “Raw,” which will seemingly keep him entwined in the WWE Universe for a while. He’ll at least be a part of the storyline until he hosts the Backlash event in Puerto Rico, the company’s second-ever event to be held there, next month.

Another example of a celebrity looking like an absolute natural in the ring, as much as I hate to admit it, is social media influencer Logan Paul. Although controversial in other areas, Paul has been phenomenal since he signed a contract with the company in early 2022.

WWE clearly has a lot of trust in Paul as well, giving him matches with undisputed world champion Roman Reigns and airing a scene where he took out superstar Seth Rollins with one punch. At Wrestlemania this year, he had one of the best matches of night one against Rollins, complete with a plot twist where fellow online celebrity KSI was revealed to be inside a life-sized bottle of Prime, a sports drink developed by the pair.

If Bunny and Paul are any indications, wrestling “purists” should think twice before turning their noses up at celebrities who want to try their hand at becoming a WWE superstar. Gatekeeping your interests only stops those fanbases from growing and prevents you from sharing your passion with others who might fall in love with it. Now, for Wrestlemania 2024 predictions: Harry Styles versus John Cena, anyone?