Monday, October 17, 2016

WWE Live in Edmonton

Strowman was one of the highlights of the Edmonton house show, if only because of how HUGE he was
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I always like hearing about WWE's house shows and what's served up to non-TV audiences, so here's what I experienced on October 14, 2016, when I attended a WWE Live show in my home city. I was joined by my partner and a friend who took my brother's ticket since he couldn't make it. It was weird to go to a wrestling show without my brother, since he is who I primarily discuss this nonsense with, but on the other hand it was pretty cool to take my friend to her first wrestling event. She hadn't watched any wrestling since back when we lived together, so it was fun to see her react to both the wrestlers she remembered and those who were new to her.

It had snowed all day, and I'm pretty sure the crowd wasn't as big as usual because of people not wanting to venture forth, but the upside was that the people who WERE there were the ones who really wanted to be there and enjoy the show. Of note in my section were the group of bros sitting next to us who were determined to be the smarkiest smarks who ever smarked. I know this because they stated their intentions repeatedly. The poor guys nearly threw their backs out making sure everyone knew how much they did not care for Roman Reigns. Yeah, you and like half the crowd, my dudes, but keep being 2 edgy or whatever. Hilariously, one guy's idea of “smarky” was to chant wrestlers' indie names, and his buddies immediately shut him down every single time (“Tyler Black! Tyler Black!” “Ugh, dude, no”). They were harmless, though, and made a nice change. Usually I get stuck listening to a bunch of people who I'm pretty sure wandered in by mistake. I've never understood why people come to WWE shows when they haven't watched since the '90s and have no interest in learning about the current atmosphere, so they spend the whole time wondering aloud who everyone is and sitting on their hands.

Anyway, our hosts for the evening were Jojo and Byron Saxton, and let me tell you that unshackled from his weekly dose of abuse at the announce table, Byron Saxton is a veritable ray of sunshine bouncing all over the place and being congenial as hell. Bless him. We got to see the RAW roster in action, and on one hand I kind of wanted to see the people that I write about every week, but on the other hand I don't watch RAW (I just read about it on the Internet) and I've really missed a lot of faces since the brand split, so it was nice to see them again.

Sasha Banks and Charlotte started us off with a title match for the RAW Women's Championship. The crowd was very into it, and I can't emphasize enough how much things have changed for the better since I went to my first WWE show, when the women were greeted with disinterest and catcalls. The old anxiety that used to grip me when a women's match was announced reared its head out of habit, but it was a mere flicker soon extinguished as everyone roared for Banks and booed Charlotte (aside from the super smarks next to me who dutifully Woo-ed). Banks and Charlotte are clearly really comfortable working together, and the champ ended up retaining.

Then we had a couple of quick matches featuring Braun Strowman vs. Sin Cara and Enzo and Cass vs. the Club. Given that I've never been very impressed with Braun Strowman, I found that first match surprisingly engaging. First of all, television does not do Strowman's size justice. He is HUGE. And watching him fling Sin Cara around like a sack of potatoes was incredibly intimidating. My friend was familiar with Sin Cara (original recipe) from when he first debuted, so she was excited to see the character again, and I was happy that he was able to get in some offense before being pinned. Enzo and Cass beat the Club, and I've never seen anyone with as much unstoppable energy as Enzo Amore. I was treated to the sound of several hundred Canadians asking “How you doin'?” in a completely unsuitable accent (aside from my neighbours, who were “too sweet”ing their little hearts out), which was delightful.

The only time the crowd really died was during the next match, which pitted R-Truth against Jinder Mahal and, really, can you blame them? Truth is a pro at drumming up enthusiasm, but he can only do so much. After Mahal's loss he demanded another opponent and Neville came out to lacklustre applause. (My friend: “Oh, no. Neville is such an unfortunate name for a wrestler.” Tell me about it.) It is a crime that Neville is subject to such lack of enthusiasm. He made the utmost of the minute he had and people went wild for the Red Arrow, but if he's not going to be of much importance on RAW, can we have him on Smackdown, please?

Our midpoint main event involved Chris Jericho coming out for a chat. No Canadian crowd is ever going to really boo Chris Jericho (bizarro folk that we are), but the effort he put into abusing our poor city was appreciated. He even put us on the List but refused to give us the Gift of Jericho. We drank it in anyway. Eventually Cesaro came out for a match, the whole of which was pretty much him trying to swing Jericho and Jericho trying to outfox him. Absolutely no one is a better performer, character-wise, than Chris Jericho right now. He plays absolutely everything to the rafters, and despite the fact that our love for him as eternal we were all in favour of his comeuppance in the form of Cesaro uppercutting and finally swinging the hell out of him. After the bell was rung Jericho just quietly slipped away, leaving Cesaro to enjoy his victory. It's a small thing, but it's one of the many reasons why I love Jericho so much: he's so willing to have things not be all about him and let others into the spotlight.

A women's tag match was next, and all of the little Bayley fans I saw running around got to cheer their hearts out for her. The rest of us did, too. Even the guys next to me wouldn't cheer against her. She was tagging with Alicia Fox. Hilariously, the crowd had no idea how to react when Fox came out. One could have deduced that she was Bayley's partner, but given her flip-floppy history how were we to know she hadn't turned just before coming out? At any rate, the young Fox fan sitting behind me was delighted, and her small voice piping encouragement throughout the match was adorable. Fox and Bayley faced Nia Jax and Dana Brooke. Jax is intimidating as hell to see in person, and she and Brooke made a good team, though they lost.

Next up was another title match, this time between Roman Reigns and Rusev. I can confirm that the divided chants for and against Roman Reigns are just as raucous when the cameras aren't rolling. Reigns won after a particularly graceful spear and then spent a long time walking around taking pictures and signing things for fans. My friend remarked that he seemed like a really chill guy, and I have to agree. He smilingly slapped every hand and posed for every selfie. You can think what you want about him, but everything I've seen indicates that he's a pretty good egg to the fans, anyway.

Our main event was yet another title match featuring Kevin Owens defending against Sami Zayn and Seth Rollins. This match was what my dreams are made of and I spent the entire time just...*chin hands*. There was a great character bit at the beginning, with Owens immediately rolling out of the ring, which infuriated Zayn, who kept bobbing around ready for a fight, while Rollins coolly held back to see which way the wind would blow. The match was great and a well-deserved “This is awesome” chant broke out. My one complaint is that Zayn, while well-received, didn't get nearly the reaction that the other two men got, and that can be placed squarely on the shoulders of RAW's refusal to do anything with him. Sami Zayn is incredible and so naturally likeable, but there's only so much he can do on his own. Even after the match, which Owens won, Rollins got to pedigree Owens, and I was expecting Zayn to get one over on Rollins in turn, but no. Rollins got to pedigree Zayn, too, making it clear that Zayn isn't on equal footing and we probably only got to see him because of the requisite Canadian content. I don't want to complain too much because I really did love that match, but since I've already made my pitch for bringing Neville to Smackdown, can we please have Sami Zayn, too?

Afterward I asked my friend how her first WWE live experience was, and she said she really enjoyed it. She said it was easy to pick up the stories and the characters, and the energy from the crowd and the performers was infectious. So if you're looking to get someone into WWE, taking them to a live show might just be a good place to start!