Before I begin, I think a little backstory is in order. Unlike Ray, or indeed guest blogger Joey, I’m an old man. I’m currently in my mid thirties and married with two kids. I grew up watching World of Sport on early Eighties Saturday afternoons with my two octogenarian maiden aunts, becoming enamoured with the likes of Rollerball Rocco, Tom Billington, Kendo Nagasaki and Mick McManus. Later, as I approached double figures, British wrestling (on TV at least) became more infatuated with showing literal squash matches with Big Daddy tagging with a much smaller (and more talented) wrestler such as Steven Regal or Robbie Brookside. These matches would always follow the same path, the smaller team member getting the crap kicked out of them before Big Daddy got the hot tag and defeated the bad guys with his ever popular yet ridiculous Belly Butt.
It was around now that I lost interest in wrestling, primarily from a lack of desire to watch Big Daddy every week. This lack of interest in wrestling, coupled with the disdain many of my age group developed for this “fake” sport, meant I missed out on the explosion of US Pro-Wrestling led by WWE and WCW. In fact, it wasn’t until my mid-Twenties that I accidentally caught an episode of Raw showing highlights of TLC II from Wrestlemania X-7. This quite frankly blew me away, leading me on a journey of almost embarrassing geeky obsession with wrestling. It is also possibly the reason I loathe Matt Hardy so much nowadays; after having impressed me so much originally he became the bloated, lethargic desperate mess that is he now. Well, that and the fact that he ***** **** (joke removed by Boss Lady Ray)
Anyway, the reason I’m telling you all this is to try and explain why last Sunday’s Smackdown House Show in Manchester was the first ever live wrestling event I attended. A succession of age, disinterest, peer pressure, money and finally lack of opportunity all conspired through the years to prevent me going before. By now you’ve hopefully read the report that Joey wrote regarding his trip to Liverpool to stare at Cody Rhodes. Good wasn’t it? I should point out that mine maybe less informative than Joey’s, not least because I didn’t take a camera.
Living in a small seaside town just outside Blackpool, transportation is always an issue with trips anywhere more than a couple of miles (our train station only having one line, and that only boasting one train every hour) so I had to arrange transport with a local Concert Travel company. This, in retrospect, may have been a bad idea as I am not the most congenial traveller in the world, and putting me in a minibus with a group of wrestling fans when I’m starting to feel travel sick will only help my suspicion that, Wrestlegasm.com readers aside, most wrestling fans should not be allowed out without a helper.
After cocooning myself in a bubble consisting of Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe book and my mp3 player, I somehow managed to arrive in Manchester without screaming “NO! FOR PITY’S SAKE, JOHN CENA WON’T BE THERE! AND YOU AT THE FRONT, YES YOU… MR “WRESTLING INSIDER”! SHUT UP ABOUT BOOKER T BEING SACKED FROM WWE! THAT WAS TWO AND A HALF YEARS AGO! AARRGGHHHH!!!”
Unfortunately, arriving in Manchester at 4 o’clock, to watch a show that was billed as starting at 6 o’clock left me with a slight dilemma – namely how to occupy myself for 2 hours. Immediately dismissing the idea of looking around Manchester for a while on the grounds of laziness, and not being overly keen on the idea of standing with a load more fans at the entrance the wrestlers would be using, I decided to just go into the arena and have a nosy round. (To be perfectly honest, I quite needed a wee by this point so my bladder may have taken some role in the decision-making process) Having taken care of any necessary ablutions, and having visited the frankly disappointing merchandise stand and bought myself a CM Punk shirt followed shortly by a Pepsi (I’m nothing if not impressionable) I went and sat down. For those of you who’ve never been, the Manchester Evening News Arena has very steeply sloped seating, so I had a great view of the ring.
Eventually, after a quite unsatisfying Sunday evening meal consisting of Candy Floss, the show started at six. Was it worth waiting thirty-odd years for? Was it worth 90 minutes of excruciating company and travel sickness on the minibus? Was it worth sitting next the most annoying father & son combination in the country throughout the whole show, suffering through their constant farting and heckling in a grating Burnley accent, ending with the father spending the last hour or so explaining to his son that it wasn’t real, and that (during the Kane vs Shad match) “the guy in red has to win, because everyone’s booing the paki”? Honestly, yes it was.
It’s no secret that I am a massive fan of Smackdown for much the same reasons that I hate Raw – Smackdown is a “wrestling” show, whereas Raw is an entertainment show, which occasionally features some wrestling. Smackdown live was a concentrated version of this, with even less padding and even more wrestling.
The first match on the card was Dolph Ziggler (yay!) versus R-Truth (boo!) I’m not a fan of R-Truth, but there’s no denying the kids in the audience love his hip-hop gimmick. They went mental for Truth, in a portent of the crowd’s noise levels to come. Ziggler also got a massive reaction, albeit a more negative one. This was a good ten minute match (in fact all the matches were longer than you’d get on TV), with Ziggler spending a lot of time avoiding entering the ring. Eventually though R-Truth got the win, and I have to admit he impressed me more than I expected. Still can’t stand his gimmick though…
Now then, think back to the Divas matched on TV for the last few weeks. Crap weren’t they? Ridiculously short, overly gimmick-laden pieces of inconsequential fluff, designed to titillate the average 13 year old viewer. Well, this wasn’t like that, it was a really fun match, lasting a practically unheard of eight minutes. Beth was obviously awesome, but the big surprise in this match was Layla. Without the stifling presence of Michelle McCool and given a chance to perform to her own merits, Layla was a surprisingly competent competitor; mixing great comic timing with a promising amount of wrestling skills and impressive moves. Hopefully Team Laycool will go their separate ways after the draft and Layla will get a chance to show us all what she can do. Continuing the unwritten rule that faces generally win at house shows, Beth took this one after the Glam Slam.
As much as Layla impressed me, it was nothing compared to The Dudebusters (Trent Baretta & Caylen Croft) In fact, if it wasn’t for the Punk/Mysterio match later on, this would have been match of the night. Coming out to a chorus of “Who are ya?”, The Dudebusters cut a quick (and funny) heel promo before The Hart Dynasty came out. Smith got a massive response, possibly due in part to the fact that he looks like Teddy Ruxpin, and possibly due in part to the fact that his dad (Davey Boy Smith) was billed as being from Manchester. As it happens, he was actually from Wigan (land of pies, George Formby, The Verve and Sir Ian McKellan) but the WWE has never had the firmest grasp on Non-US geography. The match mainly focussed on The Dudebusters working over Tyson Kidd, while Natalya and Smith did a great job keeping the crowd going. Eventually Smith got the tag and came in to clear house, winning after a Running Powerslam (hopefully meant as a tribute to his old man) and a Springboard Hart Attack.
Gallows and Serena came out still dressed like neo-nazis, with Gallows taking the microphone to dedicate this match to his saviour CM Punk. While I was excited to see Finlay (another wrestler I used to watch as a kid on World of Sport, accompanied by his then wife Princess Paula in full “Indian Squaw” get-up), the crowd were slow to get into this match, and it wasn’t until a shillelagh shot followed by consecutive CM Punk and Mysterio run-ins that the crowd really got interested…
…and this wasn’t the match to get them back into the swing of things. Much as I like Kane (and I really do) the crowd just weren’t interested in this match. Shad had new heel music though, which I suppose is interesting enough. He also cut a reasonable heel promo using the easy targets in Manchester, namely Manchester United and Manchester City. Kane, somewhat predictably, won this one after a chokeslam – which led us into intermission.
Hmm… talk about conflicted. One the hand we have Drew McIntyre, somebody I have a lot of time for (despite the 2nd most annoying entrance on Smackdown). On the other hand we have Matt Hardy; a wrestler that, despite what you may have read elsewhere on this site, I loathe with every fibre of my being. McIntyre started the second half of the show by telling is all the story of how his parents used to take him to Spain every year on holiday, until one year they took him to Manchester (or Chav Central) and he couldn’t decide what he’d done to upset them so much. He then went on to explain that as England had no heroes left, after John Terry’s infidelities, he was prepared to be a hero for the United Kingdom as a whole.
This was a reasonably slow match, with lots of stalling by McIntyre – but it was saved by two things.
1. Drew McIntyre won and retained the title after a Future Shock DDT, the first heel of the night to win…
2. Matt Hardy seemed to be injured at the end of the show, which I took a perverse amount of pleasure in.
Seriously, and I know I sound like a broken record slagging Hardy, but after the match he just led there until the referees rolled him out of the ring like he was Violet Beauregarde. Of course he then went on to post on Twitter that he’s hurt his arm, but I think that was actually the night after. Tonight he was just being lazy…
MATCH OF THE NIGHT! You may have noticed that here in the bunker, we are quite fond of Mr Punk and his Straight Edge Society. Ray likes him for possibly more aesthetic reasons than I, but we are both fans. As such, I was possibly more excited than is seemly for a man of my advanced years to hear a honest-to-goodness CM Punk Straight Edge Saviour promo live and in person. After swearing to myself that I would never touch alcohol again until I got home that night, my euphoria was interrupted by Rey Mysterio’s entrance and a great disturbance in the crowd, as if millions of children suddenly cried out in joy…
While Mysterio was visiting each turnbuckle to pose for the kids, Punk was busy tearing up people’s signs that he didn’t approve of (although it was interesting to note that he left the “Pepsi Plunge” sign intact, bearing in mind he will never get to use that move in the WWE . This was another match that went on for much longer than I expected, and every time Mysterio went for the 619 I expected the match to be over, only for Punk to evade or counter the move over and over. Eventually Mysterio managed to hit the move after an expected amount of interference from Gallows and Serena. After the match Punk slipped on the ring steps, which led to him kicking them in frustration and then hopping up the ramp holding his foot in pain.
So, the last match of the evening, could it live it up to the previous bout? Well, no to be frank, it couldn’t. But, it was a very enjoyable match anyway. There is a certain thrill in getting to see Bret Hart live in a wrestling ring in 2010, and Swagger, Jericho and Edge are all incredibly talented guys who put on great matches. The main story of the match was that Jericho annoyed Bret Hart before the match by cutting a promo on him. Then, towards the end, Jericho brought a chair into the ring, only to have it taken from him by the Special Enforcer, leading to Jericho beating up Hart. The match ended when Edge speared Jericho, only to be barged out of the ring by Swagger who picked up the pin and the victory.
After the match, Edge got back in the ring to attack Swagger, leading to Hart applying the Sharpshooter on Swagger. This also led to great deal of posing from Edge & Bret, which Edge obviously loved.
So that was it, bar another 90 minutes or so travelling with the same, now sweaty, wrestling fans back home. And to make matters worse, I somehow managed to leave my copy of Screenwipe in the arena and the battery had died on my phone. But to recap – Match of the Night: Punk vs Mysterio. Most impressive wrestler: Layla or Trent Baretta. Most popular wrestler: Mysterio, no contest. Most annoying fans: the aforementioned windy and casually racist father-son couple from Burnley.