For the first time since 2011, I, along with several friends, attended a WWE show live. That show in 2011 was an episode of RAW, and featured a really good John Cena/CM Punk singles match, when that feud was hot and Alberto Del Rio was involved for some reason. The last time I attended a non-televised WWE event was in 1998, and the only memory I have of it is my friend’s dad being very confused as to why my friend bought a Stone Cold Steve Austin t-shirt when Austin wasn’t even on the card. I brought that up for a reason, we’ll revisit it later.

I’ve recently been reflecting a lot on where I fit in the wrestling fan community, as I drift somewhere between the internet-created divide of “casuals” and “hardcores.” I participate in Match of the Year polls and use star ratings as shorthand for matches I like, but I also can’t muster the energy to get worked up about WWE booking the way Twitter so often does. I recognize that they frequently do VERY stupid things as far as narrative writing and wrestling logic are concerned, but after a brief “huh, that was dumb,” I don’t give it much more thought. I love the serious, sporting nature of New Japan and All Japan, but I also think the Final Deletion is the apotheosis of the Attitude Era and have watched it more times than any other match this year. When I watch a wrestling show, I want two things: to see exciting athletic displays, and to be entertained in some way in between said displays. Whether that entertainment comes from compelling narratives climaxing in the squared circle or the New Day telling dumb jokes, I don’t much care.

I think that’s the point at which I diverge from a lot of the wrestling punditry that I read and listen to online: I don’t really project what I want wrestling to be on what I’m watching. I often refer to it as watching wrestling like a dummy. I like to think critically about what I’m watching, but I also like to keep a certain distance from it: it’s entertainment. I’m not willing to invest emotionally to the point where creative decisions upset me. There are enough people writing about entertainment on the internet like it’s life and death. I just want to have some fun and, ideally, make things that let other people have some fun.

Those principles are influencing me looking at this show a little differently than usual. It’s a WWE house show, so the results don’t really matter, anyway. I want to tell the story of an entertainment experience, part of which will involve things like star ratings.

WWE Live Edmonton
Rexall PlaceEdmonton, AB
Attendance: 8 or 9 thousand, maybe? Not close to a sellout, but more than the house show average.

The show started with the Canadian national anthem and some rah-rah stuff from Jojo and Byron Saxton to warm up the crowd, then the Women’s Championship match started. I missed all of this while ensuring my girlfriend’s digital ticket would work (I have an intense dislike for Ticketmaster, to make a boring story short).

Women’s Championship: Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte

This was one of the matches that I expected would be on the show and was excited to see in person. Everyone in my party was excited for it, really, and Sasha’s reaction was thunderous.

You know how people always talk about how Sasha Banks can’t possibly have any career longevity if she keeps killing herself in every match? Yeah, I think she’s realized that, too. This was two wrestlers getting huge entrance reactions and then coasting off of the cache they’ve built with the audience. They did some schtick centred around the Flair strut, some rest holds, Sasha hit the draping double knees and the Bank Statement, and that was that.

On the one hand, I’m philosophically on board with wrestlers not killing themselves on house shows. On the other hand, if I spend my money to see a wrestler perform, I don’t want to feel like they gave a blatantly lesser effort than they would have in other circumstances. My appreciation for effort is going to be a recurring theme.

Winner: Sasha Banks via the Bank Statement. **1/2

Braun Strowman vs. Sin Cara

I had so much fun watching this match. Part of that was related to my friend’s incredulity at just how fucking massive Braun Strowman is, as well as an extended conversation about Braun gaining his size and strength from eating his enemies (and children). Unlike their RAW encounters, this match got about 6 minutes, and was a lot of fun. Braun’s pretty energetic for a guy his size, and while he’s not a superworker, he and Sin Cara seemed to have decided to have the best match they could. The story was Sin Cara using the right strategy against Braun, but not having enough artillery in his arsenal to keep Strowman down for a three count. Braun won with the British Bulldog powerslam, which I guess is his for-reals finisher?

These guys worked really hard, and far oustripped my expectations of them.

Winner: Braun Strowman via Power Slam. **3/4

Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows

I’m not sure the whole “buzzkill” thing that Anderson and Gallows have going on was thought through all the way. They stop entertaining things from continuing, then proceed to be as bland as possible in the ring. Sure, it elicits boos, but in practical terms they’re making your show worse by being on it. I skipped Guns ‘n’ Gallows matches on NJPW shows, and they’re even duller in WWE. What I’m saying is that if you think they’re dry on TV, you should see them live.

Wait, no. You shouldn’t do that.

Enzo and Cass carried the entire thing with their charisma, and called the Club SAWFT after the match (they had been cut off prior to the bout).

Winners: Enzo & Cass via Bada Boom Shaka Laka. **1/2

R-Truth came out and a discussion was had about how dated his schtick is (one of our friends was seeing it for the first time). Jinder Mahal came out as his opponent, and the decision was made to go check out the merch stand. Given that it took about 10 minutes before we heard R-Truth’s music again, we ABSOLUTELY made the right decision.

Jinder Mahal is one of those cases where it’s made clear that WWE fans are very receptive to WWE telling them NOT to care about something. We’ll examine the opposite phenomena later with Roman Reigns.

I also want to comment here that Jinder Mahal began his career in Alberta, and has actually had some pretty solid matches on the Alberta indies. Unfortunately, WWE treating him as filler is more powerful than the fondness developed by having seen him before he made it to the big leagues.

Oh, also Neville showed up and beat him after R-Truth did.

Then Chris Jericho came out and cut a promo that must have been like 20 minutes.

Still in the merch line, at this point.

Cesaro comes out.

Close to the front of the merch line.

Walking back to our seats, we made the discovery that everyone in our party bought a New Day item (I bought the Booty-O’s shirt, personally). Only one person bought any non-New Day things (Bayley snap bracelets and a toy title belt). I’m going to come back to this again later.

All right, I’m back in my seat now. The last ten minutes of Jericho/Cesaro (my estimate is they went 15-18 minutes) was pretty much what you’d expect from a Cesaro/Jericho RAW match. I’ve kind of lost interest in the Giant Swing, but then I saw it live, and OH MAN is it fun to watch. Live wrestling humanizes the performers by placing them in physical space in a way video can’t replicate, which highlights how bonkers a giant swing actually is. A human being swung another human being around in circles 10-15 times. There’s no way to see that live and NOT think it’s rad.

Winner: Cesaro via Sharpshooter. ***1/2


You know how people rip on Byron Saxton as being useless? I figured out what they keep him around for. He’s actually a really energetic live event host. He was more likeable in the 20 minutes or so he spent on the mic during this show than he’s ever been on WWE TV.

Bayley & Alicia Fox vs. Dana Brooke & Nia Jax

Somewhere around this point in the show I consciously realized that I had subconsciously been watching this show through a different lens after the disappointing opener. I wasn’t thinking about the matches I was seeing the way I would if I was watching them on TV. Watching video removes the atmosphere and immediacy of a match, and lets the watcher consider things like facial expressions and technical precision to a greater extent. Being in a room with 8 or 9 thousand people yelling, joking, cheering, and booing is a whole different experience. Not being able to hear anything the performers say, or see their expressions, is a different experience. As a result, the things that grabbed my attention most became effort. I don’t really care if I’m seeing matches I would go out of my way to see to round out a MOTY list. If the performers in the ring are working hard and giving me reasons to yell things and make dumb jokes to my friends, I was happy.

That was a long-winded way of saying that somebody watching this tag on RAW would probably call it two stars and never think about it again. As a live experience, I appreciated how hard everyone was working to have a fun match based around Nia Jax being a monster and Dana Brooke acting like it was her doing. And everyone loves Bayley, which helped.

Winners: Bayley & Alicia Fox via Bayley-to-Belly Suplex. **3/4

United States Championship: Roman Reigns vs. Rusev

The classic “heel shits on the locals for being inferior to get heat” promo is hysterical live. It doesn’t make it less funny when Lana delivers it wearing a black bustier underneath a hot pink plaid skirt/jacket combo. Despite that promo, Roman Reigns got the biggest reaction of the show. Unfortunately for him, it was boos.

If you had shown me the card of this event beforehand and asked me what I thought my favourite match to be, I wouldn’t have guessed it would be this one. In reality, this was the best thing on this card by an order of magnitude. Remember that really good RAW match these two had before SummerSlam? This was pretty much the same match, quality-wise, but with more “we’re not on TV and can fuck around a little” replacing the commercial break chinlocks. Rusev played along with the audience cheering him by encouraging them to chant “Rusev.” I think this was supposed to turn the crowd against him, but they just rolled with it and chanted “Rusev.”

What impressed me more than the quality of the match is that both guys worked their asses off. Roman Reigns really could have half-assed this one after getting booed heartily upon entering the ring, but the quality of the match managed to get the crowd to cheer when he pinned Rusev with a spear. Then they remembered he was Roman Reigns and booed again, but still. This was the opposite of the Sasha Banks/Charlotte match, in that guys fought through their reactions to have a great match.

Ultimately, this performance made me like Roman Reigns more, because he could have gotten away with less and nobody would have blamed him. Instead, he gave full effort and had one of the best live matches I’ve seen this year.

Winner: Roman Reigns via Spear. ****

Remember when I said we’d get back to talking about merch? So all four of us bought some New Day stuff. It was at this point in the show that we realized New Day weren’t going to be appearing, which was a total bummer. One of my friends was seeing their first live wrestling show ever, and the prospect of seeing the New Day (who were advertised, but, y’know, card subject to change and all that) was what sold her. So that sucked. It also instantly reminded me of my friend who bought an Austin shirt at a show Austin didn’t appear on, except that all four of us had done it simultaneously. Good job, us.

Anyway, main event time.

WWE Universal Championship: Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins vs. Sami Zayn

This was the only match on the card that I was aware of before the show, as it was hyped on the market-specific event centre segments on RAW. Kevin Owens was the most cheered wrestler on the entire show, and had gotten a few “we want Owens” chants during dull spots earlier in the night.

This was the stereotypical WWE triple threat match, where two guys wrestled and one guy sold like he was dying on the floor because he was kicked once. They utilized that formula for about 10 minutes, then all three were in the ring for most of the next 10 as they started the near fall stretch that built to the finish.

I feel like this match was the best example on the night of wrestlers not wanting to kill themselves on a house show, but also wanting to give fans who bought tickets a fun bout. They didn’t do anything crazy, but they kept the pace of the match fast and had some interesting spots. My favourite was Sami Zayn jumping off the top rope over Kevin Owens, only to get caught in the pedigree position by Rollins, who took a second to gloat and ate a superkick from Owens. Rollins hit Zayn with a pedigree, then Owens shoved him out of the ring and stole the pin to a huge ovation.

Then, some “Quality WWE Character Writing(tm)” kicked in and Seth Rollins offered a handshake to Sami Zayn, who was skeptical. They milked it for a while to get the audience to cheer for the handshake, after which Rollins pedigree’d Zayn. Even on a house show WWE can’t decide if Rollins is a face or a heel.

There were also a bunch of “this is awesome” chants throughout, most of which came off as incredibly forced. The finishing stretch warranted them (naturally, none of them happened during said stretch), but prior to that I don’t think it reached chant-worthy heights. It was a lot of fun to watch Sami Zayn or Seth Rollins pretend they were dying on the floor from a kick and imagine that the “this is awesome” chants were directed at them trying to get back into the ring, though.

Winner: Kevin Owens via stealing the pin after a Pedigree. ***3/4

Seeing WWE live provided an interesting notion about star power. Most of my live wrestling experiences are indie shows where the guys who are the most over are typically the ones who have the best matches. Given the televised, somewhat detached nature of WWE, most of the wrestlers’ reactions are already determined before they enter the building. As a result, the biggest reactions tended to coincide with wrestlers who didn’t give their all – they didn’t have to. They already had the crowd in the palm of their hand, all they needed to do was not stink up the joint. Performers who don’t have much going for them on TV, or who weren’t going to get the intended reactions, worked a lot harder between the ropes.

Now let’s hand out a bunch of superlatives for a show most of you didn’t see!

Spot of the Night: As impressive as the Giant Swing is live, I’m going to go with the jump off the top into a pedigree tease into a superkick spot from the triple threat match.

Match of the Night: Roman Reigns vs. Rusev. I could see someone giving it to the triple threat, but odds are it would be based on it having wrestlers they like better, not necessarily match quality.

MVP: Rusev and Lana. Rusev is so great, and everything he’s good at translates to a live show perfectly. Roman Reigns deserves credit, too.