The following messages were exchanged on September 15th:
Friend: What are you guys doing for your anniversary?
Me: We’re actually on our way to Detroit for a wrestling Pay-Per-View.
Friend: You are HARD CORE! You will have a great time, everything’s better live.
Me: For Ryan’s sake, I really hope so.
The Night of Champions PPV received harsh reviews, all deserved, but damn it was still a good time! Being our anniversary, and Ryan’s first time at a WWE show, we splurged on seats in the 9th row close to the ring entrance. Given the lackluster quality of the event, those seats made a huge difference. Conversely, my friend Rocky and I went to Raw in Toronto the week prior. We sat 23 rows off the floor, couldn’t see the screen over the entrance, and loved every minute. I felt hung over the next day just from all the yelling.
I must deduce that everything is indeed better live, and I’d like to share my experience with you.
Meet Me At Joe Louis (Arena)
I was very excited to meet John Canton and Matty J. Douglas, also attending Night of Champions. We only had a short visit, but it was very nice to meet the leader of TJR, and Matt, an excellent writer. I’d love to magically conjure an Annual TJR BBQ, complete with Android Johnson, the profane robo-butler.
When I watch wrestling on TV, I’m often astounded by the number of very young children at the shows. How judgmental can I be, since I watched wrestling as a kid and I turned out alright (I DID). But the parent in me questions having small children at ringside, so late at night, watching a loud and violent show that they couldn’t possibly understand. If your little kids watch wrestling on TV, enjoy it together, and be there for their questions. Do they need to go to a PPV, where they will surely be exhausted and dismayed? We sat beside a mom who did running commentary for her pre-schooler, “Oh no! Boom, down he goes. He’s okay. He’s okay. Oh no, what’s that CM Punk doing? Whoopsie! Ouch.” If I hadn’t been busy yelling “SWEET JUSTICE!!!” I would have been pretty depressed. She was a nice lady, and had the patience of a saint.
And then there were the assholes. That Raw in Toronto may have been memorable for the fans’ vociferous participation, but by the end of the night, I was well past enjoying the drunken bullshit emanating from our neighbors. What started out as light, douchey fun (chanting “JOB-BER!” at regular intervals) disintegrated into mean-spirited homosexuality-based heckling. This crap was countered by the polite young man beside us, the “D” with his friends who brought an “R” and a “V”. He would excuse himself every time they went past, said that he would follow me on twitter and did, was a master of starting claps, and meekly asked me to hold up his “D” when he went to the bathroom. Even though I’m not an RVD fan, I would have done it if I’d had the chance.
Change of Heart
Funny thing is, I’m kind of an RVD fan after all that. I cannot fault Van Dam for anything he’s done since coming back. I had terribly low expectations, and I wasn’t that much of a fan to begin with. I’m not sure that he could wrestle for more than 10-15 minutes these days, without getting too winded to do his high spots, but I do think that he is doing a great job in these shorter matches. I couldn’t bring myself to “R! V! D!” with the thumbs, but he was one of my husband’s favorites at Night of Champions. He noticed that Van Dam would look quite out of breath at times throughout the match, but just before a big move, he’d Vam-Dam Up and take some big breaths and totally pull it off. Impressive. He also observed that RVD (and Del Rio) made the match look seamless. He thoroughly enjoyed everything they did, proclaiming, “He’s not going to jump across the ring!” right before the Van Terminator.
Separating the Superstars from the other Superstars
Being there in person serves to amplify the difference between really good wrestlers and the not so good. It was a tragedy that the Bray Wyatt/Dolph Ziggler match at Raw was overridden by a commercial break. They are so swift in the ring, and made every single gesture count. THIS is how I want to see Bray Wyatt wrestling: not as a gimmick, but as a highly-skilled wrestler facing also-talented guys. Just because he has cultivated a wicked persona doesn’t mean you should just throw him in the ring with whoever needs sympathy.
Speaking of R-Truth, I made a point of staying seated with an unamused expression when he made his “What’s Up!” entrance at Raw. Not even Alberto Del Rio could make much of a match out of this, though he tried. Likewise, The Miz and Damien Sandow failed to enthrall the otherwise easy-to-arouse Toronto crowd. They were booing The Miz, chanting for the announcers, and I have no clue how the match ended. You know your babyface career is in a bad way when the heel interrupting your match gets a bigger pop than you, and that heel is Fandango. Observation: when Fandango and Summer Rae came out at Night of Champions, my husband yelled, “Fandango just looked right at you!” as I was taking their photo. I really don’t know what cracked me up more: my husband’s enthusiasm, or Fandango’s expression in said photo:
I’ll Take Option C
It really was awesome to see the wrestlers up close. I kept vacillating between madly snapping pictures and eagerly reaching out for high fives. Which did I want more: the memories captured, or some Shield sweat on my hand? (I went for Option C – Creepy Person, and took a photo of the Shield sweat on my hand. Observation: their respective shoulders are very soft.) Another wrestler who made an impression was Titus O’Neil, who was so jacked up after winning the pre-show match that I thought he was going to clothesline our heads off on his way back. Conversely, I was rather surprised by how small Triple H looked when he came out in his business suit. For all my complaining about his promo, I can appreciate the amount of poise required of wrestlers these days. He may be long winded, but Triple H (and for the most part, Edge on Raw) are excellent examples of how well-rounded you need to be outside of the ring. You can have the right look, talent, and charisma, but you have to convey all that with a cameraman right up in your face.
Let’s Make Magic
WWE runs an immaculate ship when the lights are on. Every person at ringside is a multi-talented workhorse, ensuring that every moment looks good (and I’m guessing, doing it under varying levels of duress). Everyone out there, from the camera guys to the referees, would scurry around to re-set the scene in an unobtrusive manner. The guys setting up the pyro worked like secret agents with only seconds to perform their duties – even more impressive were the guys cleaning up the bits of debris after the pyro, lying flat on the floor like obsessive neat freaks who couldn’t bear to see a teensy bit of fluff on the Night of Champions carpet. And they did this during a match. For all the busywork, I imagine that there is a lot of monotony as well. To the guy who makes sure the cords are never in the way: I hope you’re paid well.
Flip the Script
The pre-show match - a Tag Team Turmoil between five teams to determine who would face the champs – would have made an excellent opening match for the PPV. It had a bit of a Royal Rumble feel to it, with quick falls and the subsequent teams running out in a flurry to compete. Conversely, the actual opening segment was such a superfluous, boner-killing snore that it should have been in the pre-show, at best. I already reviewed that Intercontinental Title match, horrible to begin with and further crippled by the Triple H promo that preceded it, in last week’s column on Curtain Jerks.
Things actually brightened up when the Divas came out after the boring Kofi/Axel match. I developed an appreciation for how much “more” they have to be in order to make an impression in the arena. They are tiny human beings. AJ’s facial expressions are so good, and she is like a feline using her heightened senses to time everything just right. And the best way to describe Natalya is “majestic”.
Not too surprisingly, CM Punk was also a star performer in our eyes that night. He was both playful and intense in his match against Heyman and Axel. Seeing Paul Heyman bolt down the aisle, with Punk in hot pursuit, was simply a delight (one that not even the refs carrying out Curtis Axel could resist laughing at). I hope that not too many people in the arena spoiled that Ryback was under the ring, waiting to attack. We couldn’t tell who was put under there, as a throng of security guards hustled a hooded guy down to the ring while the arena was dark. And thus my belief in trap doors was dashed.
The Viper and The Dragon
How appropriate to close with the main event of both shows, headlined by Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan. Orton has been superb as Triple H’s heavy. He is clearly best when he doesn’t say much and just follows simple instructions that require being cruel.
Daniel Bryan has so much going for him. He is successful because of skill and work ethic. He refuses to conform. He is approachable. He is fun. I couldn’t WAIT to chant for him. When the ref made that fast count and Bryan won the title, my jubilation was greatly tempered by two things: knowing that it was a fast count, and being completely taken off guard. Who thought he’d win? And it was tainted. But Orton walked away, and the YES chants reverberated around the arena. As Bryan celebrated with the fans at ringside, it began to dawn on me that he might walk past us on his way back... Fallout be damned, tomorrow is another day, YES! YES! YES!
High fiving Daniel Bryan was the highlight of the night. We hung back after the show, to see the ring announcers and commentary team leave. As Jerry Lawler walked past, everyone around us chanted and bowed to him. I stood in silence, looking straight at him, with a big thumbs down. He stopped in his tracks and gave me a sad pouty face. I froze. I did not retract the thumbs down, or smile. And then he walked on. That was for being such a wiener on the mic, Jerry. I just wish I’d had my wits about me to tell you when I had the chance.