|The (American) apples of Lacy's eye|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
The Crews Conundrum
I focused a lot of my attention on crowd reactions, since there's a big difference between hearing/seeing something on TV and being part of a live audience where things are happening organically. Our opening match of the night featured Dolph Ziggler vs. Apollo Crews and, like me, I could feel people WANTING to like Crews, but there's just no connection. Unlike me, most people are still way into Dolph Ziggler and it's not hard to see why. Despite ostensibly being a heel, Ziggler still played up his cocky, show-off persona. I don't like Dolph Ziggler (though I did dig his side ponytail that he of course RUINED by taking out) but he interacts with the audience. He makes them feel that their reactions are playing a role. Crews doesn't. People would cheer like mad when he showed off how flippy or super strong he is, but there was no follow-up. A big part of Crews' problem is that he is given nothing to work with other than “guy who smiles” or lately “Kalisto's friend” but I feel like there has to be more that he can personally do to appeal to the audience. This is why those “Let's Go, Ziggler” chants are still happening (and I heard some during this show) while he's being a jerk. We can still fix this. Apollo Crews does some cool-looking shit and it is super fun to watch live. He's just got to go that extra mile.
An Ascension Match That I Enjoyed
The crowd was pretty quiet all night, which certainly didn't help guys like Apollo Crews. However, they were more than ready to take direction (maybe they were just too polite to start anything spontaneous) and that's where the value of someone like Rhyno really shone. He spent most of his tag match waiting for Slater to stop being brutalized long enough to tag in, and he used that time to keep the audience clapping and cheering in support of his partner. Wrestling fans are so good at taking cues; if you clap we'll probably clap, too!
Meanwhile, I was shockingly into the Ascension's performance. It started with Konnor moving quickly (for once) after being tagged in to put himself in between Slater and Rhyno. Then he continued to either drive Slater within reach of Viktor or give him an inch without ever actually letting him within tagging distance of Rhyno. When the novelty of toying with Slater wore off, Konnor actually stepped aside and let him finally tag out. We're always TOLD that the Ascension are big AND mean AND smart, but this is the first time I actually saw that play out effectively.
Ooof. Okay. The next match pitted Mojo Rawley against Aiden English and I have never in my life felt more sorry for two people. There was just a mass exodus to the merch and concession stands. No one had any interest in them and it was so unfair. Like with Apollo Crews, people briefly came alive for Rawley, especially near the end when he got hype or stayed hype or whatever, but they mostly played to crickets. English did his absolute best, and he and Simon Gotch both played the dastardly villains well, interacting with the few fans who were paying attention. But this just goes to show that even with effective fan interaction there's only so much you can do if you've been continually set up to fail.
Embracing Bizarro Land
Canada is the second largest country but we act like we're all from the same small town. No one from Canada is ever going to get booed here, so, hilariously and awesomely, WWE finally decided to just throw its hands in the air and disregard the current face/heel alignments for one night only. Natalya came out to massive cheers and played to them for the whole match. It was the loudest the arena got all night. I actually hope that Nikki Bella ends up using this to expose Natalya on Smackdown: “Ugh, Nattie, how can you say that I'm the one who gets everything when you own LITERALLY ALL OF CANADA.”
Natalya tagged with Tamina Snuka, who got to bask in the glow of goodwill, too, rather than everyone being surprised that she's still around and is apparently on the Smackdown roster. They tagged against Alexa Bliss and Carmella, but most of the match came down to Natalya and Bliss, which was for the best. I submit the following as evidence of why Alexa Bliss is great: having her back turned when Natalya tagged in Snuka and then doing a hilarious double-take when she realized who she was up against (also selling Snuka as the intimidating force we're always supposed to buy her as); doing some consequent limbering up stretches before taking a run at Snuka; failing to make a dent, shrugging it off, and jauntily tagging in Carmella instead; shoving Carmella into the ring when she hesitated. Bliss is best.
The Same Kalisto Match
Every Kalisto and Sin Cara match I've ever seen live has always been the same. They go up against a big guy, spend some quality time attacking the legs, are flippy enough to whet the appetite without actually satisfying, and are then crushed. This time it was Baron Corbin doing the crushing. I mean, it's fine. I liked this match and I liked the Sin Cara/Braun Strowman match at the last WWE Live event I went to. But just once can a brand's designated luchador get in there against someone else who is small and fast and just GO?
In a match that was made entirely for my benefit (I will not be convinced otherwise) we got to see American Alpha (to whom I maaaay have started to refer as My Precious Sunshine Sons) take on Tyler Breeze and Fandango and the match (get this) ACTUALLY GOT THE TIME IT NEEDED TO BE AMAZING and IT WAS AMAZING. I have wanted this exact match for ages and ages and I've never felt so satisfied. I was into it from the minute both the entrances occurred, when I practically jumped out of my seat, but the best part was watching, hearing, and FEELING the rest of the crowd get sucked in as the match went on, reacting to Breeze and Fandango being smarmy and vicious, to Jordan and Gable being likeable best friends who are great at wrestling. Ugh, they're all just so easy to love and all I want is for Smackdown to show this all the time! The match also had a nice twist on the usual Alpha formula, having Jordan be the one in peril for a change, with Gable coming in to save the day. The pacing was great, the energy high, the offence innovative, and I love this match forever.
A Marvelous Main Event
The last match of the night was pretty great, too. Dean Ambrose defended the Intercontinental Championship against AJ Styles and the Miz. And for a crowd that loved itself some AJ Styles and hated the Miz, I was impressed that Ambrose still garnered a big reaction himself. He won everyone over with how he just gutted out the match, fighting for every advantage and cutting through exhaustion to win. The whole thing was really well paced and entertaining, but there were some individual moments that stood out: Miz convincing Styles to team up with him, realizing that Styles was still getting cheered while he was getting booed, and sneakily turning on Styles out of pure spite; Ambrose pulling off the combination bulldog/clothesline that he sometimes does in multiman matches, and I love it every time; Ambrose giving Miz a low blow via catapulting Styles into him; an extended sequence featuring all three men taking turns rolling each other up unsuccessfully; Styles putting the sleeper hold on Ambrose, then Miz putting the sleep hold on HIM, and Ambrose shaking both of them off.
All in all this was a really great show, and I once again recommend that you take in a WWE Live event if you have the chance. Even with the quiet crowd the wrestling was still hugely enjoyable. It was totally worth destroying my shoes and soaking my feet on the way home because despite having lived in Alberta all my life I still have not learned that WINTER IS ALWAYS COMING and one sunny week in February does not mean it's spring; it means more snow is on the way. Now, I've read enough Victorian novels to know that wet feet lead to pneumonia and languishing at death's door, but it will all have been worth it to see My Precious Sunshine Sons and the Fashion Po Po tear it up (wrestling makes me say really weird things).