On November 8th, 2011, I attended the Newcastle, England, leg of WWE’s Raw house show tour of Europe. The report I filed at the time was used by both the Pro Wrestling Torch and ProWrestling.net, most likely because of at least one significant surprise. I must praise each of these websites for the way they generously plugged both this blog, and my Twitter page.
The host site was the Metro Radio Arena, formerly the Telewest Arena, site of 2003’s Insurrextion where, ironically, Triple H fought Kevin Nash in a “street fight.” The more things change, the more things stay the same, it seems.
The arena isn’t the largest of Northern England indoor arenas, even though apparently it’s capable of surpassing the 10,000 attendance mark for WWE. Despite no noticeable tarping-off at the venue on this night, that seemed difficult to comprehend, as the crowd felt more like half that despite appearing close to sold-out judging by the few empty seats visible.
Upon even entering the venue, it was clear that there was a distinct difference in demographics: the young boys were covered almost head-to-toe in John Cena merchandise, and the men were wearing the “Best in the World” C.M. Punk t-shirts. The exception to this division was when the males were fathers to the lads and wore the “Fruity Pebbles” get-up with them. Otherwise it really was a case of “separating the men from the boys” – WWE may be onto something with the Cena/Punk demographic split pitch.
This house show was the night after the airing of Monday Night Raw “Supershow” live Liverpool, which meant there were a few switch-ups to what had become a consistent pattern in matches and results from this first leg of the European Tour. This was much needed, as I’d come to grow certain Drew McIntyre would feature in the opener, only to be pleasantly surprised and made hopeful that all the previous house show results weren’t going to be a copy-and-paste again for this one.
Santino Marella came out first for the show-starting crowd pop and faced David Otunga. This was quite a laboured match, which gave the Harvard Law graduate a generous amount of offence before falling to the Cobra. Nice enough, short and sweet crowd-pleaser to start with.
Curt Hawkins emerged with rock pants and walking cane and was, from a distance, conjuring an image of Brian Pillman until he got into the ring and let the charisma be drained from him by opponent Mason Ryan, who – despite Justin Roberts introducing the Welshman as hailing from, simply, “the United Kingdom” – didn’t generate much of a pop or, indeed, a great deal of crowd interest for this match at all. It was painful to watch Hawkins just bump around for Ryan, who hit his finisher for the pinfall win and the second babyface victory of the show so far.
The third face triumph in a row came courtesy of Newcastle crowd favorite Alex Riley, who engaged in a decent exchange of moves with the wasted potential of Mr. Perfect, Jr, Michael McGillicutty before going on to win. This provided a much-needed boost of wrestling action, and it was fun to see Riley so over, as inexplicable as it seemed.
Speaking of “perfect,” the U.S. Champion of self-proclaimed “perfection,” Dolph Ziggler (sans Vickie Guerrero) cut a long heel promo en route to the ring to give the crowd another kick in the pants. He was up next for a title defense in a triple threat match including the popular John Morrison and Drew McIntyre, who, interestingly, split the crowd (so close to the Scotland border, villainous “Chosen One” McIntyre was both jeered and cheered, as well). The heels took turns taking bumps to the outside for breathers, and there were a few rest holds, but overall this was a good match making the most of the three-man dynamic. Ziggler retained, of course, but the most interesting result from this match was the fact that, despite a self-aggrandizing promo from “Heel Ziggler,” Dolph enjoyed a scary amount of applause and even some chants in his favour. How long before heel Ziggler becomes face Ziggler?
In true British house show fashion, fiendish actions were required post-match in order to provoke an incident where the face could stand tall: Dolph went for a belt shot to add insult to injury, only for Morrison to come back and blast Ziggler with Starship Pain, which truly does look incredible when seen live. Morrison deserves more than the Melina-induced de-push of late.
For a pre-interval segment, the Bella Twins came out to pick four fans for a dance contest, the winner of which would get to go backstage to meet the “WWE Superstars.” In what seemed too good to be true, each contestant was from different nearby rival localities representing the mixed north-east crowd: Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, and the country across the border, Scotland. From two young women, a young man, and a small Scottish boy, it was astonishing to witness the biggest pop by this point thus far coming from the young lad’s victory.
After a relatively brief interval, Divas Champion Beth Phoenix came out wearing the Divas title before kissing it for the referee to raise above his head as Eve challenged her. Beth regressed into hissy fit heel mode, stalling and garnering some heat with reverse psychology, telling the fans to quieten down. None of this worked particularly well, as – despite a really impressive move set from Eve with several minutes allocated for her to perform – fans were seemingly conditioned to not care about the Divas division or its title. Beth retained, then – a la Ziggler – attacked Eve after the bell to provoke none other than Kelly Kelly, making the save by running to the ring (or rather, cantering to the ring in street clothes and taking an eternity to do so). It was difficult not to feel bad for Eve, who worked so hard only for Kelly to steal the spotlight. Perfect reasoning for a future heel turn, though.
A real treat was none other than Mick Foley introduced as special guest referee in street clothes for a six-man match featuring John Cena, Kofi Kingston, and Zack Ryder – all of whom were over, but none as much as Foley himself, who inspired chants as he plugged his comedy show and induced a cheap pop. Amusingly, one commenter on the website report I wrote asked when ever was Foley not in street clothes?
The end of the arena directly opposite the low-budget tour entrance (albeit with a little pyro) seemed home to a decent sized group of old school smarks, chanting for Foley and yet also often cheering for the heels throughout the show (see Ziggler, above). They certainly led the worship of Foley as though he were God (or good?)
The heels were Miz and Truth – and, in another unexpected surprise, Kevin Nash making his in-ring return after a surprise appearance at the Royal Rumble in January. Nash, frankly, phoned it in, after emotionlessly walking to the ring and then – yes – emotionlessly walking back after Cena pinned Miz following a Foley retaliatory shove into an Attitude Adjustment. The usual “Let’s Go Cena” / “Cena Sucks” chants ebbed and flowed throughout the match-up once the Foley noise had settled.
The seventh match and main event saw CM Punk challenge Alberto Del Rio for WWE Title after a Ricardo Rodriguez introduction and a delayed entrance by Alberto, who, strangely, came out in a t-shirt that only served for a match spot where Punk ripped it off him, then dragged him around the ring with it. Rodriguez got involved behind the back of the referee, who later ejected the pseudo ring announcer then took a bump, thus missing Punk’s pin attempt until Rodriguez returned only to take a chair shot to the back after Punk ducked. The Straight-Edge Superstar then himself received a chair shot to pick up the DQ win so that Del Rio could, naturally, retain the title.
Afterward, Ziggler and Awesome Truth ran in and inexplicably assaulted Punk. This, again, proved to be contrived to provoke babyface dominance, with Zack Ryder, Kofi Kingston, and even Eve and Foley coming in to run out the heels and deliver respective finishing moves (including Mr. Socko) on the dazed Dolph. Foley, Punk, and Cena offered words on the mic, before Cena made more digs about The Rock and Hollywood (prompting Australian-style cameraphone footage to go viral online).
Punk stood tall, alone in the ring, for the close of the show, which, all in all, was a decent offering, and otherwise standard house show fare elevated by one or two pleasant surprises. The challenge, of course, lies in wrestlers being subjected to a heavy house show schedule so that they try to settle into a daily routine that includes what becomes essentially choreographed matches. While this is absolutely understandable, and may even guarantee a consistent standard of matches, the downside is that the internet offers many results for people before they arrive at a show and thus have an idea of what they’ll be seeing.
The Newcastle fans were lucky. Coming the night after Raw on USA, live from Liverpool, fans there got Nash’s in-ring return and a Foley special appearance. Not everyone can expect the same, and the difficulty ahead for WWE in these tough economic times is finding a way to consistently deliver something different on each house show while still ensuring they don’t make life even harder for the talent.