Here are some comments off the top of my head.
*The experiment of holding the Hall of Fame event in a large sports arena was not entirely successful. There were substantial sound problems at the beginning of the show to the point that even straining my ears with everyone around me being dead silent I couldn’t make out almost anything being said. Thousands of people were almost continuously interrupting The Rock’s speech with chants of “TURN THE MIC UP!” and “WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!” and when they finally adjusted the sound to fill more than the first few sections they called “PLEASE START OVER!” The Rock, obligingly, did and that’s why the webcast was delayed. The larger arena also seemed to present an unlikely problem in that it drew a very wide, general wrestling audience, many of whom seemingly had no idea who The Brisco Brothers, “The High Chief” Peter Maivia or Rocky Johnson were and had no interest in finding out. The people around me kept complaining about how horribly boring the ceremony was and several either intentionally or unintentionally put their head down and took a nap. Larger and larger sections of the crowd would empty into the concession and souvenir stands area every time there was a break, just wanting to get away. Even Flair’s speech was too long and taxing for most people despite being the most emotional I’ve ever heard.
*My jaw literally went slack with shock when Ric Flair very pointedly spoke warmly of Chris Benoit in talking about the Four Horsemen. It went even slacker when the audience roared with approval in one of the biggest pops of the night. I really didn’t know how to feel about that. I understood why it was cathartic. I also know that my immediate reaction was to be horrified that people were giving Benoit a huge ovation. It was controversial to say the least, it was not subtle, it was likely completely and unapproved and I only wish I’d thought to see how the McMahons reacted in the front row at the time.
*Flair’s speech went on for what must have been an hour or more until Triple H told him he had to finish up, beginning with a long, long list of thank yous to behind the scenes people that only Flair could have gotten away with, then for most of it talking about each of his greatest opponents in chronological order beginning with Ken Patera and going up through Shawn Michaels. He briefly mentioned Sting, which was very popular. He made The Big Show bawl when he said he was the best big man who had ever wrestled (right after talking about traveling with Andre the Giant.) He finally said who his greatest opponent was….. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Ricky, who was sitting with Arn Anderson, took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He told a story near the end about blowing a spot with The Undertaker in their Wrestlemania match, and having The Undertaker set it right back up for him and shout in his ear “You think you can make it this time, kid?”
*Ric Flair made two cracks at The Rock’s expense, saying “The Rock – Oh, I forgot. We’re supposed to refer to him as Dwayne now” and “John Cena – and by the way, you can bet that he won’t leave wrestling to start making movies-”
*The crowd seemed to be trying very hard to hate The Rock but not succeeding. He received a mixed pop when he came out and was met with a lot of people shouting that he sold out, but then he would use one of his classic wrestling catch phrases and the same people would blow the roof off of the place cheering for him. He used all of the old standards – “FINALLY The Rock has come BACK to Orlando,” “If you smell-a-lell-a-lell what The ROCK is cook’n,” “It doesn’t MATTER what you think,” etc. He even essentially cut a promo talking smack about half a dozen of the newer wrestlers and got into a small back and forth with Santino Marella. He teased matches with the three people he “most wants a match against,” John Cena, Rey Mysterio and Shawn Michaels, as well as a Stone Cold-Rock IV Wrestlemania confrontation, the suggestion of each of which drove the crowd into further frenzies. I think everyone was expecting Dwayne Johnson to show up and when they got The Rock instead they were overjoyed.
*Mae Young was inducted by Pat Patterson, not Stephenie McMahon.
*John Cena came out to largely negative heat and promoted Wrestlemania, talking about how it was the Hall of Famers who paved the way for tomorrow night. They also ran several of the Wish You Were here promos with Mae Young tongue kissing a supposed drowning victim and Carlito taking Maria out to dinner.
*It was interesting who among the crowd broke character and who didn’t. Umaga was noly recognizable in a suit, which surely his character would have ripped off with Tazmanian Devil-like efficiency in a matter of seconds. Snitskey was in a suit. But MVP was still wearing a dew rag. Rey Mysterio wore his mask with a suit. Mick Foley wore this 1970s style big brown coat that looked appropriately mangy but out of place. Ashley looked very elegant despite her pink hair. The Undertaker did not seem to be present, perhaps because formal dress would have been a violation of his contract.
*Matt Hardy was sitting with Ashley, not Maria (as one reporter had commented that he and Maria seemed to be a couple.)
*Stone Cold Steve Austin and John Cena sat side by side in the front row along with Shane, his wife, Stephenie and Linda. Vince made a very brief appearance walking out from behind a curtain and along the back of the room but was for the most invisible.
It occurs to me I should also mention as a precautionary tale for those attending tomorrow night that the taxi situation was an unqualified disaster. There were hundreds of people gathered in front of the Marriott waiting for taxis. I walked further into downtown Orlando trying to avoid the mob and a couple of miles away I was still running up against people holding Hall of Fame programs who were trying to flag down the same taxis I was. None of the taxis were stopping. I walked until I had blisters on my feet and when I finally caught a taxi it seemed almost like random chance, as though I just as easily could have kept looking for several more hours. The whole time I was going back to the hotel the radio was filled with the voice of a frantic dispatcher calling all cars to go get those people. Since Wrestlemania tomorrow night should have seven times as many people in attendance as the Hall of Fame there is some cause for concern that the situation could be significantly worse. There might literally be no way out of downtown tomorrow night for people who don’t have cars.