WWE’s WrestleMania comes to Orlando this year, but pro wrestling has always been a force in Florida 

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click to enlarge Andre the Giant - PHOTO BY PETER LEDERBERG
  • Photo by Peter Lederberg
  • Andre the Giant

Head NXT trainer Matt Bloom has been with the WWE off-and-on for 18 years. He did a lengthy stint wrestling in Japan, where he won several championships in tag team competition. Bloom retired from in-ring work in 2014 and became a trainer for NXT. "I'm helping the talent in NXT become the best that they can be," Bloom says of his role. "We have talent from all over the world with different backgrounds. We have fitness buffs, bodybuilders, former football players, and I have to bring the absolute best out of them."

Bloom and his team have done an impressive job. There are a staggering 17 wrestlers on the WrestleMania card who first trained in Florida at either FCW or NXT before making the jump to the main WWE roster. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Cesaro all started in developmental territory FCW while Kevin Owens, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Enzo Amore, Big Cass and Neville all cut their teeth in NXT.

If NXT is the place for wrestling's future and Florida is home to wrestling's past, then Orlando is ground zero for wrestling now over the next few days. This weekend, wrestling's biggest event is coming home to Florida again. There are 12 confirmed matches on the card, including eight bouts with championship gold on the line, a WrestleMania record. Wrestling fans will no doubt get their fix as critics are predicting the show to run an astounding five hours.  

The WrestleMania main event features WWE Universal Champion Goldberg, who returned to WWE in November after a 13-year hiatus, going up against former WWE & UFC Champion Brock Lesnar. Despite the combined age of these two warriors being 89 years, the buildup has been as intense as any WWE main event in recent memory. The grizzled veteran Goldberg has gotten the best of Brock Lesnar in every match between the two, including their first encounter in 2004 at WrestleMania 20 and a quick, one-sided affair back in November that was Goldberg's first match back from retirement. The disastrous November bout shocked fans, and the two legends have been on a collision course ever since.

Other high-profile bouts on the card include WWE Champion Bray Wyatt against third-generation superstar Randy Orton – whose father, Bob Orton Jr., got his start in wrestling as "Young Mr. Wrestling" in CFW.  John Cena is teaming up with his longtime girlfriend, Nikki Bella, to go up against another wrestling couple, The Miz and Maryse, in a mixed tag match. The Women's Championship will be defended in a triple-threat match between three women, all of whom got their starts in NXT: champion Bayley, Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks. And in one of the more anticipated matches of the evening, The Undertaker will be competing in his unprecedented 25th WrestleMania event when he goes up against Roman Reigns.

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