21 years to the month since I last saw WWE (then WWF) live I returned to London to see them once more. While last time was a ‘house show’ (non-televised event) at the Royal Albert Hall headlined by Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon as they feuded over the Intercontinental Championship this was a TV taping for that night’s episode of Monday Night Raw emanating from the O2 Arena.
This being my first event since I was 11 years old I got to take in much more of the atmosphere and even as I arrived at the arena there was the real sense of ‘tribe’ amongst the fans. So the whole of the O2 genuinely felt like the ‘WWE Universe’ had taken over and I have since actually come to recognise that though the phrase is horrible, when what is represents is us fans we should really own it.
Particular highlights of the pre-show time in the arena were random discussions about the CM Punk/AJ Lee situation with fellow fans and clapping for the group of guys with a ‘Clap if Cena sucks’ sign (they had a constant round of applause all afternoon).
As it came time to head into the arena I realised my seat was somewhat higher up than I anticipated but once I was in and sat down the vertigo soon subsided so I could enjoy the show and it wasn’t long before things started with a highlight videos on the screen of WrestleMania that started getting the crowd warmed up.
Before the matches the Superstars commentators were announced and both Michael Cole and Byron Saxton came out to Cole’s music and a chorus of boos – it seems a severe neck injury only kept Cole out of action for a week, I know he’s not a wrestler but it makes Lesnar recent attack seem a bit weak…
Onto the matches and first out to a huge pop for the warm up matches that will air on WWE Superstars was Long Islands Iced Z himself, Zack Ryder. I have to admit to marking out a bit at this point as I hadn’t expected to see Ryder who is much underrated by the powers that be.
His opponent was Heath Slater who also got a very warm reception almost giving this match a face vs face dynamic, despite Slater’s cocky heel antics, which got a few laughs.
The match itself was a good fun one with a decent pace that included a nice Rough Ryder counter into a powerbomb, the crowd getting really into the “Woo! Woo! Woo!” for the Broski Boot and Ryder eventually winning with another Rough Ryder that got another big reaction.
Next up we got R-Truth working the crowd with his “What’s Up” call excellently and being the first of tonight’s performers to really come across much better than live on TV as everyone got involved.
His opponent was Curtis Axel, in full #AxelMania mode that was over massively and seems to be a great gimmick for the son of Mr. Perfect who has been somewhat in wilderness for a while – a highlight of this was the Hogan-esque shirt rip and Axel’s comment that it took 20 men to eliminate him from the Battle Royal at WrestleMania.
Their match itself was a decent of mix of things and we got to see a couple of Truth’s big spots while the crowd were super in Axel throughout with big ‘AxelMania’ chants. It eventually ended with a surprise Little Jimmy from Truth which was shame considering how much potential Axel could have, but made sense following Truth’s recent run in the IC title picture around WrestleMania.
Monday Night Raw
Following the arrival of the rest of the Raw commentary team, JBL and Booker T, both of whom got a big positive reaction the opening tape to Raw ran on the big screen followed by John Cena’s entrance music and huge negative reaction for the United States Champion.
The crowd for most of the night was exactly what you’d expect from a UK crowd, hugely into pretty much everything with their own contrary moments that are generally what make for some of the best shows.
Cena played up to this excellently and was the second to win me over with, at least, his excellent promo work that did get the crowd cheering when he said WrestleMania should come to London – though the cheers were in the form of the Daniel Bryan ‘Yes!’ chant.
Order was soon restored though as the UK’s own Wade ‘Bad News’ Barrett came out to answer Cena’s open challenged and played up to his hugely positive reaction pretty well – though he’s no master crowd worker like Cena.
Their match was a good one, despite the outcome being obvious from the start there were moments where they got me wondering. Again we got to see each man’s big spots, all of Cena’s got boos all of Barrett’s got huge cheers. A highlight of the match for me was a ‘punch-out’ that with appropriate boos and cheers.
The end of the match saw some nice near falls and both men hitting all their finishers (including a huge pop when Barrett survived Cena’s AA), but in the end Cena hit his weird and awkward looking ‘springboard stunner’ followed by an AA for the win, but it was still a good way to start and made Barrett look super strong for his ‘hometown’(ish) crowd.
Cena couldn’t celebrate for long though as Lana came out on the stage to a huge pop and ‘Lana’ chants and distracted Cena for Rusev to attack him from behind with a chain setting up their ‘Russian Chain’ match at Extreme Rules.
Interestingly the reaction for Rusev was mixed, despite his knocking out Cena, it seems at least some of the UK crowd really must hate Rusev! (For the record I quite like him, but get the dislike for the character as he is a Putin supporter, which is never a good thing – sorry to get political for a moment).
After that the Bella’s came out to not much reaction to do commentary, followed by the Divas ready for the battle royal. ‘Hometown’ girl Paige got to do her full entrance and got a huge reaction, but the match itself was all but nothing, though thankfully short as most competing aren’t the best wrestlers – sadly one of the best, Natalya, was eliminated very early.
In the end it was Paige who was left standing to become the number one contender for the Diva’s Championship which got another big reaction that lasted long enough for what I can only assume would be a commercial break moment on US TV.
This was followed by an interview spot in the ring with Paige before Naomi interrupted attacking and injuring Paige and setting her up as a new heel diva, which at least gives her a bit more character, and got the desired negative reaction from the London crowd.
One of the highlights of the show for me was next as Bray Wyatt’s noise and video sting hit and the lights went out for an on-screen Wyatt promo.
While the actual segment didn’t make much sense and we still don’t know who he’s talking to, having the crowd waving their phone torches and singing ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ was a sight and sound to behold and showed a sign of what Wyatt can still do even when he’s not being used very well in terms of his story.
The Ascension were out next (seemingly during an ad break moment on TV) and got a very negative reaction, I think I was probably the only person in the arena happy to see them – I still can’t explain it but I like their look, style, entrance and gimmick, it’s just a shame WWE doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.
Their opponents were the Lucha Dragons so we got the ‘Lucha!’ singalong which was fun and a reasonable ‘NXT’ chant. The match itself was a squash for the Dragons thought it didn’t feel like they really got to show off their real high spots, though Kallisto hit most of his main sequences it didn’t have the spark I’d have expected. The match ended with a contrived SDS/Swanton combo and the crowd sang along to the theme tune again.
After another break, these breaks were only really short and often saw trailers on-screen while ring crew did various things to the set and ring and rarely felt like major breaks in the show like I worried they might, it was time Roman Reigns to come and deliver a promo – not something I was looking forward to.
The segment was helped by having Booker T working with Reigns in the ring before Big Show appeared on-screen, but none the less the segment was overlong and, like the whole Reigns/Show feud, boring, and the crowd responded loudly and appropriately.
Things got a little better when Show attacked Reigns on the ramp slamming him into the taxi repeatedly finishing a chokeslam on the roof, but Show’s slow delivery and the lack of any investment from the crowd made it hard work and Show got some very uncomplimentary chants.
Randy Orton got a big positive reception next, which I still can’t really understand (he’s technically amazing, but something about him doesn’t click for me, especially when he’s meant to be a good guy) while Cesaro was greeted by not a lot, which is a shame as he is hugely talented.
Their match was soon interrupted by Tyson Kidd prompting Kane’s first appearance of the night as he represented the Authority (Trips and Steph are clearly too busy to come to the UK) and he made it a 2 on 1 handicap match.
This all fell a bit flat as, while there were a few nice spots including and RKO ‘out of nowhere’, Kidd seemed to be having an off night and there didn’t seem to be much point to the match beyond making the Tag Team Champions look bad as they lost to Randy Orton. Though I may be biased as I love Kidd, Cesaro and Natalya and, as I said, don’t really get Orton’s appeal.
On screen we got a back stage segment that was hard to follow in the arena so didn’t totally grab my attention but the gist of Rollins being the cowardly heel still came across well.
Next we got a few almost pointless bits, which is a shame considering at least one person who was involved, Dean Ambrose.
Ambrose came out to a good reaction following Adam Rose. Rose got virtually no reaction beyond the crowd singing along to his theme tune and the match was over almost before it started as Ambrose destroyed Rose – though we did get to see a suicide dive which is an impressive move in the flesh.
This was followed by another on-screen bit between Kane and Big Show that again was hard to follow and, thanks to who was involved, a bit dull and then we got another quick match between Fandango and Stardust. Though chanting ‘Cody’ at Stardust was mildly diverting I remember very little else of the match itself and I think I was flagging a bit at this stage.
Thankfully Fandango gave us a little promo after the match and ditched his valet Rosa Mendes in order to bring the dance back to the crowd and we all got to Fandango along. I would imagine I wouldn’t have enjoyed this on TV but in the arena it was great fun!
Daniel Bryan and Kane had a backstage segment next that was a bit more engaging as it addressed Kane’s former ‘Demon’ role and Team Hell No before Seth Rollins made his way to the ring to a mixed but more positively sided reaction.
He was followed by Kane and they worked the match/segment well with Kane really showing why he’s been a mainstay for so long as his work is exceptional, really putting across his internal conflict between his corporate and demon sides well. While the story is something we’ve seen before it was well done and Rollins made Kane’s chokeslam look killer.
The outcome of the segment of Kane ‘lying down’ for Rollins was a bit uncomfortable following its reflection of old WCW, but it worked here as part of the story of Rollins being the cowardly, manipulative heel and actually gave Kane something a bit more interesting to do than stand behind the Authority looking not as tough as he used to (though a guy in his mid 40s he still looks exceptional and is pretty damn huge).
The Miz and Damien Mizdow continued their feud next with some great playing to the audience and an average match that saw Mizdow get sneaky roll up win, but unfortunately what could have been part of angle designed to elevate Mizdow and help re-elevate The Miz was part of something that seems ill thought out and not as engaging as I’d hoped it would be and could be.
Prime Time Players appeared on-screen next and cut another good promo ridiculing another heel tag team, this week it was Los Matadores.
The promo was good fun and put PTP over well, the highlight for me was Darren Young saying rainbows were his favourite colour, WWE actually acknowledging and openly gay wrestler (even in this minor and obvious way) is amazing considering some of their depiction of gay characters in the past.
Luke Harper and Ryback were out next for another pointlessly short match that saw Harper get himself disqualified before Ambrose ran in to try to attack him, though even that felt a bit flat.
Much like the Miz/Mizdow feud the Ambrose/Harper one seems a bit directionless and the crowd weren’t hugely into anyone here, as fatigue was setting in – though I was pleased to see Harper.
Backstage Naomi explains here attack on Paige earlier in the night, cementing her new heel character before the nearest to a main event match the TV show got begins.
Dolph Ziggler came to the ring and the crowd were right back into it again after the rather flat previous segments and he worked the crowd excellently before issuing an open challenge that was taken up by another ‘hometown’ (super)hero – Adrian Neville.
The reaction for Neville was huge and it was a full on face vs face match as the two men put on a great show. Neville took a sick looking DDT bump early in the match that looked like it might actually have injured him (seemingly he was fine though, great work Neville) and the two went back and forth.
Neville brought the big highlights to the match with a top rope Asai moonsault and astonishing 450 splash of the guard rail that was the highlight move of the night for me.
In the end the back and forth ended with Ziggler getting the win with a nice Zig Zag after taking a sick sounding enziguri and avoiding a Red Arrow (that again showed of Neville’s amazing athleticism).
This whole match was the highlight of the night and hopefully will show Neville can perform at this level (like anyone who watches NXT knows) and we will see him back up with the likes of Ziggler soon.
The show was rounded off with an in ring promo setting up the main event for Extreme Rules between Seth Rollins and Randy Orton. Ending a show on a promo rarely works for me but, thankfully, Seth was on great form and his comedy work with just a lazy boy and J&J Security to play with was exceptional and continued to build his heel status.
The show ended up, after a few good, genuine, laughs, with Randy Orton hitting the RKO on J&J while Seth did his scaredy cat run to the back with the Championship belt and Randy posed for the crowd.
With the TV portion of the show ending on that in the arena we got treated to a bonus match of Bryan, Ziggler and Ambrose taking on Show, Sheamus and Harper.
Bryan got a big reaction and it was good to the ‘Yes!’ chants along with him but for the most part the match belonged to Big Show and the crowd who played back and forth off each other brilliantly and I gained a new respect for what Show is capable of – even if he never gets to show it on TV.
The match was mostly Ziggler getting worked over before getting hot tag to Bryan who ran through his ‘moves of doom’ before winning with the Yes Lock – at the time I was disappointed we didn’t get to see more of Bryan but with news breaking of the potential recurrence of his neck injury his work in the match makes more sense and I just hope he is ok.
In the end my first experience of a WWE TV show was a very good one with the show featuring a nice mix of action and some good promo work and surprisingly good comedy/entertainment spots. Being part of a very lively crowd was also good fun just like it is at the best gigs.
In future though I know to try to get seats lower down the arena but that was a small niggle in a great night that showed how WWE tread the line of pro-wrestling and entertainment. I’m still not sure how it all came across on TV but in the arena it was great fun, though I still think the three-hour format of Raw is a bit too long to keep real momentum going.