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WWE's Money in the Bank: A Visual Study of Phoenix's Die-Hard Wrestling Fans

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See also: WrestleMania XXVI at University of Phoenix Stadium See also: WWE's WrestleMania Axxess in Downtown Phoenix

Some major fights broke out inside US Airways Center last night as painful-looking hits were exchanged and the opponents risked life and limb. And thousands of people witnessed these donnybrooks taking place, cheering their guts out while the combatants laid into one another.

This wasn't some beer-fueled brawl that occasionally takes place in the stands of the sports arena, but instead was all part of an evening of intense antics provided by the superstars of World Wrestling Entertainment.

The US Airways Center was packed to near capacity with more than 18,000 local rasslin' fans on Sunday as the WWE staged its annual pay-per-view Money in the Bank. It was a night filled with fireworks, fisticuffs, and frantic action, which those in attendance ate up with a spoon.

Phoenix has always been a huge market for pro wrestling, particularly for the sort of ultra-slick and ultra-glitzy events put on by the WWE. Numerous blockbuster pay-per-view extravaganzas have been held here in the Valley in the last decade - including the WWE's premier event WrestleMania back in 2010 - and local fans consistently sell things out every time.

They come wearing wrestling T-shirts, wielding replica championship titles, and bearing handmade signs adorned with the names of their favorite WWE superstars. And they also come with a thirst for action and are ready to cheer and boo until they can hardly breathe.

In many ways, a WWE event is akin to a big-time concert. Both feature blaring rock and hip-hop anthems, involve spectacular stage setups, and feature an overwhelming amount of pyrotechnics and spandex.

And indeed, there were countless rock and hip-hop fans in the crowd at Money in the Bank last night, but they were by no means the only sort of people at the event.

WWE appeals to a variety of age groups, particularly those in the 18-and-under demographic. While the company has taken plenty of flack from both hardcore fans and critics for appealing to pre-teens, the sort of stuff that takes place in a WWE is relatively harmless fun. Parents brought their kids out to the arena for a night of pro wrestling where such larger-than-life heroes as John Cena and CM Punk won their matches and furthered their quest for glory and title belts.

While pro wrestling has a certain infamy for being white trash entertainment that appeals to the lower class masses, the crowd at Money in the Bank indicated otherwise. US Airways Center was filled with a virtual melting pot of Latinos, African-Americans, and Caucasians, as well as members from a variety of income brackets.

Brett Savage, a pierced-and-tattooed fan who dreams of someday being a wrestler himself, says that folks who consider wrestling to be mere spectacle "don't get it."

"They just don't understand it. They see one part of it but don't see the whole picture," Savage says. "I watch the WWE because it drives something in me and its actually quality real entertainment, unlike the NFL, basketball, baseball, or hockey, which they have an off season, which wrestling does not."

Wrestling also transcends boundaries and is popular around the world. David Byrne, for instance, grew up watching wrestling in his native Ireland. And while you'd might expect the 21-year-old to cheer for the WWE's Sheamus, the 6-foot-4 superstar who also hails from Emerald Isle and sports flaming red hair, Byrne says that's bollocks.

"Aw no, Sheamus is a streak of piss, man. He used to be a bouncer in Dublin and he's an arsehole, and he threw me out of two clubs," he says. "I can't stand the fella at all. He's always had his big ridiculous, spiky, mingy, ginger minger orange hair. I'm only jealous because I'm a baldie fellow."

Entire families of die-hard wrestling fans showed up for Money in the Bank, such as Tina Peral, a 32-year-old Valley resident who attended with her younger brothers James and Joey. She says they've been watching the WWE since the heyday of "Macho Man" Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan in the 1980s and try to catch every single Raw and Smackdown episode.

They wouldn't have missed the pay-per-view for anything, even if it meant being perched in the nosebleed seats. After all, they had a family tradition to uphold.

"My whole family's into it," says Peral. "Our dad got us started into it back in the day. He's from Spain and when he came to the States he started watching wrestling. And we've been into it since we were kids."

Peral a huge Cena fan, as illustrated by her revealing t-shirt featuring the wrestler's muscular countenance, says she realizes that wrestling is fake to a certain degree, but it hasn't dimmed her enjoyment of it in the slightest.

"I know it's staged, but it takes a lot of talent to do what they do," she says. "It's still crazy, it's still athletic, and I find it very entertaining."

Siblings Richard and Anthony Sorentino were also eager to be at the pay-per-view. Both New York natives have been fans "since the womb" and consider pro wrestling to be theater of sorts, albeit taken to its most extreme.

"It's theater, it's entertainment, it's athleticism, it's sports, it's everything all balled into one," says Richard, who came to the event wearing a Japanese wrestling mask. "You have people that say its fake, but so are the movies, but we're still paying $9.50 to go see a movie. So you might as well spend your money on this. It's a live-action movie."

Without missing a beat, his brother Anthony chimes in, stating that the WWE is better than a movie.

"Unlike at a movie theater, you can be as loud as you want, scream and cheer for who you want, boo for who you want, and the guy behind you can't do a thing."

The pair also compared a WWE event to an adrenaline-charged roller coaster ride of sorts that offers thrills and chills. And much like a roller coaster, they were eager to jump in line for another go. Specifically, they queued up with hundreds of others in front of the US Airways Center's box office to get tickets to the blockbuster Royal Rumble pay-per-view, which last night the WWE announced would be taking place at the arena in January.

Like many, the Sorentinos can't wait to be in the house for the event, even if ringside tickets go for $250.

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