Spectacle Meets Spectacle With Logan Paul's Opening Night at WrestleMania

ARLINGTON, Texas — Logan Paul has made a name as a walking Personal Brand Machine, who got his start on the now-defunct Vine, and currently commands 23 million subscribers on YouTube, where he promotes his sports drinks, music videos, and himself. This Saturday, he expanded into a place countless personas have been built: World Wrestling Entertainment.  

Dressed in black and yellow spandex pants and a matching leather motocross jacket, Logan Paul made his professional wrestling debut with an extremely rare Pokemon card hanging from a chain around his neck. The audacious choice to wear a Pokemon card ostensibly valued at $6 million not only brought Paul’s personal brand into WWE — a Pokemon obsessive, he’s claimed to have lost $3.5 million buying fake Pokemon cards — but it fit right into the over-the-top spectacle of the event. And the ostentatiousness of it all helped solidify his role as an upstart heel in the WWE franchise, which Paul has recently hinted he’s considering pursuing full time. 

“To be honest, I don’t think it’s up to me,” Paul said in an interview with TMZ Sports. “I think it’s up to the fans. I think it’s up to the fans to see if they agree with me thinking I’m good.” 

Alongside WWE superstar The Miz — who himself got his start on The Real World — Paul squared off in a tag team match against father-son duo The Mysterios. Paul entered the arena backed by the Logan Paul song “Heart Cold” and a psychedelic light show, and was greeted with mixed responses from the audience at AT&T Stadium. But it made sense that some would boo at his appearance.

Paul was aptly cast as the heel and leaned into the part of the villain with ease. His controversial past became the setup for his bad boy upstart persona. Take for instance the controversy Paul generated for filming his reaction to what appeared to be a dead body he discovered in a Japanese forest in 2018. (He’s apologized for it several times.) Any animosity the audience may have toward Paul for such prior transgressions was transmuted into a good thing. 

In the end, Paul’s turn from digital native and social media star to all-purpose in-person PR player may seem like a gimmick, but his persona-driven brand fits neatly into a culture that is known for its crossover potential. In the past, professional wrestlers became movie stars. Now social media stars are becoming professional wrestlers at a time when wrestlers are social media stars in their own right. 

The mood was ecstatic inside the football-shaped dome colloquially referred to as Jerry’s World. The vibration of nearly 80 thousand wrestling fans filled AT&T Stadium. They were drawn here for WWE’s WrestleMania 38, the biggest professional-wrestling event of the year. The headliner was the much anticipated return of Stone Cold Steve Austin, who has been absent from the mat for nearly 20 years. The crowd was ready to rumble, and I was relieved to accept this assignment over the Trump rally that same night I may have otherwise covered for this magazine.

It’s notable that Paul is making his debut at WrestleMania. Most wrestlers pay their dues in the independent circuits, but Paul skipped all that and went straight to the big time. Of course, this isn’t the first physically intensive stunt Paul’s done to drum up his brand. Last summer, he fought World Champion Floyd Mayweather at the “Bragging Rights” exhibition boxing match at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. And just as he did in that bout, Paul gave a solid effort in both preparation and performance. Unlike some celebrity wrestling matches that avoid big slams and dramatic hits, Paul gave them as well as he took them. He dealt out a few slams, executed acrobatic moves, and took a dreaded double 619 kick to the face.

Paul’s physical preparation for WrestleMania, touted in tabloids for his body transformation and praised by the Miz in interviews as “exceeding the bar every step of the way,” did seem to pay off. Acrobatic moves teased in a training promo video made appearances on the mat. Despite playing the heel, Logan and his partner were handed a convincing victory.

Yet as Paul celebrated victory, the Miz betrayed Paul, executing a Skull Crushing Finale on him. The crowd roared. “I’m still processing why Miz betrayed me,” Paul said in the post-match interview with WWE. (He declined one-on-one interviews with other outlets.) “I think it was jealousy. Fuck you, man.” He’s played the character of Logan Paul so long, his YouTube persona feels right at home in the scripted world of professional wrestling. Not to mention that the betrayal conveniently sets up a future feud that could play out if he transitions to WWE full-time. 

“Logan Paul is a natural heel and did pretty well for a celebrity in his match,” said Chris McDonald, a WrestleMania attendee who lives in Dallas and didn’t even notice Paul’s Pokemon card. “It was entertaining at the very least, which is all you can ask for.” 

The people indeed seemed entertained by Paul’s performance, even if their enjoyment was part schadenfreude. As the night went on, the excitement only ratched up. “This is awesome,” the crowd chanted during a championship bout between two longtime female rivals, Bianca Belair and Becky Lynch. The introduction of a mystery opponent — a former VP at a competing wrestling brand — nearly brought the house down. And at one point, a fight broke out in the stands and at least two men were shown the door. 

As I soaked in the full sensory-marketing experience, complete with a souvenir cup and an advertisement for at-home delivery Smackadillas on my WrestleMania app, it dawned on me how blurred the lines between our politics, entertainment, and fiction have become. It’s not just that the Undertaker theme music is played at Trump rallies these days. By being a place to recast personas, launch careers, and shed old skins, WWE has in turn reshaped the world in its own image. And for a self promotion innovator like Paul, it couldn’t have been a better fit.

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