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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 Ric Flair - PHOTO BY DUANE LONG
  • Photo by Duane Long
  • Ric Flair

While WrestleMania is no doubt the reason why an estimated 100,000 fans are making the trek to Orlando, there are at least 20 other wrestling-themed events happening during the week. In addition to WWE-sponsored events like the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony on Friday night at the Amway Center, WrestleMania Fan Axxess at the Orange County Convention Center, and NXT Takeover Orlando on Saturday night, there are dozens of independent wrestling promotions that will be riding on WrestleMania's coattails.

Wrestling fans will get a chance to see fresh new faces that may one day be performing under the WWE umbrella. Independent wrestling promotions Ring of Honor, Chikara, and What Culture Professional Wrestling – also referred to as WCPW – will all present wrestling cards in Orlando during WrestleMania week. The U.K.-based promotion WCPW is less than a year old and has never put on a show in the United States, but they see it as a great opportunity to get in front of new fans.

"You can say we're an ambitious company," says WCPW founding member Adam Blampied. "We are bringing a card of great wrestling, trying to compete in the huge circus that is WrestleMania weekend. This is the best weekend of the year to be a wrestling fan."

Despite all the other events happening around town this week, WrestleMania is the reason for the season, and city leaders have touted the good this will do for Orlando. "We are the American Dream," Mayor Buddy Dyer said recently at the unveiling of a giant WWE replica belt in downtown Orlando, according to the Orlando Sentinel.  "It's like a Super Bowl, with people from around the country and around the world coming to be part of the experience," gushed Dyer.

Last April's WrestleMania in Dallas generated $170.4 million in economic impact from visitors to the city and surrounding areas, according to figures released by the mayors of Dallas and Arlington, Texas. That number is the highest of any event in WWE history, but with an extra day of WWE programming as well as the ancillary events happening throughout the city, that record could fall in Orlando.

The old-school territories are long gone. A housing development now sits where the old Eddie Graham Sports Complex used to be. And despite how huge wrestling has grown in the last 40 years, some of the old fans swear that it's just not the same. The magic that filled smaller venues seems to have been forgotten in today's WWE. "There was a believability factor in the old days that just isn't there today." says Barry Rose. "The WWE wrestlers are better athletes than what we had in Florida in the '70s but they can't tell a story in the ring like they used to."

But whereas old-school fans scoff at today's WWE for not having the same heart as the wrestling that they grew up with, today's wrestling fans are giddy with excitement for the week ahead. "The coolest thing about WrestleMania week is that every corner of the city will be taken up with some sort of wrestling." says WCPW's Adam Blampied.  "If you explore, if you broaden your horizon, you can discover your new favorite wrestler. That's the best thing about this week. When you scratch beneath the surface, you can find hidden treasures everywhere."

click to enlarge Dusty Rhodes - PHOTO BY DUANE LONG
  • Photo by Duane Long
  • Dusty Rhodes

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