On Saturday, June 14, I attended a WWE Live show in Hamilton, Ontario. Rather than a blow-by-blow account of what happened, I wanted to make a fun itemized list of things you should know about the experience.
1. House shows are really worth going to
This was my first time going to a house show, well, in the modern era. I did see two house shows at my local arena 20 years ago, which is long enough to not be comparable. I have been to 4 PPVs and a Monday Night Raw, and so that’s what I was using as a benchmark.
House shows are cheaper, ticket-wise, and possibly otherwise if you are traveling farther for a televised event (gas, flight, hotel). And because of the other reasons I will enumerate below, house shows are excellent bang for your buck. Our arena was far from full, a tragedy given the calibre of the show we saw. Maybe they need to work on their local advertising, since not everyone’s going to be signed up for Ticketmaster to prompt them whenever WWE is within a 6-hour radius.
2. There are no filler segments or commercial breaks
Even though WWE does a decent job of trying to entertain the crowd between televised matches, there’s no doubt that the backstage interviews, flashbacks, in-ring promos, and commercial breaks can get tedious at a 3-4 hour show. At a house show, there’s no need for commercials, there are very few in-ring promos, and they don’t even need to change the ring canvas between matches. It’s go-go-go but without feeling rushed. We left feeling like we’d really gotten our money’s worth in terms of wrestling, even at the most expensive price point of $95 for floor seats ringside.
3. The production is better, in a way
I’m a sucker for elaborate sets and pyrotechnics, so I’m not exactly saying that the production value of a house show is superior. What I’m trying to say is that the sparse lighting, simple entrance, and bare-bones crew lend to the good old-fashioned wrestling feeling. The kind of wrestling that makes young men and women want to be wrestlers when they grow up. Intimate, stripped-down, almost more powerful in its effect. When The Miz catches Dolph Ziggler with a clothesline, you can see the fine mist of Dolph’s sweat rise up under the spotlights. When Roman Reigns spears Bray Wyatt into a table, you can see the tiny shards of plywood spray in every direction. It’s a friggin’ thing of beauty. Ring announcer Tony Chimel dutifully tidied up weapons during the street fight, and we didn’t have a camera crew or an announce table between us and the ring. The only issue I had with the production was that we couldn’t understand a single thing being said on the microphone, because we had floor seats, and the speakers obviously weren’t set up in our favour. When we were walking around at intermission, we could hear everything crystal clear from the lower bowl. The only other downside of house show production is that the low lighting makes it very challenging to take pictures. I had to remind myself to just enjoy the experience, and not get bogged down by the tangible memories.
4. I love the loose limits
Every match felt (and likely was) much longer than it would have been on TV, and I mean that in the best way. We are so accustomed to squash matches and abbreviated matches that a well-timed bout feels downright decadent. I’m sure the main purpose of letting them go for longer is to give the fans a solid show that requires having less talent on hand, but the optimist in me sees it in other, more flowery ways. In keeping with that good old-fashioned wrestling feel, the looser time limits give wrestlers the opportunity to build a match with a proper structure. Now I’m talking like I know exactly what that structure is, but I could just tell that we were getting wrestling as it was intended. How could I tell? Because every single match had redeeming qualities, and served a place on the card. Every match showcased each wrestler’s strength, and illustrated the generosity of two (or more) people working back and forth to tell a story. But most telling was how much the wrestlers clearly seemed to be having a good time themselves. No rush, no pressure, just going out to a small crowd in a dingy building to practice their craft. Experiment. See what riles people up; see what makes them cheer. Time for false finishes and comedy and making a connection. I didn’t get a sense that anyone was phoning it in, despite the less-than-stellar gate, the almost-stifling blanket of body odour in the crowd, or the three goons chanting for CM Punk.
5. We didn’t miss anyone
Before the event, I tried not to think about who’d be there, knowing how many guys weren’t doing house shows due to injury, how many had just been released, and how half the roster was at a show in Michigan at the same time. I also couldn’t wipe the phrase “Great Khali vs. JTG” from my mind, since that was the main event at a house show that John Canton had seen once. In the end, the three of us who went – ranging from an apologist to a skeptic – came away feeling like we’d seen one hell of a show. And it says a LOT that we didn’t really miss any of the wrestlers who weren’t on the card.
Here was who we got to see:
Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz
Heath Slater/Hornswoggle vs. A Matador/El Torito
R-Truth vs. Curtis Axel
Rusev (with Lana!) vs. Xavier Woods
Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose
When Tony Chimel started wohnk-bleeop-blooping on the microphone and people started getting up from their seats after this match, we seriously wondered if the show was over. It seemed a bit short, but satisfying nonetheless. Ambrose vs. Rollins totally felt like a main event. But then we saw people coming back with pizza, so we realized it was an intermission. Make fun of me all you want, but it’s more fun to be a naïve fan, than the goon holding pizza chanting for CM Punk. After that, we saw:
Alicia Fox vs. Natalya vs. Paige
Damien Sandow vs. Titus O’Neil, then Bo Dallas, then Adam Rose
Bray Wyatt vs. Roman Reigns (street fight)
Sure, I would have loved to see The Usos, Harper and Rowan, Cesaro, and Bad News Barrett, but I’m not sure that I’d trade what we saw.
6. Seating is everything
You won’t be surprised that I put a lot of scrutiny and effort into my seats; I even elected to phone Ticketmaster when the website was behaving far too robotically for my taste, and I HATE using the telephone. After all that, the floor plan at the arena was laid out differently than the floor plan on the website. We ended up having a ring post (and often a referee) obscuring our view, plus the tallest person in the entire world sat in the first row ahead of us. He was That Guy who had to stand up every single time he wanted to yell something, and every time a wrestler vacated the ring for any reason, no matter which side of the ring. I can’t fault him for being so bloody tall or so damn excitable, but yet I feel like I should blame him for something. You can’t help tall people, or changing floor plans, but I’d advise you to steer clear of the corner areas of the ring if you can.
7. Kids sure love wrestling
There were so many little kids at this show, I was convinced an orphanage dropped off several busloads of them. And these were just the kids I saw in the $95 seats! Most of the people around us looked (and smelled) like they could hardly afford soap, let alone ringside seats and the replica title belts that hung on their shoulders. I was ASTOUNDED by the number of replica belts, and they were selling for $150-$200 each. This all got me thinking that the people of Hamilton really like wrestling, because I too have shelled out ridiculous sums of money to sit up close, but I would never buy a replica belt. There were even little girls with teeny-tiny Divas belts and Paige shirts. AJ who? And the kid behind us had the cutest wee laugh, gutting himself over all the jokey bits, as intended, so it was very interesting to observe. About half-way through the main event, we saw a father take his two kids home, maybe because it was getting late, and/or the street fight was getting loco.
8. (Almost) everyone loves R-Truth
On our way to the show, I reminded my friend Rocky that we’d be subjected to the fans who don’t share our distaste for R-Truth. This is the case whenever we go to a movie theatre for the PPV’s, and any live event, since R-Truth is meant to be cheered. So good for him, job well done. Except I find him boring, and borderline annoying. He can’t rap, his dancing is awkward, and he doesn’t have that many wrestling moves to speak of… I just don’t get it. But holy cow, people love R-Truth, and not just the kids. And you know what he did? He kind of wore me down! About half-way through his forgettable match with Curtis Axel (who wasn’t his usual jovial self without Ryback, but who DID mimic R-Truth’s hip thrusts for comic effect), I found myself whispering that he was in awesome shape for a guy his age. And then when he yelled “What’s Up?” for the 17th time, and that’s not an exaggeration, I yelled “What’s Up!” back to him. I didn’t mean to, it just happened!
9. The Miz might be a little bit awesome
I was so pleased, but not the least bit shocked, when Dolph Ziggler came out for the opening match. How many times has he worked the curtain jerk? It’s a testimony to his abilities to warm up the crowd and put on a consistently thrilling match. Then The Miz came out, and my hopes deflated a little. I’ve never been a big fan of The Miz, but I have to hand it to him, he worked his ASS off. If he couldn’t get a reaction from the crowd, he’d repeat his annoying gestures over and over until he had everyone booing. They had a surprisingly long and entertaining match. There was a series of near falls that had everyone at their mercy, and I like to think that everyone – myself included – walked away from that with a greater appreciation for The Miz. Maybe the recent releases mean a spot for Mr. Mizanin, and he’s made me believe in fourth chances.
10. Heath Slater is a ship lost at sea
Slater just wasn’t himself. First of all, and most obviously, he was without McIntyre or Mahal. He had the same outfit and 3MB music, and he even had Hornswoggle, who’d been hanging around with 3MB lately anyways. It was all just a bit depressing (especially Hornswoggle’s terrible wig, which as you can imagine came into play later). Second of all, it seemed like Heath was having an identity crisis. He was acting like a heel, but as if someone had told him “3 ways to be a heel” just before coming out, and he couldn’t remember the first two. He just kept flipping his hair like a snooty schoolgirl, and sneering at the fans (even though most of them were yelling supportive things at him). This was supposed to be a comedy match, and I will say that these gents all had some good comic timing. Shout-out to the kid in the back row who kept yelling, “It’s a little bull!!”
11. Lana is a rock star
I would say that Lana got an unbelievably loud reception from the audience, but there was nothing to disbelieve. I may have been the first one on my feet when I saw that Russian flag on the screen. Lana is a sight to behold. She doesn’t even seem real! So gorgeous, and so committed to her serious persona. I couldn’t even tell you anything about the match. At one point, the crowd was chanting, “LANA! LANA! LANA! LANA!” and I heard Xavier Woods cry out from underneath Rusev’s knee, “I HATE LANA!” It was priceless. Woods did a great job, I think, and someone up in heaven (or the backstage area) decided to smile down upon us, sending Lana and Rusev back to the ring for a curtain call. When they had exited the ring area, and we sat down to catch our breath, my husband nodded his head approvingly and said, “Well that… THAT was pretty incredible.”
12. Seth Rollins sold out
It took nothing but the appearance of the man himself to prompt the Hamilton crowd to start chanting “You sold out!” at Seth Rollins. People were fired up. The chanting was loud and furious; I was seriously impressed by the effect of Seth’s heel turn on the fans. And he was too. Call me a romantic, but I will stand by this observation: as Seth Rollins stared out at us, a steely sneer on his face, he couldn’t hide the smile in his eyes. It was just a glimmer, but by God it was there. It made me love him, and wrestling, that much more.
13. The Divas don’t have to be a bathroom break
This is obvious, I know. We’ve seen matches - often on NXT - in which the women are wrestling with skill and emotion. The difference between these rare gems and the crap on Raw and Smackdown shines a light on how tragic the division really is: not just because they insist on this demeaning, amateur version of women’s wrestling, but also because they are squandering the potential sitting right under their hairy old-man nostrils. Whoever laid out the order of the card sure tried to make the Divas a bathroom break, by putting them on immediately after intermission. In theory, lots of people might still be in line for the concessions (or lollygagging at the crew of local wrestlers who’d come dressed as old-school WWF guys). But there were a lot of Paige fans in the audience – of the few signs that people brought, Paige was the most-seen name on them. When it was time for the show to start back up again, everyone scrambled to their seats, and they were INTO this Divas match. Foxy was crazy, sure, but not in the painful, screaming way that she is on TV. Nattie and Paige played right into the silliness, showcasing their own personalities. But guess what? There is a way to integrate humor into a wrestling match, and these three women were given the time to show us how. No one heckled, no one jeered, and no one headed for the bathroom. Everyone was glued to their seats, as Nattie, Paige, and Foxy dropped some wicked wrestling business on us. Alicia’s bridging northern lights suplex was astonishing. Natalya’s sharpshooter had everyone on their feet. And Paige’s scorpion cross-lock on the long-limbed Alicia was a fitting end to the battle. This match was one of the highlights of the night.
14. Sandow really can’t catch a break
Given that Heath Slater was sent out in a bit of a weird gimmick bubble, I thought that Sandow might catch a reprieve from his own recent gimmicks on TV. He came out wearing his I > U shirt and cut a Sandow-style promo… then things went south for our Intellectual Saviour. Titus beat him in a few minutes (much to the delight of my friend Rocky, who was really hoping to see O’Neil at the show), and I assumed that was the end of it. But Sandow got back on the mic, claiming he wasn’t ready, and if he could just have another shot. He’d take on anyone! Well that got my attention, because lines like that summon the goofiest of opponents. It started with Bo Dallas, who I was super happy to see, even though he made even quicker work of Sandow than Titus did. At least we got to see the victory lap, but no sooner had Bo made his exit than Sandow requested just one more chance. Don’t be a lemon, Damien! Be a Rosebud… and before I could even snap a photo, Adam Rose had come and gone, a mini-entourage in tow, just long enough to pin Sandow. Both Dallas and Rose got huge receptions from the fans, and only had to work a few minutes. Sandow went down like a champ, and I’m curious to see where this path leads him.
15. Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt are gods amongst men
Every wrestler on that card came out like it was WrestleMania, and the two biggest examples of this work ethic came in Reigns and Wyatt (coincidentally our main event). And I realized after writing “gods amongst men” that I referred to Bray Wyatt as godlike in a TJR column months ago. Not because he spouts quasi-religious quotes and songs, but because he appears larger than life, and defies his actual size. Roman Reigns does it too, but is able to amp it up to an exponential value because of his wrestling style. As sleek and efficient as Sister Abigail is, she cannot compare to the testosterone rampage of the Spear or the Superman Punch. Bray gets under your skin, a creepy crawler with a map straight to your imagination. Reigns plays more to a fan’s adrenaline, and I can tell you that he’s got a lot more going on than even I originally thought. My initial concerns lay with Reigns “falling into” wrestling via a failed football career, despite his Samoan wrestling heritage. He was a pure WWE guy, not a kid who grew up on the independent scene. It didn’t help that he was strapped on to Ambrose and Rollins, two experienced guys who might reveal their partner to be the weak link. Imagine my surprise when the near-mute smolder-throwing beefcake proved to be a quick learner in the ring, and an eager hand at promos. He is able to channel his enthusiasm into an intense, bursty ring style, and a grave tone on the mic. And this week on Raw, he showed that he’s not a one-trick pony either. His backstage segment with Vicki Guerrero came off as natural and charismatic, a true feat given the artifice of these scenes. And he was everything a god had to be in Hamilton: a raging beast, fighting tirelessly against the wily Wyatt, and the benevolent leader, signing Super Tall Dude’s replica belt after an insane street fight.
And because someone somewhere was looking out for ol’ Heather, they sent Bray Wyatt out in his sweet taxidermist’s apron – at least, that’s what I think of it as – and its rare appearance sent the guy in front of me into a state of confusion. “What’s with the apron! Nice apron!” he kept yelling, until finally I let loose with, “THAT IS HIS MEAT-CUTTING APRON, MAN!” Sigh. This same guy spent the entire first match not watching Ziggler and The Miz, because he was complaining that his chair was buckling in the center. Good God, just perch on the edge and respect the meat-cutting apron, Jabroni! I LOVE WRESTLING.
Well that was a lengthy take on my experience. As Andrew Johnson used to say, if you’ve made it this far, a winner is you. I’d love to hear your house show tales, as would other readers I’m sure! Post them in the comments below. Shorter versions can go to @kickyhick on twitter. See you in a couple of days for the Smackdown recap!