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Thursday, March 22, 2012

WWE Raw brings WrestleMania excitement back to Atlanta

This time last year, Atlanta was slammed with excitement as it readied itself for the WrestleMania festivities that would soon descend upon the city for the first time. Although WrestleMania is heading south to Miami this year, there's just no keeping a town as rich in wrestling history as Atlanta out of the fray. From the Hall of Fame inductions of the Four Horsemen and Ron Simmons (who both wrangled their places in wrestling history largely in Atlanta) on March 31 to the WrestleMania main event pitting The Rock against John Cena (which began it's year-long build the day after Atlanta's WrestleMania at Philips Arena), the proverbial road to this year's WrestleMania definitely runs right through Atlanta.

Cody Rhodes

In fact, WWE's flagship show Raw returns to Philips Arena March 26 for its final show before WrestleMania. As the electrifying Rock, the monstrous Kane, defiant WWE Champion CM Punk and the rest of the WWE roster come back to town, a lot has changed for some competitors since WrestleMania XXVII was here. At last year's WrestleMania, Marietta resident Cody Rhodes (son of WWE Hall of Famer "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes) took on one of WWE's smallest competitors, the luchador Rey Mysterio. This year, he looks to prove himself as a worthy Intercontinental Champion by retaining the title against a man billed as "The World's Largest Athlete," the Big Show (who established his dominance in now-defunct Atlanta-based World Championship Wrestling). And Rhodes will continue to play mind games with his gigantic opponent when WWE returns to Atlanta on Monday.

"Last year it was with the smallest guy, this time it’s with the biggest guy," says Rhodes. "I’m sure I’ll be doing my damnedest to get under the Big Show’s skin. I’m a firm believer in what I’ve said about him. The Big Show is one of WWE’s top performers, but his WrestleMania moments haven’t exactly been immortal moments."

Daniel Bryan
  • WWE
  • Daniel Bryan

Another smaller competitor who has used his wit to get the best of the Big Show in recent months is Daniel Bryan. And in Bryan's case, his cleverness helped him win one of WWE's top prizes, the World Heavyweight Championship. At last year's WrestleMania, Bryan defended the United States Championship against the aggressive Irishman Sheamus. Unfortunately that match happened before WrestleMania went on the air and devolved into a battle royal. This year, this indie wrestling hero finds himself in one of WrestleMania's main events defending the World title, oddly enough against the same opponent he faced in last year's pre-show bout.

"It feels really vindicating that both me and Sheamus for the past year have really stepped up our games to be at the point we’re at now, to be in a World Heavyweight Championship match at WrestleMania," admits Bryan. "I absolutely intend on, for my first WrestleMania match, to go out there and steal the show. You never know what’s going to happen at Raw. But I can only assume it’s going to be a huge show and there will be big plans for everybody because that is the last Raw before we head into ‘Mania. That’s always one of the most exciting, unpredictable shows of the year."

So whether you're still buzzing from last year's WrestleMania excitement or getting ready for this year's pay-per-view action, when Raw returns to Philips Arena it's sure to increase the heart rates of anyone who likes watching musclebound men in tights grapple in the squared circle.

To read the Cody Rhodes and Daniel Bryan interviews in their entirety, go to www.wrestlingwithpopculture.com. To hear the full Cody Rhodes interview, listen to the March 19 edition of Georgia Wrestling Now. To hear the full Daniel Bryan interview, listen to the March 21 edition of Ringside Rap.

WWE Raw SuperShow. 7:15 p.m. March 26. Philips Arena, 1 Philips Drive. 404-878-3800. www.wwe.com, www.philipsarena.com. $24-$92.90.

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