14th Sep2016

Ooh Baby I Like It Raw: My First Live Wrestling Experience

by Will

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I suffer from the fact that I belong to too many fandoms. Throughout my life, I’ve found myself “retiring” from some in order to join others. Just as I consider myself a retired Trekkie, the same could be said for my membership in the wrestling fandom. I’ve loved wrestling since I was a kid, but I never really glommed onto it like some folks did. I have the distinction of missing, basically, every important movement in the industry. I didn’t have cable growing up, so I missed the Monday Night Wars. I completely missed the Attitude Era. I’ve never seen John Cena in his prime. No, my wrestling fandom occupied the quieter spaces, such as when The Undertaker became the American Badass or when Too Cool were tearing up the tag team division. Of course, I couldn’t ever be considered a “true” fan, however, because I had never been to a live show. Well, that all changed Monday night as a friend and I made the trek to the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore to attend a taping of WWE Monday Night Raw.

First of all, let me just say that it was a dream come true. I’d always wanted the live WWE experience, but had never really had the chance to attend.  I will say, however, that the WWE cameramen are frickin’ magicians for making such a small area look huge on television. For example, the ring was a lot smaller than I expected it to be, but the biggest surprise was how short the entrance ramp was. On TV, that thing looks to be about 30 feet long, when it’s really about 10. So, when Undertaker makes those long, dramatic entrances, he’s probably moving about as fast as that sloth from the Zootopia trailer.  It’s also odd how quiet the match is since you can’t hear the commentators. Instead, you just hear the ring noises and the chants from the crowd (early on, they tried to get a “CM PUNK!” chant going, but most folks weren’t having it).

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When we first got in, they were filming a match for WWE Superstars, with Darren Young and Neville vs Titus O’Neil and Curtis Axel. I didn’t know who any of those guys were. Well, no, that’s not exactly true. I knew them from the toy aisle. After all, the inability to find a Neville figure kept me from trying to complete the Paul Bearer Build A Figure. And until my friend, John, reminded me, I had completely forgotten that Young had come out as the first openly gay professional wrestler last year. I also didn’t realize that Axel was Mr. Perfect’s son. Seems like he should be playing off that legacy more instead of doing whatever it is his gimmick’s supposed to be.  Anyway, I didn’t even know what was going on because they were playing with my sense of “normalcy”in the WWE. I mean, since Young and O’Neil are both Black, I was sure they were partners in the match. Well, imagine my surprise as I witnessed the Black on Black crime of Young kicking O’Neil in the face! No, these dudes were NOT on the same team. After that, my brain and sense of everything I thought I knew about wrestling were so screwed up that I can’t even tell you who won. It didn’t matter, though, as Raw was hitting in the next 60 seconds.

The show started with a recap of the rise of Kevin Owens. I’m not sure I like that guy. I know he’s risen from the indies, but he looks like the grown up version of every childhood bully. Still, folks seem to like him – especially now that he’s the WWE Universal Champion. Anyway, that would all have to wait for later in the show. No, to kick things off, there would be a Triple Threat Match between Sasha Banks, Dana Brooke, and Bayley – the winner of which would face WWE Women’s Champion Charlotte for the title in 2 weeks at Clash of Champions.

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Charlotte is one mannish looking chick, but you haven’t really lived until you’ve done the Flair “Wooo!” with a couple thousand other people.  I get the feeling she really wouldn’t be much without her father’s (Ric Flair) involvement. She’s kinda riding on the coattails of the limo riding son of a gun. Sasha lost the title to Charlotte back at SummerSlam, after a botched slam that looked like it might’ve been career-ending. Instead, Banks showed up on Raw last week, saying that she had some bad news for Charlotte: she would be taking back her title at Clash of Champions. Well, it’s TV, and WWE still has two more weeks to fill, so general manager Mick Foley decided there should be this three-way match between friends Banks and Bayley against Brooke.  Going into it, you knew that Banks would secure her title shot at Clash, but they still had to make it look like it was in jeopardy. This is where it was funny to watch the difference between seeing it live and seeing it on TV. In a real fight, you’d probably just all attack each other at once, but this was a carefully planned ballet. Banks would get knocked out of the ring, and then she’d just chill on the floor for about 10 minutes, DOING NOTHING. I mean, she kinda straightened out her hair and groomed herself, but she was clearly waiting for her cue to come back in the ring. The ladies gave it their all, and I was actually pretty impressed by Dana Brooke. She didn’t have the typical build of a WWE female wrestler, and she seems like she could be a dominating force if they remain committed to developing her. I still don’t get the hype about Bayley, as last night wasn’t too strong a showing from her. Anyway, Banks won like you knew she would, but they’ll probably throw some monkey wrench into things next week.

Next up, Bo Dallas went up against some dude who must’ve won a contest or something. I figure he was from a local promotion, like MCW, but he was clearly a nobody meant to job this match. I don’t know much about Dallas other than what I learn on TMZ, but the crowd didn’t seem to like him. There were lots of chants of “Let’s go, Jobber!” Anyway, I think the match was probably about the same length as CM Punk’s UFC debut the other night.

Next up, there was a Best of Seven Series between Cesaro and Sheamus. I didn’t really know who I was rooting for in this match, as I’ve never really liked Sheamus, but Cesaro looks like the dude who’s banging your recently divorced mom. The problem with the match, however, was that they went into it with a record of 3-1, in Sheamus’s favor. So, there are 7 matches, 4 of which had already been fought, so simple math and logic dictated that Cesaro HAD to win just to keep the series interesting. That said, considering this was match 5 of the series, both of them were just kind of phoning it in. I’m sure match 7 will knock it out of the park, but this match just felt like they were going through the motions. And, of course, Cesaro won.

Then, we had Alicia Fox vs. Nia Jax. Fox seems ghetto fabulous with her weave, while Jax is really just built like someone’s fat mom. She’s kinda like if Chyna and Luna Vachon were spliced together. Before coming out, Jax was talking about how she planned to beat on Fox, and GOD did she deliver. She swung her around by her hair, slamming her into the barricades. Finally, she speared Fox through a barricade and basically left her for dead.  A bunch of officials came out to check on Fox, but Jax eventually got tired of waiting around and simply walked back up the ramp to the backstage area. After about 5 minutes, the officials were able to help Fox up and walk her to the back.

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Next up, we had the New Day. I’d heard so much about them that I was glad to actually see them live. They’re interesting to me, though. They straddle a very thin line between entertaining geeks and Sambo caricatures for the modern age.  They started out by talking a lot of trash about Gallows and Anderson’s performance last week. Well, of course, Gallows and Anderson came out, and they had a non-title bout. I really thought New Day were going to pull this one off, but since they didn’t stand to lose their tag team titles, I guess all bets were off. They got manhandled! I was begging Kofi Kingston to make a tag, but he just couldn’t get back to his side of the ring. It was kinda sad to see the once boisterous trio have their asses handed to them like that.

The next bout was WWE jingoism at its best. Out came Jinder Mahal, who was a brown dude talking about how he’d found “inner peace”. I know my WWE enough to know that we’re supposed to hate the brown foreign guy – ESPECIALLY the day after 9/11. As my friend was wondering who would end up fighting Mahal, out ran Jack Swagger. That’s a name I hadn’t heard in years, as I really thought he’d been released or something. Apparently he’s got some patriotic “We The People” gimmick now. Well, this triggered chants of “USA! USA!” from the crowd, as everyone was boosting Swagger as the hero. Well, let me remind you that it was September 12th and not the 11th. Had this match happened at Backlash the night before, then Swagger would HAD to have won. But it’s September 12th, baby – back to business as usual. Despite having found peace, Mahal thoroughly beat up Swagger.

Next up, we had Enzo and Big Cass going up against the Shining Stars. While I’d heard of the former, I’d never heard of the latter. Again, based on WWE’s history, it was kinda obvious which way this was gonna go. Were folks gonna root for the fun guidos from Jersey or the brown guys from Puerto Rico? I was amazed, though, by the pop that Enzo and Big Cass got. They were truly…electrifying. The crowd knew every word to every part of their promo, and you can’t teach that! I was telling John that I felt Enzo was really just an evolution of Scotty 2 Hotty, but Too Cool never got anywhere near the amount of adoration from the crowd as these guys did. Still, the Shining Stars cheated and got the win.

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Finally, it was time for the main event: Universal Champion Kevin Owens vs Roman Reigns. Owens was already slated to defend his title against Seth Rollins at Clash of Champions, but if Reigns managed to win, the there would be a Triple Threat title match at Clash. Now, I’d heard that Reigns is kind of a polarizing figure in the world of wrestling, but it was completely different thing to experience it live. He was booed just as much as he was cheered.  The crowd broke out into the opposing chants of “Let’s go, Roman!/Roman sucks!” As I said earlier, I’m still not sure I’m sold on Owens yet. After all, I never watched NXT, and I barely ever watch Raw anymore (3 hours of wrestling is too much damn wrestling on a weekly basis. Especially now that SmackDown Live means there are 5 hrs of wrestling on TV in a 24 hr span of time), so I don’t know much about the guy. I just don’t like his look. Still, Owens is pretty good on the mic, so that was entertaining. When it comes to wrestling, though, his moves just seem sort of sloppy to me – especially the Cannonball. Anyway, both guys gave as well as they got, and it was a decent match. Before the match, however, Mick Foley warned Seth Rollins not to interrupt the match, so I spent most of the time watching the backstage area, waiting for the Rollins run-in. And I wasn’t disappointed! Rollins ran in to disrupt the match, and he was quickly followed by Foley and some officials. They led Rollins out, at which point Foley surprised everyone by saying “Restart the match!” And this is when things got GOOD. What had merely been a decent match then became a great match, as both were fighting like they had something to prove. And the near-pins were incredible. There was a point at which you could tell that they were both even surprised the match was still going. And then Rusev ran out. While Reigns was distracted by Rusev’s appearance,  Owens came up behind him and got the pin for the win. Meanwhile, Rusev’s valet (and wife) Lana came out with his US Championship belt, and just stood there, pointing, as Rusev beat the shit out of Reigns. I had no complaints about that at all. After the live broadcast ended, the crowd broke into a chant of “Thank you, Rusev!”, which prompted him to find a mic and yell back “I don’t need your support!” Meanwhile, Reigns took his sweet time getting up, and slowly made his way out of the ring and up the ramp.

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In all, it was a great show. Had this been the last Raw before Clash of Champions, I’m interested enough that I’d probably watch the PPV. Knowing, however, that they still have another week to screw things up makes it less of a “must see” thing for me. I will say that I was disappointed that Stephanie McMahon and Triple H weren’t there, but apparently Stephanie was in Singapore speaking at a conference (kayfabe?). I thoroughly enjoyed my first Raw experience and I’m dying to go again. It might have been my first time, but it certainly won’t be my last.

 

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