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Toronto mayor Mel Lastman fields questions from reporters at the WrestleMania press conference. -- Greg Oliver, CANOE PHOTO GALLERY!

Monday, September 3, 2001

Toronto mayor welcomes WrestleMania

By JOHN F. MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling

Toronto mayor Mel Lastman was beaming from ear to ear this afternoon as the World Wrestling Federation officially announced that the SkyDome would host next year's WrestleMania extravaganza on March 17.

Deemed the Super Bowl of pro wrestling by WWF czar Vince McMahon, WrestleMania provides an economic boom for the city.

"It's going to be great for our economy, it's going to be great for our Sick Kids Hospital," Lastman told the thousands and thousands of rabid wrestling fans that had gathered in the hot summer sun at Nathan Phillips Square, the site of city hall.

"It's gonna be great. It'll be great for our economy. There's so many layoffs and there's going to be a lot more coming and this is going to bring a lot of money into Toronto. It's going to bring a lot of tourists in. It's going to keep our hotel industry growing. It's going to keep our restaurants going... This is great for Toronto."

After the WWF trotted out super-stars like The Rock and 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin on stage, Lastman got into a grudge match with local media who grilled him over his participation in helping to bring such a 'unseemly event' to Toronto.

"Isn't this just glorified pornography?" asked once scribe.

"Hey, look the world consists of many people and many things," explained the mayor. "Some people like certain things... Some people like ballet, some people don't. Some people like wrestling, some people don't. That's what makes this city so great."

Last October, Lastman joined Ontario Attorney General Jim Flaherty, Liberal justice critic Michael Bryant and social activists in trying to prevent rapper Eminem from entering Ontario for a scheduled concert at SkyDome.

They argued his music, littered with foul language and abhorrent imagery, promoted violence against women and gays and was a negative influence on young people.

Here's Mel Lastman on Eminem last October: "This guy is singing about violence. What kind of an idiot is this? What kind of fools are the SkyDome people to permit this?"

Critics cite the WWF and it's brand of choreographed mayhem encouarges the same kind of violence that Eminem sings about. Isn't this just the same thing?

Lastman doesn't see it that way.

"No, I don't think so. Some of the things (Eminem was) saying, and some of the nasty things (he was) doing was objectionable."

But doesn't the violence portrayed in wrestling disturb him?

"A violent sport? I haven't seen anybody bleed. I haven't sen anybody get hurt. I haven't heard of it."

A minute later Lastman, who will be attending tonight's TSN network broadcast of the WWF's RAW is WAR program at the Air Canada Centre, admitted he had never seen a live WWF event: "I'm going tonight for the first time. I've never seen wrestling before."

One reporter asked Lastman about the dangers of the sport, pointing out that in 1999, Canadian wrestler Owen Hart died in the ring in the middle of a pay-per-view event in Kansas City.

Lastman had no real answer.

"This is great entertainment. Guys die from crossing the street. But this is great entertainment."

Lastman contends it's all about bringing in much-needed tourist dollars to Toronto.

"I'm interested in keeping Toronto moving. I am interested in keeping Toronto working. And I am interested in helping the Sick Kids Hospital and I want to keep this thing moving because there's going to be a lot of unemployment in Toronto. If you want to sit back on your can and do nothing, you can do that. But I'm not gonna do it."

Toronto Councillor Michael Walker has challenged the mayor over his efforts to bring WrestleMania to Toronto, because Lastman's son, Blayne, uses World Wrestling Federation (WWF) stars in Bad Boy store ads.

Lastman grew animated when one reporter suggested there is a conflict of interest.

"Are you out of your mind? I have no conflict of interest. Did you take your fibre this morning?"

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