April 2, 2007 at 1:00 am

Rumble in Motor City wows fans

Crowds fill Ford Field, house parties

DETROIT -- A Ford Field record-breaking 80,103 fans flocked to the stadium Sunday night for WrestleMania 23, while others skipped the sold-out event to watch the choke slams and pile drivers at house parties and sports bars for the Super Bowl of professional wrestling.

"This is really the king of sporting events," said John Melianos, 45, of Taylor, who bought a pair of tickets for $300 on eBay. "I knew there would be crowds but not like this."

It was the second major sporting event in Detroit in the past five months for the building contractor, who brought his girlfriend, Athena Rios.

"I saw the World Series last year, but this tops that," Melianos said. "This is drama. Yes, it's staged. But in one evening you have all the excitement of a World Series Game 7."

Fans cheer favorites, sport gear

In the same rhythm as "Let's go Tigers" the crowd chanted "Un-der-taker" as The Undertaker fought Dave Batista for the heavyweight belt.

The Undertaker dethroned Batista.

A cheering Christina Laney, 23, of Brownstown Township wore a $200 replica championship belt with a spinning buckle, for which her friends mocked her.

"I think she lost her mind," said Heather Klotz, 27, of Lincoln Park.

Laney said she was sane but "pumped" to see wrestling live.

Fans also sported throw-back T-shirts they had from WrestleMania 3, which drew 93,173 fans to the Pontiac Silverdome in 1987, according to WWE.

"This is a dream," said Iand Hollis, 55, of Grand Rapids.

He had just spent $100 on a pair of WrestleMania jerseys. "I saw the one at the Silverdome and now this. This is living."

The price of tickets did nothing to deter the sale of souvenirs that ranged from $10 headbands to pricey $50 T-shirts.

"You want people to know you were here. Yeah, I can take a picture. But a shirt is a constant reminder," said Sherry Green, 21, of Livonia.

Scalpers ask big bucks

Scalpers were out in force around Ford Field chanting, "tickets, tickets, tickets."

Dave Jones of Roseville had a pair for $400 and a single for $100.

Not everyone shelled out big bucks. Crowded along Ford Field railings were fans who paid $25 for standing room only. "We had to check it out," said Sean Wrathell, 18, of Saginaw. "It's WrestleMania."

Valet scores tickets from gambler

Greektown Casino valet Mark Kushner, 36, of Detroit had lucked into a pair of tickets Sunday morning from a gambler who wanted to stay at the tables.

"I'm running home and getting a Hulk-a-mania shirt," said Kushner.

Kushner got to see Hulk Hogan body-slam Andre the Giant for the first time at WrestleMania 3.

"I saw history made there -- I hope to see it made again."

McMahon loses his hair

In a WrestleMania first, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and Donald Trump bet their hair on the winner of the match between Bobby Lashley and Umaga.

Umaga -- thus McMahon -- lost.

After the match, McMahon was dragged by guest referee "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and strapped in a tricked-out barber's chair. Drawing the loudest cheers of the night, Trump wielded a set of clippers and helped shear McMahon's silver mane.

"Eeeww!" screeched 11-year-old Maggie Birch of Taylor. "He is one old bald dude."

House parties, bars roar

At the Giallombardo home in Sterling Heights, a crowd of third- and fourth-graders huddled around the big-screen TV in the basement, cheering and calling each other by their self-given wrestling names.

"It's fake. But it looks interesting," said Jacob "Jake the Snake" Schmid, 10.

"Oh, what a clothesline!" shouted Nicolas Giallombardo as one wrestler dropped his opponent.

Just a body slam away from Ford Field, fans crowded Cheli's Chili Bar and peered through the windows to catch the matches on nearly a dozen televisions.

After McMahon had his head shaved, fans began to filter out of the stadium. But those who stuck around witnessed the final match between John Cena and Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship belt. Before it was over, both athletes were bloodied, and the bout had as many plot twists as, well, a scripted professional wrestling match.

"Some people like theater. I like wrestling. But this is theater at its best," said Sergio Morales, 29, of Detroit.

You can reach Joe Menard at (313) 222-2296 or jmenard@detnews.com">jmenard@detnews.com.

Fans gather on the roof of Hockeytown on Sunday before WrestleMania began ... (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)
Nick Giallombardo, left, Derek Monacelli, Nick Dollar, Frankie Rugona, ... (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Darryl Conoway of Woodhaven, center, his brother, Devon, and Devon's son, ... (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
Batista spins The Undertaker, but The Undertaker dethroned him and won the ... (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Tony Warden of Windsor, dressed like pro wrestler The Undertaker, makes ... (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)