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Monday, March 31, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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WrestleManiacs rejoice as WWE cracks Safe

Seattle Times staff reporter

On a night celebrating professional wrestling and American patriotism, wrestling's most elaborate live event served as a backdrop for fans and performers who turned Safeco Field into a giant party.

The kind of party where dressing up like a performer was not only appropriate, it was encouraged. The type of celebration in which senior citizens could sit side by side with small children and yell for or against a wrestling character.

Such was the scene at jam-packed Safeco Field last night for WrestleMania XIX, where the crowd of 54,097 was the largest in the stadium's four-year history.

Fans who paid as much as $500 for a ringside seat found anything and everything to cheer about, from the matches and sideshow skits taking place backstage to women in slinky dresses sitting in the press box. All told, WrestleMania grossed $2,760,035 in ticket sales, the WWE said.

T-shirts, jerseys, sweatshirts, foam fingers and bobblehead dolls moved quickly from the souvenir stands. The crowd started impromptu chants for their favorite stars, cheering wildly for Hulk Hogan in perhaps the last match of his storied career and lustily booing Chris Jericho for faking good sportsmanship after a loss to Shawn Michaels and kicking the popular performer in the midsection.

The Hogan-Vince McMahon and Michaels-Jericho matches highlighted almost four hours of ring theatrics in what was the largest pro wrestling event ever held in the Pacific Northwest. Fans from all 50 states and several countries attended, and hardly a criticism could be heard.

"It's definitely worth the 400 bills I paid (for seventh-row tickets)," said 23-year-old Rob Resseau of Tacoma, who showed up dressed as his favorite star, The Rock.

"I had a guy from Idaho on my right and a guy from New Jersey on my left. I would like to get into it (pro wrestling), but not locally," Resseau added.

When fans weren't pointing their cameras at the male and female performers in the ring, they were clicking snapshots of each other. Resseau had the same haircut, black leather vest and pants as the Rock, and a rare sequined belt buckle bearing the image of a bull, The Rock's logo. Fans kept stopping him for photos. The same thing happened to a man wearing a blonde wig and long flowing robe, à la Ric Flair (a 1980s wrestling star), as well as three friends from Oregon — Laramie Myers, Will Reeding and Travis Crist.

The trio held court down on the floor level of seating, posing for four and five fans at a time dressed as the lime-green clad superhero Hurricane, the balding and mustachioed Hogan and masked high flyer Rey Mysterio.

"This is incredible," Myers said. "The entertainment is fun to get into."

Fans knew every performer's move and catch phrase, shouting with gusto as some of the top stars delivered their lines on the microphone. Above the ring, five giant television screens, the large screen in center field at the stadium and a maze of lighting formed an elaborate production set for the show.

The night officially began with a stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful" from pop singer Ashanti, accompanied by images of U.S. and British troops on the screens battling in Iraq. The still shots of soldiers drew cheers, chills and goose bumps, and fans waved American flags and chanted "U-S-A! U-S-A!" after the performance.

Celebrities Bob Costas and Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered taped pre-show video messages discussing the main event of the evening, the McMahon-Hogan "street fight." Then fireworks preceded the first match, Mysterio against Matt Hardy for the World Wrestling Entertainment Cruiserweight Championship.

Limp Bizkit, a popular rock band, performed live. Their first song introduced The Undertaker to the crowd for what was supposed to be a tag-team match between he and former prison inmate Nathan Jones against The Big Show and A-Train.

Jones was knocked out of commission — temporarily — before the matches started when his opponents dropped him with a metal folding chair in the backstage area. Fans were able to see what was going on behind the scenes via the live backstage look-ins, where the now-famous Miller Lite fighting starlets met two WWE "divas," Stacy Keibler and Torrie Wilson.

As Fred Durst, Limp Bizkit lead singer, delivered the lyrics to "Rollin'," The Undertaker rode out on a Harley Davidson outfitted with a waving U.S. flag.

Michaels, a popular veteran character also called the Heartbreak Kid, made one of the best entrances of the night. To the accompaniment of his "I'm Not Your Boy Toy" theme song, Michaels fired glitter into the crowd and gyrated for his adoring public. Then he won an entertaining match with the help of his signature maneuver, a high kick called "Sweet Chin Music."

Lost in the glare of Brock Lesnar's WWE title victory in the evening's finale, Lesnar had to be carted out of the ring on a stretcher. He appeared to suffer a head injury at the end of the match.

WrestleMania wasn't exactly clean family entertainment. Wrestler-turned-rap artist John Cena unleashed a rhyming tirade criticizing established rap stars using sexual innuendoes and cursing. More than a few obscene gestures were seen from both performers and fans, and Durst's lyrics went uncensored in his performance of the WrestleMania XIX theme song, "Krak Addict."

Perhaps nothing last night drew more of a crowd reaction then the announcement that Bill Goldberg, a fan favorite from World Championship Wrestling, which died when McMahon bought that company from Ted Turner, would return to competition at the next WWE pay-per-view event. The return of Goldberg, a former NFL defensive lineman, had been long-rumored.

"We think the Northwest is a very good market for us," said Linda McMahon, WWE chief executive officer. "We look forward to being back."

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com.

WrestleMania XIX results
Championship Result Comment
WWE Brock Lesnar def. Kurt Angle Lesnar uses three vicious "F5" slams to beat injured Angle in show finale.
World Heavyweight Triple H def. Booker T "The Game" retains title in less-than-entertaining match.
World Tag Team Lance Storm/Chief Morley def. Rob Van Dam & Kane and Dudley Boyz Champs keep belts when Dudleys turn on Van Dam and Kane.
WWE Tag Team Team Angle def. Los Guerreros and Chris Benoit & Rhyno Former collegians Haas and Benjamin survive and keep belts.
WWE Cruiserweight Matt Hardy def. Rey Mysterio Hardy cheats by using ropes for leverage to pin Mysterio.
WWE Women's Trish Stratus def. Jazz and Victoria Blonde bombshell Stratus rolls up former champ Victoria for the three-count.
Other matches
Street Fight Hulk Hogan def. Vince McMahon Possibly last match of Hogan's storied career; emotional win thanks to three straight leg drops.
Shawn Michaels def. Chris Jericho Michaels survives two Jericho "Walls of Jericho" moves for the pin; best match of show.
Undertaker and Nathan Jones def. A-Train and Big Show Jones' big kick to Big Show's face allows Undertaker to give Train "The Last Ride."
The Rock def. Stone Cold Steve Austin Rock snaps WrestleMania losing streak vs. Austin with four "Rock Bottoms."

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